The first official day of summer ’17 turned out to be one of the shittiest in recent memory. What should have been another joyous day (June 20) at the VIBE office turned into a bleak, gut wrenching excuse for a Tuesday.
When the news of Prodigy’s passing came through like a wrecking ball, our immediate reaction was disbelief — and down right skepticism. It just seemed unreal that P could have gone so suddenly. Rap fans were well aware of his fight with sickle cell, but his recent years in music made us all believe that he was well and healthy. This past weekend, the Long Island native even performed in Las Vegas on the Art of Rap tour with Ice T, KRS-One, Ghostface, Onyx and more. Ultimately, that show was his final concert.
I can still remember getting introduced to Mobb Deep’s music as a pre-teen through Harold Hunter’s Rookies part in the seminal skateboard video magazine 411. Most known to the outside world for his role in the movie KIDS, Harold was also a NYC legend in his own right — but that’s a whole other story — the young skateboarder oozed with New York City flavor, so “Cradle To The Grave” was a sound choice to introduce Zoo York’s shining star to the rest of the world. Back when the higher powers in skateboarding didn’t want kids from the hood shining as stars of the culture, guys like Harold and a long list of skaters from both coasts proudly rocked Mobb Deep songs in their breakout skateboard video parts. For them, it was the only way to get noticed by major sponsors in hopes of earning a living, so your choice of music was almost as important as your skills on the board.
As I became more and more obsessed with hip-hop, albums like Hell On Earth, Infamous and HNIC became staples in my life. Though Havoc was never a slouch, Prodigy’s lyricism shined over his partner’s — and before you criticize me — know that Hav’s production made P’s words that much more powerful. It was his personal misery and struggles that made him such a relatable figure. Throw in his “I don’t give a f*ck” attitude, conspiracy theorist beliefs and loyalty for his loved ones — and the MC has everything that rap legends are made of. He stood just above 5 feet tall, but his words made him a giant.
When high school came around and I traded in my skateboard in for a ’92 Ford Explorer with two 12 inch subs in the trunk — all we did was drive around Jersey, getting blunted to Mobb Deep, Nas, CNN and so on. My friends and I might have lived 3 hours from Queensbridge but the music created by the aforementioned names painted the most vivid pictures of street life for us to see right there in small New Jeruz. Deciphering the Dunn language was a must, and we spent countless nights cruising, doing just that. There was no Rap Genius around at that time, folks (I’m 31).
On a more personal level, Prodigy and Havoc were also early co-signers of Korean hip-hop, so you can imagine what that meant to the millions of Korean American rap fans, like myself. Sure, we had Wu-Tang who embraced Asian culture like none other, but the Mobb was actually on a track with K-Pop superstars in 2001 — they were ahead of their time. This was long before any K-Pop artist even thought winning a Billboard award was possible.
But Prodigy’s words were more than just entertainment for me. The stories, personal anguish and life lessons captured on tracks like “Survival of the Fittest,” “Eye for an Eye,” and “Drink Away The Pain” served as the soundtrack to my youth. I can honestly say that Mobb Deep, Nas, CNN and Wu-Tang have been the four most consistent artists in my life since I fell in love with hip-hop. During my past struggles with over indulgence — Prodigy’s raps were there as rehab, when the pain from numerous funerals of childhood friends brought tears to my eyes — Mobb music was there, and for the times of celebration and happiness — Mobb music was there.
His influence is felt within today’s biggest rap stars as well. Guys like Kendrick Lamar have praised Prodigy’s wordplay, and continue to pay homage to the Queensbridge legend.
“We had this garage in Dave Free’s mother’s house, we just had ProTools, a mic, and a quilt hanging over the mic. It would be late night when we would go to his mom’s house. Probably wouldn’t come out the garage until like 4 am, then wake up and go to school the next morning. We started recording this mix tape, called Youngest Head Nigga In Charge, YHNIC, and I was a big Prodigy fan at the time. So I was really biting his style,” Kendrick Lamar told GQ.
I even loved Mobb Deep’s 112 collaboration when they were receiving much flack for it. For me, it was the perfect way to reintroduce their sound to a new generation. It made perfect sense, too, and now look at what rap has become. It’s all R&B hooks in 2017. P still kept it gully on his verse, though.
“You a Queen bitch, you need a King close to you/You need a nigga like P to just flow witchu/And I gotta try, cause anything’s possible/And you just might see things the way I do/I just wanna get next to you, friends witchu/Burn hundreds, wake up in the bed witchu”
I could sit here all night and continue to reminisce on Prodigy’s impact on my life, but that would be selfish. This influential poet’s art has done way more for others than it has for me. There are countless names in music who were able to better themselves and provide for their families — thanks to Prodigy. Over the next 4 weeks, we will be speaking to some of these folks to give you guys a more in-depth look at how much Prodigy and Mobb Deep changed hip-hop forever.
One Love, P.
Prodigy and VIBE’s Editor In Chief Datwon Thomas in 2016 — this is P’s very last VIBE interview.