Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Look Into Prodigy's Infamous Life

I’m impressed with the amount of people in the hip-hop/rap industry who are writing autobiographies/memoirs; I’ve found that a lot of the autobiographies/memoirs that have come out by rappers have actually been well written, informative, and actually quite interesting. The RZA wrote ‘The Tao of Wu,’ which was a very impressive look into his life, his spiritual beliefs, and his dedication to making The Wu-Tang Clan one of the world’s most commercially successful rap groups. I stumbled upon Prodigy’s ‘My Infamous Life’ during our liquidation and decided to give it a read based upon my interest in hearing rappers explain their lives.

If you’re not familiar with Prodigy or Mobb Deep, Prodigy is considered to be one of the best rappers in the game. He and Havoc made an impact with Mobb Deep in the mid-90s representing the Queens borough of New York City. They referred to themselves as part of the “Queensbridge Murderers” and were contemporaries of The Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, Nas, Cormega, and many others. Prodigy’s story is unlike many of his contemporaries when it comes to his family tree and his struggles with a lifelong illness. His great-great-grandfather was the founder of Morehouse College; his grandfather was Budd Johnson, a jazz saxophonist who worked with Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and Prodigy made the claim that his grandfather taught Quincy Jones how to read music; his grandmother was Bernice Johnson, a dance teacher and the founder of the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center; his mother was an NYU graduate who later worked her way up in the housing authority; his father was a businessman with a street hustler mentality who later battled drug addiction.

Prodigy discusses his early life in his musically and culturally rich family, but he also goes into detail about being born with sickle-cell anemia and the pain he endured with sickle-cell related episodes as a child. His father’s street hustler ways were part of his early influences; he describes incidents while growing up where his father told him to never walk away from a fight and to never let anyone have an advantage over him in order to gain respect. While his family struggled with living in the projects, his grandmother paid for him to attend a prestigious private school where he was one of the few black students. His grandmother’s dance studio was a place with cultural-richness, as well as celebrities and their children; he took dance classes with children who would go on to be musicians themselves such as Ashanti, and he lost a Broadway acting role during his childhood to Alfonso Ribeiro, who later went on to be part of the TV show ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ 

One would question as to how Prodigy would become involved with the street mentality. His father’s influence ran very deep. He took part in selling drugs to buy his own clothing that neither his mother or grandmother would purchase for him, he took part in street crimes and robberies, and his relationship with Havoc was the result of a botched attempted robbery that they both took part in. He began to use his street mentality as an influence to rapping when he was a teen. With his mother managing his music career, he landed himself on the soundtrack to ‘Boyz in the Hood’ and was nearly signed to a record deal that he later refused due to the record company’s refusal to allow him to include Havoc in his recording contract. Havoc and Prodigy persevered on their own to become the best in their game amongst their contemporaries; Havoc learned how to produce and come up with their beats while Prodigy worked on his rapping, which led to a rap battle with Nas in which Prodigy lost, but gained Nas’ respect and encouragement.

The memoir pulls no punches when it comes to the wild times of Mobb Deep, the conflicts they had with other rap artists that included many of their close friends, the gun violence that they took part in as a result of their fame, the loss of many friends due to murders and retaliation, and the excesses that they took part in with female groupies. Prodigy is open about the relationship he has with his wife, he’s open about the drug use he took part in, he’s open about the birth of his children, and he’s honest when it comes to his criminal rap sheet and his history of run-ins with the law that some of the most expensive attorneys in America defended him from. The spiritual side of Prodigy’s life includes influence from ‘The Autobiography of Malcom X,’ various Nation of Islam figures, conspiracy theory related material in relation to the Illuminati and secret societies, and his own personal views of God that are not made up of biblical truths.

While the memoir is detailed, it’s also an unorganized mess that also seems to have dates and places mixed up. Prodigy tells the story from the perspective of flashbacks while he was serving 3 years in prison for a gun charge (he was released this past spring), but it goes all over the place and there are moments where I found him going way off track. The moment in his career that people would probably find most interest in would be the time that Mobb Deep were part of the G-Unit stable under 50 Cent, which is what most of Mobb Deep’s fans gave them criticism for, and yet where they found the most financial success even while having dismal album sales. The one thing that I find disturbing about Prodigy’s point of view is the fact he doesn’t seem to offer much remorse for what he’s done, but he justifies it with human nature being that of a savage and that being a savage is part of any human being’s survival. Prodigy’s conspiracy views of the world are also hard to take; he equates conspiracy theories as truths. The truths of his conspiracy theories include vaccinations of his children including microchips, his ability to view advertisements and billboards the same way Roddy Piper does in John Carpenter’s ‘They Live,’ and his stories about being visited by UFOs hovering above his home.

While Prodigy does have a personality and lifestyle that many of us probably do not understand, his knowledge and experience of the music industry is very well stated and explained. He has a do-it-yourself ethic that has kept them successful, has helped them in negotiating their record deals, and it has also put him at odds with Havoc and many of their former business associates. He also makes it clear that he doesn’t believe anyone should be oppressed for who they are and states that he doesn’t believe homosexuals should face discrimination, and he is sincere when he thanks many of the white musicians that include Eminem and many rock bands who were supportive of their music, listed them as influences, and toured with Mobb Deep during the ‘90s and during the last decade. He's also thankful for the white audience that has followed Mobb Deep since the beginning. Some of us would probably not understand Prodigy’s life, but nevertheless, it is one that is based on his hard work and his love for what he does. For someone who has a disease with a life expectancy of 40 years (which he has lived beyond), he is a truly blessed individual who is likely going to dazzle the rap world once more now that he’s out of prison and recording music again.

Here is a performance of Mobb Deep in 2004 with The Roots. Prodigy is in the Yankees jersey. And remember kids: there's no such thing as halfway crooks.

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