Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, founding member of legendary Queens rap group Mobb Deed died Tuesday (June 20) at 42 after being hospitalized for complications with sickle cell anemia. The rapper and author has battled the blood disease since birth but it is still not clear what caused his sudden death.
As any true school Hip Hop lover can attest, Prodigy put his lifetime in between the paper’s lines and boldly left his mark as one of the most vivid lyricists in rap history. He and his Mobb Deep partner Havoc were leaders of New York City’s 90’s rap boom and faced off with rivals 50 Cent, 2Pac and Jay Z in their 24-year careers, which included eight albums as a duo and seven solo projects from Prodigy.
The outspoken MC claimed in a 2008 blogpost that he was one of the culture’s greatest trendsetters; taking credit for introducing the color pink to Cam’ron‘s wardrobe during an encounter in LA, and bragging in his 2011 autobiography My Infamous Life about his ability to woo celebrities like Lil Kim and Lindsay Lohan. But his influence and importance is most clear in the impact he made on his peers, successors and fans.
Prodigy’s razor-sharp storytelling skills and poetic way with words set him apart from New York City’s crowded 90’s rap scene. From the opening bars of Mobb Deep’s classic “Shook Ones (Pt.II),” P’s skills on the mic shined brilliantly over Havoc‘s gritty production. By the time the group’s second album, 1995’s The Infamous, was released, he was in the conversation with Biggie, Jay Z and Nas as one of the rap game’s most elite spitters.
His battle against the blood disease that caused his hospitalization has been well-publicized in interviews as well as his aforementioned feuds — 2Pac famously mocked P’s sickle cell diagnosis on the classic diss track “Hit Em Up.” But the rapper’s impact and relevance will live on well into the next generation thanks to the seeds he planted in the minds of young rap fans around the world.
“Illuminati want my mind soul and my body, secret society trying to keep they eye on me” is by far one of the most notable rap bars penned by the HNIC rapper for LL Cool J‘s 1995 all-star “I Shot Ya” remix. While whispers and chatter about a phantom secret world order may be at a all-time high amongst young hip hopping millennial’s and conspiracy theorist today, P was one of the first to spit about the mysterious evil powers that be 22 years ago when it wasn’t nearly as popular. Jay Z sampled the prophetic line on his debut album’s darkest cut, “D’Evils,” ironic given the beef that developed between the two, which climaxed when Jay posted supposedly embarrassing photos of P during his 2001 Summer Jam performance. In true “keepin’ it thoro” fashion the infamous MC has stood tall against foes and stayed down for the culture while routinely given listeners tracks like “Skull & Bones” and “Illuminati” laced with game on being “woke”.
After the success of his 2011 autobiography, P released a fictional novel H.N.I.C. in 2013. He also collaborated with co-writer Kathy Iandoli to release Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook in 2016. A composition of prison recipes he learned after serving a three year prison term in 2007. His fourth book The State Vs. Albert “Prodigy” Johnson is scheduled to hit shelves later this year.
In 2006 the rap icon found himself in hot water with some fans and religious organizations behind his gutsy verse on the G-Unit backed Blood Money album’s lead single, “Pearly Gates,” which featured 50 Cent. “We don’t give a fuck about that religious bullshit, nigga show me where the cash at,” he raps in an unapologetically blasphemous flow; “In the bible times they ain’t have to deal with the shit we dealing with these survival times.” P later broke down the verse to Complex explaining that his verse was a slight against organized religion and not against God. In 2011 Prodigy also briefly feuded with fellow Queens rap-duo Capone-N-Noreaga behind accounts made in My Infamous Life.
Looking back at Prodigy’s career and legacy after his tragic passing conjures feelings of sadness and pride for those who know how important his life was to Hip Hop culture. P was more than just a gifted poet and fearless trendsetter — his life embodied the core elements of creative expression and self-empowerment that makes the culture much deeper than the mainstream rap industry makes it appear. From his fighting spirit to his trend-setting ways, P’s one-of-kind flavor will be missed on this earth. But even though his passing breaks our hearts, Mobb Deep’s H.N.I.C. will still be breaking bread, ribs and hundred dollars bills for many moons after after departing this earth.