July 13, 2017

Reviews in Bulk: R.I.P. Prodigy Edition



The recent passing of Albert "Prodigy" Johnson was a severe loss for the genre as a whole. I'm not going to spend a lot of time cherry-picking my favorite bars or tracks, as that's been done all over the Interweb already, but regardless of how I felt about the man's later output (both by himself and as one-half of the formidable Queensbridge duo Mobb Deep, who was in the midst of a tour when the man passed away), Prodigy was one of the finest emcees to come out of New York in the 1990s, and, unlike a lot of your favorite rappers, the man had legitimate classic records under his belt. His cold, calculated-but-aloof flow will easily place the Mobb's finest works, the breakthrough The Infamous and its follow-up Hell On Earth, onto Best Albums of All Time lists for decades to come, and the man still had some bangers following all of that.

What follows isn't a new write-up, as I, admittedly, haven't listened to any new Prodigy work in quite some time (upon hearing the news, The Infamous and Hell On Earth were played back-to-back immediately). Instead, I've compiled a list of all of the Prodigy and Prodigy-related reviews I've written to date, in the hope that you two may discover or rediscover the man's body of work, which absolutely deserves all of the attention its received. Some of the photos may not work anymore, but I can't be bothered to fix any of those links at this time: besides, this is really about the writing anymore.

For the hell of it, I've also included what I've written about his rhyme partner Havoc, in addition to Mobb Deep affiliates Rapper Noyd and the Infamous Mobb, which gives you that much more to comb through.



Mobb Deep albums:
Juvenile Hell
The Infamous
Hell On Earth
Murda Muzik
Infamy
Free Agents: The Murda Mixtape
Amerikaz Nightmare
Blood Money
Black Cocaine (EP)
The Infamous Mobb Deep


Prodigy solo albums:
H.N.I.C.
Return of the Mac (with The Alchemist) 
H.N.I.C. Pt.2
Product of the '80s (with Big Twins and Un Pacino)
H.N.I.C. 3
Albert Einstein (with The Alchemist)

Havoc solo albums:
The Kush
Hidden Files
13

Big Noyd albums:
Episodes of a Hustla (EP)
Only the Strong

Infamous Mobb album:
Special Edition

For the record, I still feel that Hell On Earth is the better complete album, save for the title track, which I still hate (I believe its tonal shift is so jarring that it disrupts the flow, which, up to that point, was perfect), while The Infamous contains much better songs (absolutely nothing on Hell On Earth fucks with "Shook Ones Part II" or, my personal favorite, "Eye For An Eye"). And the review for Infamy is still one of my favorites that I've written.

Anyway, maybe the response to this post could help me determine if it's worthwhile to finish Cellblock P's discography. Feel free to share your favorite Prodigy verses in the comments below.

Enjoy these reviews, and I'll be back soonish. Hopefully.

-Max

53 comments:

  1. Juvenile Hell, The Infamous, Hell on Earth and Murda Muzik will always constitute Mobb Deep for me. My favorite will always remain "Hell on Earth" because of it's bleakness, it's atmosphere, it's relentless approach and it's dark as fuck; it's even darker than "The Infamous".

    Anyways, if I still have the original version of "Murda Muzik" that I downloaded then I will review it. That is, if I have the blessing of Max to do so.

    I'm hoping this blog can have a second coming, this is what we need in a time of uncertainty and confusion.

    -Taylor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure, why not? That was something I had been meaning to do for years anyway. And I agree that Hell On Earth is much darker than The Infamous as a whole, but The Infamous is a much colder album, if that makes any sense.

      Delete
    2. Huh, I was actually planning on doing a side-by-side comparison of the two. FWIW, my opinion of the released version is that it's solid if weaker than the original, but that it's the first album in which Havoc started to consistently outrhyme his partner.

      Delete
    3. I had planned on writing about the bootleg myself quite a while ago, but I've since abandoned that concept, so if either one of you, or both or you, wish to do so in my place, go for it.

      Delete
    4. AnonymousJuly 19, 2017

      Some of P's verses on Juvenile Hell are pretty slept on. I know Hav wrote some of P's shit there, but you can tell when he wrote for himself. Trust me.

      Delete
    5. I've been trying to hunt down the original bootleg for some time now so I'd be keen to read up on the differences.

      In terms of Infamous vs. Hell on Earth I think I like the idea of enjoying Infamous more, but Hell on Earth just has more tracks that are actually good. That said, the best tracks on Infamous are better than the ones on Hell on Earth...

      Hmm, need to go listen again.

      Delete
    6. Yo Max, whenever you get the time. Make sure my "Murda Muzik" reader review sees the light of day.

      Delete
  2. AnonymousJuly 14, 2017

    Prodigy is my favourite rapper. Nas had the better album, at least in terms of lyrics (Illmatic) but, unlike Nas, Prodigy had two back-to-back classics, and a whole bunch of unreleased gold from that period.
    Hell on Earth is my favourite rap album - not least because of the consistent beats, hard lyrics, vynil crackles and classical music samples warped into some dark shit.
    Some of Prodigy/Mobb Deep's songs that I've found myself consistently listening to (aside from the obvious classics):
    - The Bridge (the original unreleased version on Youtube, NOT the recent remastered version) - one of Prodigy's top verses ever.
    - Rare Species (Modus Operandi) (Soul in the Hole soundtrack)
    - Back at You (Sunset Park soundtrack)
    - Stay Dope, Raw Forever, & Gnarly (Albert Einstein, a surprisingly great return to form)
    - Three feat Cormega (HNIC) and, of course, Keep it Thoro.
    - Still Shining & Apostle's Warning (some of the greatest final tracks of a rap album I've ever heard. On another level.)
    - Drop a Gem on 'em
    - Shook Ones Part 1 (yet to hear a darker beat, except maybe Bloodshed and War)
    - The Realest feat Kool G Rap (filthy beat)
    - Mobb Deep and Da Youngstas - Bloodshed and War (wouldn't have sounded out of place on Hell on Earth)
    - Crime Connection (Cormega)
    - Hold you Down (Alchemist)

    He's had his share of clunkers too. I remember one period where he just kept spitting out songs, and only 1 in (say) 20 were even remotely good. My personal least favourite:
    - Crawlin (supposed Jay Z "diss" was the laziest shit I ever heard, polar opposite of Drop a Gem on 'em, an example of an actual diss track)
    - Most of HNIC 2 and 3 (crap beats and lazy lyrics, although a few diamonds in the rough)
    - Almost the entirety of Infamy, which was the single most painful lyrical fall from grace I've ever witnessed.
    - The two albums after Infamy.

    I was lucky enough to see Mobb Deep live a few years ago, in New Zealand. Wasn't as good as the GZA (who I saw at the same venue three years prior) but had some of the old energy and performed all the classics!
    When I heard he died, I went back and revisited all his unreleased tracks, and found another gem from the gold period - World War 3. RIP.
    Max - been reading your blog since, I think, 2008 (maybe 07?) - thanks for the recommendations, keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Apostle's Warning" is top five, if not number one just for the pure performance aspect of it all. Prodigy never sounded more comfortable with his threats.

      Delete
    2. W/R/T the glut: Are you referring to his R.I.P. Series of mixtapes?

      For Prodigy's post-Summer Jam '01 performance, the rule of thumb I've used was that his solo work with the Alchemist was generally good, solo work without the Alchemist was a crapshoot – though slightly weighted against his favor – and that his work as a member of Mobb Deep was generally poor (as opposed to a "Prodigy feating or produced by Havoc/Havoc feat. Prodigy" kind of thing).

      As for the "lyrical fall from grace" – I would say that PMD & Kurupt's falls are probably worse, with Shadé Business having the worst level of lyrical regression and post-2000 Kurupt having the worst absolute fall from grace, period – and unlike PMD and Prodigy, there aren't any outside events AFAICT to explain the fall-off.

      Delete
    3. Kurupt's fall is both worse than Prodigy's and not all that important in the grand scheme of things - aside from a handful of performances, Kurupt has never been that great of a lyricist to me, whereas Prodigy was upper echelon (until he wasn't).

      Delete
    4. Return Of The Mac is a damn underrated entry in P's legacy. I agree with the above anonymous that the original leak of the Bridge tops the remaster, which is still a good song, by a country goddamn mile.

      Return Of The Mac is a damn underrated entry in P's catalog. Him & Al had a symbiotic relationship in their later careers, where they were more privy to come with amazing shit together than apart. And best believe that applied just as much to Alchemist as it did to P.

      PMD has definitely regressed in 94, but as soon as Das EFX' 95 release Hold It Down, he returned to spectacular form. His 96 sophomore remains one of the most satisfying albums I've ever heard.

      As for Kurupt, from 92-96 he was untouchable. Period. His sophomore Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, however, may've served better as a full-fledged Dogg Pound album than a true Kurupt solo, which might've assisted in his output being noticeably better than the horseshit he put us through with Kuruption! And FUCK his AND PR's verses on Tru Master.

      Delete
    5. Agreed on Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, but to be honest, Kurupt lost me on Doggystyle's "Doggy DOgg World" when he bragged about "us[ing] hos as tennis rackets"; although I enjoyed the shit out of Dogg Food, that was in spite of his participation, not because of it.

      Delete
    6. That's bad, but it's not "She Swallowed It"/"Break a B**** Neck"-level bad. Unless you're saying that it's a stupid metaphor that doesn't make any fucking sense, in which case HYFR.

      I also noticed that in the Four Horsemen it is very rare for Kurupt and Killah Priest to both have good (or at least passable verses). Although I still have no idea why he nosedived in skill at the turn of the millennium.

      More germane to the subject: I've heard a lot to the effect that Havoc's decline in production skill is largely tied to his alcoholism.

      Delete
    7. His misogynistic rants fell on the nonsensical side of the fence around "Doggy Dogg World", and he never figured out a way to cross back over for me. Sadly, especially with the music of that time, I expect some degree of woman-hating, but he took that shit to another level: he may as well have rapped about how much he can't stand women. Vicious and ugly. That's where he lost me.

      Agreed on the Four Horsemen stuff, but truth be told, I never paid much attention to them anyway, even with my Wu-stan label (which I should cede, as I haven't listened to the Wu-Tang Clan on purpose in about two years, but that's a story for another post).

      That story about Hav makes perfect sense. Also explains why The Alchemist produced the entirety of his last album.

      Delete
    8. The most marked decline happened around the release of Blood Money, because of course it fucking did.

      BTW, if you're planning on restarting the blog, I'd like to resubmit my Ras Kass omnibus over the weekend, as the original – especially the first part – had too many digressions.

      Delete
    9. Sure, feel free. I don't really have a timeline for publication, as I'm only barely posting at this time, but as the "finish what I started" project began to get the best of me, I chose to abandon some artist discographies, and Ras Kass was one of the first names I cut.

      Delete
    10. So no more CZARFACE reviews for now, I take it?

      Delete
    11. While CZARFACE wasn't removed from the project, the fact that I haven't listened to any Wu on purpose in almost two years would seem to damn them into the ether. Or maybe it won't. I'm undecided.

      Delete
    12. Aw. Someone is heartbroken. That must mean that Tribe is now your all time favorite hip hop group, correct?

      Delete
    13. Not exactly. More like "I'm burned the fuck out".

      Delete
  3. AnonymousJuly 14, 2017

    Hell on Earth might just be the most consistent rap album ever

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely up there.

      Delete
    2. Even the unreleased Mobb Deep tracks still knock to this day. Everyday Gunplay and Reach has permanent spots in my general music playlist.

      Delete
  4. Although Prodigy has bona fide classic verses on songs such as "Shook Ones Pt. II" and "Survival of the Fittest", my favorite Prodigy verse has to be his guest appearance on "Gusto" by A+. What's even more incredible about that song is that he spits TWO whole verses and it's hard to decide which of the two is better. At this very moment, if I HAD to pick a favorite, it would be the second verse, purely for his delivery of this line:

    "I'm a classic, approach my level and get ya ass kicked/
    floatin' in a river wit ya body wrapped in plastic".

    No one delivered a threat like P. RIP Prodigy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even after running a Reader Review for that A+ album, I never actually listened to "Gusto". I need to go remedy that now.

      https://hiphopisntdead.blogspot.com/2014/06/reader-review-the-latch-key-child.html#more

      Delete
    2. You do that. Pronto.

      Delete
    3. Done. I never noticed until "Gusto" how much Twin Gambino seems to be actively trying to sound like Prodigy with his gravelly flow. Or maybe it's just that P sounds like Twin on "Gusto", I don't know. Either way, good pick.

      Delete
  5. Damn. RIP Chester Bennington.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good to re-read some of these. You've got a vote here for more hip-hop related screenplays...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Update: since this post ran I've (finally) read Prodigy's autobiography, and I could not put that motherfucker down. I didn't find the story all that inspirational; really, it's mostly him making mistake after mistake after mistake without learning from anything (I think he doesn't have his gun on him for maybe three minutes total throughout the entire book). But the way he tells the tale is mesmerizing, and getting background on the making of the Mobb Deep albums was fascinating.

    Some questions:

    -So what the fuck ever happened to the Murda Muzik soundtrack? He brings it up a LOT, but never mentions anything about a release date.
    -I like that he admits that he phoned in his verses on Infamy. Related: I listened to Infamy from start to finish the other day, and aside from "Burn", that shit is fucking terrible, and even "Burn" isn't as good as I originally thought it was (even though at least Hav and Noyd were TRYING).
    -All the stuff about his family and their various backgrounds in the music/entertainment industry? Gold. Although it does tint all of his street tales in a new light, knowing that he could have opted out of all of that street shit at any point, really.
    -I also, sadly, kind of get why his mural kept getting defaced in QB: dude really doesn't know how to hold his tongue. But I appreciated his undying allegiance to Havoc throughout all of their business ventures, even if Hav didn't reciprocate...

    Thoughts? I want to talk about this, but I don't have a book club.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AnonymousJuly 31, 2017

      I was both the July 14 Anons (and coincidentally wrote the A+ review some time ago). As you'd expect. I have read P's bio as well. I also recently read his cookbook, which was actually pretty good for what it is, although severely lacks replay value.

      I really enjoyed the bio for the most part. However to me in the second half of the book, he came off as the biggest 50 Cent groupie on the planet, which kind of killed it for me. There was one bit where they were sitting with 50 and he was scolding them like children. I think you said it best when you reviewed Blood Money (which I've never heard and never will) that the Mobb had no need to shed their well established identities to join the G-Unit bandwagon.
      Definitely enjoyed hearing about the making of the earlier albums and his relationship with Alchemist and Hav.
      The part where he says he saw a UFO was pretty funny.
      I thought, for the amount of love and time he put into it, the cover of the Murda Muzik movie looked like a sixth grader's photoshop project.
      The photo gallery at the end was a nice touch.

      Delete
    2. His book is perhaps the tallest story I think I've ever read... though like you I couldn't put it down, I've probably read it three times over the years.

      Even Cormega posted on Twitter after P's death that he didn't agree with how some of that book was written particularly about certain people (who he didn't mention).

      I admit I didn't give the Murda Muzik OST any thought while reading it, if it was any good then I'll be surprised if the tracks weren't recycled for other projects?

      Some of the bits about clowning Keith Murray were funny - but these are stories he'd told in various interviews that I saw.

      RE the mistakes, well he certainly didn't learn not to let other people borrow his cars!!!

      Delete
    3. The Keith Murray stuff was kind of funny, as was the Noreaga anecdote, even though he then later waves away working with N.O.R.E. on H.N.I.C., which was fucking weird.

      I realize it was P's story, not Havoc's, but I liked how Hav was drawn as a sex-crazed hermit who would rather hole up in his studio to make beats than interact with anyone. I must have missed what happened that caused Ty Nitty to distance himself from the Infamous Mobb, though.

      The 50 Cent stuff was bizarre. I stand by my original statements that there was no reason for the Mobb to ditch their long-established identities just to join up with a flash-in-the-pan crew, and P DOES come across as a 50 groupie, although I read that more as he was blown away at 50's business prowess (although he, of course, makes it a point to include a passage about how 50 was amazed that P was signing all of these business deals when he got that weird-ass Voxtronic contract).

      I also enjoyed how he refused to refer to Lake as anything but "Fakey". Petty until the bitter end.

      And yeah, who knows how much of this shit was true, but it was entertaining, at least.

      Delete
  8. AnonymousJuly 30, 2017

    Thoughts? I don't care how bad he was at PR, dude is DEAD. These butthurt motherfuckers deserve to join him in the worst way possible for that level of disrespect. He disrespected them while they were living. They were too cowardly to do the same. The end.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a disrespectful move for sure, but I take it to mean that P's enemies REALLY didn't care for him. Still unfortunate, though.

      Delete
    2. Bitches move with bitch moves.

      Delete
  9. AnonymousJuly 30, 2017

    Loved his stories about his dad, man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did too, even though he clearly ends an anecdote with something to the effect of "and that was the last time I saw him", and then a few pages later he describes how his dad was there to meet P's firstborn son.

      Delete
    2. His concept of time was pretty weak throughout the book to be honest, I lost count of the number of errors when he was describing what else was going on when The Infamous/Hell on Earth Dropped - it's like he'd lost two years.

      Was the book written when he and Havoc were beefing? I agree with your view on how he portrays Havoc throughout the book. Having said that, if it's true how they were acting when P had his wife and child in the house it's no wonder he upped and moved.

      The story behind how he thought the ballerina/MJ shot surfaced was interesting, as was his depiction of him approaching Jay on it at the tunnel. Man I wish he and Pac got at it and squashed that nonsense.

      Delete
    3. In a DJVlad (& possibly also Complex) interview, Prodigy said that "Hit 'Em Up" was what get them into 'Pac's music in the first place, so a reconciliation over mutual enemies would've been likely. (Also, this is a small quibble, but he messes up two of the new tracks recorded for Murda Muzik and left off one).

      Delete
    4. Hot take: Pac and Mobb Deep on the same track would have sounded terrible. Pac's passionate delivery would have clashed with P's cold, calculated flow. He may have sounded okay over a choice Hav beat though.

      Delete
  10. AnonymousJuly 30, 2017

    You don't need a book club when you have social media.

    I would kill for that OST, actually.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure the soundtrack wouldn't have been very good - P mentions that he was reaching out to unknown QB talent who were then poached by Nas for that QB's Finest project. But I still want to hear it.

      And running a book club on this blog isn't a terrible idea...

      Delete
  11. AnonymousJuly 31, 2017

    Prodigy's book is a great read can't believe you've only just read that Max!

    P's family history was very interesting to learn about - I never knew he had so many links to the music buisness, his mum got him his first deal at Jive at age 15 for crying out loud!

    I also liked how P admitted that his verses on Infamy were crap and his loyalty to Havoc was unwavering although Hav moved kinda snakeish sometimes...

    One thing with Prodigy is that he never backed down from anyone in the industry.. gotta respect him for that - the Jay Z story (when he bumped into P in the club) was hillarious because I can imagine Jigga bitching out of a fight!

    Anyway, try listening to the book on audio Max its a deeply riveting experience!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh damn, there's an audiobook? Going to need to seek that out.

      Delete
  12. Damn right there is! Listen ASAP!

    I think that Mobb Deep signing to Jive effectively killed their career tbh.

    Still listening to Hell On Earth everyday like a fiend..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems to me that Hav and P wanted different things after Murda Muzik, and if they had pursued their own interests full-time, maybe Infamy could have sounded more inspired (if it ever existed, obviously). At least Amerikaz Nightmare has a couple of great songs; I think the Mobb signing with 50 was the nail in the coffin (for the group, let me clarify, I know Albert Einstein dropped AFTER the G-Unit fiasco),

      Delete
    2. Amerikaz Nightmare has great songs? I'm curious to hear what those are. I known you love "When U Hear The" but any others?

      Delete
    3. "Got It Twisted" is pretty solid. But I also love 80s new wave, so Havoc kind of built that beat specifically for me.

      Delete
    4. Negative on that Got It Twisted praise. A rare occurrence where the usual Alchemist/Prodigy linkup fell flat on its face.

      PS: Hold You Down is also trash. Bong.

      Delete
    5. I'm in the camp where I believe there are a LOT of Alchemist/Prodigy collaborations that aren't super great, which is part of the reason why I was shocked that Albert Einstein sounded as good as it did.

      I also don't really care for "Hold You Down". No skin off my nose.

      Delete