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Prodigy Moves On - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: CNN

Ayo I break bread, ribs, hundred dollar bills
peel on Ducatis and other four wheels
trite a book full of medicine and generate mills
tour the album, only for more sales

- Prodigy, "Keep It Thoro"

Yesterday, one half of the most formidable and forever respected
rap duos ever passed away. Prodigy. The H.N.I.C. The news hit 
many people hard due to the absolute abruptness of it. Like a
lot of situations these days, I had seen a report crawl across my
Twitter feed. I voiced my concerns and had 2 people immediately
respond. In the midst of that, I saw I had a missed phone call.
It was one of my old hangout partners from high school who 
has ties to that Queensbridge set. He confirmed the bad news.
Prodigy...gone. Only 42. The shock hit many of his fellow MC's
and got a lot of people quoting his lyrics. I was no different, 
choosing his opening lines from one of my favorite tracks from
The Infamous and an unofficial anthem for those who rep the
borough of Queens, "Give Up The Goods(Just Step)". As the rest
of the day unfolded, I started thinking about how much P had 
given to rap. And what that meant in the long run.

To those who came up in the borough of Queens as he and Havoc
set out on their careers, Prodigy was one of those dudes who
had a pipeline to greatness laid out. I hadn't realized that he 
had even been on the Boyz In The Hood soundtrack and that 
he had a deal with Jive Records until a few years ago. The first
recollection we had around the way goes back to when they 
first dropped as Mobb Deep with Juvenile Hell. Some weren't 
really checking for it, the only ads being those orange posters
featuring anime-like drawings of Hav and P with sickles that 
were posted in the windows of a dance school off Jamaica Ave.
The school belonged to Prodigy's grandmother (more on that 
in a bit). As a matter of fact most don't even recall that album
except for that one single "Hit It From The Back", which was
meant to be a house party grinding single. At least it was for
those who threw cut parties from school back in the day. So 
when the spring of 1995 rolled around, when The Infamous 
dropped - the shell shock of how gritty it was, how good it was,
how 'hood it was - knocked everybody out of their kicks. You
couldn't go anywhere without hearing that album. It was a 
universal joint. Imagine rolling past a park and hearing "The 
Start of Your Ending" out of the subwoofers someone installed
in their Nissan Pathfinder with the smell of nature in the air 
as you avoided stepping on empty fifth bottles of E&J on the
sidewalk. Or seeing at least one group of cats with a portable
boombox bumping "Give Up The Goods" no matter what 'hood
you happened to be in. That album helped define the NYC sound
in the mid '90's and put Prodigy front and center. It brought the
borough together on a whole - when I came up you still had a
bit of animosity between 'hoods. Jamaica Avenue was and is a
major thoroughfare for the meeting of northern and southern
Queens and at times it could lead to brawls and other situations
which I saw more of during high school back then and way less
of now. 

I got reminded by my boy Ty who I built with as I set out to
write this that at that time, there was a sentiment that he was
positioning himself to be viewed as one of the greatest all-time
lyricists. Even on fellow Queensbridge representative Nas' level,
and that's saying a lot. But in that time period from 1995 until
2000, it wasn't too much of a stretch. You had The Infamous.
Then Hell On Earth. Then Murda Muzik which I had heard about
2 different bootlegged versions of before it finally dropped. And
then H.N.I.C. That's a serious amount of good music in a five-year
stretch. That's not even taking into consideration his guest verses.
Joints like LL Cool J's "I Shot Ya" remix. "The Game" off of Pete
Rock's Soul Survivor album. "Hold You Down" with Nina Sky and
The Alchemist. Hell, even his last guest verse on AZ's "Save Them"
had some heat. Personal faves? His verse on "Back At You" from
the Sunset Park soundtrack and the leadoff verse on NBA Hall of
Famer and rapper Shaquille O'Neal's "Legal Money" track. P had some
bangers. Did he have a period where his skills had slipped? Yeah.
It's not uncommon for rappers to go into a zone where their skills
are at odds with the change in the tonal landscape of rap. You either
stay in your lane or you evolve to make your lane bigger. I would say
that he did the latter with Return Of The Mac in 2007 with The Alchemist,
which was the last joint he did before going in for a three-year bid for
possession of an illegal firearm. 

Prodigy appealed to a lot of people because of the fact that you
knew that he was a fighter. Willing to go toe to toe with cats on
the mic and off. Unabashed with his opinions. Think about this -
he and Havoc were on the front lines of the East Coast/West Coast
beef, to the point that 2Pac straight up talked trash about Prodigy
having sickle cell anemia. Prodigy was unfzaed - he ran up against
the Def Squad and Keith Murray in particular calling their raps "space
shit". His beef with Jay-Z is legendary for the fact that Hov got the
last laugh by throwing pictures of Prodigy from the old days at his
grandmother's dance school - the same one from the Ave - up on
the screen during a Summer Jam appearance at the height of the
beef. (It wasn't exactly a major revelation to those from Queens -
another of the homies had a sister who went to the same school.)
Through it all though, Prodigy was still someone who was going to
stand up and hold his own. 

The underlying effect of it all is that Prodigy had been fighting and
beating the odds for a long time on another level. Living with sickle
cell is something that one out of 500 African-Americans have to deal
with currently. There is no cure, although the debilitating effects of
it can be lessened due to lifestyle changes. When Prodigy went in
for his bid, it was a life-changing moment. He wound up using that
experience to teach himself how to eat better. And the man actually
wound up putting together a cookbook out of that that got major
acclaim. Hell, my own family members asked me about it when it 
dropped. He became part of the growing wave of voices that you can
say were mentors when it came to hip-hop and health at a time 
where it was needed which also includes The LOX, dead prez and
others. It added another level of luster to his legacy. And it's one 
part we may need to focus on more in the wake of his passing, since
all signs point to the crisis that eventually claimed him being brought
about by both the rigors of the road and the extreme heat he had 
to endure at his last ever performance in Las Vegas, Nevada as part
of The Art of Rap tour. Temperatures were registered at around 115
degrees. To the end, he was committed to rocking the crowd and 
must've fought through the onset of it all until he couldn't anymore.

Photo Credit: Supra

Above all, I think the best way to remember Prodigy is through
the spirit he brought to the rap game and the world. A spirit of
matter-of-fact realism, keen observational intellect and a limber
lyricism that reminds you of a skillful combination laid out by a 
middleweight champion boxer in his prime. Was he among the
best rappers lyrically in the game? Debatable at best. Was he among
the most respected? Undoubtedly. Folks will drink away the pain but
be glad that his music and his spirit will remain part of the culture.
Salute to Prodigy, Queensbridge's own and a true H.N.I.C. 

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