May 23, 2019

Something (Sort Of) Different / My Gut Reaction: Prodigy - Untitled EP (August 5, 2016)

This week I’m running a series of posts in honor of the late Albert Johnson, better known in the hip hop community as the rapper Prodigy. These reviews will close out both his and his group Mobb Deep’s respective catalogs, so if you’ve been following this blog, you likely know what projects will be popping up this week. Enjoy, and leave your comments below!

2016 was a good year if you were a Prodigy fan. In the lead-up for what would end up being his fifth and final solo album released during his lifetime, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation), the man born Albert Johnson teamed up with peer-to-peer file sharing protocol BitTorrent to release a series of three free compilations of collaborations (some previously released, some fresh) entitled R.I.P., which seems incredibly goddamn morbid considering the events of the following year (and the fact that his passing was wholly accidental). These projects served a similar function to the man flooding the market with mixtapes, as that is what these essentially were, so while you won’t see any reviews for any of those this week, Mobb Deep stans should probably track those down if you’ve never heard of them before, if for no other reason than to see just how many friends Prodigy managed to make within the music industry.

In August of that year, he also released an Untitled EP that ended up being head-scratchingly odd.

I’m not entirely certain as to why Prodigy failed to give this free EP a proper title: perhaps he felt like labels weren’t very important at this point in his career. Or maybe he literally just couldn’t come up with anything that could easily summarize the five tracks wherein, as they represented a new musical direction for the once-and-forever Cellblock P. Which may also help explain why he just gave this shit away for free.

Untitled consists of five tracks produced by five different artists who were best known for their work within the EDM genre: that’s correct, this EP features Prodigy attempting to spit over club-ready beats, except the club in question is populated with folks who likely weren’t choosing to listen to The Infamous on repeat every day. The move is surprising, but I suppose it shouldn’t have been: people listen to and enjoy multiple musical genres all the goddamn time, and last time I checked, Prodigy was a person, and his autobiography marked him as a complex man with many interests. But this bizarre detour was still an abrupt left turn for his fans, who were chomping at the bit to hear some more grimy street shit from their rhyming hero and, instead, found an Albert Johnson who was, however temporarily, more interested in popping molly and letting the beats carry him to his throne hidden in the clouds.

Those of you two who have been reading this blog for several years may be anticipating Untitled sounding like the DJ Muggs dubstep departure Bass For Your Face. Those of you two… well, maybe you should just read the write-up. It’s short, anyway.

Not sure if it’s just the version I listened to, but this opening track, “Black Panther”, which was, incredibly enough, not used for any Black Panther comic trailers so who the fuck knows why our host approached this well, is censored, except for when it isn’t, if that description manages to make even a lick of sense. What this isn’t is an actual song: Baauer’s production stands firmly in his “Harlem Shake” (the only song from him that I know, sue me) EDM/Trap home turf, an environment I’m sure neither one of us ever thought we’d find Cellblock P enter willingly, but here we are. Predictably, he sounds out of his depth on “Black Panther”, his half-bars and non-sequiturs drowning in a sea of incoherent electronic noise, although his performance is a bit livelier than we’ve grown to expect from him. This wasn’t interesting enough to play in a club setting, and it’s a terrible fucking rap song, so it begs the question: who was the audience for “Black Panther”, exactly? I appreciate Prodigy’s willingness to experiment with his sound, but as the kids say, this ain’t it, chief.

Follows a similar blueprint as the previous track, but while it does sound better than whatever our host was aiming for earlier, it still isn’t decent enough to recommend that anyone ever listen to, at least outside of satisfying your curiosity, I guess. Skream’s throbbing bass stabs and synths provide more EDM club backing than even Prodigy had to be used to at this point, but to his credit, his flow on, er, “Supreme Flow” is closer to the song title than it isn’t… at least until a hiccup occurs around the two minute-and-fifteen second mark, where Cellblock P’s vocals are disturbingly distorted just enough for the average Mobb Deep fan to stop pretending like they have to listen to everything Prodigy’s ever touched. The man sounds invigorated on “Supreme Flow”, but this highly specific musical genre just was not for him. So weird.

What really concerns me about Prodigy’s version of DJ Muggs’ Bass For Your Face isn’t so much the overall sound (a lot of people enjoy EDM, and I’m not immune when in the correct frame of mind, and surprisingly, I don’t just mean drunk and/or high) as it is the thought process behind it: did our host feel confined by the grimy street shit frequent collaborators such as Alan the Chemist, Hav, and Sid Roams trafficked in? Yeah, probably: perhaps this EP was the man’s attempt at speaking on musical influences that didn’t make the final edit of his autobiography. Anywho, “Beast With It”, the Prodigy song that actually did play in a promotional video for Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Black Panther comic series, is a loud aural mess of a track that is likely to have you gritting your teeth and shaking your head in embarrassment. Cellblock P seems to be having a grand old time, so good for him, but the general trappings of this particular genre prevent hip hop heads from ever receiving anything resembling full verses from our host, let alone an actual real life song. Producer Mark the Beast (who also receives a feature credit even though I only remember hearing P on here) provides a backdrop filled with sonic noises that will get you amped the fuck up to do something, even if that something is just skipping to the next track. Hey, at least that’s… um… hold on, I had a word for this…

After having sat through three tracks where it felt like our host was trying to rap around the theme to Kroll Show, I settled into “Lion Jungle” with a sense of… relief? Mollification? I’m not altogether sure anymore, I just know that Redlight’s drum-driven production seemed much more appealing than everything that came before it. And then the annoying sample that gives the track its title kicked in. And then I realized that Prodigy vocal sample at the beginning would be repeated throughout “Lion Jungle”. And then I realized the title “Lion Jungle” makes no goddamn sense. And then the paragraph ended, so I couldn’t complain anymo

Real quick: that shouldn’t be the title. “That’s What G’s Do” seems to take its name from an extended 2Pac sound bite that is laid into the production (a curious choice, given the history between the two, but Prodigy also expressed his admiration for Jay-Z back on The Bumpy Johnson Album too, so), and he absolutely doesn’t say that. Anyway, “That’s What G’s Do” is the only song on Untitled that could qualify as hip hop, in that Cellblock P actually raps a verse on here, even as Mimosa’s beat threatens to tie his wrists and force him back into EDM territory. You’ll notice I haven’t really touched on any of P’s actual performances throughout today’s write-up in more than a superficial manner. And that tradition will continue here, as he doesn’t say much of anything worth repeating, although at least the Prodigy one hears on “That’s What G’s Do” could easily record alongside, say, Big Noyd without much alteration. Kind of too late for you to suddenly shift gears and reach out to your original fanbase, though. Ah well, this EP was fucking weird.

THE LAST WORD: Um, yeah, that was a thing that happened. Prodigy’s Untitled attempts to become a project that is critically bulletproof, something that is carried so thoroughly by our host’s earnestness that it would be a dick move to say anything bad about it. Well, fuck that shit: in case you two had forgotten, I am a dick, and Untitled sounds terrible. It’s possible that an EDM project featuring Prodigy could have worked: at times his cold-as-ice line delivery clashes beautifully with the musical backing, which was unexpected. But the tracks on Untitled aren’t even really songs, except maybe the last one: what I just listened to were some half-assed Cellblock P sound bites looped the fuck up. If I didn’t know any better, I’d believe that Prodigy simply handed over some prerecorded vocals he found on his laptop to various producers and told them to go nuts. Untitled is a puzzling effort from one-half of Mobb Deep, and while I appreciate and understand an artist’s need to grow, this is more of a lark that he likely just had to get out of his system because he couldn’t stop thinking about it, than it was a serious attempt at altering the direction his career was going. Nothing on Untitled would ever cause a Prodigy fan to suddenly add some EDM tracks to their Spotify playlist, nor would it encourage anyone at the club to pick up Hell On Earth. As I said above, there’s likely a reason why Prodigy released this one for free. The good news is, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to any of this.


There’s still more Prodigy content to catch up with, especially this week. Click here to find out more.


  1. See why I explicitly avoid most of Prodigy's output outside of his Alchemist collabs?

  2. Can I presume that tomorrow's review will be of Complex Present HNIC 3: The Mixtape (really more of an unofficial album, that has about as much to do with HNIC 3 proper as the Diamond remix of "Soul on Ice" has to do with the album version?)

    1. I tried to avoid mixtapes when finishing up this series, as including those would then open up the floodgates for every single other artist in the sidebar, and then this project would never be finished. Which may be well and good for everyone else, but I have to maintain my sanity somehow.