Anyway, to H.N.I.C. 3.
Obviously, H.N.I.C. 3 is seen by its creator as continuing the series inadvertently started with his debut solo album, H.N.I.C. A lot has changed since the first album dropped, however: Cellblock P has burned through approximately nineteen million different record labels, including G-Unit (where Mobb Deep served a short stint and crew leader 50 Cent discovered that not everyone can become a crossover success), Voxonic (a company Prodigy still owns a small portion of, I assume, but I guess the weak sales figures from H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 spoke volumes for the company's continued presence in the music distribution field), and the late, great Loud Records. During that time, the man served a prison sentence, battled with his rhyme partner Havoc, wrote an autobiography, and basically did what he had to do to keep his name alive within our fickle chosen genre, even if that meant diluting his lyrical wizardry in an ill-advised attempt to gain a wider following. Or maybe he just can't write decent rhymes anymore. Whatever.
H.N.I.C. 3 was released by Infamous Records in the summer of 2012, and, as the season may have clued you in to, it is a far cry from the cold, menacing Prodigy that released The Infamous and Hell On Earth (two albums that will go down in history among the finest that have ever been made, and that is not up for debate). On it, Cellblock P apparently was missing the touch of a woman, as a fucking ridiculous (RZA voice) amount of the tracks contained within are for the ladies. Prodigy has even gone so far as to sign up the likes of T.I. (okay, could be worse) and Wiz Khalifa (shit just got bad) for cameo appearances, just to broaden that audience horizon.
The lyrics I can still remember after my first (and, let's be real, only) listen aren't even really worth discussing. The production, though, is a bit of a shocker: instead of relying on the likes of Havoc, frequent collaborator The Alchemist, or the Sid Roams team as he has in the past, Prodigy only picks up a few beats from each (leaving Hav in the dark entirely, although he does contribute a guest verse), branching out to no-names to fill in the blanks (and Oh No, because Prodigy felt that we all needed to see a random critically-acclaimed producer chosen out of left field, maybe). My guess is that this is all his Infamous Records budget would allow, although I would assume something called Infamous Records would at least be partially his own baby, right?
You two may have figured out by now that I didn't really care for H.N.I.C. 3. Here's why.
1. WITHOUT RHYME OR REASON
H.N.I.C.3 kicks off like a program already in progress, which is good, in that there's no useless rap album intro, but bad if you're a fan of things such as “context” and “beginnings” and such. To his credit, Prodigy sounds like he just doesn't give a shit, but in a good way: he seems to have only written his verses to please himself, saying and doing what he wants without any attention paid to rhyme or...um...sorry, I had something for this. The Alchemist's instrumental isn't anything fancy, but it keeps the trains running on time.
2. SLEPT ON
Alan crafts a fast-paced pre-trap-esque instrumental, one which Cellblock P immediately sounds awkward as fuck over. Awkward enough for me to feel embarrassed, no bullshit. Our host never grasps just how to rhyme on this (not very interesting) beat, but honestly, he never should have needed to try: who in the fuck did he have in his ear that told him “Slept On” was going to ever be a good idea? Thankfully, it only lasts the length of two verses and a shitty hook, but that makes up three minutes that none of us will ever get back.
3. PRETTY THUG
Prodigy seems fairly confident that he would have resolved his differences with 2Pac had the latter not passed beyond this mortal coil, even going so far as to use a sound bite from Tupac: Resurrection to kick off “Pretty Thug”, which, coincidentally, is the only track from H.N.I.C. 3 I was even remotely familiar with prior to this write-up, as it was serviced to satellite radio as a single for some indiscernible reason. “Pretty Thug” isn't merely about attractive gangsters, though: Cellblock P proclaims that both he and his bitch are pretty, and then uses the rest of this Ty Fyffe production trying to prove it. Which, somehow, means that our host briefly attempts to speed-rap during the third verse, and following that, he channels Apache's “Gangsta Bitch”. Yeah, this song is as much of a scattered mess as you're thinking it is.
4. MY ANGEL (FEAT. WILLIE TAYLOR)
Because the world demanded a love rap from a dude from Mobb Deep, Prodigy trades in his pretty thug for a “thug angel” (as guest crooner Willie Taylor, from the Bad Boy group Day26, calls her) and turns in a weirdly radio-friendly effort that won't ever reach its intended audience, because if there's a female that actually listens to Mobb Deep's output from today, then you're fucking out of your mind, but at least it gives the listener proof of an attempt at switching things up. It's not that Cellblock P sounds bad on here (he doesn't): it's just strange hearing him be so goddamn nice. Sure, it's all a means to an end (read: sex), but at least he doesn't make his angel feel like that was the only thing he was after. I guess.
5. CO-PILOT (FEAT. WIZ KHALIFA)
One of the most overproduced, polished instrumentals I have ever heard Prodigy rhyme over: production group The Colombians are not his friends on here. “Co-Pilot”, the third song in a row dedicated to our host sharing the good aspects of his life with t he bitch of his choice (specifically, one with an “ass [that's] first class”, because priorities), is so out of place in P's catalog that it may as well have been written for the likes of a Wiz Khalifa. Who, conveniently enough, appears on here, sounding more comfortable with the music because it's the type of beat he gravitates toward himself. I know that Prodigy's rhymes aren't delivered in the same manner as they were on Hell On Earth in 1996, but it's becoming more difficult to prove that this album is supposedly from the same dude.
Thanks to The Alchemist's beat, the first verse on “Live” sounds like Prodigy's love letter to torturing motherfuckers by throwing bricks at their heads while they're tied to a chair and otherwise defenseless, oh, and also their girlfriends are collectively blowing our host while they're tied to said chair. This song is all over the place: apparently Cellblock P has no regard for the concept of “theme” or “tone”. It also sucks, so there's that.
7. MAKE IT HOT
What the hell? Young L's instrumental exists only so our host can say that he's aware of how hip hop has evolved from what was in vogue when he first hit the scene, but that doesn't mean that anyone ever wanted to hear Prodigy rhyme over this kind of shit. Not only does he ape Puff Daddy's hook from Lil Kim's “No Time” for his own chorus, he performs the entire first verse with his vocals distorted, inadvertently sounding like A$AP Rocky when he alters his own lines, which should never ever ever be used for an extended length of time ever. If Prodigy was planning on using H.N.I.C. 3 to cut his Mobb ties, well, he should have chosen better fucking production.
8. GET MONEY (FEAT. BOOGZ BOOGETZ)
If you haven't figured it out by now, much of H.N.I.C. 3 consists of our host trying to expand his musical horizons beyond the Mobbosphere. Unfortunately, Prodigy is taking the wrong lessons away from modern-day hip hop, inundating the listener with shitty hooks, incomplete-sounding Southern-inspired beats, and lyrics that don't sound as cold and calculated as we've been hoping. The chorus on “Get Money” is especially atrocious (anyone who's had the misfortune of hearing this shit will undoubtedly know what I'm talking about), and Prodigy does his damnedest to sound natural over the Young L production, but stands out like a dude at an all-girls school painted bright red and also he's a guy. Weirdly, guest rapper Boogz Boogetz (yeah, me neither) sounds okay enough, but that's not exactly what I would refer to as an “endorsement”.
9. LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT
Prodigy steers back into the right direction with an oddly positive track that informs the listener that “anything is possible”, Kevin Garnett-style, and that, well, you can read the title, obviously, because you're reading the rest of this sentence. S.C.'s instrumental is simple, unobtrusive, and sounds closer to what Cellblock P would normally choose to rhyme over, and our host obliges with two quick verses that go a long way toward asking for forgiveness regarding the rest of the songs on here so far.
10. AWARD SHOW LIFE
After a fake-out that reminded me of the beginning of Dr. Dre's “Bitches Ain't Shit”, Prodigy launches into a downright weird track where he describes himself as a fame whore who is going to require more than the requisite Andy Warhol-promised fifteen minutes. Completely out of his comfort zone, Prodigy talks about sitting in the Grammy audience with the likes of Justin Bieber (I call bullshit on that, unless he means they were in the same country at the time) and how his trusty bitch is so used to a paparazzi-and-TMZ-filled lifestyle. Kudos for not writing another song about being a thug and shit, but these are first world problems that the majority of the readers will not relate to. The fuck, man?
11. WHO YOU BULLSHITTIN'? (FEAT. HAVOC)
Both halves of Mobb Deep reunite on the Sid Roams-produced “Who You Bullshittin'”, which, hilariously, is sequenced immediately following “Award Show Life”. Unfortunately, it appears as though Havoc and Prodigy recorded their vocals on separate weeks. Still, this was enjoyable enough: P's shit-talking is focused, which is more than you could say about the rest of his latter-day output, and Hav sounds decent enough over the simple-but-effective best. More of this kind of shit, please.
12. SKULL & BONES
Not just bad, but insultingly so. And a pirate motif? Really? Wow.
13. SMACK THAT BITCH (FEAT. ESTHER)
Uh oh, something is amiss in the house of Prodigy: apparently, he's cheated on his pretty thug angel bitch with another pretty thug angel bitch, and his girl, portrayed here by guest crooner Esther (because Chinky was unavailable, apparently?), is rightfully upset, threatening to “Smack That Bitch”, just in case you were worried that this track would feature Kurupt-esque levels of using-hos-like-tennis-rackets misogyny. Cellblock P spends his time apologizing profusely, which, admittedly, makes this song a bit more interesting: there's no battle of the sexes happening here, as he knows he fucked up. Valentino's beat is too slow for my liking, but although this wasn't great, it wasn't bad, and there aren't many songs like it in the Mobb Deep discography, so.
14. LET ME SHOW YOU (FEAT. VAUGHN ANTHONY)
What is with Cellblock P's obsession with trying the impress the opposite sex on H.N.I.C. 3?
15. GANGSTA LOVE (FEAT. ESTHER)
Pleas refer to my comments from the previous track.
16. WHAT'S HAPPENING (FEAT. T.I.)
Ant-Man's T.I. (no, seriously) isn't the most obvious choice for a cameo appearance on a Prodigy solo album, but to be fair, he also isn't the most obvious choice for a cameo appearance on an album from The Prodigy, either, but which one do you think would make more sense? Over his guest's boring-as-shit instrumental, Prodigy, once again, chases the pussy while Clifford hoes around trying to get a handsy. That wasn't a joke. Clearly Cellblock P has run out of ideas. And this is how he chose to end H.N.I.C. 3, by the way.
Or not. The deluxe edition of H.N.I.C. 3 includes the following bonus tracks.
17. HATE TO LOVE YOU
I kind of liked the Mo Betta instrumental on “Hate To Love You”, yet another track on H.N.I.C. 3 devoted to Prodigy's dealings with his bitch, although this song twists the formula by having him realize that he's in a destructive relationship that will only end in flames, probably literal ones, since his girl from earlier in the program threatened to straight-up kill his side piece, so how the fuck else would she handle the end of their courtship? This actually wasn't bad; although it could have used a bit of clarity, Prodigy sounds focused, which is all I can ask for at this point.
18. MS. BAD ASS
Cellblock P gets back to pitching woo on “Ms. Bad Ass”, but what makes this track different from every other attempt at courting the female audience on H.N.I.C. 3 is Oh No's instrumental, which is more interesting than essentially every other goddamn thing on this project. Prodigy fails to break new lyrical ground, but at least he could hear the instrumental submitted for his approval, and chose wisely.
I suppose having Oh No handle production is the closest we will ever get to hearing Mobb Deep perform properly over a Madlib beat, although 'Lib's younger brother (also The Alchemist's partner in Gangrene) fails to captivate as much as he did on the previous track. Cellblock P rhymes about being a gangsta and all that it can entail, but while the music attempted a funkier template than what the host deserved, “G-Up” ultimately didn't resonate with me. Sigh.
20. SERVE 'EM
H.N.I.C.3's bonus program ends with the previously-released “Serve 'Em”, an Alchemist-produced exercise that effectively closes things out with thugged-out lyrics over a hype beat that shouldn't work, but does. Nothing major on here, but still an enjoyable way to tie things up.
THE LAST WORD: I'm not sure exactly what the fuck I just listened to, but it sure as shit wasn't a Prodigy album. Unless Cellblock P was actively trying to gain a female following in order to cross that shit off of his bucket list, there is absolutely no fucking reason why H.N.I.C. 3 should even exist. This has to be why The Alchemist, Sid Roams, and Havoc don't really contribute all that much to the project: I'd like to think all of those individuals had the sense to distance themselves from Prodigy's girl-watching whims, since that really isn't the reason anyone ever wants to listen to a Mobb Deep track. Maybe if the beats were more enticing, Prodigy's message could get lost and forgotten more easily and we could just enjoy the music for what it is, a mild distraction, but sadly, that isn't the case, either. Any case that H.N.I.C. Pt. 2 made for Prodigy's continued presence in hip hop is negated by this bullshit fucking album that I never hear anybody ever acknowledging, not even Cellblock P himself, which has to tell you something. Fuck this shit. On to Albert Einstein!