Unless you were an underground rap listener from New York in the early ‘90s, your first introduction to Mobb Deep was probably their 1995 single “Shook Ones (Part II).” “A screaming comes across the sky” is a phrase that was deployed by Thomas Pynchon as the first line of his novel Gravity’s Rainbow, but since ‘95, the hair-raising intro of that Mobb Deep song has had more claim to it than the World War II-era rockets Pynchon was describing.
Producer Havoc seemed to set the bar unbeatably high with the “Shook Ones (Part II)” beat, but if the screeching horn sample was the sound of a rocket racing into view, and the ensuing guitar loop was the tense sense of dread that followed, 19-year-old Prodigy’s opening verse was the devastating explosion. “I got you stuck off the realness, the infamous/You heard of us, official Queensbridge murderers.” Every damn line off this thing is a slogan, a future hook to be scratched into existence by DJ Premier, a t-shirt. Prodigy threatens to “rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone,” states, “You can put your whole army against my team, and/I guarantee you it'll be your very last time breathin’,’” and even claims that his gunshots will make you levitate.
1995’s The Infamous was hardcore rap’s Big Bang moment, simultaneously its beginning and its most powerful event to date. Prodigy was a teenager during most of its recording, and today, some 22 years later, he’s gone at age 42. Mobb Deep’s career as a duo persisted on until the present day, perhaps never matching that opening salvo, but always able to come through with a few tracks on every album that left your mouth agape. Here’s another stunningly brutal, impossibly captivating gem from 1999’s Murda Muzik.
Prodigy’s career wasn’t solely tied to his lifelong work with Havoc, though. In 2000, he released H.N.I.C., his first solo album, on which he showed his prowess as a solo producer for the first time, and absolutely murdered beats by other greats such as The Alchemist, Just Blaze, and Bink! In particular, the title track (on which P says he “Moves units like Shania Twain on a Mobb beat”) holds up extraordinarily well 17 years later.
Starting with 2007’s aptly-named Return of the Mac (his first solo release since H.N.I.C.), Prodigy underwent a career renaissance of sorts, coming into his own as a solo artist and carving out a lane for grimy, retro rap that wasn’t overly nostalgic. Since then, he has 13 projects to his name, and has opened doors for fellow NY old souls like Ka, Roc Marciano, and Conway. Here’s him and Marci murking an Alchemist beat in 2013:
Throughout his life, Prodigy struggled with sickle-cell anaemia, a hereditary red blood cell disorder that shortens life expectancy by a good 20-30 years. A statement from one of Prodigy’s reps reads:
“Prodigy was hospitalized a few days ago in Vegas after a Mobb Deep performance for complications caused by a sickle cell anemia crisis. As most of his fans know, Prodigy battled the disease since birth. The exact causes of death have yet to be determined.”
While we wait for more details, spend the day commemorating P’s quartet-century as a Rap God. We’ll leave you with 2000’s “You Can Never Feel My Pain,” on which Prodigy boldly reckons with his illness.
Rest In Power.