If ever there was a time to develop a serious Henny habit, it’s been this week. The passing of Strong Island via Queensbridge’s microphone virtuoso Prodigy at the tender age of forty two is a major blow for fans of brutally honest rap music. Against all odds, the little dunn overcame the often debilitating reality of life with sickle cell anemia long enough to cement himself into the history books as one of the rare breed of hip-hop artists who never fell-off throughout more than 25 years in the public eye.
From his humble beginnings as a member of the Poetical Prophets—the pint-sized duo who earned themselves a record deal while they were teenagers after impressing Unsigned Hype’s Matty C (the OG tastemaker outside of radio and mixtapes) enough to feature in the pages of The Source magazine—through to being the lead MC as the crew evolved into the legendary Mobb Deep, Prodigy stood-out from the pack as he proudly embraced his new QB family and helped spread their regional slang across the globe.
As a lyricist and songwriter, P and Havoc distinguished themselves from their peers with an anti-social, nihilist worldview that seemed to encapsulate just how a generation of kids who grew-up during the aftermath of the crack era felt. They’d been left left unsupervised with nothing but their wits and their crew to depend on, and fuck anyone who dared question that. But the music of Mobb Deep rarely descended into empty threats and hollow posturing, as there was always a sense of self-awareness and a twisted, dark sense of humour that bubbled just beneath the surface.
Hav and P wouldn’t hesitate to talk wild shit where required, nor did they shy away from admitting to their dependance on weed and booze to survive modern life and the toll that sometimes takes, copping to having made a poor decision when they chased some skirt on the wrong block and recalling the days when they dreamt of becoming architects. No longer the superhuman gods that LL Cool J and Rakim painted themselves as, Mobb Deep just held up a mirror and said, “We’re cool as fuck but we’re also fuck-ups. So what?”
By the time of the majestic Hell On Earth album, Prodigy had risen to the level where he was the greatest rapper on the planet for several months after it’s release, based in no small part to his riveting performance on ‘Apostle’s Warning.’ The group peaked commercially with the Murda Muzik album, yet they were still able to deliver the goods via mixtapes and the occasional LP deep cut well into the noughties. By the time the Mobb delivered the Blood Money album via 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records in 2006, it appeared that their best days were behind them. Yet Prodigy soon delivered a show-stopping mid-career renaissance, largely thanks to his work with long-time associate The Alchemist and a duo named Sid Roams.
2007’s Return of the Mac album was the start of a three album run (the remainder being H.N.I.C. 2 and Product of the 80’s) which, alongside of Big Twins’ The Project Kid and Killa Sha’s GOD Walk On Water, represented the end of an era for Queensbridge rap acolytes such as myself. It was during this period that Prodigy displayed a seemingly simplified rhyme style compared to his mid-nineties glory days, but his new flow really just presented a more stripped-down format for him to better express the inner workings of his sometimes demented mind, as he began to delve into the macabre innermost details of stabbing, shooting and otherwise disfiguring his enemies, recounting encounters with UFO’s, exposing intricate worldwide conspiracies and even claiming to have helped his father rob a jewelry store when he was eight. It was a dazzling mixture of stone-faced menace, wild-eyed madness and the pure imagination that not even Willa Wonka could have bottled. Ultra-violence as art.
Through it all, P suffered the indignities of having both an LA rapper claim his name (South Central Cartel’s featured a Big Prodije and a Little Prodije, as well as Havoc The Mouthpiece and Havikk The Rhyme Son?!) and that techo band from England who kept Kool Keith in leopard-print tighty whities for the past decade: The Prodigy. As Rodney Dangerfield was known to exclaim, “where’s the respect?!” Beyond rap, Prodigy also left the world a fine legacy of incredible ALL CAPS MySpace posts, handwritten letters from the bing, and legendary street DVD rants.
Albert Johnson aka Prodigy, Bandana P, King Vulture, H.N.I.C., we salute you—the Young Veteran who always stuck to his guns, even nearly everybody counted him out, and managed to imprint his DNA into rap in ways that Mr. Shawn Carter Knowles can only dream of—therefore winning the long game. Thanks for playing, P.