Remembering Prodigy of Mobb Deep the Highlight Nation Way
By Anton Constantinou and Sumit Rehal
In case you haven’t heard, Queens rapper, Prodigy, has died aged 42, following complications with sickle-cell anaemia. The MC was yesterday found unconscious in Las Vegas, while the cause of death remains unknown.
Real name, Albert Johnson, he’s one half of the legendary hip hop duo, Mobb Deep: a group famed for tracks like Shook Ones (Part II) and Survival Of The Fittest. His ashy, gravel-toned voice was one of the kind, perfectly matched to the rugged beats he rapped over. Like many before him, he came from a musical family. His great uncle and grandad were jazz musicians, his mother was a member of the vocal group, The Crystals and his dad was heavily involved in the doo-wop scene.
Following in their footsteps, Prodigy got into hip hop, together forming Mobb Deep with his schoolmate, Havoc (Kejuan Muchita ) in 1992. Their debut album, The Infamous, is hands-down as one of the greatest hip hop releases of all time. At the time of dropping in 1995, it ushered in a new sort of sound: darker and grittier than anything before it. In a year dominated by the likes of Biggie and Nas, Mobb Deep took rap in a considerably less radio-friendly direction. Their haunting style was and still is the stuff of nightmares, but that’s what makes them so raw to listen to. Few other groups have come close to painting such an eerie, sinister picture of the ghetto.
With at estimated net worth of $10 million USD, Mobb’s legacy speaks for itself. Words of remembrance have already started pouring in on social media, so it’s only right that we pay our support too. Prodigy, you meant a lot to the Highlight Nation team and here’s why:
Anton: I can’t believe Prodigy is dead! When you told me yesterday I felt certain it was fake news. I mean, Phife Dawg only left us last year, and with Biggie, Pun and Sean Price gone, it seems like the ’90s New York scene is gradually disappearing. What was your first reaction to the story?
Sumit: I scrolled casually across the announcement on my Facebook feed then had to double take that I’d read it right. I couldn’t believe it, especially as the headline read that he died at 42 – as it’s so young. It kind of puts the deaths of people like ‘Pac in perspective, as, we’re he still alive, he’d only be in his mid 40s now.
Instantly, I informed some of the hip hop heads as I felt that he would be one that only the real fans would appreciate. I was then surprised that the general public all took affection at the passing of this lyricist.
Anton: Prodigy is one of the main reasons I love Mobb so much. His smoky voice was so infectious. He never rapped that fast, but somehow you were still able to bounce to his lyrics, a bit like the late Guru. What did he mean to you?
Sumit: Mobb’s albums were always on loop in my house back in the day. From The Infamous to Amerikaz Nightmare. I used to love the straightforward, serious sound they offered. However, it was actually only when I revisited their early albums a few years ago where I realised how original and impactful they were in their time.
Prodigy was no holds barred with his lyrics and it matched so well with his gritty flow. Some of the things that he came out with were straight up criminal and heartless. You could tell that he was not faking anything, whether that be his stories of drug culture or gangbanging. This sound really set the theme of the ’90s east coast underground…even just Shook Ones (Part II) itself is a hip hop icon.
Anton: I’m so happy I had to chance to see him while he was still alive. I remember it like it was yesterday: Hip Hop Kemp, 2015, the year Mobb Deep headlined the festival. Hearing Shook Ones live was mind-blowing. Looking back, I wish I’d attended more Mobb gigs. Have you seen Mobb play before?
Sumit: I unfortunately never got the chance to, but I can imagine it must have been such a unique experience. Going back to what you said earlier about the east coast legends dying…we are running out of chances to appreciate the sound that defined a genre, as that style will never return again.
Anton: If I could describe Prodigy in three words I would say he’s raw, serious and grounded. A real down to earth rapper. How about you?
Sumit: New York City. Hell, he was so New York that even Pac called him out on the beginning of the The 7 Day Theory!
Anton: He’s responsible for too many sick verses. From his opening lines in Shook Ones, the closing bars in Quiet Storm. Which single track would you say shows him off at his best?
Sumit: Survival of the Fittest, for these lyrics alone:
“There’s a war goin’ on outside no man is safe from
You could run, but you can’t hide forever
From these streets that we done took
You walkin’ with your head down
Scared to look, you shook
‘Cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks”