Albert "Prodigy" Johnson was a busy little beaver in 2008. Facing a prison sentence stemming from a gun-possession charge, he set about recording as many songs as he could. These tracks were compiled into two separate projects: H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, an official sequel to his solo debut, and Product Of The 80s, a collaboration with Infamous Mobb's Twin Gambino (credited here under his other alias, Big Twins) and weed carrier Un Pacino. That project was most notable for not featuring Prodigy's Mobb Deep partner in crime, Havoc.
Product Of The 80s is mostly handled by the production team Sid Roams, who are really easy to confuse as just one person, so maybe they should pick another professional name to work under. Believe it or not, there's an alleged concept, too: Cellblock P and company actually tried to make Product Of The 80s sound like a hip hop album from the 1980s, with the fun times and party atmosphere of that earlier era mashed together with the bleakness and braggadocio that Prodigy was best known for. Which, surprisingly, isn't as bad an idea as it appears when I write it out.
Since Prodigy was already locked up when no-name label Dirt Class Records released Product Of The 80s (if you look back at that album cover, you'll notice that P is even wearing black-and-white stripes like a prisoner from the 1940s or some shit, although I'm sure that was unintentional), promotion for the album was pretty much nonexistent, since Twin Gambino was busy with other endeavors and Un Pacino wasn't able to give up his day shift at Payless. But Cellblock P's influence is so heavy over this project that, even though it was marketed as a collaborative album between the three players, Twin and Pacino receive guest-star credits on the tracks they appear on. Yep. This is a Prodigy album, all right.
Product Of The 80s is the first Prodigy project where he didn't use a beat from either Havoc or frequent collaborator The Alchemist, choosing instead to run with Sid Roams almost exclusively (although Jake One pitches in a couple of times, and some other names manage to snag album credits behind the boards). One would think that this would lead to an overall consistent sound throughout the album, something that is so sorely missing from our chosen genre these days that we actually feel the need to celebrate when an artist records an entire album with the same producer (see: Cormega and Large Professor's Mega Philosophy) even though that's what all rap albums were back in the day, right?
Yeah, one would think.
2. WADDUP GZ
Contains two Cellblock P verses that fail to instill confidence in the listener, which isn't so great when you remember that “Waddup Gz” (which is a terrible song title to actually have to write out) is supposed to be the introductory salvo. Prodigy relies too heavily on gimmicks and what he believes to be clever wordplay over a Sid Roams loop that sounds fully satisfied with itself, even though that distinction is never truly earned. Not the best way to start things off. By the way, there's also nothing remotely 1980s about “Waddup Gz”, so the handful of you two who enjoy that decade as much as I do will probably walk away disappointed at first, until you realize that this is a fucking rap album, stop being ridiculous.
3. SHED THY BLOOD (FEAT. UN PACINO)
Jake One, an inspired choice for a Prodigy collaborator, provides an instrumental that is little more than a loop, but it's streets ahead of whatever the fuck the last song was aiming for. Our host handles the first verse, sounding oddly energized but underselling it at the same time, kind of like what I would imagine Raekwon would sound like if forced to rhyme over something from Diplo. Un Pacino pulls off something strange: without changing his flow at all, he manages to sound like an off-brand Jadakiss on the hook but like a generic thug rapper during his actual contribution. Weird. But this was kind of enjoyable overall.
4. BOXCUTTERS (FEAT. BIG TWINS)
This Sid Roams production is far more sinister than “Waddup Gz”, an environment that Twin Gambino's I-like-my-coffee-with-gravel-and-cream flow tends to thrive in. And, admittedly, that title is actually kind of good, in that “why don't rappers call their songs 'Boxcutters' more often”-kind of way. Unfortunately, Cellblock P fucks everything up by (a) reciting some shout-outs toward the end that lead one to believe that the working title of this shit was “Do It To Death”, a phrase recited far more often than the titular word, and (b) turning in an amateur-hour performance that is simple and the epitome of everyone's argument about how Prodigy has fallen the fuck off lyrically. Edit him out and make this a Twin solo, and you may have had something here.
5. CATCH BODY MUSIC (FEAT. BIG TWINS)
After a goofy anti-graffiti interlude that certainly sounds like a complaint one might have made in the 1980s, which appears to have been thrown in merely to to remind the listener of the project's title, Prodigy turns in a solo effort (Twin checks in during the hook, but just barely) that is entirely undermined by the fact that he actually says the line, “I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse” during a verse. Also, “Catch Body Music”'s very title implies that this is going to be some kind of violent opus, but Cellblock P urges women to twerk it during the hook, which makes no goddamn sense. Unless you want to be with or are a woman who enjoys dancing to the sounds of implied gunfire, in which case, what the fuck is wrong with you?
6. P KEEP SPITTING
The Sid Roams beat isn't horrible, but isn't engaging, either. Doesn't matter, though: Prodigy's bars are so boring that you'll want him to quit spitting, if only to preserve whatever dignity the man has left in his career, as that goodwill he had accumulated up to this point has long since been squandered on rock candy and baseball cards.
7. TEST TUBE BABIES
Although I quite enjoyed the Sid Roams beat (it's sinister-sounding in a 1980s horror flick-type of way), Cellblock P's actual bars are all over the place: when he's not aping 2Pa...sorry, Makaveli's opening bars from “Hail Mary” (which he does twice, for some fucking reason), obsessed with your girl's vagina, he's pretending that “Test Tube Babies” is some sort of metaphor for the United States of America's role in the current political climate, a concept he never extrapolates upon because he really isn't saying shit on here. Sigh.
8. COLD WORLD
There are too many rap songs out there called “Cold World”. Put two other words together, people! However, Prodigy's track isn't really about how life can be a dreary existence while living in the hood: the Sid Roams beat is too peppy for that shit. Cellblock P does touch on that subject, sure, but his first verse is devoted to him being the aggressor, beating the shit out of an adversary for some fucking reason, I don't know, I wasn't paying attention, while he actually complains of physically being cold in this world during the second. I suppose this technically could have been worse, but he seemed to be enjoying himself a tiny bit during that first violent stanza, so I'll allow it.
9. ANYTIME (FEAT. UN PACINO)
To the project's credit, each beat from “Test Tube Babies” up to now actually does evoke the overall feel of the 1980s: the music back then was less complicated and more engaging. This vibe successfully rubs off on Prodigy and Un Pacino on “Anytime”: stupid-as-shit hook aside (it's so awful it's almost like a Cellblock P art installation piece daring the audience to question what makes one chorus better from another chorus when all a chorus does is bridge the gap between verses and provided a breather for the artist, but pretentiously), but both men sound alright with their vague threats and boasts. Not bad.
10. STOP STRESSIN'
Enjoyable as shit. The Sid Roams beat, crafted with an assist from something called a Benny Needles, is exactly the kind of instrumental Cellblock P would have used had he come up in the rap game during the era of Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. He sounds like he actually cares, too: he even takes time out to sort-of thank Jay-Z (without actually using his name) for dissing him during that infamous (pun not intended, but I'll take it) Summer Jam performance, since he claims having his picture shown on screen, as a child dressed as a ballerina, scored him some sympathy points with an endless stream of vagina. Or something. This was entertaining.
11. DAMN DADDY (FEAT. UN PACINO & BIG TWINS)
Producer Jake One works in the familiar drums from Schooly D's “P.S.K. What Does It Mean??”, or, as New Wave Max refers to it, the music from Siouxsie & The Banshees' “Kiss Them For Me”, which certainly gives this track a tiny bit of a 1980s feel (even though that particular song was released in 1991, but fuck it). But it's goddamn awful otherwise. It's a shame that the first track on Product Of The 80s that features Prodigy alongside both Un Pacino and Twin Gambino focuses more on fucking than anything else, but come on, you read that song title: how could I have possibly expected anything good to come of that?
12. SEX, DRUGS, & MURDER (FEAT. BIG TWINS & UN PACINO)
13. IN THE SMASH (FEAT. BIG TWINS)
Cellblock P helpfully explains to the listener why he simplified his rhymes: so people can recite it back without problems; because you would much rather hear him rhyme about boning and his material possessions; because his mind runs so deep that, if he actually wrote about what he was thinking about on a regular basis, you would easily get lost. Whichever excuse you choose to buy, it still doesn't explain why “In The Smash” is as terrible as it is. And also, fans would happily want to get lost within a Prodigy verse where he was actively trying: this is the Interweb, after all, and nerds abound. Oh well, I guess we'll always have Mobb Deep's Hell On Earth.
14. CIRCLE DON'T STOP (FEAT. BIG TWINS & CHINKY)
Starts off with the same film sample that kicks off the first track on Ghostface Killah's solo debut Ironman, and, because of that, automatically draws unfair comparisons, mainly because “Circle Don't Stop” sucks. Neither Cellblock P nor Twin Gambino sound invested in what they're doing, the Sid Roams production made me drowsy, and guest crooner Chinky, Mobb Deep's unfortunately-names go-to for unnecessary R&B hooks, sounds pretty bad. I can't urge you two to skip past this one quickly enough.
15. AM I CRAZY?
Although it's tempting for me to just answer the titular question, there wasn't much to grasp onto on this Sebb-produced song anyway. A weak way to tie things up.
After “Am I Crazy?”, Product Of The 80s concludes with a bonus track.
THEY WANT ME WANT (FEAT. HARD WHITE)
At least Prodigy and company had the sense to actually try to end Product Of The 80s on a high note, using a Sid Roams-produced track for something called a Hard White (and an uncredited Un Pacino and Prodigy) to entirely abandon the whole 1980s concept entirely. Neither Hard White nor Pacino sound fully capable of carrying a song, unlike Cellblock P, who closes things out with flashes of his former self coming through in bursts, as he complains about the trial that eventually caused everyone to start calling him Cellblock P in the first place. Prodigy wasn't bad, but the other two verses were awful enough for me to want to keep this song hidden from the general public forevermore. Oh well.
There's also apparently a second bonus track only available on iTunes, but I don't have that version, so there you go.
There's also apparently a second bonus track only available on iTunes, but I don't have that version, so there you go.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Although there are some interesting sparks that come from it, Product Of The 80s is a rightfully forgotten part of Prodigy lore. Lyrically, Cellblock P can't quite stir up the same feelings as he once had while Mobb Deep was still forming their legacy, so he instead comes from the opposite direction, coming across as damn near condescending to everyone who actually liked Hell On Earth and The Infamous. It's not like Prodigy only sounds good when rapping alongside Havoc: Big Twins / Twin Gambino has been a trusted Infamous Mobb affiliate for years, and Prodigy has also proven that he can carry a track on his own when necessary. It's just that Product Of The 80s is a, um, product of a man who was coasting at the time, and his lack of effort transfers over to Twin and Un Pacino, who was probably grateful for the exposure but in no way deserved a showcase of this nature. Beat-wise, I miss Havoc: all of the Sid Roams production is hit-and-miss, and only some of the instrumentals follow the general theme of the project in the first place, but hey, kudos for not falling back on your crutches (Hav and The Alchemist), P. So what I'm saying is, Product Of The 80s isn't very good.
BUY OR BURN? A burn is sufficient. That is, if you haven't already forgotten this shit existed.
BEST TRACKS: "Stop Stressin'"; maybe "Shed Thy Blood"