Prodigy Revisits "Survival Of The Fittest;" Talks Mobb Deep Evolution
Exclusive: Mobb Deep's Prodigy, reveals what he meant when he said, "There's a war going on outside." He also talks Queensbridge and recalls MC Shan's ill-fashion sense.
If there was ever a contest for “Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper,” then Long Island, New York-bred emcee turned Queensbridge mainstay Prodigy would be in the running. Think not? Well, take for example, Kendrick Lamar, GQ magazine’s “2013 Rapper Of The Year,” calling Prodigy one of his key influences. It was a surprise to Rap audiences, not to mention P himself.
However, in hindsight, it seems more surprising that Prodigy remains substantially overlooked. Many may recall G-Unit recruiting the M-O-B-B right before it went supernova, but many might not mention Prodigy sparred against Big Pun in his prime on the classic “Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy).” Remember P, the one you got your rhyme style from?
Instead, Prodigy has remained a thief in the night, creeping into Rap’s subconscious like a sample of his voice, declaring, “Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body,” or, “I’m falling and I cant turn back.” It’s haunting lyrics like these that perhaps preserve him best in the listener’s memory—impressive yet subtle.
There is one line, however, that bears the fingerprints of Prodigy in immaculate detail. In 1995, on the classic “Survival Of The Fittest,” he embodies New York Rap when he states, “There's a war going on outside, no man is safe from.”
In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, Prodigy reveals what was going on in his mind when he wrote the verse and the overall importance of the opening line.
Prodigy Recalls Queensbridge Influence & MC Shan Memories
HipHopDX: “Quiet Storm” was originally a solo song for you entitled “White Lines.” How do you look back at that in terms of incorporating solo ideas into group projects.
Prodigy: It’s always a good thing to do that. When we do the group project, we both put our ideas into it. So it’s both our ideas anyways. So it’s like, it’s cool.
DX: Was “Quiet Storm” the first time you did that or had you done it before?
Prodigy: Yeah, that was the first time we did that, ‘cause that was my first solo album. I didn’t have a solo album before that.
DX: HipHopDX recently talked to MC Shan, and we talked about “The Bridge.” How much of an impact did Shan have on you and Havoc?
Prodigy: Shan had a lot of an impact on me. Personally, just watching Video Music Box when I was a little kid and just seeing his videos and the fashion. Shan had the ill fashion; he had the Pumas. That was like something different, and that was like a Queens thing. Run DMC had the Adidas, but Shan came with the Pumas, and that was something different. So we was watching all of that growing up and listening to the music—you know, Marley Marl—digging the crazy productions. Havoc had his own influence growing up right next to Marley. Hav used to hear Marley making beats out the window, so he got influence from a different perspective. I got the influence just from going to the day camp in Queensbridge when I was a kid, watching TV and just seeing all of that. The whole Juice Crew was influential.
DX: Do you recall the Bridge Wars?
Prodigy: Oh yeah, of course. Definitely.
Prodigy Details Why Mobb Deep Remains Revelant
DX: What was it like for you?
Prodigy: Ah man, I was a little kid. I was probably, like what, 11 or something. It was just crazy, ‘cause we’d go to the pool in the summertime. We’d hear “The Bridge Is Over,” in Queensbridge…it was a hot record. Niggas would also be playing the shit from Shan, man. Queensbridge shit. It was just great Hip Hop music. Queensbridge respected it. The Bronx respected it.
DX: Shan really repped QB, and so did you guys during the East Coast / West Coast feud. What is it about QB that makes it a neighborhood really invested in hometown pride?
Prodigy: Queensbridge is the biggest project in America. When you got that many people in one small area, it’s just going to be some shit coming out of that neighborhood. That’s the hood, and that’s a tremendous hood in such a small neighborhood space. So it’s like, the fashion, the slang—it’s a lot of people man. It’s a lot of creative minds.
DX: You and Havoc have both built your respective brands since the last group album—you dropped Albert Einstein and Havoc dropped 13. What have you guys learned as you reintroduce the Mobb Deep brand?
Prodigy: What we learned is that we just gotta keep doing what we do. It’s pretty much the same thing that we’ve been learning this whole time. We got our own lane, and nobody creates music like us. We got a certain style of music that nobody else can do, and we basically got our own lane. We got to stick to it and just keep doing what we doing. We been through a lot of changes, trends and eras in Rap music. We’ve seen rappers come and go and seen groups come and go. From fashion, production styles—everything, you name—we seen multiple changes in music. We been through it, so it’s like, we already know what to do to survive and [maintain] the same relevance many years later. The quality of music is still the same, and we basically stick to our guns and our formula. That’s what we learned. We continue to learn and just do us. It doesn’t matter what trends or rappers do this or do that. Who gives a fuck? We seen all of that already. This ain’t new to us. It’s new to them.
DX: By the same token, Kendrick Lamar referenced you, and Just Blaze cited you for your opening lines. Were the opening lines something you were always conscious of, or was it all just a part of crafting a strong verse?
Prodigy: I just always try to make every line as strong as possible throughout the whole verse from beginning to end. But I guess, me thinking about doing that, the first thing I say—the first line of the song—I guess it got that energy. It carries that energy of what I’m trying to do with the rest of the verse too.
How Prodigy’s Surroundings Impacted “Survival Of The Fittest”
DX: “There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from,” is probably one of the most memorable lines in Rap. Why do you think so many people remember that?
Prodigy: Because poverty is very real in the world, and that’s a change that doesn’t change with the times. It’s always here. Poverty is forever and people struggling is forever. People got it hard out here. There’s more broke people than there is rich people in the world, and that’s just the way it is in the world. There’s bad shit happening. There’s bad shit that we have to deal with on a regular basis, no matter who you are. You got to deal with some type of shit in this world. The way we grew up, we was just in the streets dealing with all the foul shit. So the lyrics like that is going to come out.
The first thing on my mind is survival. The first thing on my mind when I leave my crib is to look both ways and to look inside of cars. I’m just paranoid like that ‘cause of the way I grew up. And I feel like I always got to be careful and safe and watch your back. It’s real out here. I got friends who have been murdered, all kinds of shit, sitting in they cars. Look what happened to 50 [Cent]; look what happened to Biggie; look what happened to Tupac. That’s happening in the streets. People that’s not doing Hip Hop, this is happening everyday. So it’s like, lyrics like that, they come out. That’s why it’s the first thing out my mouth, “There's a war going on outside, no man is safe from.” That’s what's really going on.
DX: When I think about that line, I think about Gil Scott Heron’s, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” For me, it contextualizes your line within ‘90s, New York, and the social conditions.
Prodigy: You comparing Gil Scott Heron’s shit?
DX: Yeah, when you say, “There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from,” I always think about these ‘90s raps that were very apocalyptic. So I feel like there’s something about to happen when you say that. And that’s what I feel when I hear, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Prodigy: Yeah, okay, that makes sense. You know, back then in the ‘90s, we was little shorties coming up. It was definitely worse than it is now as far as certain crimes in New York. It was definitely worse than what it is now. Now they got mad cameras, mad police. There’s undercovers and all kinds of shit. It’s not the same as it used to be, but it is though. We still getting murdered out here. I’ve lost a few friends within the past few months. A lot of people like to put it off to the ‘90s, but that shit is happening now…right now. Exactly what I’m saying in that song, from the ‘90s, it’s happening right now.
DX: Why is that it can still be happening right now but aside from people like you who document it, it’s not really talked about as much as it was before?
Prodigy: ‘Cause Rap got smarter, and the world got smarter. Hip Hop progressed. It got bigger, way bigger than what it was then, and people see that it’s more of a business now. People are making business decisions more than just art decisions. People are making decisions saying, “How we going to get this money?” We wasn’t really thinking like that when we made our music back in the ‘90s. We was just trying to make some dope shit, be creative, and then the money part kicked in after we was successful at what we did. So now, people have all that experience, and it’s just more of a business. The new artists that’s coming up now, they coming up in a business world—a corporate world where you got to compete with what’s on the radio. You got to compete with what’s on MTV. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to do that. I’m just telling you the mentality of people; they trying to compete. That’s why it's different, and a lot of things is different now. As much as it’s different, it’s still the same. Trust me. Don’t get caught up in that difference and forget the real shit out here that happens in these streets. That’s how niggas get killed.
DX: As listener’s we try to go back to these albums—The Infamous, Hell On Earth. What’s the energy like in the studio this time around?
Prodigy: Just us making our music and just having fun with it. And when you hear it, you’ll know, “These niggas making some hardcore shit, having fun, doing what they love to do.” That’s it.