RIP to Prodigy! Words by @ant_Sheppard

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I don’t even know what to say, so I’m gonna write from the heart about one of my favorite, one of my biggest influences, one of the illest, one of the greats of rap, Prodigy of Mobb Deep. My introduction was with a couple skinny bad ass looking kids on an album called Juvenile Hell. I wasn’t a fan of that album and honestly thought these kids would be nobodies. As things used to go in the 90s rap world, I’d later find out those two kids went back in and got exponentially better with their craft. They released a song called Shook Ones Pt. II and blew my mind.

Havoc and Prodigy changed the landscape of hip-hop in 1995. This was gritty, but it wasn’t the Wu. It was jazzy but it wasn’t Tribe. It was soulful, but it wasn’t Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Their second album, The Infamous, was dark, terrifying and editorial. Street hip-hop earned a place before but not like this. This wasn’t gangsta rap or coke rap or fun rap. The Infamous introduced us to what life was like for young black men in the housing projects of Queensbridge. Nas did that in singular and in his way. Nas told stories and taught about the lifestyle from what seemed like an outsider perspective. Mobb Deep spoke as if they were the ones in it. They were the ones Nas was telling us about in his street news reports. That album raised the bar for emcees and producers alike. Rap would never be the same. NY rap, especially, would never be the same.

From the very start, we all knew Prodigy was the ONE. All due respect to Havoc, but I’m sure he’d say the same. The unorthodox rhyme patterns and schemes P would bring to the production of Havoc and Q-Tip on The Infamous were legendary. They still land like Tyson uppercuts when you listen to them 20+ yrs later. “I open my eyes to the streets, where I was raised as a man, and learned to use my hands, for protection…” rings off in my mind as I write. P had a way of vividly depicting his lifestyle and daily struggles that you could have seen in the finest of novels just as comfortably.

 

The Infamous introduced the masses to these guys. Hell On Earth was like a coming out party for Prodigy in my mind. He was lethal from then on. Hov himself stated that there was a time when Prodigy was close to being the greatest rapper in the game. This was from about 1995 to 1999. To me, the man was UNTOUCHABLE during this time period. From guest verses alongside LL, Nas, Capone & Noreaga, etc. to his first solo effort “HNIC” nobody was fucking with the P.

The little dude from Queens, by way of Hempstead, Long Island, was rapping circles around everyone in rap. Pac, BIG, Nas, Jay, Joe, Ghost & Rae… You name it. They’d all say the guy was a threat on the mic. All of this while in a lifelong battle with Sickle Cell Anemia and constant pain and suffering. There’s a lot to his story, that I won’t get into because he could tell you better in his book. I can’t do him justice. I’m just a fan.

Post the reign of Mobb Deep making consistent albums and their label woes, they signed a deal with G-Unit Records and made music with 50 Cent, another Queens representative. One particular record was “Pearly Gates” where Prodigy let loose a full on attack on God for cursing his life with such pain. That verse made me realize how serious his health situation was. Even his song “You Could Never Feel My Pain” off of HNIC, didn’t express it as well. The fact that he started his verse saying that he had a legitimate beef with “the boss man” at the Pearly Gates, shook my soul. It wasn’t blasphemy for shock value like Nas’ “went to hell for snuffing Jesus” line. This was true anguish. I knew it was from the heart. I knew he was hurting. I knew then that he was vulnerable and that no matter how hard the music and the persona, this man was human and was suffering for his entire existence.

Vivid depictions, honest feelings, true emotions, wordplay, bravado, style, innovation, appreciation, respect, honor, loyalty, love and hate all filled the vocal performances of Prodigy. Nothing was off limits. P was one of the few rappers who made sure you got him, in his truest form, with every rhyme he wrote. He was a one-of-one. If hurts to write these words, even though I knew the day would come that his disease would win the battle. I feel personally attached to someone I only saw in passing once, because of his art. He is his art. His art is a direct reflection of him. This is why I feel I knew Prodigy. He let us all in to his world from day one when most of us heard him say “I got you stuck off the realness, we be the infamous, you heard of us, official Queensbridge murderers, the Mobb comes equipped for warfare, beware, of my crime family, who got nuff shots to share, for all those, who wanna profile and pose, rock you in ya face, stab ya brain with ya nose bone, you all alone in these streets cousin, every man for themselves, in this land, we be gunning…”

Through beef, fights, gunshots, sickle cell, prison and whatever else you can think of, P stayed true. I can only hope that the new generation of artists recognizes his talent, skill, and perseverance as much as us guys who witnessed it from the beginning. I’m sure a lot of them do because P wasn’t an old curmudgeon about rap. He came home from prison and started embracing the next generation. He’s worked with a ton of the younger guys and made efforts to reach and teach through his music, his books, and his actions. He’ll be sorely solely missed. All I want to say to him at this moment is “yo P, it’s on you, what you wanna do?!”

One love Dunn!