The news of Prodigy’s death rocked the Hip-Hop industry, leaving many to react with disbelief, condolences, and reminisce over their memories with him. The 42 year-old rapper passed away in Las Vegas June 20 from complications from sickle-cell anemia. Besides being one-half of iconic duo Mobb Deep, he was also a father, an author, and had his own label, Infamous Records. Even after 20 years of the release of “The Infamous”, it’s no surprise that Prodigy and Havoc’s classic records stood the test of time.
Born Albert Johnson in Hempstead, NY, Prodigy came from a musical family. His grandfather and great-uncle, Budd & Keg Johnson contributed to the bebop jazz era, where his mother was a singer and had her own group. He met Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita in 1989 while they both attended the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan. The friendship quickly formed over their mutual love for Hip-Hop, and rhyming. Before Mobb Deep, Prodigy was previously signed to Jive Records under the name Lord-T and had an uncredited feature on the Boyz-N-The Hood soundtrack titled, “High Five.” The two originally went by “Poetical Prophets”, and dropped a demo tape called “Flavor for the Nonbelievers.” This song scored them a spot on The Source Magazine’s Unsigned Hype column. By 1993, the duo, now going by Mobb Deep, released their first album, Juvenile Hell. The album that made them become one of the most recognized names in East Coast rap was 1995’s The Infamous.
“Mobb Deep, our story is unique. It’s just all [of] our experiences that we’ve been through — it’s not normal.” – Prodigy, The infamous Documentary
The duo admitted that they didn’t master their sound until “The Infamous” was made. They had also signed to Loud Records, where they had plenty of creative freedom to talk about what they wanted to. Even today in 2017, you can still feel the grittiness of what life was like in the infamous Queensbridge Projects. In fact, their sophomore album was a turning point in East Coast rap music, as the attention was heavily on the West Coast’s rap scene. “…It was just street anthem after street anthem,” said legendary and veteran rapper Rakim about the album. “It kind of confirmed that New York underground Hip-Hop was about to explode.” And it did, as New York was now able to reclaim its spot as the hub for everything Hip-Hop.
This was also a time where the East Coast/West Coast beef was at its peak. Despite that, it only made Mobb Deep even bigger, contributing to the change in sound for rappers at the time. Even when “The Infamous” catapulted them into success, neither rapper forgot about their Queens roots. Even their eighth and final studio album together, The Infamous Mobb Deep (2014), featured both new music and unreleased tracks from the album’s namesake. Not to mention that the duo also performed at the 11th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Fest in 2015, performing both classics and new music from the album. From switching labels, releasing solo projects, finally getting a label of his own, writing a memoir, and even falling out then reconciling with Havoc; Prodigy still remained synonymous with Hip-Hop — even in death.
“I mean what’s interesting about me and Havoc, is just the longevity of the partnership and the music. That’s like the real key point because a lot of groups — they just don’t last, they don’t make it. And usually it’s from personal feelings or whatever [you know]. They couldn’t get past whatever issues there were and see the bigger picture…” – Prodigy on Havoc, The infamous Documentary.
Over 20 years after he came onto the scene, Prodigy’s music, persona, and words will live on in Hip-Hop history forever. At the time of his passing, Prodigy was on tour alongside Havoc, Ice-T, KRS-1, Onyx, and Ghostface Killah for the “Art of Rap” Tour. The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival extends its condolences to Havoc, and Prodigy’s family and friends.
The Collective: A Spotlight On Dreamville’s Very Own – infax
The East Coast. The West Coast. The Midwest. The South. Three rappers from different parts of the country come together as part of J. Cole’s Dreamville Records. But what is it about Bas, Cozz, and Omen that make them so uniquely authentic? From Bas’ Queens origins by way of his Sudanese roots, to Cozz’s lyrical versatility and relatability, and Omen’s artistic expression and perspective; they each bring something different to the table. Although they have quite the respective musical backgrounds, it wasn’t always in the cards for a future in music.
Bas, born Abbas Hamad in Paris, France had a very unique upbringing. He lived in France until he was eight years old, when his family moved to the states and settled in Jamaica, Queens. Taking inspiration from growing up in a Sudanese family, Bas’ upbringing is reflected in the diversity of his music. At first, rapping wasn’t a serious thing to the Queens-based rapper. At least not until after a friend encouraged him to do it back in 2010. Two mixtapes later, Bas ends up playing Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. 2 for legendary producer No I.D., who then in turn played it for J. Cole. By 2014, he was signed to Dreamville and dropped his first album, Last Winter. Almost two years later, Bas released his sophomore project, Too High To Riot complete with a documentary that took you behind the scenes on the making of the album.
Of course, what’s the east coast without a west coast counterpart? Meet Cody “Cozz” Osagie, the 24 year-old South Central L.A. native whose lyricism scored him a shout-out on Issa Rae’s hit HBO series, Insecure. Despite being one of the youngest signed to Dreamville, there’s more to him than what meets the eye. Born to a Nigerian father and an African-American mother, it’s safe to say that Cozz’s musical influences were very widespread. He first started taking music seriously by the end of 2013, recording a demo and bringing it to a connect at Interscope. The connect brought it to an A&R rep, which then helped begin the process of meeting with several labels with different artists. But not before Cozz dropped the music video for the song “Dreams,” which later became a song off of his debut album, Cozz & Effect in 2014. During the meetings with labels, he ended up meeting his manager who in turn had a close relationship with Dreamville Records. In 2016, Cozz released his second project and first mixtape, Nothin’ Personal, which was made available for free. As of right now, Cozz is working on a new album, and just might have a future in acting.
Last, but definitely not least, we have Chi-town’s own, Omen. Unlike his fellow labelmates, the way he met J. Cole was on a more personal level. The two first met as teenagers on battle rap site, Canibus Central, and grew to have a mutual respect for each other’s work. They finally met in person one summer in New York, and the rest is history. One thing’s for sure about Omen, born Damon Coleman, is that music was all around him growing up. His father was signed to legendary record label Motown, but never blew up due to shaky management for his group, 21st Century. Music still ran in his family of course, as both his mother and grandfather sang, plus a step-father who’s both a bassist and a pianist. Even with all of this around him, Omen originally had dreams of making it in the NBA, but the dream soon faded. While working on producing and rapping, he would send beats over to J. Cole and vice versa, critiquing them, as well as work on songs together. Cole would help Omen whenever he could, even after being signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation. Once Omen dropped his studio album debut Elephant Eyes, his relationship with J. Cole took a more professional turn. Though he already made quite a buzz with mixtapes Delayed (2010) and Afraid of Heights (2011), Omen still maintained his authenticity. Even while spitting over classic beats by the one and only J. Dilla, his growth is only at the beginning.
For a chance to see these talented three, be sure not to miss their performances at the 13th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival’s JUICE Hip-Hop Exhibition, held on July 14th at St. Ann’s Warehouse.