The 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.
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.