Fresh from Mid-State Correctional Facility in New York State, a slightly buffed Albert Johnson, a.k.a. Mobb Deep’s Prodigy stood defiant in a Simon & Schuster conference room, sipping from a foam cup, clad in a gray button-down and black driver’s cap. Relaxed, Prodigy and I rapped on a number of issues, from his long and prominent family history in Black culture and music, to Rap beef, and why being locked up was to his benefit. Before you go and cop My Infamous Life: The Autobiography of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, Parlé’s got your preview, straight from the source with our Prodigy interview.
Parlé Magazine: What inspired you writing a book? Because you’re still kind of a young dude.
Prodigy: Yeah um. It probably had a lot to do with my family history, and the music industry, my grandmother’s history in show business; the whole dance world that she was involved in. And one of my great-great-grandfathers, he founded and built Morehouse College. So there’s a lot of things in my history and my family, that I wanted to share with the world, so they could understand where I come from and what made me the person I am. Then you got, me being born with Sickle Cell Anemia and having to live with that, and learning how to live with that, and my struggle with that and all that. Then you know, of course, the Mobb Deep part, the music industry and all the business, all the little dramas in the street, everybody want to rule and the little rap dramas. I just figured it’s an important story to tell to let people know a lot of things that they didn’t know, a lot of behind the scenes things. It might have been a lot of misconceptions about certain things. A lot of rumors and “he say, she say,” but, here’s the real deal to clear all that up, basically. And to give you a more in-depth look, at my life and Mobb Deep.
Parlé: So at what point did you think about writing a book?
Prodigy: Actually I thought about writing a book in 2004, then we did the G-Unit deal, and I slowed down. That was when we went on tour, and I actually put the book on hold for a minute. And after we did the Blood Money and The Massacre tour and all that, I actually started writing it again, getting more into it. Then when I got locked up, that’s when I finished it. So it was like a three part thing. I wrote it in like three parts.
Parlé: That’s what’s up. Did you come across any surprises while you were writing it? Like anything that surprised you, any memories or things like that?
Prodigy: Yeah, like the part with my, great-great-grandfather with the Morehouse thing and um, one of my grandfathers, who actually built the first post –office, in Atlanta, Georgia for the Blacks. Before then, the Blacks in Atlanta had to travel miles away, to another area for postal service. So that was like, real, surprising to me, that my family was deep with the history and all that. Other than that, it was pretty much just regular shit I had all stuck in my head I had to get out, it wasn’t many other surprises besides my families’ history.
Parlé: And as far as your family history, when did you learn about it?
Prodigy: When I was in the beginning stages of writing the book in 2004, I was talking to my mother about it, and she had started researching about her side of the family, what is it called, Genetics.com—
Parlé: –Oh like Ancestry?
Prodigy: Yeah, Ancestry.com, exactly. She had started doing that type of research. And I was like “Yeah I’m doing this book,” and she sent me some information that she had found out. She was like, “Make sure you put this in the book, this is like perfect timing.” I’m like alright cool, then she started doing more research, and she found out all this stuff for me. She was like “Look at this, look at this,” and I was saying “Yeah, I’m using all of this. And I was bugging off of what I found out, like “Wow.” Like this is kind of crazy.
Parlé: Word, like your great-great-great grandfather, built Morehouse, that’s amazing!
Parlé: Changing subjects just a bit, did you always expect to be in the music industry? With your family history in music?
Prodigy: I grew up around it a lot. Like I used to go to all my grandfather’s Jazz shows when I was a little kid, and all my grandmother’s dance concerts and all that, like I grew up around all that. I was just so used to show business, and it was just something fun to me. It wasn’t like it was something strange; it was just something that was normal to me to do that. So I guess that it was only right that I did something in the entertainment world, ‘cause I was just around it all the time. Like my mother was in The Crystals. She had a lot of hit records, and was on tour with Diana Ross and all those people. She used to tell me all kinds of wild stories about touring and just everything about the business side of the game, just the industry. So it was just all in my head, you know, from a little kid. So it was just natural for me.
Parlé: Did you come across those same challenges that she told you about?
Prodigy: Yeah, yeah, definitely, because, she told me not to do certain things, and, I aint listen; I was hard-headed, I had to find out on my own.
Parlé: Hmmm. What I wanted to know before I even got here was how a person with that same kind of history as far as the music goes, get into Gangsta Rap, and that whole era.
Prodigy: Basically because of where I grew up at. Like I grew up in three different places man. I grew up in Hempstead, Long Island, Lefrak City Queens, and then I moved to Queensbridge later on in my life. So all three of those neighborhoods, like they got that element in there, just on different levels. So it was just me, being rebellious and just mixing in with the crowd that I liked to hang out with, around the way. And it just so happened that the people that I hung out with, were the people that were involved in, some shit. We just all grew up like that; it was just fun to us. Word.
Parlé: And you and Hav met in high school right?
Prodigy: Yeah we went to High School of Art and Design in Manhattan.
Parlé: Alright cool, cool. Who was the first person to decide to make it a duo? And when did you first discover that you both were rappers?
Prodigy: My first year in high school, there was this kid named Derrick in my Photography class, and Derrick was like “Yo man I think you should meet my man Havoc, and he rap too, ya’ll about the same height,” ‘cause we was little short dudes and what not. He’s like “Ya’ll would look good in a group together, ya’ll should meet up.” So, after that, me and Havoc got cool, and we started doing talent shows, and it just clicked from there, nah mean. It just clicked from there.
Parlé: And ya’ll never battled?
Prodigy: Nah, we never really had a battle, yo. We was spitting rhymes back and forth but it wasn’t really like we was battling each other nah mean; like we used to battle niggas in the lunchroom, on the regular though. Like when it came lunchtime, niggas beating on the table and shit like that, we’d definitely battle everybody in the lunchroom. Word.
Parlé: And you came across Nas and Cormega around this time too? Or was it after?
Prodigy: Yeah, that first time while I was in High School I met Hav, that’s when I was in Queensbridge again ‘cause, I was already out there when I was young. I used to go to day camp in Queensbridge ‘cause my mother worked for Housing and one of her Housing jobs was in Queensbridge for a good three or four years or something like that. She used to take me with her, so I knew a lot of people out there already. So later on in life, being back with Hav up there, when I first came around, certain niggas was like “Yo, who this nigga—who the fuck is this nigga, who Hav bringin’ around us? Oh this nigga from Long Island??” And that made it even worse ‘cause niggas be shitting on Long Island. “Yo where you from?? Long Island??? Ahhh, fuck outta here…” So these niggas was like, “Listen, you wanna be around us, you wanna hang around us, we gotta see how you rap, you gotta battle this nigga, that one…” So these niggas used to take me around the whole projects, battlin’ niggas and shit, to prove I could be around these niggas.
Parlé: So what was your first impression of Nas?
Prodigy: My impression was, NOBODY could rap like this dude, he made me sound like, (laughing) a clown, like…Word, but it was very inspirational. You know what I mean, I was definitely nervous, ‘cause he was spitting some shit. And I wasn’t on that level yet.
Parlé: And ya’ll were about 18, right?
Prodigy: Nah we was younger than that. We was about like, 16, 17.
Parlé: And as far as the Rap beef that you mention in the book, do you feel like that just comes with the territory and your style of rap?
Prodigy: I mean, yeah, with the style of rap, and also, with the lifestyle that we were living at the time. It was definitely a lot of anger. And me and my friends—just a lot of tension, man. We was just some angry motherfuckers man. Like we would have fun at the same time, ‘cause it was like, the anger’s gonna come out. It was just, motherfuckers just, not knowing how to channel their anger in the right direction, nah mean.
Parlé: Do you feel the same way about Pac and BIG, now, as you did back then?
Prodigy: Nahhhhhh. Hell no. Like back then I was just young-minded man. So I was really thinking with-a young mind, basically. And just being foolish. And a lot of, you know, showing off, being foolish, and being young-minded. So now when I look back on it, I be like, “Wow, we was wilding back then,” know what I’m saying? And with Pac, we love Pac’s music, I love Pac’s music. He made some incredible, ground-breaking, important songs. And same with BIG, I love BIG’s music. But back then, we was just on some bullshit, know what I’m saying. That’s just what it was back then.
Parlé: And was there any evidence of BIG stealing lyrics or anything like that?
Prodigy: Oh yeah, yeah, he definitely took a couple of lines of mines, just a couple of lines, not like a whole song or nothing like that. And looking back on it now, it was really just a compliment, like he was just a fan of Mobb Deep; he really loved Mobb Deep. We were on tour together, and he wanted beats from Hav, he wanted me to get on his album. But back then, with me being, retarded, I just took it, another way, like “This niggas, biting me, this niggas on my dick.” But when I look back, I’m just like; it’s not even like that. He was just showing how much he loved us and how much he wanted to fuck with us, like it was just all love, know what I’m saying?
Parlé: That’s what’s up, I really feel like to a degree it was a lot of, as far as New York rappers go and it was so many dudes in one space. And we were ruling the whole territory at one point, so it was hard for everybody to find their way.
Prodigy: Yeah, and it’s still like that, to this day. Like, New York rappers, we feel like we run this shit, like Rap started in New York so, most of us, carry that attitude like, “We the shit, can’t nobody fuck with us.” And, with where we from out here, everybody is on top of each other. It’s not like, certain other states, like California, and the South—everybody’s spread out. We all on top of each other, like crabs in a bucket, and it’s a “Every man for himself” kind of mentality. You deal with Cali or Down South, everything is spread out; they got more of a comradery and its more rules and codes out there that they don’t break. Like they’ll never cross someone on their team, or their man, or someone in their neighborhood. But in New York, niggas is cutting each other’s throats, stabbing each other’s backs. It’s just the mentality out here. It’s just real ruthless.
Parlé: And that’s a lot of what you put into your book also right?
Prodigy: Yeah, I talk about that in there.
Parlé: That’s wild. And in particular, what was your life like behind bars, coming off of that Amerikaz Nightmare album, and signing that whole deal with Fif?
Prodigy: Uh, yeah, man it was definitely a big, fucking wake-up call man. ‘Cause really I put myself in the position to get locked up, and get caught with my hammer. And I needed that time, to sit my ass down and think about what the fuck I just did. And to think about the shit I put at risk, like my career and my family and all that type of shit man. And my decision-making and my priorities and just thinking about what the fuck direction I was going in. ‘Cause I was headed down a bad, bad path, the way I was going man–
Parlé: Even with your success?
Prodigy: Yeah, and, success sometimes could make that worse, know what I’m saying. Because you just really start feeling yourself even more now, like, you got money, you good, can’t nothing go wrong. Everything is going your way. So you just really start feeling cocky. And not everybody does that but, as far as me, it was good for me to get locked up, ‘cause that just really pulled me from slipping, and something bad was about to happen. I was headed in a bad direction, so…yeah man, when I got locked up, I took it as a blessing. When I first got in there, you know what I mean, I realized that it was nothing to even be upset about, like this is gonna fix, my brain, and my body physically and my spirit and I’m gonna come out, a new man.
Parlé: So it was basically like a sign that just said “Slow down a little bit.”
Prodigy: Yeah, yeah, it was a blessing. Because, if I didn’t get locked up man, its no telling what would have happened. I was in a bad space. I was just headed in the wrong direction. It was a lot of personal things that I was going through. Like around, 2002, when my movie had came out. I went through some shit, where I lost a lot of money, and it was a bad deal that went down. Certain things I went through, where it just pushed me over the edge, and I started living real negative around that time. And from that point, all the way to where I was locked up, I was just on one, large, downward spiral. And when we got the G-Unit deal, that shit didn’t help at all.
Prodigy: That shit just made me worse, because I was just on a downward spiral. Then we got signed, got all this money, went straight on a world tour everywhere. That shit just made the real asshole come out of me.
Parlé: Like you didn’t get any time to think to yourself throughout that whole situation.
Prodigy: Yeah, we on fucking, private jets and I just didn’t give a fuck. I was like “Fuck this shit—I’m fucking bitches every day, I got, madd jewelry , we on tour wilding, we doing all types of crazy shit, that shit just made me worse. Only because I didn’t have my shit together, mentally, you know what I mean, if I would have had it together, I would have used that as an opportunity to better things with myself; ‘cause 50 used to always tell me like “Man if you start working out, if you start doing this,” boom, boom, boom, “You’d be unstoppable son. You gotta do certain things.” Like he would always give me certain hints, trying to tell me the right thing to do, but I was just too far gone with my bullshit, know what I’m saying? So it took for me to get locked up, for me to really see what the fuck I was doing. ‘Cause son when I got locked up, I was looking back at everything, and I used to be like yo, “What the fuck, was on my mind yo?” I used to say shit like that to myself when I was locked up.
Parlé: And what kind of prison were you in?
Prodigy: I was in a medium. I was in Mid-State. They had me in the P-C building, for high-profile, high-risk inmates. That was just where Albany put me.
Parlé: Yeah, I was going to ask you about 50’s reaction to you getting locked up too.
Prodigy: Yeah, you know, Fif, he was always supportive man, he was coming to visit me and all that. He love Mobb Deep man, and he was trying to put us in a position where we could do some good things. And he did put us in that position, except that we didn’t take it, and run with it, and do what we was supposed to do with that. And I fucked up and got locked up, and I lost a lot of opportunities when I got locked up like that.
Parlé: And what’s like your biggest regret during that time?
Prodigy: Um, I really don’t have any regrets about it, ‘cause that shit needed to happen. I can’t even sit here and say I would have did this—that shit would just be like whining and crying about something, if I did that. That shit was inevitable. I had to get locked up, and fix my life. Word.
Parlé: So as far as where your career is now and things like that, what’s your goals and what’s your mindset?
Prodigy: Right now we’re just really trying to make, like incredible, music right now, as far as the next Mobb Deep album. We’re not really concerned with what label we’re going to and all that, we’re really just concerned with making an album that will stand the test of time; something unique and creative. That’s basically what we’re doing right now, just really focusing on that, and nothing else. I got the book, and, that’s really going to help promote Mobb Deep. That’s a tool that I created, to help promote my brand Mobb Deep. Mobb Deep is more important than anything else. And that’s what we’re doing, every day we’re in the studio just going hard. And we’ve been blessed to have a lot of fans that have stuck with us through the years, and we’ve been blessed to have a level of creativity where we could always get a check and remain relevant in the game. But we know that right now, we’re in the position where we have to like, prove ourselves all over again, and we put ourselves in that position. So, now, that’s what it is, we have to show these motherfuckers, that I deserve what I have, we deserve to be having all of this success.
Parlé: Alright, cool cool. Thank you for everything and like I said it was a pleasure meeting you!
Prodigy: Yeah, good looking yo!
Images by Shotti for Parlé Magazine
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