December 9, 2014

My Gut Reaction: Prodigy and The Alchemist - Albert Einstein (June 11, 2013)

Although I know a lot of you two have been waiting around for this post for quite a while, there's at least one reader who's going to run through this quickly while wondering just when I plan on getting to the actual new Prodigy album that dropped last month, that joint effort with something called a Boogz Boogetz.  To which I have two responses: (1) I don't know, but that shit definitely won't be happening anytime soon, and (2) stop fucking complaining and just read this thing, please.

Anyway, Albert Einstein is a collaborative full-length album from Mobb Deep's Prodigy and producer The Alchemist, who, of course, has a long and extensive history with Mobb Deep anyway, so there were already fairly high expectations when this project was first announced, especially from hip hop heads who were fans of the duo's last joint effort, Return Of The Mac.  However, unlike that previous project, which was centered around 1970s soul samples in an effort to create a specific mood, Alan and Cellblock P focused on the here and now this time around, which essentially was an excuse for the team to come up with some street shit, which is what every Mobb Deep fan wants to fucking hear anyway, so it was kind of a no-brainer.

Albert Einstein was met with critical acclaim and the exact number of sales you would expect an underground collaborative effort on a no-name label (Infamous Records, the Mobb's own outlet) from two older acts who are seen as pretty much ancient in the eyes of our youth-guided musical genre of choice.  The Alchemist, coming off of a series of other collaborative efforts with different artists, tends to have his instrumental work praised pretty heavily everywhere on the Interweb that isn't this very website, as I still find his work to be very hit-and-miss, even though the hits are strong as fuck.  But what surprised me about the reviews were all of the comments about Prodigy's lyrics, which appear to have re-entered the general atmosphere that contained his early poetic wizardry on the two classic Mobb Deep albums The Infamous and Hell On Earth, and, to a lesser extent, their follow-up, Murda Muzik.  Websites had proclaimed that Prodigy was "back", even though the previous three Cellblock P albums I wrote about this year alone would beg to differ.

Okay, you two have waited long enough.



Could it be? Why, yes it is: this is actually a really good track. Alan's instrumental mines from both old-school playfulness (the drums, for the most part) and from the sinister place that the Cellblock P that is actually good at what he does has been hiding, as “IMKDV” (which apparently means “Infamous Mobb Deep King Vulture”, which nobody will ever refer to our host as) contains the finest Prodigy performance I've heard in quite a while (and I've listened to a bunch of Prodigy recently, as evidenced by the past few months of posts). This one is up there with the Alchemist-produced “Keep It Thoro” as a perfect marriage of instrumental and shit-talking. P doesn't threaten to throw television sets around, Tommy Wiseau-style, but he will “leave you hole-y” and “baptize” your friends. I'm happy that Prodigy can still surprise me to this day.


Alan's instrumental wasn't bad, but “Give 'Em Hell” isn't as brash as one would expect, since Prodigy hardly even sounds annoyed on here, let alone filled with murderous rage. His two verses are cold and calculated, a property on which he has built four homes and three hotels, as it has worked out well for him throughout his career, but his plea to "Give 'Em Hell” is halfhearted at best, as is his performance, which I can honestly barely remember as I write these words down. Moving on...


This Alchemist beat is kind of jarring at first: the two samples pushed in right on top of one another clash awkwardly and violently. A funny thing happens on the way to the forum, however: as “Stay Dope” plays on, the instrumental worms its way into your head, and suddenly you can't imagine this track without it. So that weirdly worked out for them. Prodigy delivers two verses (and a hook) filled with the threats and boasts of a grizzled veteran that doesn't have to prove anything to you, you punk-ass little shit, but actually sounds pretty decent, since the music's deliberate pace allows him room to breathe. Not bad.


That sample laid in throughout is distracting: it sounds like Prodigy is in a 1970s sitcom constantly tripping over an ottoman while truing to deliver his bars before his boss arrives for dinner. “Curb Ya Dog” is ridiculous, mostly because of the hook and the song title, since P kicks off the track by threatening someone but then twists the definition of “dog” to describe how he and his Mobb Deep partner Havoc (aww!) are “vets, not pets”, as though he was staring at his reflection in a car window when he delivered the original line in the first fucking place. Whatever, this one wasn't great, and the sample dominates Alan's beat. A misfire.


I know you two wanted to know how I felt about this Cellblock P / Roc Marcy collaboration. Well, let's get this out of the way right now: Marciano sounds as apathetic as ever. However, Alan's production matches his lack of intensity beat for beat, which, strangely, makes the whole enterprise kind of work. That's no knock on the instrumental, either: The Alchemist's beat is the right balance of moody and menacing. This is Prodigy's song all the way, though: dude spits his bars as though he was told just before recording commenced that his family would be murdered if Albert Einstein wasn't any good. So, in short, I liked this. Huh.


This could be a bit of a stretch, but follow me here: dumb-ass title and the hook it informs aside, “Bear Meat” is best enjoyed if you pretend it's one of those Eric B. & Rakim fast-paced joints, albeit with less-impressive lyricism and with the knowledge that The Alchemist actually did produce this one. Alan's instrumental isn't intricate or densely layered, but it is entertaining and you can rhyme to it, which is all that matters, and Cellblock P comes out swinging, dismissing his enemies and, once again, promoting both Havoc and Mobb Deep. Which just makes me think that Hav was originally scheduled to appear on both “Bear Meat” and “Curb Ya Dog”. But anyway, I liked this one.


Prodigy teams up with Odd Future's Domo Genesis (whose collaborative project with The Alchemist, No Idols, was released in 2012 and also features a Cellblock P cameo) for “Y.N.T.” (which apparently stands for “Young N----s Thuggin', since I can't find any other interpretation). Genesis gets his part out of the way fairly quickly: Prodigy doesn't even wait for the man's verse to end before he starts reciting the (bland) hook. (And yes, I realize that isn't actually how things went down in then studio, but wouldn't it have been hilarious if it had been?) Our host doesn't fare any better: although he does get in one funny line (“You a fan? Name a song on my new album / And buy my shit”), he comes up short against Alan's dull, throbbing instrumental that trades soulful for “yeah, I found this on my hard drive, why don't you use that, eh?”, because in my mind that sentence is funnier if Alan were somehow Canadian now.


Prodigy chose a ballsy tactic with his cover-slash-homage to Young Jeezy's club banger “R.I.P.”, dropping his track four months after its inspiration, and also this has fuck-all to do with killing it in the club. Prodigy finds himself alongside former Loud Records labelmate Chef Raekwon and, and keep in mind this was supposed to be a bigger deal back in 2013, his Mobb Deep partner Havoc, who continues in his quest to become as known for his bars as he is for his beats, all while trying to ignore the elephant in the room. Alan doesn't allow his beat to grow even a little bit complicated until the Chef ends his verse, which gives the listener a chance to pay actual attention to the lyrics, and you know what? This wasn't bad. It's light years behind the finest Mobb Deep / Raekwon collaborations (by the way, although Hell On Earth's “Nighttime Vultures” is excellent, the correct response is, of course, The Infamous's “Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)”, but still.


The first problem came when I read that song title: it's usually an issue with me when the song title contains a phrase that doesn't make grammatical sense in the first place that is then misspelled for the fuck of it. Then I realized Prodigy seems a bit bored over this beat, and I can understand why: it isn't one of Alan's best. At least it only runs for two verses? I seriously can't come up with anything else to say about this track. Have any of you two watched that movie The Guest? It's fucking entertaining as shit. Look it up when you have the time. I think it hits Blu-Ray in about a month, but it might still be in theaters in your area.  Moving on...


Alan's “Dough Pildin” instrumental transitions seamlessly into “Confessions”, giving the impression that there was some sort of plan in place. That's not to say it was foolproof, though: “Confessions” does not feature any actual confessing, as it is actually our host detailing an awfully violent day in the life, using those storytelling skills that have laid dormant for all these years. And the story works: I was genuinely caught off guard when he rapped about pistol-whipping a child. A fucking child. He missed an opportunity for some much-needed levity, though: I realize the actual lyrics do not say anything close to this, but at the point Prodigy opens fire on the car, it almost sounds like he says that the car “Michael Bays”, which I took to mean that it exploded while our host walked away from it in slow-motion. See? Isn't that much better than the real bars?


In a shocking twist, P looks behind the boards for his next collaborator. Al Maman, who had never spit a rhyme before, aside from all of those myriad other times he's rapped, obviously, joins our host on “Bible Paper”, accompanying Cellblock P's shit-talking with ease over an instrumental that's at once uplifting and brooding. Al switches up the beat for our host's final verse, allowing Prodigy a sinister soundtrack (well, except for the bizarre flourish that was undoubtedly a part of the sample, but still disrupts the flow) to close things out. Not the finest rap song in history or anything, but not bad.


With the exception of “R.I.P.”, one of the most interesting aspects of Albert Einstein is how the guest list proves that this is really The Alchemist's project and not Prodigy's, as Alan filled the ranks with some of his other collaborators, such as Action Bronson, who appears on “The One” in an attempt to be, well, the one. The music, which Alan co-produced alongside Twelve Reasons To Die's Adrian Younge, is pretty good, but Cellblock P is buried underneath it during his opening verse, only barely recovering toward the end of the track. Bronson has more to prove, obviously, and does so, but he's careful not to overshadow his gracious host, who doesn't sound bad when you can fucking hear him on here.


The vocal sample during the hook is intrusive and steamrolls over our host, but otherwise “Breeze” is some relaxed, unfiltered calm-before-the-storm-type shit, although it is far from breezy. Prodigy sits in front of you, the listener, like Michelle Pfeiffer in the video for Coolio's “Gangsta's Paradise”, to personally deliver his boasts and threats to your fucking face. It's unfortunate that the music is more enjoyable than the lyrics, although Cellblock P is no slouch here, and it's even worse that “Breeze” forgettable anyway. But hey, this song exists.


Kind of goofy, since P spends the first two verses bragging about his unattainable lifestyle and then explaining that he's allowed to rap about that boring topic because he's attained it, but Alan's instrumental knocks, so you won't really mind. He switches things up toward the end: the dusty drums remain but the music changes its tone quite a bit, and our host responds by delivering a third verse, one that features his slightly overprotective (or outright paranoid) persona concerned with losing everything he's worked so hard to obtain. “Raw Forever” isn't exactly raw, but it is interesting, if you're into that sort of “the artist steps outside of himself, albeit briefly, to comment” thing.


Alan ends Albert Einstein with a high-pitched squeal that runs throughout “Say My Name” (a Destiny's Child cover, weirdly) that will surely call every dog in the neighborhood and surrounding areas to your home, business, or vehicle. Prodigy rebrands himself as a hip hop Candyman (not to be confused with this guy, clearly), except after you say his name three times, he...appears out of the ether to fuck your girlfriend or something, I don't care. The music was so annoying that it took everything in my power to not call off the review entirely. True fact. And we're out. Sort of.

Several months later, encouraged by the Interweb buzz, Alan and Albert released a deluxe edition of Albert Einstein, subtitled P=MC², which included four additional tracks from the original recording sessions. However, and this is the part I actually fucking love, instead of only releasing a deluxe reissue of Albert Einstein with four additional tracks, the duo also dropped an EP, also entitled P=MC², for those of you two who had already purchased the original album. Which was obviously their idea and not the label's.  

(What follows will be numerated as it appears on the deluxe edition of AlbertEinstein.)


Actually pretty good, and even a little bit clever, due to Cellblock P's brief allusion to The Lox's infamous Biggie-featured Bad Boy mixtape cut “You'll See” toward the end of his second verse. Alan's instrumental is punchier and flat-out doper than a lot of Albert Einstein was, and Prodigy meets the challenge by delivering a focused, raw performance that successfully makes listeners believe that he is, at least, the same dude that wrote “Keep It Thoro”. Maybe we'll get lucky and these four extra tracks will just be “leftovers” and not “throwaways”, right? Could be too much to ask, though.


That title is corny as shit, as is the hook, but Alan's instrumental is good enough to shift popular opinion, and Celblock P spits some sparks of past glories over it, which is a nice touch considering that these are all bonus tracks and not a part of the main program. A but slight, but your head will still nod, goddammit.


Jesus fuck. Alan must have slipped some caffeine pills into Prodigy's spirit of choice, since the man is alert as shit on “Infamous Allegiance”, a song with a title that essentially begs for some weed carrier cameo nonsense, right? Alchemist once again approaches some Eric B. & Rakim late-career-type shit while Prodigy pretty much demolishes the beat with a performance that could have appeared on H.N.I.C. The first one. This is the kind of shit I was hoping for when Albert Einstein was first announced. Could Prodigy actually be on the verge of a comeback? Not bloody likely: that's not the way the otherwise-cyclical nature of hip hop works. But if Cellblock P is still capable of pulling performances such as this one out of thin air, that can only be a good thing.


That song title elicited an audible “Huh?” from me, but it's at least better than Return Of The Mac's “Munching On Some Grindage”. Prodigy, still insisting on referring to himself as a King Vulture as if he's a hip hop supervillain trying to steal the moon, spits some actual fire over a melodic, dramatic Alan instrumental. This was actually kind of great, and the hook even sort-of explains the title, which was a nice touch. And then the album (or EP) ends, which sucks, because “Gnarly” is so good that you actually want to hear more from Prodigy, which is the first time I've written that sentence probably ever.

THE LAST WORD:  Albert Einstein is actually pretty entertaining (especially the four bonus tracks, which are some of the strongest performances from Prodigy in fucking years).  The decision to allow The Alchemist free reign on the project, both behind the booth and in influencing who made guest appearances, pays off in a big way for Cellblock P, who used the time he saved to tighten up his boasts 'n bullshit.  There are more than just mere sparks of his past life on here: the Prodigy that performs on Albert Einstein could very well succeed in his quest to keep Mobb Deep fans happy, especially those who also purchased his book and follow the Havoc vs. Prodigy saga like a goddamn soap opera.  Alan's work behind the boards is also worth noting: while not every track works, especially when he lets the samples run wild, when he reigns in his impulses, he's capable of producing some fucking bangers, which he does with ease on here.  I'll be honest, I'm actually very surprised at how much I liked Albert Einstein.  If you pick this one up, though, don't bother with anything but the deluxe edition, since those bonus tracks deserve a wider audience.



Prodigy or Mobb Deep? How about some more Alchemist, too? Collect them all!


  1. Solid album, but I dont think I like it quite as much as you do.

    What I do like is Prhyme. Some of the songs on there are awesome. Hope to see a review on that soon.

    1. A clever way to inject something you actually wanted to talk about, but I advise you to hold your tongue and just be patient.

    2. Fair enough. I just can't deal with Prodigy any more I'm afraid. I stick with Hell on Earth and the Infamous for the most part if I need my Mobb fix.

  2. Nice review Max. Glad to see that P got his groove back. This may be a bit random a request but could you perhaps continue reviewing Black Rob's discography. You did review "Life Story" (and even recommended a purchase) so it should fall into that 'finish what you started' thing you're working on and the man does have only two more albums left, with no signs of a follow up, so it isn't a lot of work or anything.

    1. My review of Black Rob's second album has been met with a bunch of false starts, but I haven't abandoned him just yet.

  3. Love this album. Prodigy did a pretty decent job, the alchemist beats are the highlight tho. Now I gotta track down that EP.

  4. This is Prodigy's best album outside of Mobb Deep. Alchemist's production is intoxicating and powerful. It complements P's seasoned flow extraordinarily well.

    I thought Roc Marcy's appearance was stellar. I guess some people really cannot get into him—a shame!

    1. You're talking about me, I just know it.

  5. While I agree with the first anonymous on the point that I refer mostly to pre-summerjam Mobb for my fix, I will admit that my first impression of this album was a tingly feeling in my stomach that the sinister Prodigy we love hasn't vanished from existence. Yet. Good album & good review.

    I will also say that this album proved to me that the real problem with modern Mobb Deep is both lack of chemistry & Hav's beats. Dude just turned to shit on the boards. (I will admit that 'Gimme All That' was a semi-good beat ruined by Prodigy's lyrics & Havoc's mixing of his own fucking verse.)

  6. I find it a tad eerie that Action Bronson and Roc Marciano appeared on this album as well as both Czarface and Professor @ Large

  7. so bear meat, breeze, and bible paper no longer appear on the amazon link for the deluxe edition, nor the New Zealand iTunes. Anyone got any info on this? Sample wars? Solid album btw


  8. Oh my God. What am I listening too? This actually bangs!