The news of Prodigy’s death rocked the Hip-Hop industry, leaving many to react with disbelief, condolences, and reminisce over their memories with him. The 42 year-old rapper passed away in Las Vegas June 20 from complications from sickle-cell anemia. Besides being one-half of iconic duo Mobb Deep, he was also a father, an author, and had his own label, Infamous Records. Even after 20 years of the release of “The Infamous”, it’s no surprise that Prodigy and Havoc’s classic records stood the test of time.
Born Albert Johnson in Hempstead, NY, Prodigy came from a musical family. His grandfather and great-uncle, Budd & Keg Johnson contributed to the bebop jazz era, where his mother was a singer and had her own group. He met Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita in 1989 while they both attended the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan. The friendship quickly formed over their mutual love for Hip-Hop, and rhyming. Before Mobb Deep, Prodigy was previously signed to Jive Records under the name Lord-T and had an uncredited feature on the Boyz-N-The Hood soundtrack titled, “High Five.” The two originally went by “Poetical Prophets”, and dropped a demo tape called “Flavor for the Nonbelievers.” This song scored them a spot on The Source Magazine’s Unsigned Hype column. By 1993, the duo, now going by Mobb Deep, released their first album, Juvenile Hell. The album that made them become one of the most recognized names in East Coast rap was 1995’s The Infamous.
“Mobb Deep, our story is unique. It’s just all [of] our experiences that we’ve been through — it’s not normal.” – Prodigy, The infamous Documentary
The duo admitted that they didn’t master their sound until “The Infamous” was made. They had also signed to Loud Records, where they had plenty of creative freedom to talk about what they wanted to. Even today in 2017, you can still feel the grittiness of what life was like in the infamous Queensbridge Projects. In fact, their sophomore album was a turning point in East Coast rap music, as the attention was heavily on the West Coast’s rap scene. “…It was just street anthem after street anthem,” said legendary and veteran rapper Rakim about the album. “It kind of confirmed that New York underground Hip-Hop was about to explode.” And it did, as New York was now able to reclaim its spot as the hub for everything Hip-Hop.
This was also a time where the East Coast/West Coast beef was at its peak. Despite that, it only made Mobb Deep even bigger, contributing to the change in sound for rappers at the time. Even when “The Infamous” catapulted them into success, neither rapper forgot about their Queens roots. Even their eighth and final studio album together, The Infamous Mobb Deep (2014), featured both new music and unreleased tracks from the album’s namesake. Not to mention that the duo also performed at the 11th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Fest in 2015, performing both classics and new music from the album. From switching labels, releasing solo projects, finally getting a label of his own, writing a memoir, and even falling out then reconciling with Havoc; Prodigy still remained synonymous with Hip-Hop — even in death.
“I mean what’s interesting about me and Havoc, is just the longevity of the partnership and the music. That’s like the real key point because a lot of groups — they just don’t last, they don’t make it. And usually it’s from personal feelings or whatever [you know]. They couldn’t get past whatever issues there were and see the bigger picture…” – Prodigy on Havoc, The infamous Documentary.
Over 20 years after he came onto the scene, Prodigy’s music, persona, and words will live on in Hip-Hop history forever. At the time of his passing, Prodigy was on tour alongside Havoc, Ice-T, KRS-1, Onyx, and Ghostface Killah for the “Art of Rap” Tour. The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival extends its condolences to Havoc, and Prodigy’s family and friends.
Image courtesy of Photo Rob