I admit, I continued to put off buying this book for months. It was pointless, I knew at some point I was going to eventually cave and read it, it was too intriguing to pass up. The lifestyle portrayed in his music, stories I heard/read about him and his crew and even a one-time interview/discussion I had with him lent heavily to the assurance this was going to be a great story. Plus his method for writing rhymes always suggested that he was simply a great writer, whether it was rhymes or not. However, even after the constant influx of co-signs from several Rhymesayers/Fifth Element artists, employees, and interns that exclaimed its greatness*, I still relented.
My reasoning was logical, though flawed. From the look of the cover, a quick flip thru, and then supported by the stories people shared from the content, I was convinced it was going to a book focused on glorifying street violence, meaningless sex and other criminal acts. As I get older, as well as the artists who make that sort of music get older, I have become less entertained by it. Plus, in trying to maintain a positive image for my teenage daughter, my niece and nephews, and any young people who look at me as any sort of roll model, I feel it’s my responsibility to think as such.
However, as I mentioned, that line of thinking had flaws. I grew up a fan of the music of Just Ice, Kool G Rap, Scarface, N.W.A, C.P.O, KMC, Ice T, Cormega, Raheem The Vigilante, Big L, Vooodu!, Deadly Threat, and more artists whose music was just about as violence and irresponsible as you can get. Mobb Deep was certainly a part of that list too. I remember getting a Loud Records Promo tape while in NY in ’95 that debuted “Shook Ones PT 2” and I was walking thru Harlem at night with this ill grin and hard bop walk that I couldn’t even control. There’s no doubt that the sinister musical foundations of Havok played heavily into the mood set by the music. I can’t lie, there was also something about the brutal nature of the lyrics that was appealing also. It was reminiscent of watching a good action movie and get amped off the Terminator wrecking havoc. Sure, you may have ultimately wanted the Human Race to win, but you still found yourself applauding the destruction caused by the villain. Truthfully, for me, it’s probably best compared to Bruce Willis “brutally”, but also cleverly knocking off terrorists. Similarly, I always admired the creative and grimly descriptive means in which Prodigy did damage to the opposition, “Rock In Your Face, stab your brain with your nose-bone.” I think I still smile and wince every time I hear him say that. However, the point here is that even listening and enjoying that music, it didn’t in any way affect my actions or lifestyle. Problem is, the same isn’t true for everyone. Some people are far easier influenced.
No doubt, the book contains unlimited tales of street violence, utter recklessness, and more stories, that I trust to be true, but are so outlandish they are hard to believe, possibly more than I’ve ever encountered in one place.
However, ultimately this book is about change. Prodigy definitely glorifies a lot of his past destructive deeds, some apologetically and others not so much. Yet, all thru out you witness his life-long struggle to escape that mind-state. It is far too easy for someone on the outside of his environment and conditions to place judgment, with out having any understanding. Don’t get me wrong, I feel when a person reaches a certain age they are responsible for letting go of their past demons and improving their life and respecting the lives of those around them. I don’t know exactly what that age is, but certainly Prodigy has reached it. This book at least outlines his various attempts. One would hope that beyond this book serving as entertainment for the reader, it would also be inspiration for people on the same self-destructive path to make some detours. Beyond that, I truly hope it is the powerful push that Prodigy himself needs to inspire him to stay his path. The book clearly documents that he has long been well aware that his life has more meaning and purpose than drugs, violence, and sex.
Truth be told, any true Mobb Deep fan should be aware of that. If you actually listened to Prodigy’s lyrics there was often something that set him apart from other “Street Rappers”, even in the midst of the violence. On “Spread Love” he ends the amped up chorus, “You should spread love not war, just think about your kids, how they need you around for your guidance/We should spread love not war, Because death hurts whole families, imagine it’s your mom’s that grieves” On “Still Shinin” he drops a stream of jewels such as, “The truth gets revealed like W Fard”, “I’m headstrong, at peace with myself like Islam”, “We rob land like White man/Plans to overthrow your whole s**t while shaking your hand”, and “Start to sticking, strong arm robberies and ice picking/Sneak vickin’, it’s cold outside, I think it’s past time for me to grab the clapper and take mine/(If) you follow what I’m saying, it’s like leading the blind”.
One of my favorite Prodigy vocal performances is “Apostles Warning” where he drops, “Dreams of growing old with my son and live great/Little man, I plan to enhance your mindstate/The rebirth of the ni**a who lived the ill life/The one before me was even more trife/My understanding, I raise you with precise planning/ And put you on to the whole game of this planet/But I gotta survive in order to follow thru/Plans of living lotto, me and my little kiko…” Later he continues with more street science, “This man is half mad scientist, half sane/Create a rhyme labyrinth like poisonous cannabis/Here take a toke of this deadly rare vocalist/Overpower your tiny noise like locusts/Like sunlight thru a magnify glass I focus/And burn a hole straight thru your brain and leave you open/…and let the venom soak in…”
For me, that unbalanced scale of consciousness and street life is a big piece of what truly set Prodigy a part from other “Thug” MCs and what helped make me a fan**. He always gave the impression that he put thought into his words and was speaking honestly and just saying what he felt at the time.
One thing is clear and that is Prodigy has no problem telling it exactly how he sees it. He speaks candidly on his often-troubled and/or complicated relationships with Nas, N.O.R.E and even Havok. I actually found myself regularly trying to think how they would feel about this book. However, he rarely leaves it one-sided, as quickly as he criticizes others, he admits his own faults. He also outlines his various “situations” with Keith Murray, Saigon, Jay Z, 2Pac, The Game, Death Row, JaRule, Irv Gotti, Lost Boyz, etc...
A lot of those issues and various other things led to a wealth of criminal activities that are described in vivid detail. It certainly is wild enough on its own, but I couldn’t help what wonder, “What stories did he decide or was told were to incriminating to include?” These stories probably aren’t the worse and that’s a bit scary...
All that action is combined with a life-long tale of struggle for his positive side, the story of his amazing family, including his troubled father, unexpected celebrity sightings, loyalty to friends and family, a complicated but compelling love story with his now Wife, dealing with Sickle Cell, a lot of friends lost thru death and incarceration, and more street tales than a season of The Wire.
Soon as I finished the book I was compelled to pull out all my Mobb Deep material and I’m currently deep into a Mobb Deep/Prodigy Musical Marathon. It gives more meaning to a lot of these songs and lyric references now that I have so many more pieces of the puzzle. It gives a more clear understanding of the “innocent child that turned killer”…
*Most people highly suggest experiencing this with the audio book, read by Prodigy himself. It is said to make the stories even all the more classic. I can definitely believe that. I’m still interested in listening to the audio book version at some point.
**In ’96 I interviewed Prodigy, right before “Hell On Earth”, for a special Mobb Deep radio show I was doing. In there he said one thing that always resonates with me and was possibly the start of me really understanding how conflicted and complex he was. I asked him to tell me something that he hadn’t said in an interview before or something to that effect. He paused for a minute and said that one day he wanted to go back to school. Not for a degree for any specific purpose, but just to gain knowledge. He was very interested in learning things. That was something that the average rapper wasn’t saying. Once “Hell On Earth” dropped I heard more of that line of thinking and then it all comes to life in this book…
Here’s some of Prodigy’s greatest lyrical moments:
Mobb Deep-Apostle’s Warning (Hell On Earth Album)
Mobb Deep-Drop A Gem On Em (Hell On Earth Album)
Mobb Deep-Nightime Vultures (Hell On Earth Album)
Mobb Deep-Still Shinin’ (Hell On Earth Album)
Mobb Deep-Hell On Earth [12” Prodigy Bonus Verse]
Cormega-Thun & Kicko feat Prodigy (this song is excellent!)
Prodigy, Method Man, KRS One, Kam-Bulworth
Xzibit-Eyes May Shine Remix feat Mobb Deep
Big Noyd-Recognize & Realize Part II feat Mobb Deep
Pete Rock-The Game feat Prodigy, Raekwon, Ghostface
Mobb Deep-Quiet Storm (Murder Muzik Album)
Mobb Deep-Thug Muzik (Murder Muzik Album)
Mobb Deep-Allustrious (Murder Muzik Album)
Mobb Deep-Adrenaline (Murder Muzik Album)
Mobb Deep-Shook Ones PT 2 (The Infamous Album)
Mobb Deep-Q.U. Hectic (The Infamous Album, 2nd Verse)
Mobb Deep-Man Down (Hell On Earth Album)
Mobb Deep-Eye For An Eye (The Infamous Album)
Prodigy-Genesis (HNIC Album)
Prodigy-You Can Never Feel My Pain (HNIC Album)
Prodigy-Keep It Thoro (HNIC Album)
Mobb Deep-Me & My Crew (Juevenile Hell Album)
...that’s just a little taste of some things to peep out!
Written By Kevin Beacham