Can gangstas grow up?
It’s a question Hip Hop has to ask itself in the era of 30-something-year-old rappers clinging to their “2nd Childhood” like a life preserver. In a culture consumed with youth can rugged rhymers, even ones who once championed their “criminal minds thirsty for recognition” mentality as young-and-dumb teenagers, actually push past their “infamous” pasts and present themselves like the grown men they are without surrendering their fan bases to contemporaries who refuse to relinquish their reckless immaturity?
That question is sure to be asked by many a Mobb Deep fan upon listen to the latest release from Prodigy, H.N.I.C 3. Without question the most mature offering from the former gun-toting menace to society who 17 years ago proudly proclaimed he was “goin’ out blastin’, takin’ my enemies with me,” the fourth solo effort from one-half of the M-O-B-B will test the limits of murda muzik devotees and all fans who stubbornly stunt their favorite rappers growth by demanding they stay, as Nas would say, “trapped in the ‘90s.”
During his recent interview with HipHopDX, Prodigy spoke about his personal progression, revealing that “19-year-old Prodigy was just immature” and that he is now striving to become “a well-rounded individual.” P additionally addressed the inevitable backlash that is sure to come from some in response to his new batch of female-friendly tunes, if he is in any way like his peers who rhyme without reason, and if he’s selling out to the South by employing screwed vocals and bouncy beats for a portion of his new LP.
And before sharply sidestepping questions regarding the much-ballyhooed Twitter controversy he and his Mobb Deep co-d Havoc endured this past spring, Prodigy explained encounters he had with two of Hip Hop’s fallen legends: face-to-face interactions with one larger than life emcee he once deemed “corny,” and a postmortem meeting of sorts with the revolutionary spirit of one of his once bitter enemies.
HipHopDX: I usually don’t start off interviews asking super-heavy questions, but I wanna go ahead and get the inevitable Illuminati question out of the way first. On “Skull & Bones” you spit, “Illuminati is us, we are the origin, of all enlightenment / These pirates stole our shit.” Can you elaborate a little bit on what you were saying in that verse?
Prodigy: The word Illuminati means “the illuminated ones,” basically. And, the origin of that comes from the ancient Egyptians, the Black Egyptians that ruled Egypt. They had the schools of thought in medicine, technology, and that’s where everything comes from. So that’s what I mean when I say, “We are the origin, of all enlightenment / These pirates stole our shit.” Like, that’s our shit. We are the original illuminated ones. They took it and used it for something evil.
DX: I noticed that’s your only mention of Illuminati on the album, was that sort of intentional to not keep going back to that topic?
Prodigy: Yeah, ‘cause I already did that on [H.N.I.C 2]. This album is not even about that. I did all that on part two so I felt like [switching directions] to give the people something different every time.
DX: Speaking of that difference, I’m personally diggin’ this “Gangsta Love” joint but you know there are some Mobb Deep loyalists that aren’t gonna be feeling this more mature vibe from you. What do you say to your fans who just want 100% murda muzik from P?
Prodigy: I would just say get used to it. ‘Cause, if you ain’t used to the way Mobb Deep and [Prodigy] do they music by now you’ll never get used to it I guess.
We always got a song or two like that, a few songs like that dedicated to the females. I mean, you gotta do that. You can’t just be in a box and just be doing one thing. You wanna cover all grounds and be a well-rounded individual.
Some people just be stuck on one thing and that’s all they know how to do. And they just be pigeonholed for the rest of their life.
DX: There is a little bit more focus on the females this time out though: “Let Me Show You,” “What’s Happening” with T.I., “My Angel.” Was this a newfound focus or did you always wanna speak a bit more about wifey on wax but just couldn’t?
Prodigy: Nah, I just decided to add [that element]. ‘Cause every album I try to make it different, so I figured like, Alright, how can I make this one different from the last one and the one before that? Well let me just do a few more female joints and that’ll give it a different feel. It’ll open up the female audience a little more too.
DX: I figured maybe y’all had abandoned trying to do that ‘cause I know y’all caught hell back in the day for that “Hey Luv” joint with 112, even though that beat was straight gutta.
Prodigy: I mean, to tell you the truth, I do what I wanna do. I don’t care what people say, because I make my music from my heart and from my soul and what I feel. So everybody’s not gonna agree with it. You can’t please everybody. And I don’t fear shit like that. I know a lot of people probably got fear like, “Your core audience, they’re gonna have something bad to say.” I really don’t care to tell you the truth. And I think that’s why a lot of my fans and Mobb Deep fans, that’s why they fuck with us, because they know we just do what we wanna do.
DX: Switching gears here, on the opening track from H.N.I.C 3, “Without Rhyme Or Reason,” you spaz on industry fakeness. But on “Who You Bullshittin?” with Havoc you really zone in on frauds who spit “Just a bunch of reckless raps that make no sense / A hundred bodies on your song, yeah real intelligent / You’s a writer of fiction, straight novelist / So many keys you’d a thought you’s a locksmith.” You ask these liars in the song who they bullshittin’, my question for you is who were you specifically speaking on in that song?
Prodigy: Just whoever be talking that bullshit and you know they not doing that. I mean, that could go all the way across the board. There’s so many rappers in the game right now [rhyming about that]. That’s up to the fans to decide like, "Alright, which ones really do that?"
DX: I just gotta ask, it’s always a curiosity of mine, why do artists never wanna name names? Do you view it to be somehow snitching to speak on other artists in a less subliminal way in song?
Prodigy: Nah, most of my rhymes that I write I just speak in general, and I allow the audience to decide who it is in they mind that’s like that. There’s a whole lot of people that talk about pushing keys and fake shit in they rhymes, so all I gotta do is say that and then you’re gonna think, Oh yeah, this one. Somebody else might think, He talking about this one.
DX: But you’re saying you’re not sitting there thinking of somebody in particular like, I’m ‘bout to get him?
Prodigy: Nah. I just know that’s what people think. That’s what people know when they listen to these dudes. Like, everybody say that. Everybody be like, Ah, this one is frontin’. So I just put it in the music ‘cause that’s what people talk about. These are the conversations that be in the hood every day. This is what we talk about, so I throw it in a rhyme to continue the conversation ….
DX: I gotta challenge you a bit more with this next question. “A hundred bodies on your song, yeah real intelligent.” With that said, I have to ask if the gun-toting imagery in the “Pretty Thug” video is in any way hypocritical, especially the shootout scene at the end? Isn’t that kind of stuff exactly what you were attacking on “Who You Bullshittin’”?
Prodigy: Nah man, ‘cause what I do is – As far as the “Pretty Thug” video, that’s a play on the King Of New York movie. So that’s not a reality, that’s just a video that we copied from a movie. That’s just like writing a script. It’s a fictional movie-type thing. Like, I did another video where we took Reservoir Dogs and we flipped it into a video. It’s just being creative and using a movie [as inspiration].
But when you dealing with a song and you hear somebody that’s recklessly just talking about killing everybody, there’s no reasoning to it, there’s no intelligence to it, then it’s just dumb. When you listen to most of Mobb Deep and Prodigy’s songs we keep it reality based. We’ll tell you like, Yo, listen man, don’t start drama with us or we’re gonna defend ourselves. You understand?
DX: You don’t say it like that but yeah. [Laughs]
Prodigy: Yeah, but that’s basically the gist of it. When you listen to it that’s what we’re saying basically. Like, If you come fuck with us we’re gonna defend ourselves. We don’t never be like, Oh, we’re gonna go kill everybody and do this that and the third. There’s some sort of reasoning to our shit. And that’s what like our whole career was really based off of.
DX: Now, that Tupac vocal sample from Juice at the beginning of “Pretty Thug” leapt out at me, only because 15 years later it still just honestly sounds eerie to hear you alongside the guy you dropped a gem on. In your book, My Infamous Life, you write about the Tupac notebook left behind [at ‘Pac’s friend-turned-foe Stretch’s house]. Can you share a little bit about that story without giving away everything that’s in the book?
Prodigy: Yeah, I mean, [Tupac] just had plans in there, like the thoughts in his head and his plans that he wanted to do. He wanted to unite the ghettos [by uniting] the leaders of each hood. Like, say you got a hood in Brooklyn, in Crown Heights, and you got one main dude that’s in Crown Heights that’s running shit, and then you got another dude in say Oakland, California, in whatever hood out there, that’s running shit, ‘Pac had an idea and plans in his notebook to unite these head leaders of each hood and get them to come together for one common cause, to help out the communities and to clean up the communities. And to speak out against dirty politicians, and just shit like that to try to help niggas that’s uh, how would you say … unsavory characters, that regular white collar people or politicians might not wanna deal with. He was trying to unite these niggas and get them to do things where they could come into doing more positive things in their lives and for their community.
DX: And [Stretch’s brother, and blood cousin to Young Noble of the Outlawz] Majesty wanted you to see this because he thought you and ‘Pac was on the same wavelength?
Prodigy: Yeah, I mean, he was just like, “Yo, I gotta show you something.” Because, me and Majesty and E-Money Bags, we used to all be kickin’ it and shit, and we used to talk about revolutionary shit, and knowledge of self and Black history and the plight of the ghetto and all the bullshit that we go through. So, he was just telling me like, “Yo, man, you don’t even know, you and ‘Pac woulda been best friends, ‘cause that nigga was just like you.” As far as like that type of shit, like talking about the Illuminati and secret governments. This was the shit that they would always conversate with ‘Pac about. So he was just like, “Yo, matter fact I wanna show you something” and he pulled out the notebook and was like, “Look.” And I opened it and I’m looking at it and I’m like, “Oh shit, that’s crazy.” I knew ‘Pac was like a revolutionary type of dude ‘cause that’s how he was raised with The Black Panthers and all that, but when I’m really looking at his notes that he wrote it was like, “This is something serious.” He was serious about it. He had real plans that he was trying to do.
DX: ‘Pac is on “Pretty Thug,” and a Biggie mention makes its way into “Award Show Life.” Can you elaborate a bit about that convo you had with Big on tour?
Prodigy: Yeah, we used to just be on tour - at the hotel or backstage smoking and drinking – and he was sharing his insight and little shit that he learned. And we would talk about where we come from and shit that we learned. That’s all that [mention in the song] came from right there.
DX: You write in your book about how Puff wanted Mobb Deep to be the first signees to Bad Boy. Do you know if Biggie knew y’all almost became labelmates?
Prodigy: Yeah, he probably knew that, ‘cause him and [Diddy] was real close. So Puff probably told him like, Yeah, I was trying to sign them niggas. Before I actually signed you, I was trying to sign them. I’m sure he told him that.
DX: But Biggie never said specifically to you like, I heard y’all was about to get down?
Prodigy: Nah, we never had that talk.
DX: You also wrote in your book how you thought for a long time that Biggie was “corny” and therefore turned down Big’s offer to you to appear on the Havoc produced “Last Day” for Life After Death. “Machine Gun Funk,” “Unbelievable,” you really wasn’t feeling any of Ready To Die?
Prodigy: Yeah, like, I’m the type of person I don’t like shit right away. Everybody got they own way of being and that’s just how I am. Whether it’s a pair of sneakers, whether it’s some food, whether it’s a car, whether it’s some music, certain things it’s just like, “Eh, I don’t know, I don’t really like that.”
It’ll take me a while to get into it and then I start liking the shit like, “Alright, yeah, I’m feeling that shit now.” That’s just me. I can’t help it. And I’m sure there’s other people like that, ‘cause I’ve met people that don’t like shit when they first get introduced to it and it takes them longer to start liking it.
DX: Was that more because by ’95 he was like everywhere and somebody that big it’s like [you dislike them because so many people like ‘em].
Prodigy: Nah. It was just that my personal taste in music [was different], and I guess it was also my attitude at that time. Like, I’m a young gunner doing my Mobb Deep shit. I had my own shit going so I was gung-ho for nothing but Mobb Deep. That’s all I cared about. So everything else it was like, “So?” [Laughs] I didn’t give a fuck about nothing else. I didn’t give a fuck what it was, who it was, where it came from, all I cared about was Mobb Deep. So especially with Rap music, it takes me a while to start feeling shit sometimes. Back then, I used to be like that a lot.
DX: Switching gears again, you mention the “Mobb-ocracy” on “Slept On,” and you know I gotta ask where everything stands with you and the H-A-V-O-C a few months removed from the Twitter saga?
Prodigy: That was a bunch of bullshit. Somebody had took [Havoc's] phone and got his Twitter information or whatever, whatever. That was all bullshit.
DX: You know I gotta ask if everything is kosher though?
Prodigy: Yeah, yeah, I mean, we been put that out there that that was bullshit, so …
DX: But you know there are folks who just, as soon as it hits the airwaves, they believe everything that’s coming at ‘em.
Prodigy: Yeah, that’s why we went on the radio and we did certain things to show people that that was bullshit.
DX: So what’s the group plan as of today [June 29, 2012]?
Prodigy: Right now we just working on music. Still the same ol’ shit: working everyday.
DX: You don’t have like exact album plans though, like things lined up?
Prodigy: Right now we’re just working on music, putting it together. It’s really no set date or plans or anything yet. We just focusing on the H.N.I.C 3 right now, getting the shit off the ground, and then come with the next one.
DX: I noticed Havoc didn’t have any production credits on 3. He did some stuff for the mixtape before the album. Was there any reason why more Havoc joints didn’t make it to the actual album?
Prodigy: Nah, they just didn’t make it on there.
DX: Now, I wanna ask you more about some of the tracks on H.N.I.C 3, especially the stuff traditional Mobb Deep fans may have some issues with. You said you don’t care what anybody thinks, but I gotta ask about the screwed vocals on “Make It Hot.” Was that something where you were trying to appeal to the down South fanbase, or was that something where you were just like, Fuck it, I’m doing something different? Where does that come from?
Prodigy: That comes from just playing with my voice, trying to do something different, ‘cause otherwise shit get boring if you don’t play around with it sometimes.
I had learned that shit from Dr. Dre with Eminem. Alchemist had told me one time that he was in the studio with Em, and Dre was telling him like, “Yo, change your voice a little bit. Rhyme with an angry face.” Or [he would be like], “Rhyme with a sad face.” Like, change your facial expression and it’ll make your rhyme sound different on the mic. So, when he told me that I was like, “Yo, that’s kinda ill.”
You gotta try different things with your voice and just do different things. Sometimes I’ll do that; sometimes we’ll play with the pitch of the voice. I did that on the last album too, on H.N.I.C 2, on a song called “Young Veterans.” We fucked with the voice a little bit, with the effects. Certain things we just play with so shit won’t get boring.
DX: Immediately when I heard “Make It Hot” it made me think of ASAP Rocky and what he’s doing in trying to bring the H-Town sound to Uptown. Do you subscribe to what he’s doing or do you think New York artists should always work from a more boom bap base and then just explore a little bit if they want to?
Prodigy: I think you should just do what you wanna do, man. It’s artwork, so use different colors. Use different templates. Use different textures on the canvas. Just, have fun with it. Don’t put yourself in a box. New York rappers should do whatever they wanna do.
DX: Could 19-year-old Prodigy have said that? [Laughs]
Prodigy: 19-year-old Prodigy was just immature. I don’t know what the fuck I woulda said. [Laughs] I was real immature and close-minded back then.
DX: Now my final question for you is about something you spit on another one of the Southern-influenced songs on H.N.I.C 3, “Get Money.” “Man, fuck a book / Realest shit go unheard and unseen.” Is there anything that won’t incriminate you that you can share that didn’t make it to the pages of My Infamous Life?
Prodigy: Aw man, there’s plenty of shit but I can’t talk about it though. That’s why I left it out. [Laughs] Maybe in like a few years, after Statute of Limitations run out, I’ll start talking about certain shit. But, yeah, it’s a bunch of shit that didn’t make it to the book. You know niggas done did some crazy shit. That book is nothing compared to what goes down, for real.