prodigy at the pratt, 4.26.11

(photo by kelly connelly)

Prodigy, one half of the legendary Mobb Deep, came to the Enoch Pratt Free Library to talk about his recently released memoir, My Infamous Life. AJ, from 92Q’s Rap Attack, masterfully moderated the talk, asking well researched and thoughtful questions. Prodigy was engaging, informative,  and humorous as he talked about his career, family history, and more.

I’ve been a fan of Mobb Deep since the mid-’90s and even interviewed them some years back, but there was a lot that Prodigy shared this evening that I didn’t know prior to the talk. So, in no particular order (although I did save my personal favorite for last), here are some things I learned before I’ve even cracked open Prodigy’s book:

  • Prior to going to prison (he recently completed a three-and-a-half year sentence on a gun charge), the longest Prodigy had ever gone without recording was two weeks. When he was released from prison, one of the very first things he did was go to the studio.
  • His grandfather, jazz musician Budd Johnson, helped teach Quincy Jones how to read and write sheet music.
  • In addition to liking the way producer Alchemist’s sound melded California and New York sensibilities, there was something else that he liked: “He was a white dude–that added a special element to it.”
  • His mother was part of the doo-wop group, The Crystals, who were probably best known for their hit “Da Doo Ron Ron”.
  • The very first rap Prodigy ever wrote was about a crackhead–he bit the idea from another rap he had heard. (He also used to recite Rakim lyrics to his mom, passing them off as his own. He said his mother would respond, “Oh, that’s nice.”)
  • He and Havoc got together after a mutual high school friend suggested it because he and Havoc were “the same height.”
  • When 50 Cent signed Mobb to G-Unit, he spent a lot of money on frivolous things, like a bulletproof truck and expensive jewelry–the latter inspired in part by trying to keep up with Lloyd Banks’ showy chains.
  • The pain he suffers due to sickle cell anemia is so bad that it made him “a real angry person growing up.” At times, he considered suicide. “My pain was just a lesson for me,” he said. “If it wasn’t for sickle cell, I wouldn’t have been interested in learning about a lot of things.”
  • Prodigy and Havoc used to wait outside of the Def Jam offices in NY and ask artists to check out their music. The only artist who ever obliged was Q-Tip, who arranged for them to meet with Russell Simmons. The actual meeting took place with Lyor Cohen, who told the young duo that Def Jam would probably get sued if they put out their music. (Prodigy joked that, while they were 16 at the time of the meeting, they looked like they were 12.)
  • He spent close to $400,000 of his own money financing the 2004 film, Murda Muzik. His frustration in the making of the movie, and a dispute with someone else involved in making it, led to Prodigy going down what he called a “self-destructive” path.
  • Prodigy’s first rap name was Lord T the Golden Child.
  • When he first heard Nas’ classic debut Illmatic, Prodigy thought: “[This is] an incredible album compared to our feeble attempt at rap music.” (He was comparing it to Mobb Deep’s debut album, Juvenile Hell.)
  • He was “at the crib, eating eggs and bacon” with his crew when he first saw Tha Dogg Pound’s now-notorious “New York, New York” video. They headed directly to the studio and recorded the answer song, “LA, LA”.
  • His grandmother, Bernice Johnson, was a Cotton Club dancer who later founded the well-known Bernice Johnson Dance School in Jamaica, Queens. He was tremendously inspired by how independent his grandmother was and by “how she handled her business.” She called herself the “Head N*gga in Charge”, and had a mug with the acronym H.N.I.C. on it–that’s where he got that from.