REVIEW | Albert ‘Prodigy’ Johnson, ‘My Infamous Life’ Audiobook Review (Contains Spoilers)

prodigyThe untimely death of Albert ‘Prodigy’ John­son half of rap duo Mobb Deep, had us all in a state of shock and dis­be­lief. In his lov­ing memory, I wanted to cel­eb­rate his life through draw­ing atten­tion to his power­ful auto­bi­o­graphy, ‘My Infam­ous Life’. Highly recom­men­ded to me by a friend who listened to the whole 13-hour audiobook in just one sit­ting, I was advised it would be some­thing I would find dif­fi­cult to listen to, but at the same time deeply appre­ci­ate. I was excited, it’s sel­dom we get insight into such suc­cess­ful artists through their own eyes and this embod­ies integ­ral Hip Hop his­tory. I’m not going to lie I did struggle to get into it at first, the con­tent is as raw as you can get, but I was com­pletely cap­tiv­ated by stor­ies of his life, not only the music but an in-depth explor­a­tion of his fam­ily life and per­son­al rela­tion­ships, tales of his upbring­ing filled with priv­ilege due to his family’s music­al back­ground, how­ever he was drawn to con­crete jungles of Queens­bridge Houses. Des­pite feel­ing like noth­ing is held back in this book due to its bru­tal hon­esty, I’m cer­tain many details were actu­ally left out to spare careers and feel­ings of those men­tioned. If you are a fan of New York’s rap music or just curi­ous about the socioeco­nom­ic state of Amer­ica, I recom­mend you have a listen, you will not find a bet­ter source of inform­a­tion detail­ing some import­ant moments about what I feel per­son­ally was the golden era of Hip Hop and gems about life les­sons in gen­er­al.

Prodigy’s dis­tinct­ive deep bass toned voice is allur­ing, he is the per­fect storyteller and has you cap­tiv­ated on every word as he tells his own story. I felt like he took me there with great depth of vis­ion. The more I listened the more I wanted to under­stand the music and where it really came from, I could under­stand why this auto­bi­o­graphy is so addict­ive. It paints a very vivid pic­ture, I was aware Prodigy had sickle cell anaemia, but was unaware of the extent to hard­ships he had to endure as a res­ult, it was a real eye open­er. I have a much great­er admir­a­tion for Prodigy’s strength after hear­ing about his struggles, he’s an inspir­a­tion, show­ing you can­not let any­thing hold you back. His struggles are out­lined in the track, ‘You Can Nev­er Feel My Pain’ as he addresses his life long battle with the ill­ness, this auto­bi­o­graphy is a more in depth explor­a­tion of that sen­ti­ment, he tells us ‘pain and I became very close in those years’. It hit me hear­ing about the pain he had to go through because of his con­di­tion, for many eth­nic minor­it­ies this is left unspoken about in our com­munit­ies, I remem­ber actu­ally run­ning a Hip Hop event in aid of bone mar­row donors for eth­nic minor­it­ies dur­ing the 90’s as it was such an unknown cause so I com­pletely under­stood why Prodigy felt the way he did, such ill­ness was almost a taboo. As a child — not only did he endure the severe phys­ic­al pain but the racial pro­fil­ing and being treated as a ‘fiend’ for his high tol­er­ance of drugs, which often lead to him being left ignored on his hos­pit­al bed by staff. At times I wanted to cry but then I also wanted to laugh, he uses humour at times to cov­er the dark­ness of some of his des­pair, you really see another side to his life.

The sheer tal­ent, Prodigy said he wanted to make it in rap and he did. There were no doubts or hes­it­a­tion when he made this state­ment, he would let noth­ing hold him back. It was as if he was born to MC. Ori­gin­ally called, ‘Poet­ic­al Proph­ets’ the story of how Mobb Deep formed is told from mak­ing mil­lions at the age of just 16, driv­ing the flyest cars and pos­sess­ing weapons. It’s mind blow­ing how young they all were at this time, merely teen­agers hav­ing exper­i­enced so much of adult life already but also achiev­ing so much in par­al­lel, he was able to get a song onto the ‘Boyz in the Hood’ soundtrack aged only 15. His first time in pris­on was at 16, it reminded him on the first time he was in the back of a police car with his father at the age of 8. Mobb Deep wanted to be known as the ‘wild ones’ hav­ing the time of their lives, 6 star hotels, groupies, private jets and fast cars. He speaks openly about very real acts of viol­ence, murder sex and drugs and devel­op­ing anim­al instincts to sur­vive. It is a good remind­er of how real the con­tent of their albums are, it’s not fic­tion they have actu­ally lived these lives. Sneak­ing guns into the tun­nel club to pro­tect them­selves from inter­city gangs. Hip Hop is often blamed for incit­ing viol­ent beha­vi­our but this audiobook clearly exem­pli­fies, their music was a pro­duct of their envir­on­ment, the envir­on­ment was not a pro­duct of their music.

One of my favour­ite parts of the audiobook is when Prodigy was told he had to battle every­one in Queens­bridge to earn their respect, and he was taken to battle Nas and then later Cor­mega. The ini­ti­ation if you will. I really miss this essence of hip hop — the battle! I was so hyped to learn about this from Prodigy him­self! This was such an epic moment in his­tory, Nas’ aura can be felt through the audiobook a very well respec­ted MC who was seen as the best of QB, they brought him to see the KING! Nas remained char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally non­chal­ant, I can ima­gine how intim­id­at­ing that must have been for Prodigy, a new MC but even though he was scared he did it, and even though he heard Nas said he wasn’t very good he was grate­ful because that drove him to get bet­ter, a true test­a­ment to going for what you want and doing the things that scare us to excel. He could have eas­ily hated on Nas for that, but instead he thanked him for the motiv­a­tion to prove him wrong. Who would ever have ima­gined over 20 years on, after P’s death Nas would be pay­ing homage to him at his sold out shows world­wide with crowds of people recit­ing his lyr­ics to ‘Shook Ones’, it’s crazy how things work out some­times. Life is all about per­spect­ive and using this philo­sophy Mobb Deep achieved some great things.

nas

Mobb Deep were actu­ally the first Amer­ic­an Hip Hop group to per­form in India, and des­pite how pover­ty stricken some parts of Bom­bay were, both Hav­oc and Prodigy still wore their jew­elry out which nat­ur­ally meant they attrac­ted a lot of atten­tion. Whil­st out there Prodigy suffered from severe sickle cell sick­ness and the med­ic­al sup­plies he needed which we often take for gran­ted in the West­ern world were illeg­al in Bom­bay at the time, so he had to pay someone to get them from the black mar­ket. This was mind blow­ing to me.

There were many tales of his fab­ulous life­style, he talks about his unlikely friend­ship with Lind­sey Lohan and his rela­tion­ship with Keisha Cole, mak­ing the industry seem so small and a remind­er that you need to be care­ful how you treat people and which bridges you burn, but also that you run into very dif­fer­ent circles. There was some very inter­est­ing situ­ations Prodigy and Hav­oc ended up in, things happened to them which you couldn’t even make up if you tried. Stor­ies which stood out for me in par­tic­u­lar were his encoun­ters with the police for­ce, it echoes a harsh real­ity for young black male in Amer­ica mak­ing a lot of money. Prodigy recalls the embar­rass­ing moment when under­cov­er black detect­ives he was trav­el­ling with were pulled over by under­cov­er white detect­ives, P says it was, ‘Clas­sic’ it really did sound like some­thing out of a movie scene. One thing that struck me was Prodigy’s abil­ity to accept and deal with some very unfair situ­ations he would end up in. He learned that after many year of para­noia and read­ing into Illu­min­ati con­spir­acy the­or­ies the feds were actu­ally track­ing them, known as the ‘Hip hop police’, they had been assigned to mon­it­or high pro­file rap­pers such as Mobb Deep and G Unit.

Prodigy recalls when he was sub­jec­ted to an illeg­al car search and a fire­arm was found. He had not given per­mis­sion for the search and there was no war­rant but even so he faced incar­cer­ated as a res­ult. It was sur­real, as he was in pris­on uni­formed officers were ask­ing for his auto­graph and tak­ing pho­tos on their phones. Oth­er detect­ives were less impressed telling him how much they hated rap music and how hard they had to work for low wages and didn’t appre­ci­ate rap­pers like him­self mak­ing so much money from music. In return for his freedom P was asked for inform­a­tion on oth­er rap­pers, in par­tic­u­lar 50 Cent. Prodigy even goes on to describe how he was asked if he has access to 50’s cars if he would be able to plant a gun or drugs for the feds to bust him. This is when P learnt the hard truth that there were cov­ert ops col­lect­ing inform­a­tion illeg­ally on rap­pers such as the Wu Tang Clan, Nas, Puff Daddy and Tupac the list goes on. Der­ick Parker’s book, ‘Notori­ous COP’ exposes all of this if you want to read more into it. It reminded P of how the Black Pan­thers were being mon­itored. If you have seen the recent movie about Tupac, ‘All Eyez on Me’ this issue is also touched on.

The audiobook ends with some very real self-reflec­tion as the time comes for Prodigy to serve 3.5 years in pris­on for car­ry­ing an unlaw­ful fire­arm. Instead of being angry at the sys­tem P believe he had got away with a lot and now his time had come to serve time and he was just look­ing to get the most out of it, be pro­duct­ive to keep mak­ing music, keep healthy and fit (pris­on cook­book).

How the music industry has changed, artists no longer selling units like they used too.

‘We in a class of our own’ that atti­tude brought us this far, the moment you for­get this you’re fin­ished and that’s why I need to keep it mov­ing on you’ Prodigy said to Hav­oc, he appre­ci­ated P being his driv­ing for­ce, he always motiv­ated him. He reveals Hav­oc was not great at net­work­ing it the music industry, I guess he’s more intro­ver­ted. The most import­ant words of wis­dom in this book: ‘Yes­ter­day is gone, and tomor­row doesn’t count unless you take care of your pri­or­it­ies right now’. He men­tions how oth­er rap­pers have inspired him and the prob­lems they all had with each oth­er was just street bravado, they were all a spe­cial breed of black men. Des­pite their dif­fer­ences they were broth­ers, rising above pet­ti­ness.  He kept think­ing about this book ‘the Evol­u­tion of a Revolu­tion­ary’ an auto­bi­o­graphy of Afeni Shak­ur (Tupac’s mother) writ­ten by Jas­mine Guy’. In this book Afeni made him real­ise why he was try­ing to live right­eous but keep mess­ing up all these years, but were miss­ing God. The Black Pan­ther party had over­whelm­ing power men­tally and phys­ic­ally, cre­ated an incred­ible amount of amount of pos­it­ive change in the black com­munity and influ­ences oth­er races to stand up in their own com­munit­ies.

He knew he was always cap­able to do good things in life but real­ised he didn’t have the power to do great things without faith in God. Once he found this faith and real­ised God will always been in his life, God is every­where and in everything once he ack God has always been and will always be in his life, it gave him the power to handle any situ­ation, but his anger in check and to approach prob­lems as les­sons, noth­ing was a chal­lenge but an exper­i­ence. Don’t com­pete just cre­ate. no such thing as oppos­i­tion it’s just nature at work.

Any reser­va­tions I had about listen­ing to this audiobook at first, were gone by the end of it, in fact I was left want­ing to hear even more stor­ies, this was a very sober­ing account about the harsh real­it­ies of life. I will nev­er tire hear­ing Prodigy’s voice, he was the per­fect story tell­er and it’s even more deject­ing now he is no longer with us. I would recom­mend a listen to any­one who is a fan of hip hop, if you can look over the gri­mi­er details; there are some great insights into the lives of men who made a huge impact on the hip hop industry and on a grander scale — the world. Rest in Power Prodigy, you will truly be missed by many.

 

 

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Faizah Cyanide

Faizah Cyanide

Faizah works in clin­ic­al research by pro­fes­sion and has been an avid Hip Hop lov­er since the early 90’s, hav­ing cre­ated her own Hip Hop event, ‘Break­in’ Bound­ar­ies’ in the early 2000’s which was pre­dom­in­antly based around the con­cept of bboy battles, she has worked with sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al events pro­moters and dan­cers to inspire oth­ers through this art­form.

About Faizah Cyanide

Faizah Cyanide
Faizah works in clinical research by profession and has been an avid Hip Hop lover since the early 90's, having created her own Hip Hop event, 'Breakin' Boundaries' in the early 2000's which was predominantly based around the concept of bboy battles, she has worked with several international events promoters and dancers to inspire others through this artform.