On June 20, we lost a legend.
Albert Johnson, AKA rap’s Albert Einstein, AKA the HNIC and better known as Mobb Deep of Prodigy, passed away, leaving behind of the most important – yet overlooked – legacies in hip-hop history.
P so often had his legacy minimized to”the one guy from ‘Shook Ones'” or “little homie who got called out by Jay Z.” He was so much bigger than a hit song or a petty beef. Along with his partner Havoc, Prodigy helped lay the foundation for modern rap.
Don’t believe me? Let me educate you. Here are three times P made rap history, building it into the industry it is today.
Speak the wrong words, man, and you will get touched.
Prodigy brought the East Coast back
In the early 90s, the West Coast ruled the rap kingdom. Fueled by the success of NWA’s fiery albums and the G-Funk sound cultivated by hitmakers like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, their momentum seemed unstoppable.
Enter The Infamous.
Mobb Deep’s celebrated sophomore album (along with landmark debut albums from The Wu-Tang Clan and Nas) swung the pendulum back to the East. The album’s dark, sample-heavy production and somber tones were the antithesis of the G-Funk’s lighthearted bounce. Prodigy’s opening bar on “Shook Ones Part II” – “I got you stuck off the realness…” – became one of the most quotable lines in hip-hop history, helping to put the spotlight back on the East. The competition for rap’s crown became more heated than ever, triggering a second golden age for the genre.
Prodigy helped hip-hop go mainstream
Rap and R&B and nearly indistinguishable today, but that was far from the case in the 90s. There was a time when rappers wouldn’t even touch an R&B record, in fear of “going pop” or “selling out.” Give Prodigy props for pushing his sound in new directions.
By the mid-90s, Mariah Carey was arguably the biggest pop star in the world. In an attempt to broaden her reach, she teamed with ODB on the remix to her 1995 single, “Fantasy,” endearing her even more to urban audiences. On her next album, Butterfly, MC took that direction a step further, borrowing the grimy production of “Shook Ones Pt. II” for her single “The Roof,” which introduced that haunting melody to new ears. Prodigy and Havoc even came through to drop bars on the remix.
Not only was it now cool for rappers and singers to mix, singers could now give their music new dimensions with hip-hop production. Hip-hop was on its way to mainstream acceptance, thanks to the foundation Mobb Deep laid.
Prodigy proved you can top the charts 10 years later
Hip-hop has always been a young man’s game and by 2006, well over a decade into their careers, it seemed that Mobb Deep would be winding down. Not quite.
When P and Hav signed to G-Unit in the mid-’00s, a lot of rap critics (me included) scratched their heads. But the change of scenery paid off – literally. Prodigy and Havoc used G-Unit’s incredible momentum to their advantage, dropping their 2006 Blood Money under the G-Unit banner.
That release would go on to top both the rap and R&B charts, proving that success isn’t restricted by age. Rap will evolve with every new generation, but Prodigy proved that even veterans can still have a voice in changing landscapes. “Old man rap” is still in the building.
What are your favorite Prodigy moments and tracks? Let us know below.