by Paul Meara

My love for Prodigy, Mobb Deep and their music came from a different place and began at an unusual time.

I didn’t grow up in New York. I wasn’t of age to buy a CD or cassette of The Infamous when it hit shelves, months after hardcore hip-hop fans clamored about its prowess. They knew it featured Nas, members of Wu-Tang Clan and Q-Tip was involved in some way, but no one knew what it was going to turn out to be overall. At least that’s what my older friends say.

Prodigy of Mobb Deep dead at age 42

I was in kindergarten when the Mobb dropped their landmark LP; in Columbus, Ohio, far from the 41st Side of 12th Street or the Queensbridge “Project Hallways” the duo rapped about on their debut effort from two years earlier. It wasn’t until I got into hip-hop years later that I even knew who Mobb Deep was.

I remember the first time I heard a Mobb Deep song. I was at a hotel birthday party and woke up to a music video of theirs. It was “Hey Luv (featuring 112),” perhaps the group’s softest and most commercially-appealing song. My attention was drawn to Prodigy’s verse, though. His voice, appeal, and flow were so ill to me and nothing I had ever heard before. Little did I know, at that moment, my life would forever change.

My 12-year-old self, who had only a mild appreciation for hip-hop at the time, had me scanning the Internet playing snippets of prior Mobb Deep albums. Murda Muzik caught my attention, Hell On Earth had me nodding my dome heavy and The Infamous defined the type of music my soul had been searching for.

As I got older, I began collecting all of their music and the albums of everyone they were involved with to that point. It built the foundation for my interest in hip-hop, and mixed with an eventual degree in journalism, created the writing career I use to feed and house myself.

Perhaps bigger than that though, was Mobb Deep’s music shined a light on life experiences I never had. Joints like “Temperature’s Rising” and “Trife Life,” which Prodigy delivered some of his most visually adaptive verses on, brought me to Queensbridge and New York in a way no one else did to that effect (even Nas).

Hip-hop pays its respects to Prodigy on social media after his death

One of my favorite lines ever from P was when he said, “Life is a gamble, we scramble for money / I might crack a smile, but ain’t a damn thing funny,” from “Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines).” It perfectly describes his life of living in pain while trying to persevere. His bars were so vivid that their interpretation was more scary than an actual murder tale. It was always about what could happen to you, not anything that literally did go down.

From the Mobb’s second album to ’99 and 2000 Prodigy’s lyrical facility grew. At the beginning of the new millennium, and stacked up against contenders Eminem and Andre 3000, Prodigy was hip-hop’s top dog. Biggie and Tupac had passed while Nas was promoting Nastradamus and Jay Z dropped Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, an effort perhaps less stellar than ones from his previous years. Murda Muzik hit shelves in the summer of 1999, and despite extensive bootlegging and an altered final version, the album was Mobb Deep’s best-selling LP to date. Prodigy’s debut H.N.I.C. was released over a year later in November and as soon as rap fans heard the piano keys playing from “Keep It Thoro,” it was on. He was New York hip-hop.

Over the course of my career I’ve interviewed Prodigy on four different occasions. The first was shortly after he was released from prison. The second time was in 2012 when Mobb Deep was on hiatus and he refused to mention Havoc by name. The last though was perhaps the best. I spoke with him and Hav for two different anniversary pieces I did for the 20th anniversary of The Infamous. Aside from talking about the album, P reminisced about death and how it shadowed the recording sessions of their third LP.

“My father, Killer Black, a bunch of our friends, Twin [Gambino’s] brother [all passed away]… It was a real dark time for us,” he said. “It was a real bad time really. [There are] not too many good memories about making [Hell on Earth] except for the love for the music that we were making. Making those songs, all those songs came from a dark place. It was a lot of death happening around us.”

Memories of a Legend: Prodigy is remembered by director Michael Piccirilli

I didn’t really think about that quote much at the time, but I remembered it right after I found out he passed away. It reminded me that alongside the physical pain he had to go through in his life, emotional scars followed. While we don’t yet know his official cause of death, Prodigy had sickle cell anemia since birth. From the P-Wee, Poetical Prophet days in early high school to The Infamous and Hell on Earth to the G-Unit years, prison and beyond, he used his infamous life and its hardship to lend a unique voice to this culture we love.

From this point on, listening to my favorite Queensbridge albums will be a very different experience. You can now join Scarface Twin, Killer Black, Ill Will, your father and everyone else you were close to that passed on during your time on this earth. Thank you for your presence in my life, albeit mostly at a distance. Your music changed everything and like Havoc said years ago, it’s Mobb Deep forever.