Mass Appeal Issue 9: Prodigy Still Shining
Rewind to Y2K, the year Prodigy released the first H.N.I.C. album, and our interview with Bandana P.
People love a great trilogy. And for those of you who need to catch up, Prodigy is on his third opus in the H.N.I.C. series. TRILL!!! Over the past 12 years, each H.N.I.C. album has served as a turning point for P, coming off Mobb Deep albums. The year was 2000, Prodigy was going into his first solo record outside of Mobb Deep with the momentum of Murda Muzik behind him. Mass Appeal interviewed P, who was thinking bigger than a solo album, because H.N.I.C. would mark the launch of more projects like the Murda Muzik movie, and the launch of Infamous Records. H.N.I.C.’s most reflective moment on “You Can Never Feel My Pain,” struck a chord with Mass Appeal because we caught up with him weeks before he was admitted to the hospital for his Sickle Cell disease. P’s lifestyle changed on H.N.I.C.—no more getting high, and no more drinking, and he wanted to rock less jewelry. Thanks to his new lease on life, Prodigy has stuck around to still wear the crown of head ninja in charge.
H.N.I.C. 3 is in stores now on iTunes.
Words by Charisse Nikole
The August sun calmly hangs over Manhattan’s afternoon rush hour. It’s a bizarre scene on 5th Avenue. Office workers and other random heads shoot annoyed glances as they scurry past a massive gray SUV whose presence is literally felt all the way down the block. The doors of the truck are flying open allowing space for the bassline to literally bounce off the bricks of high-rise buildings. Prodigy is the owner of the vehicle, and he’s currently MIA, off somewhere handling unfinished business inside the office of Loud Records, nestled right across the street. In the meantime, P’s people are holding it down outside, impatiently shooting the shit and unveiling sacred files from Prodigy’s new album H.N.I.C., P’s voice pierces the blue sky. As the music drops in, playing the title track, everything stands still. This is classic shit, redefined. It is vintage Mobb music, but it’s truly much more. This is the throne for which the H.N.I.C. stands.
P emerges from Loud and takes the driver’s seat. Everything about Prodigy is simply infamous. That’s just the brand of his shit. Ever since coming back hard from the traps of their Juvenile Hell debut in 1993, Mobb Deep has been the leader of the New York thug shit. Seven years deep in the game and three successful albums later, the crew is still holding the title high in the air. Not just successful in terms of sales-two gold joints, one platinum-but more importantly in regards to street credibility. The Mobb sounds remains consistent. The beats still band hard; the rhymes always puncture the dome piece.
“I feel a lot of changes go on around me, but not us.” Prodigy says. “I saw the game change a lot, going from flashy to grimy, back to flashy then to street. You have to stick with one thing. I’m not knocking that other shit, because it sells records and feeds families. But, I do what I do.”
Downtown in Manhattan’s Soundtrack Studios, Prodigy, whose frizzy cornrows desperately need to be redone, talks about mastering levels with the engineer. For most of the day, P has been putting the finishing touches on his solo album. As usual, Prodigy has more business to tend to. He has a lot on his mind, primarily business transactions that are still pending with the Murda Muzik movie that he’s been feverishly working on. Actually, that’s quite an understatement considering that the Mobb crew wrote, directed and produced the entire joint and it’s accompanying soundtrack. Many distribution offers have been discussed for the film’s tentative November release, but Prodigy is determined and patient. He is looking for the best situation imaginable, and refuses to jump at the first offer thrown his way. “There are a lot of niggas jumping into it that have no experience in what it takes to do a movie or a video,” Prodigy says. “They have no experience with the camera or the film crew. I don’t knock anyone that wants to jump into it, but you better have the love for it.” If pushed, Prodigy will get on some Oscar Micheaux type shit, and do it all independently. That is the luxury of being the head nigga in charge-when it’s your money, shit gets done your way. Period.
As Prodigy finds a quiet spot to hold session, he appears to shift modes. Of course, his mind is still on the next move, but for the moment, he relaxes his small 5’4” frame in a chair. The presumed hard-edged thug bravado exhibited in song is surprisingly missing. For the moment, all is calm. Prodigy’s gravelly baritone voice is cordial and to the point. He is chill, but his mind is obviously on the task at hand. Interviews are just another routine of the game. “I think being broke got me on some (business) shit,” he explains frankly. “Not necessarily being broke, but a nigga spending all his money. Spending mad money on fucking clothes, getting high, drinking and shit. The money is gone, and you could’ve put that money into something else. I look at music differently now. Music is in my heart and the love is there first and foremost. But, it’s a business and a product to me now. I sell that shit and I got to make a profit off that shit so I can invest it in other things.”
H.N.I.C. is likely to serve as the cornerstone in the Infamous enterprise’s ongoing construction. It is the start of some big moves for the Mobb family, a project that is the pace-setter for the movies and record label that is to follow in the next year. For the record, this project does not mark the end of Mobb Deep. It’s more like a new beginning. “There are fans of different races that are interested in our shit now. “I don’t know why,” he says, before pausing. “We went on tour with Limp Bizkit on this MTV Family Values tour, and that shit brought us more fans and made us bigger. There are a lot of niggas around that say they weren’t really feeling us until we came out with the “Quiet Storm” shit. They weren’t feeling us, but then they started buying our shit.
There is much talk about Prodigy’s long-awaited solo mission. Too much talk. And that is exactly what P wanted. Prodigy explains, “Working on this solo album was a different experience, only because it’s 100 percent my energy. I don’t have to come to the table and agree with nobody. I still give my album to Hav to get his approval and just to see his opinion on my shit. That’s my partner forever.”
Most of Prodigy’s album was recorded when Mobb was working on their last album. Since then, Prodigy has done everything in his power to keep on a lid on everything, going so far as keeping his own label out of the loop on the project. He is currently mastering the project, yet has handed nothing over to the label. He says he’ll hold out as long as he has to, maybe never giving them the master. Prodigy doesn’t hid his discontent with Loud, much of which was built after all the bootlegging that occurred with the group’s last project. This time around, he’s not letting anyone hold shit. Two joints were purposely leaked to DJs to create a buzz, including the head crusher “Keep It Thoro.” Other than that, it’s been nada.
Prodigy says that the title track is his favorite, where he declares, “We move units like Shania Twain over a Mobb beat.” He goes on to proclaim himself the boss, “The captain crunch dogg. The sarge. The H.N.I.C.—the head nigga in charge.” The expressed feeling of that one song, indicates the entire album’s zone, which features production from the likes of The Alchemist, Rockwilder and EZ Elpee. Of course Havoc contributes with two tracks and P gets into the mix with production on a few songs.
The Queensbridge Houses-96 buildings, stretched along like a concrete Vietnams, is the muse for the many stories that Albert “Prodigy” Johnson narrates. His words, like his life, have been harsh, and always hit hard like the impact of a stray bullet to an innocent bystander. “When I write, I really try to make you feel everything that is happening,” he furthers. “All of the years that went by and all the shit that niggas did, it’s hard for me not to put that in my music. It’s hard to write without incorporating that into my rhymes.”
The rhymes are constant reminders of jut how real it can get in the field. While H.N.I.C. does include its fill or requisite gun talk, Prodigy surprisingly, delves far beneath the surface on joints. On “Young Black Entrepreneurs,” which features B.G. over the keyboard melody from the Whodini classic “One Love,” Prodigy tells listeners “Get money. Get paper. Get yourself laced. Get your ones. Get your dunns out the slums.” It’s an empowering message, almost like a modern-day Booker T. Washington speech, sent through the most unlikely cat. “It’s a learning experience, just growing up and going through all that shit that niggas or I been through,” he continues. “I learned that you can’t always be wildin out. You have to become one and live you life. It’s time for change as far as how you go about your everyday living.”
Prodigy admits that he’s been undergoing many changes in recent years, many attributed to the presence of his two children: Shake, 4, and Tasia, 2. There’s also the effect of his ongoing fight with Sickle Cell Anemia, a disease that weakens the red blood cells of African-Americans. He talks about his lifelong battle on “You Can Never Feel My Pain,” a song he originally wanted to do with T-Boz, who suffers from the same disease. Over time, P has to come to alter many aspects of his lifestyle. He stopped smoking and drinking, minus the occasional brew at a party or before a show. He’s also cut out eating meat, and concentrates on his dietary intake. Prodigy is truly eating to live. “With sickle cell, I get mad pain all in my bones and shit. Sometimes, I can’t even walk, and my man has to fucking pick me up and carry me to the car and take me to the hospital…I’m on some real health nit shit now. A few years ago, a nigga used to wake up in the morning and start off with some E&J straight up. All day was Hennessey. It’s a big difference. I don’t fuck around with none of that shit no more. I just can’t.”
At the end of the day, no one can really afford the price that comes attached to self-destructive behavior. There is no room to toy with the science of life, but who ever stop to think? Truthfully, none of us.
Information on Prodigy’s admittance into a New York-area hospital due to bouts of Sickle Cell Anemia floods my computer screen over Labor Day Weekend, quickly creating internal reflection that return me to our short meeting just weeks prior. The intensity in Prodigy’s eyes reappears as his words about pain and suffering resurface to my cerebellum. We all may share his words and his music, but no one will ever truly feel Prodigy’s pain. Two more weeks pass, and press releases inform me that Prodigy is out of the hospital and back at work in the heart of Queensbridge Projects, shooting the video for “Keep It Thoro.” Prodigy, just like us all, keeps it moving. The pain is seemingly gone, at least until the next episode. While the sun inevitably comes for us tomorrow, the darkness still exists. Life is life. Death is death. Every one of us has to respect that simple truth. There truly is no part two.