Prodigy; Paying Homage & The Crusade to Preserve Lyricism

If you’re a certified hip-hop fan or are friends with anyone that grew up listening to hip-hop in the nineties, you heard we suffered a great loss this week.

Albert Johnson, aka Prodigy from Mobb Deep passed earlier this week. He’d been battling sickle cell for some time and never made it through his last hospitalization. He was 42. That said, his contributions to music, particularly hip-hop as it should be will pan long beyond their years.

Death is inevitable. That certainly doesn’t take the edge off when the curtain finally closes. However, posthumous recognition of someone’s life accomplishments is one of those strange things that seems to follow a loss and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Let’s take the opportunity to reflect on how dope this dude is and how his existence along with the signature 90’s New York sound set a precedent for anyone that wanted to be anything in hip-hop.

Prodigy was destined for greatness by several means. He was the great-great grandson of William J. White, minister, civil rights champion, and founder of Morehouse College. Mother, Fatima Johnson was part of singing group the Crystals. Fuck with “Then He Kissed Me” it might sound familiar especially if you have older parental units but if not it will take you to the malt shop and you will love it. Prodigy’s dad was also a musician . He was in a group called the Chanters…I didn’t go down that rabbit hole but I’m sure they were rad too. To add to all of that artistic cultivation Prodigy is from the infamous Queensbridge projects….as was Marley Marl (that link is to a quite interesting interview w/ NPR), Tragedy Khadafi, and Nas. Look at that roster though…epic!

Ok so on to Mobb Deep…..If you’re 25 or older and you don’t recognize the “Shook Ones” or “Quiet Storm” beats you’ve probably been living under a rock. Mobb Deep = duo comprised of Prodigy (Albert Johnson) and Havoc (Kejuan Muchita). In a nutshell, this pair was a fucking powerhouse in the 90’s rap game. Generations after Y are probably somewhat familiar with Biggie and Tupac beef but probably aren’t schooled on the gems in the periphery of that East Coast West Coast conflict. Mobb Deep was up there with BIG….IMO.

Revisiting these Mobb Deep albums over the past few days has reminded me of several things.

Real scenarios and genuine beef enrich music

One of the things I think some of us appreciate about groups like Mobb Deep is that they were rapping about things that were real to them. Their songs were actually memoirs. You can’t really fake that. The album Juvenile Hell BANGS……Mobb Deep probably released this immediately post-puberty so in that you might be able to liken the vibe to a thuggish ruggish Kris Kross….brilliant. They were chronicling things that they were living through, particularly as adolescent black males in treacherous times…..like these ( try on “Me&My Crew” and “Peer Pressure”).

The album Murda Muzik goes hard and seems to be more popular, largely due to the fact that it was at the center of that East/West Coast quarrel. But anyway….this album is renowned not because most of us can relate to it (I don’t have any weapons charges yet)….but we can identify with the creative process and turning feelings, good and bad, into something that anyone can digest….It’s like saying “hey….I’m going through this thing….lemme season this thing…cook it up…finesse it…here eat this….ok great you feeling what I’m feeling? Ok dope…”

The New York/ Queensbridge musical style of the 90’s was the template sound for a ton of artists all over the US up until very recently

I, like many 90’s kids, grew up on B.I.G. , Wu-Tang, Nas, Mobb Deep, Lil Kim, Lil Cease etc. I’m talking about the point before I started digging in crates and finding my own taste. That said…I’m not mad that it was the majority of what I was hearing passively. That stuff was filling the airwaves because it was good. Lyricists from New York sound good….almost effortlessly. Their accents, flow, inflections, lyrical style…everything is gold…I think that’s why people everywhere were jocking that hallmark sound.

We as listeners have transitioned from loving messages and stories (accompanied by good sound)…To loving mediocre sound (accompanied by whatever the fuck)

You remember listening to a rap song back in the day and you like basically broke the rewind button on your cassette player from mashing it and screaming “OMG DID YOU HEAR WHAT THE FUCK HE/SHE JUST SAID?”…..right? Ok now think about the last time you did that? It’s probably been years…because lyrically these new rappers aren’t held to that standard. Actually no one is held to those standards…that’s why EDM can flourish (no shade). We really don’t give a fuck what they say…I listened to a commercial featuring Desiigner and couldn’t understand a  goddamn thing….Conversely peep this:

As a young black teen, everyday I, deal
with the pressure and mixed up is how I feel
I walk the streets with a fuck you attitude
And when it comes to my peoples you ain’t half as rude
Follow the crowd or be a leader, take your pick
Now I’m smokin buddha philly blunt style
A frustrated and confused young juvenile
King of the project blues so I choose
To take a piece of the action
But my sober state of mind won’t let it happen
So twenty-four-seven it’s the number one stresser
Dealin with the peer pressure

Most don’t understand how it is
in the world of today growin up as a young black teen
I used to dream, of bein a architect
Easier said than done, believe me it’s hard to get
out of the projects, without forgettin where you came from

That’s an excerpt from Mobb Deep’s aforementioned “Peer Pressure.” It’s relevant…even today….profound…and the beat….well I really don’t remember the beat. That’s my point. I’m sure the beat wasn’t trash because then it would screw up how I receive the song…but it’s an attribute of the artwork….not the focal point. Unfortunately even trill ass groups like Mobb Deep, to some extent, had to accommodate our affinity for hollow lyrics and whimsical noises as our taste in music declined. You’ll hear that if you follow the track listing below in order.

My hope is that there are enough of us out there on a crusade to preserve the art of lyricism. Jogging back to the old Mobb Deep and records like them can refresh the zest (BARS!)

Listing a few of my favorites below ) in somewhat chronological order so you hear and feel that progressssssion)….get down&happy listening 🙂

Me & My Crew

Peer Pressure

Flavor For the Non-Believe (super fun jammy)

Can’t Fuck Wit It

Shook Ones, Pt II (Obvi)

Quiet Storm (double obvi)

In Love with the Moulah