No More Hell On Earth: Rest In Infamy, P

On the manicured streets of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, members of the Nation of Islam stood stoically in suits and bowties, silent as the sun hit them. In front of a large brownstone building, they held an almost disquieting guardianship over the streets, their posture stiff as a board. The reason for their presence on these streets yesterday was the celebration for the life of Prodigy from Mobb Deep.

The building they stood in front of was the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, which has previously held services for the likes of Aaliyah, John Lennon, The Notorious B.I.G and countless other luminaries. There was something incongruous about seeing such a guarded group of black men in this otherwise lily-white neighborhood. Next to the building, Niceo, Braer and Namske had put up a poster in a phone booth with Prodigy and Havoc’s face in the middle, the top lettering reading boldly “RIP Prodigy.”

I first met Prodigy in the ’90s—not in person, but like almost all hip hop–obsessed kids, and especially New York hip hop–obsessed kids—on wax. I remember hearing his call “to all the killers and the hundred-dollar billers,” a few words put together so perfectly and concisely, before that infamously ominous bass line dropped. It was almost too deliciously enticing. Though many have tried, P truly painted pictures with his words, sharp and perfectly off-kilter, yet incredibly vivid in their description of the nightmarish pain in which he lived. Even during that opening salvo of “Shook Ones,” you could hear P talking to someone: “Keep your eyes open. Watch your front, I got your back.” It was an unforgiving gateway into Mobb Deep’s own garish version of hell on earth. And not unlike millions of others I was soon “stuck off the realness,” entranced by the world that Havoc and Prodigy presented.

As I grew older, and became a hip hop–obsessed adult, I started at MASS APPEAL, working in any job they would let me do. Eventually I became a producer for film and digital video. It was during this time where I met the legend himself for the first time. It was after the release of his prison cookbook and he was teaching us how to make “Rasta Pasta” in a bodega. It was what I would learn to be quintessential P—during the few hours we were together he’d talk intermittently about politics and the need for prison reform, eating healthfully and the crucial impact diet had on his health (like approximately 1 out of every 365 African-Americans, Prodigy suffered from sickle cell anemia) all while cooking with makeshift tools he’d learned to use during his bid. He wanted to show viewers the very real way he, and many other inmates, had managed to eat well in nearly impossible conditions.

 

A few months later, we created a digital show called “Paranoid Activity” together. The show was based on P’s lifetime interest in the illuminati and the occult. It was a humorous way into hip hop’s obsession with the secret societies that purportedly controlled the entirety of human existence. P, of course, was a pioneer, a rapper whose iconic line “Illuminati got my mind, soul and my body” was cherished for bringing these rather fringe concepts into the mainstream consciousness.

In short, I  was in awe while working with Prodigy. To be chopping it up with a man who was, in himself, hip hop royalty was both a pleasure and a privilege. A man so wildly influential, who had stood up against nearly all the greats in rap battles, and always held his own. For whatever reason, he took a chance with us and even more, on me. He believed in the ideas I presented him—an even bigger honor in my eyes. When MASS APPEAL threw an event at Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinemas, a special screening of They Live, one of P’s favorite films, I was lucky enough to sit next to him. Before the film, he told me how much the movie meant to him, how deeply connected he felt to the protagonist, who stumbles upon a special pair of glasses that allows him to see the world’s ugliness.

 

All these thoughts ran through my mind as I stood in the back of the funeral home—a month removed from seeing him alive and well. A certain surreality started to hit me as I stood in the same room as a pantheon of rap’s juggernauts. I saw Ice T, Fat Joe, Remy Ma, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, Raekwon, ?uestlove, Anderson .Paak,  and Alchemist. Havoc sat in the front pew.

The ceremony began with a reading by Minister Louis Farrakhan, who walked in rather quickly before the ceremony began, wearing an olive green suit with a bowtie to match (of course, that’s why the N.O.I. were so heavy in attendance). It struck me as fitting for a man of Prodigy’s stature to have such an unapologetic black leader such as Minister Farrakhan to take the lead at his ceremony. Perhaps the only other man that would have fit the occasion, in my eyes at least,  was the imprisoned Dr. Malachi York, of whom P often spoke of fondly. The Minister’s words were sharp and yet disarming as he discussed the magnificence of humans as God’s creation. Before Farrakhan closed out the ceremony, he mentioned that “If Prodigy was the rapper’s rapper, I hope to be the preacher’s preacher,” drawing laughs.

It was then that the Infamous crew spoke. Characters that had filled Mobb Deep albums like Ty Nitty, Twin Gambino and other characters long immortalized on records, talked about the loss of their friend. Friends and family cried and laughed, speaking about the difficulty they had coming to terms with the sudden loss of such a charismatic and powerfully wise man. Despite the lifelong illness he’d fought against so admirably, it seemed nobody had been quite ready for him to go.

Before Havoc’s mother led a closing prayer, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson hopped on stage. He said he’d never spoken at a funeral before but felt the need to do so today. P had been there for him, he said, and his music had been an influence on his own, as well as countless others. He paused for a deep breath, collecting himself as he said “Look P, Farrakhan’s here.” It was a bittersweet moment.

The closing prayer was said and a jazz band played as the mourners came together, embraced and filed out of the historic chapel. The NOI hurried Minister Farrakhan out the building and the rest of them ran into black SUVs. Paparazzi flashes bounced off the walls of Frank E. Campbell as a crowd of fans and supporters started to gather around the streets.


All I could think of was P’s words, his music looping in my heads, his words that he put down on paper before speaking them into the microphone, words that have stuck with me ever since—“Before my death, my goal’s to stay alive, survival of the fit only the strong survive.”

Rest in peace bro—one of the greatest to do it.

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