On June 20th 2017 hip-hop lost one of its most formidable and recognisable voices, Queens’ own Prodigy. Having made his fame through the 90s with partner Havoc in Mobb Deep, he earned legendary status early in life. The Infamous dropped when he was just 19, and became one of the greatest albums in the genre. As devastating and heart-breaking as his passing is, we should celebrate his life and look at some of his iconic verses. Without further ado, here are some of the best.
SHOOK ONES PT 2
I may as well get this one out of the way straight away. In my opinion it’s the greatest verse ever spat in Hip-Hop and it’s something ubiquitous in New York rap playlists. It’s a verse that helped put the duo in the spotlight and taking nothing away from Havoc, he was never going to match up to what Prodigy did here. The word play, the rhyme patterns, the slang – everything was done so perfectly, and it was really and truly here that people properly appreciated and recognised him as a star.
Most memorable line: I said I’m only 19 but my mind is old, when the things get for real my warm heart turn cold.
SEVEN SERIES TRIPLETS
The final track on Action Bronson’s SAAB Stories also featured fellow NY 90s rap pioneer Raekwon and both had it in them to live up to their legacies. A cool, calm and collective verse from P saw him prove some critics wrong who had thought he’d fallen off in his later years. Prodigy always had the ability to make his feature sound like the verse and I think the other Queens’ native Bronson could agree with that too on this occasion.
Most memorable line: Perpetual payday my money don’t vacay, I’m out seeing the world my life is so crazy.
A surprising feature with Childish Gambino in 2012 proved that Prodigy still had it in him and could go bar for bar with one of the upcoming talents in hip-hop. A track that didn’t make the cut for Gambino’s Royalty mixtape had Prodigy spitting some of his hardest bars of all time in a back to back fashion with the Atlanta native. It’s a track that went somewhat under the radar but is definitely worth checking.
Most memorable line: I burst your little bubble shatter your dreams, and push you over in my bottomless pit of sixteens.
TILL THE ANGELS COME
Once again, Prodigy was able to shine with other artists on the track – however this time was 2 of fastest rising stars in the game, Freddie Gibbs and Odd Future’s Domo Genesis. In a track about stacking paper until the angels come for you, P tells us how lavish whilst still being able to retain his gangster image.
Most memorable line: This is how I do it: get money live large, my haters know to stay away from me I fire arms.
HELL ON EARTH
Widely considered one of Mobb’s best tracks, Prodigy shines in the two verses he has on this track. It’s once again that gritty realness that shines through mixed with his slang and ability to ride the beat like nobody else. It’s a timeless track and the second verse is something near untouchable and heralded one of the best in hip hop, their frustrations helped them make better music and it’s something you have to respect them for.
Most memorable line: I was born to take power leave my mark on this planet, the phantom of rap n*ggas is left stranded.
Not even a rap more than it is P just speaking, and although there’s no beat you take time to listen. He captivates the listener in a way like no other, talking that realness and being his usual gritty self. Havoc said this is when Prodigy was in the studio by himself and just wrote down what he was feeling, and it’s a true representation of the anger and spite both of them had due to a feeling of being snubbed by the scene with their prior album. It’s also a sly diss at Keith Murray so what’s not to love.
Most memorable line: To all them rap-ass n*ggas with your half-assed rhymes, talking about how much you get high, how much weed you smoke and that crazy space shit that don’t even make no sense: Don’t ever speak to me when you see me, know what I’m saying, word.
KEEP IT THORO
2000’s solo effort H.N.I.C put P arguably at the top of the game following rappers scrambling trying to be the best due to the aftermath of Biggie, Pac and Big L dying in the years prior. Prodigy really stepped up even more and this solo album proved he could do it without Havoc, although of course he provided some production. However another iconic partnership sparked this time between Prodigy and Alchemist, with the former bodying this classic NY beat provided by the latter.
Most memorable line: While n*ggas bullshit on the grill I don’t fuck around dunny this move’s real, I gave birth to your whole style and feel.
I SHOT YA REMIX
With tensions riding high between the East and the West coast, Prodigy hopped on this all-star New York tune with LL Cool J, Fat Joe, Foxy Brown and Keith Murray. With the beef still riding high between Keith and P, Keith didn’t even know that the Mobb Deep member would even be on the track and Prodigy even ended up taking shots at him. On a 5 verse song, Prodigy outshone everyone and made people realise he was not be messed with at all. He also raps about the Illuminati in one of the most sampled lines ever.
Most memorable line: Illuminati want my mind soul and my body, secret society tryna keep they eye on me.
Taken off of the Mobb’s last album in 2014, Prodigy shows his maturity as an artist to still be able to rap about things he rapped about 20 years prior but in a way that’s still unmatchable and true to the artist recording. His husky voice still as rough as ever all these years later helps him lay down one of the best verses he recorded – and it was in the twilight of his career.
Most memorable line: Call it how it is – according to the facts, if rap was prison our shit would be the supermax.
HOLD YOU DOWN
Once again linking up with Alchemist (as well as Nina Sky and Illa Ghee) Prodigy helped put together a masterful track that deserves more respect and recognition than it has. The lead single off of Alchemist’s first album, Prodigy was said to have loved the beat so much he was writing way before it was finished and Alchemist almost scrapped it due to him feeling the beat wouldn’t live upto P’s verse.
Most memorable line: Yeah I leave em in shock, n*ggas get sentenced to life they stressed in a box, most my friends got murdered and damn I feel lost.
Perhaps the least recognisable Prodigy verse is the very first one he ever did as a member of Hi-Five, rapping something he would never even remotely come close to rapping again. He spat the opening 16 bars and the track even featured on Boyz N The Hood soundtrack, following this Jive wanted to sign the young star who was known at Lord-T at the time but shortly after he met Havoc he demanded they both be signed together or neither. Once they said they’re not signing them, contact stopped and the rest is history.
Most memorable line: Rappers evaporate flakes we eliminate, create the great then wait as I meditate.
DROP A GEM ON EM
After Tupac dropped Hit Em Up and sent for the big names on the East – including Mobb Deep, of course they were going to retaliate. One of the darkest tracks not just on Hell on Earth but in their whole discography, and although they never mention him by name it’s clear who this is aimed at. Following Pac’s death, they called for it to be pulled off of radio out of respect to his family and friends but it still managed to end up on the album. It should also be noted that speculation arose that Mobb Deep shot Pac in the recording lobby due to Prodigy allegedly knowing how much his jewellery was worth.
Most memorable line: Who shot ya? You probably screamed louder than an opera,New York got ya now you wanna use my Mobb as a crutch, what you think you can’t get bucked again?
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Yet again another track from The Infamous and it’s no surprise due to just how good the album is. One of the biggest tracks commercially, Prodigy and Havoc absolutely destroy this beat in classic Mobb fashion. It’s a true representation of the direction East coast rap was going; tough realism, gangsterish and dark. Again it contains another one of the most sampled lines in hip-hop with the opening bar.
Most memorable line: There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from, you can’t run but you can’t hide forever from these streets that we done took.
To me this is an underappreciated Prodigy verse. The storytelling is impeccable as he details his paranoia after a ‘brown skin shorty’ called him and told him to come over. He meticulously describes his thoughts and feelings in a way unparalleled to most of his other verses. As his verse concludes it shows just how serious his paranoia got too.
Most memorable line: So fuck it a n*gga do what he meant to, my crew got my back fuck the world is my mental.
Another hit off the HNIC album, Prodigy raps about how hard he’s worked and how little he feels he gets back from the industry sometimes. He delivers his lines with such effortless flows in that laidback Mafioso manor but still you can hear the passion. The hook says he’s going diamond and although he never did accomplish that feat he definitely lives on as one of the top 10 rappers of all time in my eyes.
Most memorable line: You might catch me steppin’ out the Lamborghini, with ashy legs my chain swingin’, I grab my piece so that shit won’t damage the paint.
Prodigy will forever be remembered through his incredible verses and is a testament to just how timeless 90s hip-hop could be. Let us know your favourite Prodigy verse or line and don’t forget to dedicate your next glass of Hennessy to the legend. Rest in Peace Prodigy.
Words by Rohan Parmar.