Rapper Royce Da 5’9″ talks to REVOLT’s William E. Ketchum III about how Prodigy made him want to start rapping, what made Prodigy so legendary, and why he puts “Keep It Thoro” in his personal top 10 rap songs of all time.

I had to be in middle school, early high school when I first started listening to Mobb Deep. I actually bought the “Peer Pressure” single (from their 1993 debut album Juvenile Hell) and I’ve been following them since then. Every album after that, I bought and listened to religiously. It was listening to them that I made the transition just from listener to actually wanting to write my own raps. P falls into a category with artists who influenced me to actually want to rap.

On what made Prodigy great

It’s something to be said about the genius that’s involved in his simplicity. You’ve got simple rappers, then you’ve got rappers who are dope ass lyricists who figured out a way to simplify it to a point where the lyricists respect it and also casual fans get it. You never hear him adding too many words to his phrases, to his bars. Everything was just cool as a fan, everything. Even when he was angry on a record, he had this way of bringing out an emotion and sounding calm at the same time. Like that cool ass uncle that you had, or when your dad gets mad at you but your dad’s a gangsta. He gets mad at you around company, and just says, “sit yo ass down.” That’s more terrifying to you than if he would have yelled at you. That’s what P had in his rhymes. He was a master of expression. So once I got past the point of just rhyming big words, I started easing back and trying to factor things into my delivery, from studying P. … These things I look up to him for were the things that came naturally. I don’t think it’s something he developed, I think it’s something he was naturally gifted with.

I loved everything about Prodigy. I loved the elements that [Mobb Deep] brought to the game. They showed you that not everything was all happy happy all the time. I feel like music, especially hip-hop, should always do that. It was formed at a moment of rebellion, so it should always show both sides of the grass at all times. I still feel like that to this day. I still admire the artists who decide to put the element in there that people want to cover up.

How Mobb Deep and Prodigy taught Royce about Queens, New York City

I knew more about Queens than I probably should have, before I ever traveled to New York, because of Mobb Deep. When I first went to New York in ‘97, I was staying at a friend’s house and I had never been on a plane before. I had to fly by myself, then take the bus and the train. I’m from Detroit, we’re not used to public transportation. I didn’t know how to ride all that shit, so I had to learn. I had to meet my guy up at his job, and then we both took the train to his crib in Harlem together. The first person I met that called me “dun,” I knew exactly where he from from. “You’re from Queens aren’t you?” He said “yeah, how you know?” I said “shit, Mobb Deep!” People in Queens really talk like Mobb Deep and Nas! It’s so dope.

Why “Keep It Thoro” is a top 10 rap song ever

I think “Keep It Thoro” is probably one of the best songs ever done in hip-hop. That Prodigy and Alchemist team-up collaboration is gold to me. I would put “Keep It Thoro” in my top 10 songs ever in hip-hop, without even thinking about it. He didn’t get on there and over-rap it, he didn’t try to do no faddish flows, he didn’t say no trendy shit. He just kicked it to you timelessly, so any era you try to listen to it, it’ll sound brand new. And Al just made the perfect beat. It’s almost like the vocal tone he chose to use was in key with the beat, like if he just raised his voice a little bit that it would take it out of the pocket. His vocal tone is an instrument in the key of the beat, and he never goes out of key. Like a real nigga autotune on his voice or something, it’s just perfect. Everything landed at the right place and right time with that song.

On rarely interacting with Prodigy

I met Prodigy a couple times, but I never got to know him. I actually bumped into Havoc a few more times than I bumped into Prodigy. I was actually on tour with him, we just didn’t bump into each other that much. Listen, there were plenty of opportunities for me to bump into him more and try to build a relationship, because we have a lot of mutual friends. But I took for granted that somebody could be gone tomorrow. I felt like he was always going to be around, that he was never going to go nowhere, and there was no rush. Him falling off, or me not seeing him out, never even crossed my mind. He’s a timeless, classic artist, Mobb Deep is going to be here forever. I always knew there were going to be Mobb Deep shows in Detroit. I just took it for granted.