this is heavy

In memoriam: Six of the best from the undisputed H.N.I.C.

I put my lifetime in-between the paper’s lines.

Prodigy, among New York’s hardcore rap forefathers and one of the genre’s lyrical heavyweights, passed away Tuesday morning following a lifelong battle with sickle cell anemia. He was 42 years young.

Born Albert Johnson, Prodigy was one-half of seminal rap group Mobb Deep. Known for his raw, almost cinematic lyricism, Prodigy lended cold, calculated weight to Havoc’s hellish soundscapes. Together, the duo crafted some of rap’s grimiest – and best – songs.

Prodigy later released a slew of solo material, most notably with frequent collaborator Alchemist. Though opinions vary on the overall quality of his solo catalog, the lyrical brush strokes never lost their edge.

Unlike most, my first experience with Mobb Deep came not with Shook Ones (Part II), their proverbial calling card and one of rap’s most fiercely repeatable songs, but with Hell on Earth. This, the group’s third album and first since The Infamous, which included Shook Ones and established them as bastions of New York City rap, entered my world at 15. I distinctly remember being driven to the mall by my mother, and then slipping undetected into Tape World. Fiery red minimalist cover. Intimidating. I’ll have that. Copped on my own, parental advisory sticker be damned.

Once home, I slid the compact disc into my Sony HCD-251 and, well, was punched in the face. When I finally got to G.O.D. Pt. III – more on it later – I felt like I was in some sort of Wes Craven/John Carpenter/Tony Montana hybrid horror rap reality. It was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Havoc’s towering production had much to do with that, but Prodigy – his lyrics legitimized the music. He made Mobb Deep real.

Prodigy will be missed greatly. In true rap circles, his legacy is firmly established, yet he still feels underrated. Perhaps that’s because he never really chased the spotlight. Instead, Prodigy, much like his music, preferred to lurk in the shadows. To embrace the darkness. To let the lyrics define the rapper and not the other way around.

Here are six (not five) of my favorite verses from the emcee, in no particular order. Play them loud. Play them often.

Albert Einstein, 2013

They rated me triple X, I’m too vulgar
I start finger-fuckin’ that Mac, it’s all over

G.O.D., Pt. III
Hell on Earth, 1996

Horror tales in Braille, for vision impaired
You looking for P, well you can find him everywhere
In a project near you, I’ll be right there

Murda Muzik, 1999

This is rap for real, somethin’ you feel
You catch a chill when you hear the Mobb bang through your stereo
It’s heavy metal for the black people, rock ‘n roll
But it’s hip hop though, my drug music
It’s therapeutic to the user, you slam dance to it

Keep It Thoro
H.N.I.C., 2000

Ayo, I break bread, ribs, hundred dollar bills
Peel on Ducatis and other four wheels
Write a book full of medicine and generate mills

Apostle’s Warning
Hell on Earth, 1996

Dreams of growing old with my son to live great
Little man I’m plannin to enhance your mindstate

Quiet Storm
Murda Muzik, 1999

Yo, the P rock 40-inch cables, drinkin’ white label
My chain hang down to my dick, my piece bang glass tables