Let’s start with some broad strokes: is it fair to say that Prodigy is an objectively bad rapper? This was all I could think through the entire first listen. His flow is painfully plain, awkwardly and aimlessly bumbling from one uninspired line to the next. Aside from an initial splash of cosmic spirituality in “Mystic,” he adheres to a strict regiment of only the most tired of hip-hop stereotypes. Rarely does he even bother to stick with any rhyme scheme. In many ways listening to this was painfully bad, and in a way that wasn’t hilarious. The more I heard of this album, the more my spirits were sunk by the lyrical downfall of a rap icon.
This tragic conclusion comes easily to most listeners—after all, it’s only natural that old legends die out and are replaced by new talent. To that extent I concur, because I feel like we owe it to music to let music change and grow as time passes. But I also believe we owe it to the musicians that we love to acknowledge and respect their active careers. This old legend may not seem like the rapper he once was, but at the very least he isn’t dead yet, and if you listen to it just right the flow hangs heavy with the dark grime of his “infamous” past.
Here’s the thing about comparing the current P to his past accomplishments, though: he really hasn’t changed much since then. His lyrics have never been very flashy, and his flow never stood up to the better of his east coast contemporaries. Cast his crude lyrics over the menacing beats of Havoc, though, and it just works—perfectly. I guess that’s what hardcore gangsta rap is all about, right? No frills, no spectacle, just grim reality. But what about Nas and Wu-Tang and Big L and all of those other showy acts from the east coast? Do they just not get it like the folks in Cali do? Enter Mobb Deep: problem solved.
With P’s historical influence now in perspective, there only remains one final element to observe in his music, and that is the music itself. Rather, his credibility seems to attract some of the finest production talent around, not the least of which being his 2013 Alchemist collaboration Albert Einstein (a far superior album to this one). Even this lackluster effort boasts a fine pedigree of beatmakers, including the aforementioned Alchemist and Knxwledge, another personal favorite of mine. One could argue that any rapper would sound good over these beats, but it takes a veteran rapper like Prodigy not to get carried away by the profundity of it all. This album is a shining example of his technical austerity: in between poignant recordings of 9/11, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other gruesome topics; P seems unfazed by it all, tirelessly delivering tired line after tired line. Perhaps that plainspoken flow is what makes his occasional hot lines seem so sinister (“Rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone”). For the most part, though, I’m convinced that Prodigy should be seen as more of an ambient rapper, one who should only serve as a background to the underlying beat. Does that make Prodigy a postmodern rapper? Okay that does it, I’m done writing about this album.