Everyone who has ever worked with Prodigy seems to have something to say about his passing. The words of these music industry colleagues and friends give us a glimpse of the man and the artist, who was skilled at turning social injustice into lyrical poetry.
Lil’ Kim paid tribute to the 42-year-old rapper, Prodigy, whose real name is Albert Johnson, at the 2017 BET Awards just days after his death. Addressing the live audience, she said “hip-hop suffered a painful loss, with the sudden passing of our brother, Prodigy. His pen painted vivid pictures of street life. He made what was ugly sound beautiful.”
Standing beside Lil’ Kim on stage was Havoc, one-half of the bombastic rap duo Mobb Deep for over two decades. “For over 20 years, he and I went through it all, and seen it all,” said Havoc. “I’m going to miss my dude. This loss is painful, but the lyrical legacy he left us will impact the culture forever. Rest in peace, Prodigy. My brother.”
Rapper Cormega writes about his admiration for the musician, saying: “Queensbridge has lost one of its brightest stars one that at times shined brighter than all while simultaneously being the guiding light for others (including myself) to find their way.”
Adding, “I regret that I won’t see him again in this life but I have so many memories and so much appreciation for what he has done for me directly and indirectly. Some of my most memorable features were with P. He inspired me.” Now that he’s gone there’s a “void in the sky.”
According to Billboard magazine, news of Prodigy’s death first appeared in an Instagram post belonging to his colleague Nas. Podigy passed away on June 20 after being hospitalized in Las Vegas. The singer has suffered from sickle cell anemia since birth, which is said to have contributed to his death.
Havoc would later say, in a video on TMZ, that he didn’t believe it at first and dismissed it as a rumour. It wasn’t until he called Mobb Deep’s road manager that it was confirmed that his friend since high school had passed away. Havoc was behind the wheel of his car on the highway driving his 5-year-old son home from kindergarten graduation. When the road manager delivered the news Havoc said he couldn’t pull over (RollingStone). The philosophical poet and producer seemed at a loss for words. “I’m still just f***ed up. I can’t even listen to Shook Ones…I still can’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
In an email, publicist Jackie O. Asare, who represented Prodigy for two of his solo albums, H.N.I.C. and H.N.I.C.2., paints a picture of what it was like for him to live with this life-altering illness. “P’s passing personally hit me because we talked so many times about Sickle Cell and how it affected his health.”
Asare gives us an inside view of the man some know as a ‘gangsta rapper’ and who was part of a group that embraced the stereotype when they named one of their albums Murda Muzik. No one thinks of other meanings of ‘killer’ – “killing these beats” “kill ’em on stage” radio killer, contract killer, studio killer…’cause I make hits…I get paid for murder, number one with a bullet…hit man for hire…,” as Prodigy raps them on The Bumpy Johnson Album.
It’s a different view – of someone who is kind and thoughtful, without the mafioso reputation that comes from lyrics about violent street life and revenge by the bullet. She said, “When Prodigy found out that my newborn was diagnosed with sickle cell, he called and we had a long talk about what I should expect and how I should prepare myself and my child. The stuff that doctors can’t tell you because they don’t know what that pain feels like. You’ll only know by living it.”
It’s a very different mood from the lyrics written or co-written by Albert Johnson in songs like Survival of the Fittest or Shook Ones.
“There’s a war goin’ on outside no man is safe from
You could run but you can’t hide forever
From these streets that we done took
You walkin’ witcha head down scared to look
You shook cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks
They never around when the beef cooks in my part of town
It’s similar to Vietnam”
–from Survival of the Fittest
Mobb Deep – Survival of the Fittest video on Vevo
Depending on the album, they may sound like Public Enemy or other times De La Soul, jazz-infused, dreary, reality-driven rhythm and blues over bounding bass. The music hits below the waist and it gave way to artists like Kendrick Lamar.
Billboard refers to the hardcore hip-hop album, The Infamous, Mobb Deep’s second album released in 1995, as a classic — adding, “its impact on the next generation of rap far outpaced its No. 18 peak on the Billboard 200.”
You need only look to the artists they’ve influenced and collaborated with to give value to that statement. Nas, Lil’ Kim, Cormega, 50 Cent, Q-Tip, Raekwon, and Dr. Dre, among them.
Billboard tracks the path of Mobb Deep’s most active releases: “The Infamous produced the Billboard Hot 100 hits “Shook Ones Pt. II,” which peaked at No. 59, and “Survival of the Fittest,” which hit No. 69. Their highest-charting single as a lead artist was “Hey Luv (Anything),” which reached No. 58 on the Hot 100 in 2002; they went as high as No. 6 on the Hot 100 as a featured artist via 50 Cent’s “Outta Control (Remix)” ft. Mobb Deep.”
Prodigy had a solo Hot 100 hit from The Alchemist called Hold You Down ft. Prodigy, Illa Ghee and Nina Sky, and three solo albums in the top 10 of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Three of Mobb Deep’s eight top 10 albums on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart hit No. 1. They had five top 40 songs on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart as well.
Asare sent “love and light to his family” and was thankful for the opportunity to represent him. She ended her message by saying “RIP! No more pain!”
Watch Prodigy talk about his life with sickle cell anemia: https://youtu.be/TqTZuDOtZEg
Prodigy’s Hegelian Dialectic
On Prodigy’s album released in January, the Hegelian Dialectic, using opposing theories to arrive at a higher truth, he explores the metaphysical, history, science, religion and his African-American and Irish heritage. He went down memory lane, unlocked all the doors and tried to answer questions about his own existence. He rapped about getting things in order, saying he wanted to go down swinging; it also seems he wasn’t ready yet:
“I need more time to live, I ain’t done yet…
Time to go, time to go and embrace the next
plane of existence, but I ain’t finished.
I serve a higher purpose.
Don’t become nervous…
We got a lot a things to do.
We ain’t done yet.”
His funeral in New York was attended by members of the Mobb Deep team, family, friends, friends of ‘the scene’, and members at the core of the hip-hop diaspora.
Cormega’s full post:
“Sometimes the stars align and create something that is so captivating that you feel honored being there in that moment understanding when it leaves you will never again witness such a moment. Queensbridge has lost one of its brightest stars one that at times shined brighter than all while simultaneously being the guiding light for others (including myself) to find their way. One of hip-hop’s greatest dreams will never be fulfilled because the moment that was, will never be and we are all looking at the void in the sky. P and I shared mutual admiration even when it was alliance versus allegiance I always tried to be the voice of reason. I didn’t like how he spoke of people in his book even though he spoke highly of me in the book I just didn’t understand his consequential reasoning for how he spoke of others. In hindsight I guess that’s what defined P. He always did something that made us question “why the fuck he did that” but he always ascended from the treacherous waters he willingly dived in. I regret that I won’t see him again in this life but I have so many memories and so much appreciation for what he has done for me directly and indirectly. Some of my most memorable features were with P. He inspired me and never had to hear my verse to try to outshine me. He just did his verse and the rest, as they say, is history.Right now is the time for everyone to be there for Prodigy’s family and be the support that keeps Havoc sustained. Because no one can imagine what he is going through right now we all knew and loved P but it was Havoc who introduced us all to him. Lastly, love him or hate him you will never replace him for he was the HNIC – CORMEGA”