The full on celebration of Prodigy’s life and legacy makes it clear the artist was one of the more beloved and respected lyricists to ever pick up a mic. It’s an influence that can be felt decades after helping craft seminal rap albums like The Infamous, Hell on Earth, and Murda Muzik, in addition to his own 2000 solo effort, H.N.I.C.
Aside from his gravely voice and off-kilter delivery, one of the characteristics that make Prodigy such an elite rhymer is his lyrical first-step, a term coined to describe the way an emcee begins his verse, akin to the first. It’s a decisive move a slasher makes to drive to the hoop or create distance between him and a defender to get a good look at the basket. While all rappers technically have a first-step, some are more effective than others; as is the case for Prodigy, who possessed a grab-bag of opening lines that have become just short of slogans in hip-hop.
We’ve scoured through Prodigy’s catalog and ranked 15 of his most explosive lyrical first steps that helped pave the way to separate himself from the pack in his journey for rap supremacy.
Check them out below.
“I’m yawning while I wake up to the early morning gunfire/Another day, another scar to acquire”
Teenage phenom A+ collaborated with Prodigy on “Gusto,” a track from the fellow Hempstead native’s debut, The Latch-key Kid. Speaking to the mentality that comes as a byproduct of resigning yourself to life as a street thug or hustler, Prodigy crafts one of his more meaningful verses of his career. but begins it with a pair of lines sure to stick in the listener’s head.
“Universal, the Mobb soldiers/We explode like supernova and implode ya whole sculpture”
Big Noyd was to Mobb Deep what Cappadonna was to the Wu-Tang Clan.The rapper would lend his talents to some of Mobb Deep’s signature cuts and Prodigy returned the favor on this ’96 loosie. Prodigy gets right to business on this outing, mobilizing his Mobb soldier and blowing up spots within the first two lines of his verse.
“Yo, my empire strikes with the strength of poisonous snakes/My entire unit loaded up with snake n****s that hire stakes”
The force which Prodigy exudes on the “Hell on Earth” finale cut “Apostles Warning” is seismic, to say the least. Playing Darth Vader, the Hempstead native lets off an explosive couplet that ups the ante and makes the track a scorcher that it remains decades after the fact.
“You might catch me steppin out the Lamborghini/With ashy legs, my chain swingin/I grab my piece, so that sh*t won’t damage the paint”
Prodigy joins forces with his proteges Bars & Hooks on “Diamond,” one of the more popular deep cuts from his 2000 solo album, H.N.I.C. Although Prodigy primarily showcases his Infamous Records signees, he contributes a 16 of his own, kicking it off with a page out of his daily life, and one that most can relate to, thug or otherwise.
“Forever wild from the cradle to the grave, kid watch your back/One time’s comin’ always/They lock me up for 12 days/I can’t comprehend, now I’m a free man on the streets again”
Living young, wild, and free takes on a different connotation for some in the world of Queensbridge, where survival of the fittest and tomorrow not being promised are two credos that are understood at an early age. Prodigy’s verse on “Cradle To The Grave” finds him communing with his crew on the boulevard after being released following a skid bid, eager to get back to his life of crime. The rhyme is one that finds real estate in the listener’s mind for its delivery, as well as the underlying depth in the statement, which speaks to the mentality of those living the street life.
“Yo I rose early mornin, spread my wings yawnin/Vague memory of last night now it’s all dawnin/Look down and see dry blood all on my garment/It stained all my Guess farmer’s, colored enormous”
In a scenario out of HBO’s drama The Night Of, Prodigy has awaken to find blood all over his clothing and boots, with a vague memory as to what went down the previous evening. While Prodigy’s discovery would be cause for concern for most, being a denizen of the Queensbridge projects makes it just another day in the neighborhood.
“I open my eyes to the streets where I was raised as a man/And learned to use my hands for protection/In scuffles, throw all my blows in doubles/I’m coming from Queens motherfu**er carrying guns in couples”
Coming of age in an impoverished environment, the rite of passage is learning how to inflict and protect yourself from violence, as well as representing the home-team to the fullest, both of which Prodigy touches upon on the onset of The Infamous track “Q.U. Hectic.” Despite not being afraid of a scuffle, Prodigy prefers to carry heavy artillery in doubles, a point he makes known with his initial bars on this classic deep cut.
“I got the style of a stillborn child, I’m ill/If it’s beef, poke him with the fork, make sure he’s done well”
Despite rhyming over a sample from the classic gangster flick Scarface, unlike Tony Montana, Prodigy is less than concerned about about any backlash concerning children, and delivers one of the more grisly one-liners of his career.
“Alright now, pay attention to the crime rhyme Houdini P/Keeping you ni***s in perspective/Mobb, representative, call me the specialist/Professional, professor at this rap science”
When you’re able to work magic with a microphone, comparing yourself to the most renowned magician in history is celebrated rather than seen as pretentious, which Prodigy knows firsthand. On “G.O.D. Pt. 3,” he deems himself a specialist, professional, and a professor, all the while referring to rap as a science, all of which are facts in our book, with this opening rhyme being proof.
“Yo, to all my ni***s uncivilized to civilized/We cook the shake move the weight across the tri-state/Them jooks n***s bring the shook up out the crook type/Special deliver sending shots through your Ac’ Vigor”
Table manners or not, Prodigy sends a salute to all the hustlers throughout the northeast on “Still Shinin’,” an ominous banger from Hell on Earth that encapsulates the paranoia of a Mobb Deep composition. Acura Vigor owners turn into robbery victims, as Prodigy crafts another memorable opening bar that sets the tone on one of the superior selections on Hell on Earth.
“Let me start from the beginning, at the top of the list/Know wha’mean, Hav, situation like this/Another war story from a thirsty young hustler/Won’t trust ya, I’d rather bust ya, and leave your corpse for the cops to discover”
Queensbridge meets Shaolin on “Eye for an Eye,” a vengeful posse-cut from The Infamous on which the four emcees all turn in strong showings. Prodigy, who begins at the top of the list as the first out of the pack to appear on the track, takes a jab-step before sharing his distrust for anyone outside of his immediate circle and his blood-thirsty tendencies.
“Yo, the saga begins, begin war/I draw first, Blood, be the first to set it off/My cause, tap all jaws, lay down laws/We takin’ what’s yours, we do jooxs, rush the doors”
Throwing down the gauntlet on this classic single, Prodigy challenges all comers to lyrical warfare, warning he has no qualms to be the first to strike as he gives a tutorial on how an emcee bends a track to his will. Filled with quotables, “Hell on Earth (Front Lines)” begins with the Queensbridge rep asserting himself in grand fashion, and a rallying cry that announces the annihilation that is about to happen.
“Yo, my rap taste good in my mouth like Deer Park/For your ears to list-this, You don’t wanna miss this”
With songs like “Drink Away The Pain” in his catalog, Houdini P comparing the effect his rhymes have on the listener to taking a swig of ice cold water may be a bit of a curveball, but ultimately, is some pretty fly sh*t to say. With all apologies to Fiji and Poland Spring, this lyric confirms the hydration preference of rap stars and is among the best lyrical first-steps Prodigy has pulled off to date.
“Ayo, I break bread, ribs, hundred dollar bills/Peel on Ducatis and other four wheels”
On Prodigy’s debut solo single “Keep It Thoro,” he calls out fake gangsters while crafting a street banger that would announce his forthcoming album and put the rap world on notice. Produced by Alchemist, “Keep It Thoro” includes one of Prodigy’s signature opening couplets, which simultaneously speaks to his generosity, wealth, and wrath in one fell swoop.
“I got you stuck off the realness, we be the infamous/You heard of us, official Queensbridge murderers/The Mobb comes equipped for warfare, beware/Of my crime family who got ’nuff shots to share”
Touting himself, Havoc, and company as “Official Queensbridge Murderers,” Prodigy lets off what is the most iconic verse of his career, one that kept the duo from fading into obscurity and introduced the greater rap world to one of the greatest rappers of all-time. Dubbing himself as infamous and cockily assuming that it was a fact everyone should be aware of due, Prodigy unleashed a lyrical first-step for the ages on “Shook Ones Pt. 2,” his claim to fame and one of the greatest rhymes of all time.