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

20 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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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  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!

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    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.

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    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.

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    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).

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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  3. AnonymousJuly 14, 2017

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

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    1. It's definitely up there.

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

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  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.

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    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

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