August 15, 2009
Prodigy - Return Of The Mac (March 27, 2007)
Nearly a year after the last Mobb Deep album, Blood Money, tanked on the strength of the crew's newfound affiliation with Curtis Jackson's G-Unit, Prodigy (real name Albert Johnson) and Havoc (Kejuan Muchita) decided to briefly part ways to record solo material, possibly as a way to distance themselves from the bullshit that the G-Unit curse had put them through. (If you'll notice, none of the Mobb Deep material released post-Blood Money feature any member of Curtis Jackson's unit of G's.) Prodigy already had a solo album, H.N.I.C., under his belt, so the concept of him returning to solo work wasn't unheard of. (Havoc also went ahead and released his own material, but I'll get to that at a later date.)
Utilizing the creativity that most rappers these days seem to possess, Prodigy elected to name his follow-up album H.N.I.C. 2, and he wanted to promote the album by releasing a mixtape of all-new material, which he called Return Of The Mac. His concept was to record nothing but songs that evoked the era of 1970s blaxploitation flicks, so that when H.N.I.C. 2 dropped, fans would be fully prepared for what he had to offer. I have no clue how that plan was ever actually supposed to work, but at least one other person believed in his vision: producer The Alchemist (Alan Maman) wanted in, and, as such, produced every single track on the Return Of The Mac mixtape. Prodigy actually knocked out a lot of songs in this time period, as he had a scheduled engagement behind prison bars starting late in 2007, so he wasted no time recording material.
After some of the leaked tracks from Return Of The Mac were met with both critical and fan acclaim, Prodigy and Al decided to scrap the mixtape idea and release this fucker as an actual album. They set up a distribution deal with the Koch graveyard, and Prodigy's new official second album, Return Of The Mac, was released in the spring of 2007. It was still intended to promote H.N.I.C. 2, but now it was capable of standing on its own two feet, if albums are able to have feet.
Some artwork available online contain the last remaining thread of the mixtape concept, as it reads Bumpy Johnson & Dutch Schulz Presents: Return Of The Mac, a nod to the era Prodigy was hoping to recreate. Just thought you would want to know.
1. THE MAC IS BACK
I don't expect anything less than rap album intro bullshit from Prodigy, and in that respect, he lives up to expectations.
2. RETURN OF THE MAC
The lyrics (which are of the “I'm going to add the phrase 'New York' in front of random rhyming words, with some examples being of the 'New York shit' and 'New York bitch' variety”) are overly simplistic, not unlike the vocabulary of a preschooler (who could either be from New York or somewhere else, I don't discriminate), but, somehow, Prodigy makes this sound really good. Al's instrumental even adds to the menacing feel. I know, I'm just as surprised as you are that I liked this. The 2Pac vocal sample is a bit much, though.
3. STUCK ON YOU
This isn't that bad, either. The vocal sample, sped up to chipmunk-sounding levels, adds to the proceedings, and Prodigy sounds almost like the more than capable rapper he left behind when he ran away with the G-Unit circus. Almost.
4. MAC 10 HANDLE
Prodigy sounds like he's rhyming to the score to an actual blaxploitation epic, specifically the music used in the background during a montage sequence in which the main villain counts his money, laughs, and mistreats his bitches. Partial nudity may or may not be involved. I couldn't really get into this shit, no thanks to P's elementary hook, which rips off, sorry, “borrows liberally from” the Scarface's opening verse on the Geto Boys classic “Mind Playin' Tricks On Me”. Oh, well.
5. DOWN & OUT IN NEW YORK CITY (SKIT)
Not so much a skit as it is a snippet of a song ("Down and Out In New York City" by James Brown) entirely unrelated to the Mobb Deep catalog.
6. THE ROTTEN APPLE
A vocal sample from the previous “skit” helps punctuate the chorus of this slow-as-fuck Prodigy reflection. This is reminiscent of the “serious” songs on Mobb Deep albums that everybody tends to skip past. Unless you're just a glutton for punishment.
7. MADGE SPEAKS (SKIT) (FEAT MAJESTY)
Can someone please inform Majesty that “Madge” is the nickname that the Interweb gossip hounds gave to Madonna, ever since she started talking with that goofy fake British accent? She's from Detroit, people!
8. TO THE TOP
Is that some Quincy Jones “Ironside” action going on in the background? Why, yes it is, which is great, since it's the only thing I can remember about this boring-ass track.
9. P SPEAKS (SKIT)
Only useful if you enjoy hearing Prodigy speak without actually saying anything. Next!
10. 7TH HEAVEN (FEAT UN PACINO)
The chorus is terrible, but I actually love this queso Giorgio Moroder-sounding 1980s-esque backdrop, even though it doesn't really fit into the 1970s-era sound that Alchemist fills the rest of Return Of The Mac with. P's opening bars start off sounding meh, but he puts a little twist on them that helps to regain the listener's attention. Un Pacino, one of Cellblock P's weed carriers, even sounds decent. I would never expect this kind of beat coming from Al, and for that I rank it among his best, or at least within his top twenty.
11. BANG ON 'EM
The ongoing vocal sample in the background makes it appear as if this song were recorded while Prodigy was watching television, and for some reason the studio engineers allowed Cellblock P to take the TV into the booth with him. As it inevitably happens when you try to watch TV while listening to music, you end up not really paying attention to either source of “entertainment”. Which is too bad, because the nonthreatening chorus sounded pretty awful.
12. NICKEL AND A NAIL
The Alchemist beat is dope as shit. Good use of the sampled horns, too. Prodigy also seems to sound partly inspired, with a chance of rain. The source material, "A Nickel and a Nail" by O.V. Wright, was also sampled for “Co-Defendant”, a Wu-affiliate track featuring Shyheim and Hell Razah, for those of you who give a damn.
You expect a fair amount of boasting in hip hop, just like you expect water to feel wet and Salma Hayek to remain hot. In this track, which sounds like a H.N.I.C. leftover, Prodigy compares Mobb Deep to some of the actual legends in this here rap game. Had the duo's respective careers ended after Hell On Earth, I'd be inclined to agree, but no, they had to keep recording, fucking up their own catalog with inferior material that now outnumber their actual classic songs. Was the McDonald's reference at the end absolutely necessary?
14. STOP FRONTING
FINAL THOUGHTS: Return Of The Mac was seen as a return to form for Prodigy back in 2007, after the Blood Money debacle, but this is really hit and miss. Lyrically, Prodigy manages to come close to his old self on a couple of tracks, or at least he considers the concept of approaching the idea of his past wordplay, but even though he sounds nothing like the Prodigy that appeared on Hell On Earth (the man's lyrical magnum opus), he still sounds halfway decent. Most of the songs themselves sound terrible, though. Behind the boards, The Alchemist does his best to create a consistent 1970's-era sound, but, as with all AL Maman production, some of the beats hit hard and others trip all over themselves. Look at this as the mixtape it was originally intended to be, and your expectations will be lowered just enough that you may be able to enjoy this, but for Mobb Deep enthusiasts, Return Of The Mac serves as further evidence that Prodigy will never regain his skill with the pen.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one, you two. The tracks listed below were actually really entertaining, but the album as a whole is a failed experiment in trying to recapture one's past glories. But hey, at least he hasn't yet tried to redo his older, better songs. Oh, fuck, wait, he has (see: Mobb Deep's Free Agents: The Murda Mixtape). Well, that seals it: the Mobb may just want to hang it up and call it a night.
BEST TRACKS: “7th Heaven”; “Return Of The Mac”
Prodigy – H.N.I.C.