I'm sure a couple of you were wondering why I chose to skip ahead in Prodigy's catalog to write about Product Of The '80s, because I like pretending that someone out there gives a shit about moves such as that. The answer is: I have no idea. There was no master plan: I merely got a couple of albums mixed up, and then it became too late to do anything about it. Shit happens, especially when an artist attempts to become prolific just before a prison sentence.
Earlier in 2008, Albert "Prodigy" Johnson released what most hip hop heads consider to be his second proper solo album (because 2007's Return Of The Mac was more of a collaborative effort with The Alchemist). Because sequels were in vogue even back then, he called it H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, making this a direct continuation of his well-received solo debut, which was released eight years prior to this effort. It's difficult to fault the man for the gap in between projects, though: Prodigy was clearly busy with Mobb Deep albums, Alchemist collaborations, and gun charges, and that takes up a lot of time.
H.N.I.C., an acronym that stands for Head N---a In Charge, wasn't exactly as cohesive a project as many recall: the production is all over the place, Cellblock P having employed a different producer for nearly every goddamn track (save for the multiple beats from The Alchemist, his Mobb Deep partner Havoc, and Prodigy himself). Then again, H.N.I.C. was released by Loud Records, an underground haven with pockets lined with disposable income thanks to the success of acts such as Big Punisher, the Wu-Tang Clan, Xzibit, and, well looky here, Mobb Deep.
For obvious reasons, and not just because Loud Records hasn't existed in many moons, H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 wasn't given as much of a budget, so Prodigy stuck with a handful of producers to help him get his message across. Aside from The Alchemist and Havoc (who only checks in behind the boards for a single track), Cellblock P employed production team Sid Roams to handle a good majority of the tracks. Which you would think helped with lending the album a consistent sound overall, but nah.
H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 is notable as a hip hop release from the label Voxonic, which you two have never heard of until now, most likely. Voxonic wasn't exactly a traditional record label: it was a company responsible for developing technology that could be used to translate songs into hundreds of different languages using the artists's own vocal inflections and a computerized approximation of their voice. Prodigy was (and maybe still is, I don't know or give a shit) an equity holder in the company, and promoted the shit out of the technology in return for using the company to promote H.N.I.C. Pt. 2. This gamble seems to have paid off, since everyone you know uses Voxonic technology throughout their everyday lives, not just to translate songs, but to speak in as many foreign languages as one wishes without ever having to learn them, effectively running companies like Rosetta Stone out of business while people from all parts of the world walk around neighboring countries like they own the place.
1. REAL POWER IS PEOPLE
Prodigy kicks off H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 by attempting to shun financial success and material objects, claiming that the real power is found when people are in the streets and, as such, can be considered as equals. Which, when you overthink it like I tend to do, makes no goddamn sense: even though I'm no fan of Brian De Palma's Scarface, Tony Montana's line, “First you get the money, then you get the power” rings absolutely true, and has been proven many times throughout history. I like Cellblock P's humanistic approach, but not only is it not realistic, he doesn't even provide a compelling argument for this particular viewpoint during his two verses (and overlong hook) over the Sid Roams production. He also refers to himself as a “quadruple O.G.”, which only spells out O.O.O.O.G. So there's that.
2. THE LIFE
Our host fares better on “The Life”, and Alchemist-produced little number that zips by. Prodigy again lends two verses, but comes across as more focused with his vague threats (contradictory, I know), and is far more successful at sounding like the guy who could have at least written his verses on Hell On Earth (although, to be clear, he's nowhere near that pinnacle here). The best Al Maman beats have a sinister quality woven throughout, and “The Life” is no exception, although it would probably fit a police procedural more than it would any actual crime thriller. Still, the beat was enjoyable, and this wasn't bad.
3. YOUNG VETERANS
One of two tracks on H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 that focuses on “veterans”, of various ages and levels of expertise, apparently. Cellblock P spends the duration of this Alchemist beat (which is grander in scope than his work on “The Life”, but not quite as interesting) celebrating his status as someone who should not be fucked with, whether it be behind the mic or just in the streets, and he's fairly convincing in his own right. His flow isn't necessarily great or even all that good (he rhymes “kush” with “wish” toward the end, which is a bit of a stretch), but it wasn't awful. I even liked the casual dismissal of the attacks from his perceived enemies (“You can believe Jay [-Z] if you want”, he says, before a similar threat regarding Nas's past comments). Not sure why he chose to open the track with an extended stoner skit, though.
Speaking of Jay-Z, Prodigy dedicates this track to the “Illuminati”. Okay, that's not exactly true” this Al Maman-produced song lifts four of Cellblock P's bars from his cameo on LL Cool J's “I Shot Ya (Remix)” to fill in as a hook. Our host isn't inspired on here, spitting words out apathetically as though it were just another workday and some of these customers were being real assholes today. Which is too bad, as Al's beat wasn't terrible: it's a punchy motherfucker that a younger, hungrier rapper would have destroyed. Oh well.
5. NEW YITTI
The Sid Roams instrumental on “New Yitti” is actually a mini-masterpiece, no bullshit: it sounds like it was lifted from an Italian giallo from the 1970s. Cellblock P's performance isn't particularly terrifying, but he sounds interesting enough, although his threats and boasts don't exactly mark new territory or anything. Except for when he disses Craig Mack. That comes completely out of nowhere. But I liked this overall.
Almost incomprehensibly horrible. The Sid Roams instrumental is simplistic and annoying, and P's verses are fucking awful. Imagine if Prodigy had been knocked unconscious and, because hip hop is obviously a soap opera, he suffered from amnesia and couldn't remember that he was one half of Mobb Deep. After chancing upon “Shook Ones Part II” on satellite radio, Prodigy was informed that it was he, in fact, who performed the first verse: both empowered and a bit impressed, he decided to give this rap shit a try, but did not have any knowledge of how he used to do this. Hence, horseshit like “ABC”, which sounds like strung-together lines from other Prodigy performances and even features the lazy-as-fuck cop-out where two-thirds of the goddamn alphabet make up most of the shitty chorus. The fuck was this, man?
7. CLICK CLACK (FEAT. BIG TWINS)
Cellblock P finally sees fit to share the spotlight with a guest star: however, instead of the obvious Havoc, he looks to Infamous Mobb's Twin Gambino, who's actually fairly close with The Alchemist, so it was surprising that this shit was produced by Sid Roams. The beat rolls along far more slowly than what any of us deserve, and Prodigy's flow crawls by in the most embarrassing fashion possible. Twin's gravelly monotone only contributes a quick hook in the middle of the track: he may as well have not even shown up to the studio that day, but I have it on good authority that the soda machine had broken and was dispensing free Coke Zeros, so you know. This was ass.
8. VETERANS MEMORIAL PT. 2
The other track on H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 paying tribute to veterans is a direct sequel to one of the standouts from the original H.N.I.C. Over an easygoing Alchemist beat that isn't as dramatic as a somber piece like this would imply, Cellblock P praises those who have passed, doing so in a way that proves that (a) he actually cares about these people, and (b) actually took his time with the writing, making sure he got the words just right. The effort shows in the final product, the best track of the album thus far.
9. FIELD MARSHAL P (FEAT. UN PACINO)
Havoc (finally) makes an appearance on H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, albeit behind the scenes, lending his partner in rhyme an uncharacteristically methodical (and, admittedly, pretty damn good) instrumental. P and guest Un Pacino deliver their threats and occasional boasts in the most cold and calculated manner they could respectively muster, and the result is an altogether enjoyable, if not that great, listening experience. That title is also as stupid as shit, but hey, rappers will be rappers.
10. 3 STACKS (FEAT. BIG TWINS)
This unexpected ode to OutKast's reclusive Andre 3000 takes place over a Sid Roams concoction that sounds more Hit-Boy-esque than Hit-Boy is now. Wait, that's not what this song is about? That joke was too easy? I should have tried harder? Regardless, this track was weird. Prodigy apparently walks around with “three stacks and a pocket full of hats” at all times: does this mean he's adequately prepared to pay for sex twenty-four/seven? The hook seems to think so, as it proclaims that, “when it's on, it's go 'pop'”, which sure sounds like ejaculation to me. Also, Twin Gambino has a verse.
(The following song only appears on the original pressing of H.N.I.C. Pt.2.)
11. WHEN I SEE YOU
An Apex-produced ditty that is nearly impossible to locate online today, since Prodigy essentially scrubbed it from existence in favor of its remix, which will appear later in this review. For what it's worth, it sounds incomplete when compared with the remix, for reasons that will become more clear as this post continues on.
12. IT'S NOTHING (FEAT. BIG NOYD)
Producer Apex injects some energy into the proceedings with “It's Nothing”, which sounds nothing like any beat Cellblock P has ever rhymed over (for himself, anyway). Our host and Rapper Noyd attack the fast-paced, slick instrumental as though it was their last chance to get the word out before the aliens took over the studio, with both men sounding pretty good with their “diabetic rap” (because “ain't nothing sweet”). Not bad.
13. I WANT OUT (FEAT. HAVOC & UN PACINO)
Un Pacino's Jadakiss-lite flow opens “I Want Out”, the lone actual Mobb Deep collaboration on H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, because Havoc performs double duty as producer and guest star. And you know what? I dug his verse more than anyone else's on here: he rides that line between exasperated and optimistic like a champ, and Hav's dramatic backdrop only adds to the experience. Unfortunately, he kills the momentum with his hook, which is pretty shitty, and neither Hav nor P sound inspired enough to mind. It would probably be better to pretend that this is Pacino's song anyway, considering you hear much more of him than anyone else anyway.
The following is listed as a bonus track.
14. ABC (VOX SPANISH REMIX TEASER)
In a move that makes no sense aside from financial, for the final song of the original project, Prodigy takes the worst track from H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 and runs it through Voxonic's technology, an innovation that uses Prodigy's actual voice to recreate the syllables required to make “ABC” sound like our host recorded this version in a foreign language. (Sort of: it's not perfected yet, and at times Prodigy sounds like Stephen Hawking's computer.) The technology wasn't fully formed back in 2008, but the concept was at least interesting, and all this should be seen as is a test run. It's too bad that our host felt the need to place what is essentially a fucking commercial onto a goddamn rap album, but then again, he did release this album on a label called Voxonic Music. so.
Several months after its original release, Prodigy saw fit to drop a collector's edition of H.N.I.C. Pt. 2. This was a three-disc effort, with one dedicated to a tweaked version of the original project with additional tracks, a DVD with every video clip shot for the album, and a third disc filled with creator commentary for each song. The re-release omits “When I See You” in favor of its remix, a Cormega-featured number that is tacked on near the end. As such, the tracklisting changes a bit, with “It's Nothing” becoming the eleventh song on the album instead of the twelfth, and so on. The track numbering that follows will reflect how the extra songs appear on the re-release, so no, there aren't actually two track fourteens on the project. Sorry to disappoint you.)
14. GET TRAPPED (FEAT. NYCE & UN PACINO)
Nonsensical, but in a way that pretty much all rap songs tend to be: Prodigy and friends are ostensibly rhyming about being trapped in the street life, but all that appears to be on our host's mind is pussy, so that's pretty much all he talks about. I don't honestly believe that all rappers have undiagnosed ADHD, but, obviously, focusing on a specific theme can be too much of a challenge someti...oooh, a blue car! What was I talking about? Oh yes. “Get Trapped” is boring and less interesting than a blue car. I think.
15. WHEN I SEE YOU (REMIX) (FEAT. CORMEGA)
Apex's instrumental (the same as before) is still pretty elementary, but it's a loop that burrows its way into your subconscious, so at least it's pleasant enough. This remix is the same as the original take, featuring two Prodigy verses of varying degrees of decent: his threats aren't fully fleshed out and come across as simplistic, although I did like the way Cellblock P tosses off a “Go fuck your mother” during the second verse. And the distorted hook was pretty dumb. The only difference between this version and the original is when Mega Montana steals the show without really even trying, his tacked-on verse at the end being merely alright. But even with all of this seemingly negative feedback, I still kind of dug this track. Huh.
16. THE DOUGH
(Insert one-word dismissal of entire song here.)
17. REPRESENT ME
Easily one of the most annoying Alchemist beats I have ever heard. Cellblock P does what he can, but there's no heart in his bars, except maybe in the lines he devotes to Voxonic's technology advertised earlier in the program, since he was obviously convinced that talking up his product was going to make him big bucks without whammies. Bleh.
18. SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD
The Sid Roams production isn't quite as sinister as a track entitled “Sleep When I'm Dead” probably should be, although there are some flourishes thrown in as an afterthought. Prodigy discusses his lack of a sleeping pattern through his bars and another distorted hook, choosing to fill the time typically spent in dreamland with plots, schemes, and plans to get ahead of the next guy. Which is fine: most street rap is about this exact topic. But considering that the regular version of H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 is also filled with these type of tracks, Cellblock P probably should have maybe included some different subject matter on the deluxe edition, right?
19. DIRTY NEW YORKER (FEAT. HAVOC)
Weirdly included as a bonus video on the original version of H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 but not as an actual song, “Dirty New Yorker” finally arrives to close out the deluxe edition. The final song of the evening is an Alchemist banger that is fairly subdued, over which Prodigy and Havoc illustrate their self-described statuses as filthy rich, unwashed residents of the Big Apple. Okay, that's only what part of this track is about. Alan's instrumental provides the dramatic push Hav and P require to sound like they give a shit during their respective performances, making this an enjoyable way to close things out.
FINAL THOUGHTS: So here's the thing: if you were expecting Prodigy to suddenly revert back to his Hell On Earth days, you just have to learn to accept that it will never happen. People grow older, they try new things, they evolve. You want to hear the old shit? Buy Hell On Earth fifty times, which at least might convince Mobb Deep to remaster that project too, instead of just The Infamous. But I'm digressing. H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 is filled with sparks of the brilliance that made people love Mobb Deep in the first place, but they're all buried within piles of annoying shit that you would have to wade through if you cared that much to do so. Cellblock P has replaced genuine (for a rapper, anyway) menace and malice with empty threats and hollow boasts, and his ear for beats may need to be checked out, since Sid Roams isn't exactly the finest production team in the business. Still, Prodigy has managed to pull a few good songs out of his ass on here, so this wasn't a complete waste of my time, even if that Vox sampler screamed, "Don't you want to invest in us right now? Huh? Come in on the ground floor? Don't cha?" But who am I to fault any rapper that hustles? At least Prodigy didn't release his own vodka or something as equally played-out.
BUY OR BURN? A burn is sufficient, unless you absolutely want the commentary disc and the DVD of on-the-fly music videos Prodigy shot prior to beginning his sentence. But the songs below are definitely worth searching for.
BEST TRACKS: “Dirty New Yorker”; “New Yitti”; “When I See You (Remix)”; “The Life”; “It's Nothing”