From The Cradle To The Grave: In Memory of Mobb Deep’s Infamous Prodigy

From ‘Juvenile Hell’ to ‘Infamy,’ looking back on the life of the QB legend

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first listened to Mobb Deep. I know I was in high school. My man Vidur put me onto The Infamous. Fresh off getting our driver’s licenses, we spent hours on end just cruising through the city in his Camry, bumping “Shook Ones Pt. 2,” “Q.U. — Hectic,” and “Survival of the Fittest”. I’ll still argue with anyone who’ll listen that Mobb Deep’s three album run of The Infamous, Hell on Earth, Murda Muzik, is as good than anyone else’s if not better. Shit, even Vidur’s pops got into the debates. Mobb Deep and Bone Thugs were the only rappers that we could listen in front of him without getting yelled at.

P became one of my hip-hop fathers. He taught me all about the New York lingo, how to properly wear a rag, and that Hennessy is the liquor of choice. Vidur helped me break down the ever-expanding library of gang and drug slang that Mobb Deep coined. Every time we’d see a crossover or juke, we’d yell, “SHOOK ONES PART THREE,” at the TV screen. I spent the very first paycheck I ever made on a pair of six inch wheat Timbs — the entire paycheck. I loved his tough talk. Like Prodigy, I was a small, scrawny kid in high school, but hearing him threaten to beat up goons five times his size made me feel powerful. Around that time, I saved up to get an MP3 CD player installed in my car specifically so I could have Mobb Deep’s entire discography in one place at my fingertips.

P became one of my hip-hop fathers. He taught me all about the New York lingo, how to properly wear a rag, and that Hennessy is the liquor of choice.

I loved all of the collaborations between Mobb Deep and Nas, my other favorite Queensbridge rapper. All of their records together were fire and I brainstormed an in-depth breakdown on each of their joint records for TSS, but unfortunately, never followed through on that. I hated that Nas and P started throwing shots at each other in the early-2000s. I hated the idea that my two favorite rappers may never work together again. In my junior year of high school, I wrote a ten page essay on how Jay Z’s “Takeover” sent Nas and Prodigy’s career spinning in opposing trajectories — Nas’s benefitting with “Ether” and Prodigy’s spiraling downward thanks to his lack of a strong response. My English teacher at the time wasn’t thrilled, but gave me an “A” because I chose such a unique subject.

After years of bumping their archives, I ventured into Mobb Deep’s more recent material and was flabbergasted by how much P’s voice and flow had changed. I couldn’t believe it was the same rapper and how much his flow had fallen off. But even the later albums had gems, even if they became fewer and further out. “Get Away” became my go-to angry song, “Americaz Nightmare” became my swag song (“Yo b*tch, you know we get big cash/Money fallin’ out our pockets give you whiplash”) and I managed to adjust to the times.

When Game split from G-Unit and went on his couple years long diss run and 50 subsequently recruited Mobb Deep to G-Unit as a counter move, I paid attention because of my fandom for P, despite also being an admitted Game stan during his early run. I didn’t like that they were in 50’s camp (adding more fuel to the Nas beef), but the prospect of new music was exciting nonetheless.

But Blood Money was a flop and although I still remember listening to it on my iPod shuffle by my locker, even I had a hard time defending it.

Prodigy’s solo material will forever be underrated, and “You Can Never Feel My Pain” became a song I gravitated towards from the very first time I listened to H.N.I.C. When Prodigy pled guilty to weapons charges in NYC and was slated to begin a lengthy prison bid in late 2007 and released Return of the Mac, with longtime collaborator, Alchemist, no one was more excited than me.

One of my goals when I first started writing at TSS back in 2010 was to interview Mobb Deep when P got out. I finally got the opportunity to do so two years later, after Prodigy was released from prison and the duo reunited at Guerilla Union’s 2012 Smokeout Festival in San Bernardino. Making the drive up from my college dorm room in San Diego, my interview with Mobb Deep wound up being their final published interview before their breakup a few days later after the whole Havoc/Twitter “hack” fiasco.

It crushed me when their petty issues and infighting went public and Havoc and Prodigy, who had been the best of friends and business partners since their early teens, became Twitter punch lines. I was horrified that these two fully grown adults couldn’t resolve their differences behind closed doors and instead chose to air each other out via social media and let the world clown on their immaturity.

Admittedly, my fandom tapered a lot after all of that, but even now, Mobb Deep comes up in my rotation regularly. I always like to go back and listen to what’s comfortable, and for me that’s Nas, Tupac, and Mobb Deep. Mobb, in particular, takes me back to the teen years mentioned earlier. Whenever something really upsets me, I have a Mobb Deep greatest hits playlist that ALWAYS gets played front to back. The grit and anger in their music puts me a space that forces me to deal with my problems and eventually resolve them. No other artist’s music has ever put me in that zone and I appreciate them for that.

When my close friend Michelle died of leukemia, I played “Live N*gga Rap” for days straight after her funeral just to hear Prodigy rap “Rest in peace to my n*ggas on they back”. It still is the song I listen to after a death, today included.

In the end, I don’t honestly care how anyone else looks at Prodigy’s legacy. His (and Mobb Deep’s) career trajectory was a rocky road and I’m sure people will have contrasting feelings about it. But what I do know is the special place his music lives in for me, and I’m forever indebted to one of the men who helped teach me about the path not to tread on, and who served as a father figure to me at a time when I was in desperate need of one.

I can almost guarantee he probably doesn’t remember it, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to express my gratitude to him face to face before he passed way.

Long live the infamous Mobb Deep. Sleep well, dunn.

Raj is a writer, photographer, podcaster, stand-up comedian and Bay Area resident. Follow him on Twitter at @TSS_Raj.

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