Book Review: My Infamous Life by Albert "Prodigy" Johnson & Laura Checkoway
There are also considerable moments that in recent media have left rappers frazzled. Discussions of Capone-N-Noreaga and the "snitch factor," Keith Murray almost losing his life to Prodigy's gun, Nas being Mobb Deep's frenemy, a jackin' Jay-Z, and 50 Cent turning out to be Mobb Deep's biggest ally.
Albert “Prodigy” Johnson is one of Hip Hop’s most enigmatic figures. As one half of legendary Hip Hop outfit Mobb Deep, Prodigy has lyrically fused hustling and drug money with conspiracy theories in a way that can only be the product of a beautiful mind. Some say he’s crazy (some might be right), but Prodigy has held no punches (literally) about the man he is and has music that coincides with the life he leads. Not too many other rappers can boast that level of honesty. While serving a three-year bid for criminal possession of a weapon, Prodigy finished his life story that was years in the making. My Infamous Life could be accurately described as a “tell all.” However, that’s what Prodigy has always done in his songs. This is just an extension of that.
Famed music journalist and documentarian Laura Checkoway did an excellent job of piecing together literary polaroids of Prodigy’s life. The book begins with a history of Prodigy’s family – his grandfather was Budd Johnson, legendary Jazz saxophonist who worked with the likes of Quincy Jones and Dizzie Gillespie among others. His grandmother, Bernice Johnson was a Cotton Club dancer with Lena Horne before later opening her own dance academy The Bernice Johnson Dance School. Music was in his blood. The book ends in prison, with Prodigy having served over two of his three year term before finally reuniting with partner in rhyme Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita. Dispersed throughout the novel are “present-day” anecdotes while Prodigy is serving his time.
Hardcore Mobb Deep fans may know much of the stories Prodigy tells – how he felt it was no coincidence that Biggie called himself “Notorious” after Mobb Deep went by “Infamous”, how Mobb Deep almost signed to Bad Boy, and so on. For the New York Rap aficionado, the book details the beginnings of Queens Hip Hop in the ‘90s and moves over to Brooklyn and beyond as the book progresses. We learn that Lil' Kim and Mary J. Blige both propositioned Prodigy, but only one woman held his heart, his wife KiKi (despite numerous tales throughout the book of P cheating on his Mrs.). Prodigy goes in depth about his struggle with sickle cell, from dancing the pain away at his grandmother’s dance school as a child (as evidenced by the photo Jay-Z placed upon Hot 97’s infamous Summer Jam screen thanks to Ashanti) to learning that healthy eating made him feel better, yet drugs and alcohol left him frequently hospitalized. Considering a good portion of the book was penned in a clockless prison, the timing is off in parts (i.e. discussing 1997 before discussing 2Pac’s death in September of 1996). Prodigy might also be too complex for such linear ways of thinking. There are also considerable moments that in recent media have left rappers frazzled. Discussions of Capone-N-Noreaga and the “snitch factor,” Keith Murray almost losing his life to Prodigy’s gun, Nas being Mobb Deep’s frenemy, a jackin’ Jay-Z, and 50 Cent turning out to be Mobb Deep’s biggest ally. However, while Prodigy reveals many arguably embarrassing stories about other rappers, he fails to discuss the story of rapper Tru Life jacking him during a session with DJ Muggs (as detailed in the Beef DVD series).
The most important piece of My Infamous Life is Prodigy’s relationship with Havoc. The two were friends since high school, and despite disagreements over recording contracts and Prodigy moving out of the home the two bought together, it’s clear the love is there. The two are brothers – at times Cain and Abel – but brothers nonetheless.
Despite the fact that My Infamous Life ends in prison, it could be defined as Prodigy’s success story. Many aren’t fortunate enough to exit the system, and as Prodigy’s book enters bookstores as he leaves jail, one can only hope he’ll never go back.