There are those rhymers in hip-hop history who dazzle on the page. The sheer sight of the syllables they string together evokes a sense of technical wizardry—Rakim, Kool G Rap and Nas, for example. Their rhymes are so precise, their cadences so regimented, their flows so airtight. The pinpoint accuracy they write with helps sustain their legacies in the minds of purists.
Prodigy wasn't of that strain. Born in Hempstead, N.Y., he met Havoc when he was 15 in the lunchroom at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, and together they became the Poetical Prophets. When Prodigy was 16, he debuted on wax, albeit uncredited, with a guest feature on Hi-Five's "Too Young" from the Boyz n the Hood soundtrack. Someone at Jive Records heard the verse and offered him a solo deal, but musical sparks were flying with Havoc, so he turned down the deal when Jive wouldn't sign the duo. They recorded about 50 songs for their demo, changed their name to Mobb Deep and signed to PolyGram imprint 4th & B'way Records for their debut album, Juvenile Hell, released in 1993. The project featured production from Large Professor and DJ Premier, but Hav and P only produced half of the album's 14 tracks, and the LP did disappointing numbers.
So they revamped. Puff Daddy, who was just starting his own label, wanted them to be the first artists on Bad Boy Records, but they instead opted for a deal with Steve Rifkind's legendary Loud Records under RCA. Prodigy moved to Queensbridge and they began recording The Infamous, the 1995 sophomore Mobb Deep album that would quickly become recognized as one of the greatest rap LPs ever recorded. The rest is simply history.
In between those first two albums, Prodigy found his style. On their biggest single from Juvenile Hell, "Peer Pressure," P spit about a kid named Kenny ("a product of hell") who gets drunk, buys a gun and kills himself. Whereas Prodigy took somewhat of a project window approach on the group's debut album, he began to identify more with characters like Kenny on The Infamous. His rhymes got much darker, his delivery a bit more unhinged and alcohol-laced. He would take liberties with language, like introducing himself as "P, E-double" on the album's intro, "The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)." And he began to let spill the mental suffering that his lifelong sickle cell anemia disease caused him. Backed by Havoc's haunting production, they created beautifully harrowing murder rap and became the embodiment of mid-’90s East Coast hip-hop (Q-Tip's dose of warmth on the production side helped too).
With each successive album of that decade, Mobb Deep continued to build on their legacy as Prodigy developed into a swaggering, untraditional MC who at one point was in the running for illest rapper alive. For all intents and purposes, P was the lead rapper of the group and Havoc was the lead producer. That balance helped them become one of the greatest rap duos of all time.
Now, we've lost a monumental rapper, who passed away Tuesday (June 20), and the best way we know how to mourn is by celebrating his music. Throughout the years, Prodigy stole his fair share of spotlights on other people's records. Below are his 20 most impressive outings as a guest feature. He never knew how to give any less than his all.
"Thieves" (2003)Dilated Peoples Featuring Prodigy
By the early 2000s, P was losing his luster a bit. He had one of the greatest runs ever from Infamous to Murda Muzik, but no one could stay that nice forever. Still, when he likens the broken hearts of women to dudes getting robbed, you can tell he still has a unique way of seeing things. "Respect My Gangster" is another exclusive that Alchemist dropped with Prodigy on the Insomnia mixtape from the same year.
"Mind Blowing" (2001)Bars-N-Hooks Featuring Prodigy
Bars-N-Hooks were an obscure Queens duo comprised of Mike Delorean and Bars. They had a bunch of songs with Prodigy at the turn of the millennium on mixtapes like The Next Generation Vol. 2, but in 2001 they released a single with two freestyles featuring Prodigy—one over Sugarhill Gang’s "The Message" and another over The Gap Band’s "Outstanding." The results were fantastic.
"QBG" (1999)Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap Featuring Prodigy and Kool G Rap
P breaks the life of crime down to its uncomfortable elements—“Dead man tell no tales/And if you think a nigga gon’ squeal, put up his bail/And twist that nigga when he touch down.” Sounds straight out of a mafia movie.
"5 Boroughs" (1998)KRS-One Featuring Prodigy, Vigilante, Buckshot, Cam’ron, Keith Murray, Killah Priest and Redman
The original version of KRS-One’s "5 Boroughs" features a slew of dope MCs, and while the best verse is probably between Cam and Redman, P comes nice as he describes QB—“We one big borough with dons with firearms.”
"Where You At" (2002)Kool G Rap Featuring Prodigy
First appearing on DJ Clue’s Stadium Series Pt. 3 mixtape, this was originally the final track on the rare advance copy of The Giancana Story. The final version moved this song to track three, but other songs were cut, such as the classic "Holler Back" with Nas and AZ.
"Are You My Nigga" (2004)Littles Featuring Prodigy
This sounds like it was recorded before 2000, judging by P’s delivery. He has the right rhythm to his speech, not the more stagnated stuff from later on.
Alchemist once said Prodigy tried to write verses for him and Alc couldn’t figure out the way to say them. That’s how he knew Prodigy was special. Makes sense when you listen to this. Also peep the freestyle these two did over "Whose World Is This" where P goes at Jay.
"We Pledge Allegiance" (2000)Easy Mo Bee Featuring Prodigy & Cocoa Brovaz
At the tail end of his historic run, P sounds like a battered war veteran who’s seen too much senseless death, yet still clings to crime as a way of life.
"Losin' Weight" (2000)Cam'ron Featuring Prodigy
One of the best odes to dealing drugs ever made. Cam wanted listeners to taste the streets, so he brought in Bandana P to drop knowledge. It sounds like he’s explaining to someone why they should shut up when he says, “Don’t let your mouth get you in shit your legs run from.”
"Bulworth (They Talk About It While We Live It)" DJ Muggs Featuring Prodigy, KRS-One, Kam and Method Man
Four incredible MCs over a Muggs beat from a Warren Beatty film soundtrack. Not much else to say, except that KRS-One comes out gun blazing with shots fired at various publications.
"Live Nigga Rap" (1996)Nas Featuring Mobb Deep
P sparks this vintage track that was originally recorded for Hell on Earth, and any verse that reference God-U-Now deserves a spot in the hip-hop hall of fame.
"Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)" Big Pun Featuring Prodigy and Inspectah Deck
This is always a treat to return to because it showcases three brilliant rappers with vastly different styles. INS is surgical while Pun unleashes a barrage of heat, but Prodigy has a completely individual way of attacking this Juju beat as he conjures images of shirts wet with blood.
"Basics" (2000)Tony Touch Featuring Prodigy
Alchemist is at his best with hypnotic beats like "Basics," and the beat moves Prodigy to say things like, "I’m P like the stank urine in your staircase/Nigga from me, stay the most distant, you out of place." Grimy.
"It's the Pee '97" (1997)PMD Featuring Prodigy
This sounds grounded in the Hell on Earth period as P rhymes about struggling to stay on earth and images of Timbs and storming the world.
"War's On" (1996)Almighty RSO Featuring Mobb Deep
Benzino and his Almighty RSO did few things right in their career, but their best move was probably securing this Prodigy verse. What’s better: Houdini P saying he was taught to bust guns by reptilians or rhyming “apostle” with “arsenal”?
"Infamous Mobb" (1996)Big Noyd Featuring Prodigy
Big Noyd’s debut album Episodes of a Hustla was idiosyncratic—of 11 tracks, only eight were actual songs, and five of those featured Prodigy’s vocals. Over Havoc beats, they almost sound like Infamous leftovers, minus Q-Tip's influence. P sets it off with, “We explode like supernova, and implode your whole sculpture/We make quota and cook up some big boulder.”
"Thun and Kicko" (2001)Cormega Featuring Prodigy
According to Prodigy, this was recorded for Murda Muzik (somewhere between ’97 and ’99) and Cormega, who takes shots at Nas in his verse, recorded his part long after P did. Listen closely as P breaks down punk rappers with recording metaphors:“Yo you’s a notebook crook, with looseleaf beef/a backseat criminal who pass the heat.” Numerous references to gats on your DAT and analog outlaws make this a dismantling verse aimed at no one in particular. Nas apparently thought P was taking shots at him and recorded "Destroy and Rebuild" in response.
"The Heat Is On" (2000)Screwball Featuring Prodigy and Godfather Don
Hostyle, KL, Blaq Poet and Solo don’t get enough credit for their Y2K Is On album, with production from Pete Rock, Godfather Don, DJ Premier, and more. Prodigy eviscerates his verse on this cut, flowing like water in that ungraspable style that he perfected.
"I Shot Ya (Remix)" LL Cool J Featuring Prodigy and Keith Murray, Fat Joe & Foxy Brown
Prodigy is one of the few rappers to ever diss someone that he’s on the same track with, hence the censored name in his rhyme (it’s Keith Murray). There also might not be a more memorable phrase from a Prodigy verse than “Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body/Secret society, tryna keep they eye on me.”
"The Game" (1998)Pete Rock Featuring Prodigy, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah
Ghostface blacks out on here, but Prodigy has a crazy underrated verse with internal rhymes only he could think up—"My rap scroll belittled your goals and visions/Prohibition got my whole block pissin’ Christian."
"Gusto" (1996)A+ Featuring Prodigy
Two days before his 16th birthday, Hempstead, N.Y. rapper A+ dropped his debut album The Latch-Key Child, and he allegedly wrote this song when he was 13. P’s first verse can also be found on an unreleased Mobb Deep song called "Take It in Blood," but the real issue is which of the two Prodigy verses is better. These are his some of his most heartfelt rhymes ever committed to wax.