Prodigy Lived His Entire Life In Pain, And I Hope He Finally Has The Peace His Music Gave Me » VSB

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Prodigy Lived His Entire Life In Pain, And I Hope He Finally Has The Peace His Music Gave Me

My junior year of high school, I’d grown so self-conscious about the size and shape of my head that the mere thought of the bus rides to and from school and to and from basketball games induced anxiety and dread in me. Those bus rides were prime opportunities for “ripping sessions.” And despite my status as a bit of a basketball star, my unusually large head — and my abject terribleness at ripping — made me an easy and conspicuous target, as my noggin would hover over the back of the seats, like an extra large organic egg in a zero gravity hanger. I didn’t dare actually reveal how bothered I was by this. I’d laugh off and sometimes even laugh with the jokes; never until literally just right now admitting that the only reason I’d rush to sit in the back of the bus wasn’t so I could see everyone in front of me but so that no one could sit behind and see me.

But on the days I couldn’t sit in the back, my disc-man provided a remedy. A force field shielding me from the rest of the world. Because if a rip lands in an empty forest, it doesn’t make a sound. And on many of those trips to and from school and to and from basketball games, Mobb Deep would blast through my headphones and jolt my eardrums; allowing me to escape the bucolic and terrifying eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh and become subsumed by the safety of the stark and nihilistic reality created by two depressed teenagers from Queensbridge.

I’ve believed, for years, that Hell on Earth was either the best or the second best (with GZA’s Liquid Swords possibly being the best) “Cold Weather rap album” ever. For context, a Cold Weather rap album is one that’s best appreciated while listening to it in earphones instead of in a car or at a club and when the weather outside is brick cold. And Havoc’s haunting and harrowing production combined with Prodigy’s aggressively morose baritone to create the perfect atmosphere for their world weary tales about drug dealing, robbery, murder, and their primary subject, irrepressible, paralyzing, and numbing sadness. Yes. Sadness. Mobb Deep was the saddest rap duo of all-time. Maybe the saddest regardless of genre.

I, a naturally melancholy-ass nigga, naturally gravitated to their lyrical melancholy and the feelings their music would evoke. It was a match made in introversion heaven. I had resting ice grill face, and their albums were basically 60-minute long ice grills with sentience. But the sadness that permeated through their music didn’t become evident to me until I was an adult. Their tales about crime and violence and prison were defined by reluctant resignation, not the boast and bombast drug/trap/gangsta rap is often characterized by. It’s evident throughout each of their first two albums. The title track of Hell on Earth might be the most enthusiastically unhappy song ever made. Their most popular song (“Shook Ones Part II“) is basically elevator music to Perdition. Prodigy didn’t limit this despondence to Mobb Deep tracks, either. Whenever he was featured on someone else’s song, he was prone to do it there too.

Listen, for instance, to his chorus from Cam’ron’s “Losin Weight.

Why I feel like I’m losing weight?
Why I ain’t got no money, unless I’m moving weight?
Why my life depend on what I’mma do today
Why I can’t move away
It’s just loot and me, without the scrutiny
Niggas screwing me; 2 and 3 truancies
4 shots, 1 toolie, G.. 1 eulogy
Make sure my mother and girl is smothered in pearls
When a nigga under the world

There’s nothing cool or fun about drug dealing the way Prodigy raps about it. It’s depressing and stressing and nerve-wrecking, and that all comes out in the hook. This is basically a 60 word synopsis of seasons one through four of The Wire.

And, as most who follow hip-hop know, Prodigy lived with sickle-cell anemia; a genetic abnormality known for inducing debilitating fatigue and bouts of mind and spirit-numbing pain. So a song like “Drink Away The Pain” feels and sounds like a clever and upbeat allegory until you realize that it was created when Prodigy was still a teenager. Which meant he’d already been self-medicating with weed and alcohol and whatever the hell else enough to write such a creative song about it.

Prodigy, the person who helped bring me peace on the back of those bus rides in high school, died today. He was 42. He lived his entire life in pain. And I hope he finally has some of the peace he was able to give me.

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • PurpleIntrovert

    I, even at 30 years old, grew up on Mobb Deep. Thankfully, I have twin uncles only a decade older than me (product of BC failure), but their music is what I’m used to hearing. It’s the truth. It isn’t wrapped up in a lavish affair. It was real life. It’s what we see on the news at 6pm. Sickle-Cell has impacted my family is so many ways. I’ve lost many family members to it. In fact, before my brother was diagnosed with Leukemia, we thought it was SCA. It’s a horrible disease. I hope he can rest easy

    • Michelle is my First Lady

      A boy in my first grade class died from it. We were too young to even know what it was about. Just knew that he was in class one day, in the hospital for the next few weeks, and then he passed. T-boz is the only other person I know living with the illness.

      • PinkRose

        When I was in grad school, a med student had sickle cell and finished on time.

      • TheUnsungStoryteller

        Awww…that’s so sad. I remember there was this small kid in middle school I knew who had it. His last name was Love. I wonder what happened to him because I haven’t heard from him since. I do know one other person who has it and talks about her struggles sometimes on Facebook. She’s a teacher and it seems like she’s doing well for herself. I just cannot imagine.

      • PhDivaLife

        Our neighbor’s son died from it when he was 5 or 6. I was about 4 at the time, but I have this one memory of playing with him in the living room of his grandma’s house, so it had to be shortly before he passed. The neighbor and his wife divorced not too long afterwards. He remarried and his younger son also has it. I’m sure he was blown away…What are the chances that you marry two people who also both carry the trait? The younger son is now 26 or 27 and has a son, who though he carries the trait, is healthy. A few months ago, my mom said that his parents were considering putting him in hospice care which surprised me. In my mind, since he had made it to adulthood, graduated high school, and even had a kid, he was much better. He has gotten better since the hospice conversation though.

        • grownandsexy2

          That’s so sad. Never got a chance to live. When my daughter was born, there was a young couple with the trait and their baby had the condition. I don’t think I could put a child through that. We don’t realize how lucky we are to be healthy.

      • AzucarNegra

        Sickle cells runs in my family. I have a cousin who can not fly long distances. I have never been tested for it but I am wondering more and more if I have a trace.

      • Aintnuthinwrongwitcornbread

        My father had it. Main contributor to his death.

        • Michelle is my First Lady

          I’m so sorry to hear that.

          • Aintnuthinwrongwitcornbread

            Thank you. I was mad at the docs, but my mom said he was lucky to make it that long, given in Jamaica at the time, SCA was killing people on average when they hit 15.

  • miss t-lee

    Rest in peace, Prodigy.
    Thanks for all the music, and great memories with said music.

  • This was beautifully written. I’m not too familiar with Mobb Deep, but to suffer from SCA and then die at such a young age is devastatingly tragic. RIP.

    • Brown Rose

      I know a few people who are carriers. Met a client who was full blown. Its a difficult disease. He was young and its sad.

  • I’ll never forget forget the first time I saw the two scrooney dudes wearing tshirts with “Hennessey” on them and immediately became a fan. The other Prodeje and Havok kust scared me.* I’m glad I got to see P in concert with Ghost and Rae some years back.

    If you give blood often an know someone who has Sickle Cell check and see if y’all are compatible.

    *South Central Cartel*

    • miss t-lee

      You right…the SCC kats were scary.

      • DJ Premier was just on Sway talking about how he mediated a beef between Mobb Deep and SCC in Atlanta back in the day.

        • miss t-lee

          Oh wow. I’ll have to dig that up.

    • cyanic

      Blood donation also helps with thinning your blood for those of us concern with artery related health threats.

      • Kas

        That’s what ex-wives leeches are for.

        • cyanic

          “Tortured Man: Based on Kas’ life from a novel by Cyanic”

  • Soula Powa

    I realize now that the reason I like Prodigy’s H.N.I.C so much is 50% Alchemist’s production and 50% Prodigy actually sounding somewhat near happy. RIP to the H.N.I.C.

  • Brown Rose

    Good music memories. Thanks man.

  • Charles Johnson

    NOOOOOOOOO

    • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

      This was my first response. Ugh.

  • Michelle is my First Lady

    This was poetry, Champ. Beautifully written! I’m sure Prodigy would have been impressed with this piece. I rocked out to Quiet Storm remix my entire commute home. May he rest in peace.

  • One of Queens finest emcees. This was a dope, dope tribute.

  • White people on Twitter, mainly, said that Prodigy glorifed violence and drug dealing. Thanks, Champ, for the close read on his lyrics that showed P’s pain and conflicted nature.

    • Wise Old Owl

      Of course they did…they save the empathy and sympathy for white drugged out rapists like Bowie, George Michael, Jagger, Lennon, Fisher and the like…we have to love our own, because they dang sure don’t…

      • TheUnsungStoryteller

        You are so right about that. They really do glorify those guys (and Fisher) despite them being on drugs. Oh..and don’t forget Elvis Presley

        • grownandsexy2

          They have 9 whole days in August celebrating Elvis in Memphis (Elvis Week). I was there a few years ago and was leaving (thankfully) just as the hordes descended on the city. On TV just now they’re talking about the Fentanyl overdoses and a program discussing it tomorrow night. I don’t remember all this outcry back in the day when the sham called the war on drugs was decimating the Black community.

        • Wise Old Owl

          Yes, but quick to tear down our Icons, such as Whitney, Prince, Michael Jackson, Aaliyah, and James Brown and etc…every second they get it is a documentary or made for t.v. movie attacking dead Black celebrities…in entertainment industry almost 98.7% of artists use or abuse drugs, but only Black Artists are mocked and shamed for using drugs…

          • Blue Skies Bring Tears

            White people are judgmental, biased, hypocritical and worse towards Black artists, that’s true. It’s unfair.

            But Michael Jackson molested children. He did. No pedophile deserves a pass. Not Woody Allen, not Roman Polanski, and not Michael Jackson, as talented and iconic as he was.

            I actually agree with you, in essence, but I was struck by the way you called out David Bowie, George Michael et al (“drugged-out rapists”) in one post and lamented the tearing down of Michael Jackson in the next. It feels like a false equivalency, unless these other men were also pedophiles and I’m just finding out tonight. If so, my bad.

            Maybe I’m just overreacting because of how much Bowie has meant to me and how deeply I hate pedophiles. *shrug*

            • Wise Old Owl

              No, my point is clear…They Uphold their idols and bash Black Artists…thus, it is not my aim to mention MJ, because as you stated, you know all about his alleged acts, because they told you about his…but you didn’t know about Bowie, Paige, Jagger, Elvis and etc…because They didn’t tell you about them…We all Know that Chris Brown beat Rihanna, but many don’t know that their idol John Lennon beat Yoko and other women in his life…I am not the hypocrite, I am pointing out Their Hyprotcritical and Double Standards…all rapists and abusers should be outed, shamed, arrested, tried and convicted…not just the Black Ones…

              • Blue Skies Bring Tears

                As I said, yes, white people are absolutely hypocritical. They will bash black artists for X issue while absolving their white idols who also have the same X issue. That’s not up for debate. I thought I had been clear about that. Pardon my clumsiness.

                Another thing that’s not up for debate is that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. He touched little boys. He was a homosexual pedophile. GTFO with your “alleged acts” nonsense. That’s disgusting.

                You say: “all rapists and abusers should be outed, shamed, arrested, tried and convicted…not just the Black Ones…”

                Of course. I agree completely, and mentioned my hatred of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, among others, in the other post. Johnny Depp the wife beater deserves to have his career destroyed, same as Chris Brown. He’s no better than Brown. I would not lift a finger to defend John Lennon, Elvis or Mick Jagger either.

                Anyway, I was specifically curious about your Bowie statement. Are you saying that David Bowie was a pedophile? I know he was into drugs, alcohol, promiscuous behavior, etc. None of that matters to me. But if he was a pedo, then he certainly deserves to be vilified, same as Jackson.

                All pedophiles deserve to be annihilated regardless of their race, their legacy stained forever.

            • grownandsexy2

              I thought Michael was found to be not guilty. Not that it means anyone really is as maybe they just had stellar counsel. That said, as troubled as I thought he was, I never believed he molested children. I thought he was naïve and an easy mark. I read somewhere that if you miss a “milestone” in your development, you will attempt to make up for it later in life. I’ve seen it a lot. I always believed because he “missed” his childhood, he was attempting to make up for what he missed, and felt most comfortable in the company of children. Some may beg to differ.

              • Blue Skies Bring Tears

                He was acquitted, you’re right, though he did settle a civil lawsuit with one of the families. The fact that he was not found guilty doesn’t mean he was innocent. In fairness, we can’t assume he was guilty because he settled, either. Maybe he paid to make the suit go away. But I still have a lot of trouble believing that.

                I admit that I cannot be objective when it comes to accused pedophiles. In these cases, my default stance is to believe the alleged victim, because it’s so deeply damaging to victims not to believe them, and a part of me feels “who could falsely accuse a person of such a grievous crime? Why? How?”

                It seems I might be the naïve one here though. I just looked at Michael’s wiki and saw that one of the accusers admitted to having lied. ? God.

                I wanted to say, thank you for your reply. I think I was too agressive and emotional in my first comment. Your analysis of Michael’s character is very interesting. I share your view that he wanted to make up for his lost childhood and sought the company of children because he felt safe and comfortable with them. He always seemed so vulnerable and fragile. I don’t think he was capable of trusting adults.

                That being said, I do believe he crossed a line and touched some of those kids inappropriately. He may not have had nefarious intentions though.

      • Blue Skies Bring Tears

        Bowie, a rapist? What?

    • Giantstepp

      Thats what they always say, sadly. They don’t understand the culture as we do. We can separate the art from the person when necessarand still embrace them as human beings. We KNOW that the artistic expression is only a small part of the total person. White folk stay on that BS.

      • miss t-lee

        I try not to listen to folks who ain’t a part of the culture. They’re own talking sh*t from the sidelines. Straight pedestrian.

        • Simple way to do avoid that is to talk to “everybody”.

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            Ha!

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      • cyanic

        They do not see us as human so our art is a bizarre abstract to touch like a thief or something to dismiss because they are incapable of seeing the world outside themselves.

        • Giantstepp

          Facts!!! Which is why every excuse is made when a brother gets shot down in cold blood, ON VIDEO, by the cops. I agree with you.

      • ElusiveCupcake

        They can’t tell the difference between reality and fiction. Which I presume is the reason why so many Republican politicians want a return to the 1950s. They don’t know “Leave it to Beaver” was not a documentary.

        • Cheech

          They also don’t know the difference between Heavy D and Biggie.

      • I JUST told someone that they don’t understand it [rap / hip-hop] cause it ain’t for them.

      • Michelle

        Wypipo… Based off my interactions with a lot of them… I refuse to call them ‘stupid’ because it would just excused them from facing the consequences of their actions. So, I will say that they’re definitely something else. Either they’re taking song lyrics at face value or they think there is some malevolent, hidden message behind song lyrics. They’re self-proclaimed geniuses or they’re willing to claim ignorance.

      • Blueberry01

        “They don’t understand the culture as we do.”

        They don’t understand it but they love to steal from it…:sips tea:

    • Jennifer

      I’m surprised they knew who he was.

      • cyanic

        They read rapper died and went from there.

        • ElusiveCupcake

          I remember when Heavy D passed a few years ago. The 2520s on Yahoo News were quick to call him a “violent misogynistic thug.” Never mind Heavy D, who had a song literally called “No Cursing,” was practically the Ned Flanders of rap.

          That is when I realized these people have no idea what they’re talking about or have any capability of independent thought.

          • Mary Burrell

            Now I am a big Heavy D. fan and cried when he passed away. Don’t Curse is in my personal playlist.

            • grownandsexy2

              I loved me some Heavy D.

          • grownandsexy2

            According to 2520s, we’re all thugs.

    • Then again, it wasn’t until the 60s that the field of psychology realized that Black people could be depressed. If we aren’t happy, of course we are angry and destructive. We don’t have full fledged emotions. *eye roll*

      • AzucarNegra

        You know reading your comment caused the image of the minstrel to flash across my mind.

    • MsSula

      We need to stop caring about what they think or say. This has nothing to do with them, they need to go away. UGH.

    • Dougie

      you follow white people on twitter?

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