By Rashad D. Grove
(AllHipHop Features) Prodigy of Mobb Deep is one of the most heralded MCs in the rap music history. He was an integral part of the renaissance of New York hip-hop in the 90’s. As one of the greatest architects of East Coast gangsta rap, Prodigy’s influence still looms large within hip-hop culture. His distinct style, “dunn” language, street commentary, and his unapologetic reppin of Queens to fullest places him in the pantheon rap icons. Mobb Deep’s discography is one the most robust and consistent ever produced by a group or duo. Their constancy as artist is almost unmatched.
I’ve always felt that Prodigy’s contributions have been overlooked and underappreciated. The legacy of Prodigy is sometimes taken for granted. Maybe it’s because of his understated personality in comparison with some of his more flamboyant peers. Whatever the case may be, Prodigy’s noteworthy accomplishments for almost 25 years in hip-hop should be celebrated and honored. Prodigy embodied the essence of New York hip-hop. He led the way in holding the New York down during the intensity of the East coast VS West coast war. This is the case for why Prodigy’s Birthday should be New York Holiday.
Prodigy had some of the greatest opening bars in hip-hop history. Who could forget, “There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from.” Or how about, “I put lifetime in between the paper’s lines” or “I got you stuck off the realness.” Or this one, “Ayo, I break bread, ribs, hundred-dollar bills/Peel on Ducatis and other four wheels” and “Hey yo Queens get the Money long time no cashI'm caught up in the hustle when the guns go blast.” Unlike others who came before him and those who would come after, Prodigy was genius in the subtle art of setting the tone for the remainder of the song with the power of his opening lines. He was master of the craft of MCing.
Albert Johnson was born on November 2nd, 1974 to a family full of entertainers. His mother, Fatima Johnson was once a member of the Sixties girl group the Crystals. His grandfather, Budd Johnson was a highly regarded bebop saxophonist.
Growing up in New York City during hip-hop’s first Golden Age, he found his calling as an MC in high school. Under the moniker Lord-T (the Golden Child), he secured a demo solo deal with Jive records and was featured at 16 years old on Hi-Five’s “Too Young,” on the Boyz N the Hood soundtrack.
Eventually, he would hook up with Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita, who he would forever be linked with, as students at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. They dubbed themselves the "Poetical Prophets, “before settling on "The Infamous Mobb Deep".
In their late teens, Mobb Deep released their debut album Juvenile Hell on 4th B’Way records*.* The album features production from the legends such as Large Professor and DJ Premier. Though the album didn’t make big a splash, it was test run for the impact that the duo would embark upon in the coming years.
After signing with Loud Records, a burgeoning hub for underground East rap, The Infamous was released on April 25, 1995. Featuring guest spots from by Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Q-Tip, who also helped with producing and mixing, it became an instant classic. With memorable
tracks like “Survival of the Fittest,” “Temperatures Risin” “Give Up the Goods,” and the signature song “Shook Ones Part II,” Mobb Deep a curated in incredible piece of music that would stand the test of time. Prodigy’s hardcore lyricism and gritty narratives of life in Queens coupled with Havoc’s eerie piano loops, haunting hard-driving beats, launched Mobb Deep into critical and commercial success. Along with albums such as Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Illmatic and Ready to Die, The Infamous was major contributor to the East Coast Renaissance after a period of dominance by West coast rap music. The Infamous created the template for 90’s East Coast gangsta rap.
Their follow up Hell on Earth was released on November 19, 1996. Avoiding the all too common sophomore slump, the LP was another bona fide classic. The album continued Mobb Deep sound but with a more cinematic sonic landscape. The album is produced by Mobb Deep and features guest appearances by emcees Nas, Raekwon, Method Man, and frequent collaborator Big Noyd. The album stands out because of street bangers like, "G.O.D. Pt. III" and "Hell on Earth (Front Lines)," and "Drop a Gem on 'Em," a scathing response to 2Pac's diss track "Hit 'Em Up. Hell on Earth was just as good if not better than The Infamous.
1999’s Murda Muzik, would be the duo’s most commercially successful LP. While still deeply entrenched in their hardcore sound, on Murda Muzik they experimented with sonic renderings that were emerging from Southern rap music. It debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 charts, eventually selling over one million records, the group’s first platinum album. The album featured “Quiet Storm,” one the groups most acclaimed songs and some of Prodigy’s greatest verses.
After Mobb Deep went on a brief hiatus, Prodigy kept busy by dropping his first solo album, H.N.I.C. For the project he enlisted EZ Elpee, Rockwilder, The Alchemist, Just Blaze and his Mobb Deep partner Havoc. H.N.I.C standout track is the Alchemist produced “Keep it Throro,” is Prodigy at his best.
Prodigy’s continued his solo work and his with work as a member of Mobb Deep for several more albums, mixtapes, and collaborations. After serving time in prison and he wrote memoir My Infamous: The Autobiography of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy which detailed, with controversy, his experiences coming up and Queens.
When Prodigy passed away on June 20th ,2017 because of complications from sickle cell anemia, a void was left in the culture that would never be filled. He would have been only 44 years old. He is deeply missed.
You could never say enough about Prodigy’s effect on shaping hip-hop as we know it. His legacy must be preserved so future generations are aware of the substantial impact he had on the culture. Without any hyperbole, Prodigy’s influence upon hip-hip in the modern age is incredibly important. Hip-hop, of like other genres music must revere our legends. That’s why in New York, Prodigy’s birthday should be holiday. Even without formal recognition, the hip-hop community herby declares that on November 2nd, henceforth is a holiday in honor of the life and legacy of Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, on his birthday.