Thursday, July 13, 2017

Rest In Peace Prodigy of Mobb Deep

These dark times we've been living in of late, dominated by headlines about Russian mobsters and spies, neo-Nazis and Klan rallies, environmental disaster and predatory power structures, have also been ripe with death with the departure of powerful souls of our culture like Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, et al. The death of the rapper Prodigy of Mobb Deep last month at the age of 42 struck me sharply and I've been experiencing its resonance ever since.

Mobb Deep was a regular part of my life as a teenager. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my love for Mobb Deep was a mandatory meeting I had with my high school counselor as a freshman. When he asked what kind of music I was into, they're one of the first things I thought of. He then told me all about an article he read comparing Mobb Deep to Beowulf which sounded awesome. I've never forgotten that. (And he wasn't making it up.)

As a hip hop fanatic growing up in NYC in the mid-90s, I also have never forgotten many of Prodigy's verses. They're as sharply etched in my memory as the street names in my neighborhood. He was one of my favorite rappers throughout my adolescent years. Mostly because I was always so captivated by his distinct voice, steady laidback flow, and the impenetrable force of his lyrical aggression but also partly because he always called himself P and I've long thought of myself as P. My fiancée calls me P, for instance. Rapper P achieved his greatest heights as an emcee in an era during which I experienced some of the most memorable years of my life. My older brother (who of course put me on to all this music) got his first car in 1999 and when I contemplate the sounds of that car, I think of Mobb Deep's Hell On Earth or The Infamous. I mostly think of Prodigy rapping. It was always playing when he drove. And if it wasn't, I craved to hear it. That Pontiac Grand Am was being propelled by the force of Havoc's beats and P's voice, it seemed.

P was one of the most dominant forces of that era. Jay-Z went hard at him. Motherfucking Tupac went hard at him! He regularly appeared with Nas, Ghostface, Raekwon on tracks. My favorite rapper of that era, Cormega, did classic songs with Prodigy. He was untouchable. His bars remain among the most frequently heard in DJ scratches and samples to this day.

Prodigy (along with Mobb Deep as a whole) is responsible for some of the most violent, uncompromisingly aggressive, imaginative-yet-believably-brutal verses ever delivered on wax. That's part of what I loved about him as a kid. I was scared as fuck as an adolescent. People were getting jumped every day, fights happened every day,  gangs guarded territories, the threat of violence loomed over those years in Staten Island. And Mobb Deep was one of my most reliable musical antidotes. Maybe it's something about the small physical stature of Prodigy and Havoc, because Mobb Deep's consistently violent tone has a uniquely powerful aggression to it. They're the fearless squat punks that will stun the neighborhood's most fearful gang with massacre. Of course, as I grew out of that environment and sought peace in my life, I grew away from Mobb Deep (distance hastened by their musical decline) but have always remained an appreciator of Prodigy.

That's why I was struck to learn that in the final album released before he died, Prodigy's lyrics had completely shifted in tone, his worldview completely evolved. P had always been known as a voice of dissent, violently anti-authoritarian opposing every level of power from the police ("NYPD: New York Pricks and Dicks") on up to the invisible elite power structures ("Illuminati want my mind, soul, and my body/ Secret society, trying to keep the eye on me"). After dropping conspiracy lines in the mid-90s, he'd go on to become outspoken on the subject in the media era. And yet his final album entirely evolves from that outlook into something far more open; a wide-ranging, inspiring, mature perspective I'd never quite heard from P before. I was no less struck that the album is entitled Hegelian Dialectics (partly because there's a Hegel study group in Austin that dovetails with my Finnegans Wake reading group).

Here's the opening track from Hegelian Dialectic followed by some other favorite Prodigy songs.

Prodigy - Mystic (prod. by Alchemist)


Prodigy ft. Nas - Self Conscience (Remix)

Prodigy - Genesis

Mobb Deep - True Lies

Pete Rock (ft Prodigy, Raekwon, Ghostface) - The Game

Prodigy at MIT

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