I had a song about my legacy on my album. The gist is what legacy do I leave behind if I can't become famous from my music.
The music world grieves as it has lost one of its most talented and underrated stars in Albert Johnson, better known as Prodigy of Mobb Deep fame. His music is being played by fans all over the world. His legacy was already cemented; now we can bask in the plethora of great music he left behind.
Like with a lot hip-hop lately, I had fallen off from listening to Prodigy's work outside of the occasional Mobb Deep song I’d run across. The last full solo project of his I had checked out was Return of the Mac, which I really loved. I think the G-Unit Mobb album was the last time I visited any “new” work by the Infamous duo of Hav & P.
As I detailed somewhere before, I didn't get into the real hip-hop until 1997. My only true exposure to it was through radio play and eventually BET and MTV. I spent most of ‘98 trying to catch up on what was hot at the time and listening to what other people were kind enough to lend me so that I could tape it. That's right, tape it. The more I listened, the more I fell in love. I think Matt had brought a copy of The Source to school in early 1999 (it may have been the February Power 30 issue, I remember reading about Master P) and discovering a whole new outlet to my new favorite genre of music just drove me deeper down the rabbit hole.
My mom used to get her prescriptions filled at the Rite Aid on Amherst St in Winchester, VA, just 20 minutes from where we lived in Capon Bridge. I remember the first time I picked up a copy of The Source and presented it to her. The cover had Silkk The Shocker and C-Murder staring back at her (No Limit had a huge year in 1998 but Cash Money was gaining on their heels). I’m sure she had her doubts about buying her teenage son a magazine that proudly displayed the word ‘murder’ on it but she did. I spent the next few hours going over the magazine in detail and issue #115 of The Source was the catalyst that started many years of collecting various hip-hop mags.
So every time we went to Rite Aid after that, I would rush to the magazines to see if a new issue of The Source had come out. I remember being disappointed a few times but finally, the May 1999 issue was out. Nas was on the cover, who I knew from “If I Ruled The World” and his video for “Nas Is Like” more recently, so I was really excited about this issue. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the feature on Mobb Deep and their forthcoming album Murda Muzik.
I may be wrong but I think Prodigy got The Source’s Hip-Hop Quotable column for his third verse from “Quiet Storm” in the previous month’s issue. Having been trying to pen my own lyrics, I immediately recognized the level of lyricism Prodigy had attained before I even actually heard the song. I may have heard him on LL’s “I Shot Ya (Remix)” prior to reading the verse and the interview with the Mobb. But I was immediately a fan.
I heard “Shook Ones Pt. II” when I downloaded it from a file sharing program in 2000 (I don’t think it was Napster or Kazaa, so I’m thinking BearShare or iMesh or mIRC). I caught “Hell On Earth” and “GOD on Pt. III” on the Music Choice channels. And every time I discovered a Prodigy verse I hadn’t heard, it was a revelation. What P was able to do with his lyrics, his cadence, and mostly his tone was astounding. Prodigy was a small guy. As most of us know, he suffered from sickle cell anemia and was constantly in and out of pain. But on wax? Prodigy sounded like one of the toughest MCs out. I’d even go so far to say, Prodigy (along with DMX) birthed the love I have for grimy, gangster shit-esque records. He commanded your ear’s attention and once he finished saying his rap, he commanded that you rewind what he said so you could digest it better. His genius shined through on every verse. There was a time that Prodigy was unfuckwitable.
You take that reputation, then you give Prodigy his first solo album in 2000, aptly named HNIC, then you give him a first single like “Keep It Thoro”. “Keep It Thoro” is one of the hardest first singles in hip-hop history and easily one my all time favorites. The fact that P laid it out like a freestyle the way he paused, ran back to his previous bars, and then launched into an even doper rhyme blows my mind to this day. Prodigy was a great MC before “Keep It Thoro” and HNIC but once he displayed he could do it without Havoc by his side, this is when he really became a hip-hop legend in his own right.
2001 came and P became Jay-Z’s target on that Summer Jam screen and he lost credibility at the time. This didn’t stop Mobb Deep from releasing their fifth album Infamy featuring another cult classic track with “The Learning (Burn)”. But the waves were changing. Cash Money and the South were becoming more prevalent on rap’s national radar. Mobb Deep fought with Loud for three years to get off the label, finally returning in 2004 with Amerikaz Nightmare. I enjoyed the album but you could tell how comfortable the duo had gotten as they weren’t breaking any new ground. The move to G-Unit was supposed to revitalize the group but outside of a few decent tracks, they were off the label by 2009.
In the years since, Prodigy did a prison stint, wrote a book (make that books), and released more music.Unfortunately, he was barely on my radar. Last thing noteworthy I saw that involved him was a video on Facebook where Mobb Deep was performing “Shook Ones” recently and the audience knew all the lyrics. There was a caption along the lines of, “THIS IS WHAT REAL HIP-HOP SOUNDS LIKE!” I smiled because I agreed 110%.
I was looking at Facebook again as I got out of my car at home yesterday. I saw Wes had posted about Prodigy's passing and I confirmed it through XXL a few seconds later. All my memories and respect for P came flooding back, thinking of how pleasantly surprised I was to hear Prodigy return to form in 2007 with “Mac 10 Handle” and the subsequent Return Of The Mac album. About how excited I would get when the “It’s Mine” video came on in ‘99. And of the first time I read P’s lyrics in that issue of The Source.
The first verse of “Quiet Storm” was dusted off from some part of my brain and was coming out of my mouth. So I recorded myself spitting the verse and posted it. This wasn’t like when Michael or Prince died; I can’t mimic or sing to their level of talent. But with hip-hop, if you learn the lyrics and can keep up, you can sound just like your favorite heroes of the microphone.
Albert Johnson is one of my favorite rappers and always has been. It’s shame that I was only reminded of that fact in his death. What I’m more than happy to do though, is eulogize the Head Nigga In Charge by listening to his work and by writing this piece. Thank you for everything Prodigy. You are yet another reason why a kid would spend hours of his free time trying to perfect the craft of emceeing. You’re one of the greats and you will be missed.