writes on June 21, 2017
Albert Johnson, better known by his stage name Prodigy of the rap duo Mobb Deep, has passed away at age 42 from what many believe to be complications of sickle cell anemia. He has suffered from the disease since birth, and was always a strong man who fought through the struggles and pain caused by it every day of his life.
I put my lifetime in between the paper’s lines.
He was never the type to ask for sympathy, but rather looked at sickle cell as an obstacle that would not stop him from doing what he did best. One might even say that the obstacles he faced in life propelled him to become what he is known for today: his ability to lyrically devour any beat produced for him.
There are a handful of songs in hip hop where the intro grabs you and commands your attention. This is one of those songs! Add that with dope lyrics and flows…..that's when you have a masterpiece. Thank you Prodigy for your contributions to the culture and art form! May God Bless your soul. #prodigy #shookonespt2
Born in Hempstead, Long Island, Johnson came from a talented musical family. His grandfather was a jazz musician, and his mother was a singer in a group called the Crystals. That seemed to play a big role in his interest in music, because he was a natural when it came to hip hop music. A true prodigy. His lyrical prowess and the cold blooded bars he delivered were something new to hip hop back when Mobb Deep first blew up in the mid 1990s, with their second album The Infamous that was certified gold by the RIAA. He was the epitome of the grimy 90s New York sound, and really painted vivid pictures of his life through his bars.
Life is a gamble, we scramble for money, I might crack smile but ain’t a damn thing funny.
“Eye for a Eye” by Mobb Deep
One thing that separated Prodigy from other rappers was the way he captured a listener’s attention with his opening verses. With opening lines like, “I got you stuck off the realness, we be the infamous/ you heard of us, official queensbridge murderers,” it’s hard not to be fully engaged in the pictures he painted–combined with the flows and lyrical patterns he used.
He also had a unique style of rapping lyrics that do not always rhyme. P was known for trendsetting in the hip hop community. For example, he was one of the first rappers to reference the Illuminati in his songs. Essentially, he can be credited for making it cool to expose secret societies in music. He was also the first to sample music from the movie Scarface, and the first to use Pro Tools in 1998. P even created his own slang, the “Dunn language.” In his lyrics, he would call out people that tried to copy his slang:
You’re hooked on Mobb-phonics, Infamous-bonics, lying to the pop dog like you got it.
Prodigy, and the other half of the Mobb Deep duo, Havoc, had their ups and downs throughout their careers. The two met in high school and originally called themselves Poetical Prophets, but changed their name to Mobb Deep a year later.
Around 2012, the duo had a falling out where Havoc claimed Prodigy was in a homosexual relationship while in prison. This beef lasted about a year but eventually they were together again in the studio, recording their 8th album, The Infmaous Mobb Deep.
Just last weekend, Mobb Deep was performing in Las Vegas. After that performance, Prodigy was sent to the hospital due to complications with his sickle cell anemia, and unfortunately did not survive.
Everyone in the hip hop community is deeply saddened by the death of Prodigy. Many rappers, producers, hip-hop journalists, radio broadcasters, etc. are all fans of the music he made. Prodigy played a big role in many rappers falling in love with rap as an art form. If you listen to J Cole, you can hear the influence Prodigy had on him just by hearing his voice, also some of the beats J Cole produced early in his career sampled classic Mobb Deep tracks. P also influenced rappers like Lil Wayne, Royce da 5’9, Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky, Young M.A., Vince Staples, Stalley, and so many more.
There is nothing more synonymous with the sound of New York Hip Hop than Prodigy's voice #RIPProdigy
— Peter Rosenberg (@Rosenbergradio) June 20, 2017
Prodigy left behind such a great legacy for himself and his career. Many people say that Mobb Deep played a big part in the resurgence of real hip-hop. They honestly represented the street element in New York because it was a part of their lives. Detractors claim Mobb Deep’s genre of rap is not good for the community because it promoters drugs and violence. Yet Mobb Deep has always been about making music that shows their real lives.
Hip hop has always been an art form of expression, and you can’t be mad at Prodigy for expressing himself in the only way he knew how to and telling his truth of life. Instead, we should thank him for his commitment to the culture and what he has done for hip-hop.
Rest in power, Prodigy.
header/cover image credit: Prodigy via Tobias Nielsen