Tomorrow morning you’re going to wake up, get dressed, board a bus, and then go to sleep in prison. You’re slated to be released in three years, maybe less with good behavior, maybe more if you get in a fight or two. Maybe you never make it out. Knowing that grim scenario lay before you, what would you do with your last few days as a free man? Would you spend your time in a Patron fueled hedonistic haze? Would you create a work of art that would outlive your incarceration? Would you grant an …
DJBooth Album Review
That was exactly the scenario facing Prodigy, one of the founders of the infamous New York hardcore rap duo Mobb Deep. Well, not exactly. Prodigy was arrested for gun possession (again) and sentenced while in the midst of making his latest album H.N.I.C. 2 (Head Ni**a In Charge), making the album his semi-unintentional farewell message. On the weight of those extraordinary circumstances alone H.N.I.C. could have gone down in hip-hop history, but unfortunately the last album P graces us with (possibly) will likely be remembered as an extraordinarily well-produced but lyrically inconsistent work. It’s a strong musical effort, but it’s just not strong enough to keep P’s music on repeat until he’s breathing free air again.
Prodigy has taken a more lyrically political turn in recent years, no doubt due to his experiences with the American judicial system. The album starts off with Real Power Is People, an auditory street revolution that finds P offering guerrilla financial advice (“f**k jewelry, f**k rims, let’s spend on our protection”) and comparing the government to the devil (“they lit the Pentagon on fire, that’s lightin the pentagram on fire”). Love it or hate it, the track’s one of the most lyrically captivating tracks P’s done in a minute, but Power’s last notes have barely faded when The Life kicks in, a track that finds Prodigy toasting to his Ferrari and ice with a glass of Moet. Nothing wrong with that - except he was saying the literal opposite just thirty seconds ago. What happened to “money is worthless”? Then a few minutes later it’s back to lines about secret societies and government spies on the Illumanti, a rawly energetic track Dead Prez would feel at home on. There’s a fine line between radical politics and incoherent paranoia, and on H.N.I.C. it’s sometimes hard to tell which side of the line Prodigy’s on.
Younger folks might be forgiven for thinking that Prodigy’s lethally calm rhyme style sounds like 50 Cent, but it’d be more accurate to say that 50 sounds like Prodigy. Mobb Deep were some of the founding fathers of the east coast thug sound, and H.N.I.C. 2 provides enough grime to satisfy longtime fans of Prodigy’s street-level style. On Young Veterans, P delivers vocal high-caliber ammunition over a cinematic Alchemist beat (who does stellar production work throughout the album). It’s the kind of uncompromising track that made him a force in the game, plus there’s even a Jay and Nas diss for all the beef-lovers out there. If Young Veterans is a bad dream than ABC is an absolute nightmare, a track that employs some of the darker production work in recent memory, courtesy of relative newcomer Sid Roams. Unfortunately someone also decided that a chorus that sounds like a group of midget third-graders reciting the alphabet was a good idea. It’s not. In fact it’s so bad my memory of ABC won’t be “that track Prodigy absolutely murdered”, but rather “that track that the f**ked up midgets reciting the alphabet.” And that’s a shame.
Ultimately that’s exactly the problem with H.N.I.C.. Under any other circumstances I would have been perfectly happy to bump it in the car for a few weeks, but it’s not nearly good enough to serve as Prodigy’s last album…assuming this is his last album. For every possible classic like I Want Out, there’s a mediocre at best track waiting in the wings, like New Yitti to take one at random. The man’s made too large of an impact on hip-hop history to ever be forgotten, but by the time he gets out of prison will he still be relevant? Will he have moved past his prime (as everyone eventually does)? Tragically, fans will have to wait three long years to find out, with only a decent album to tide them over.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 04/24/08
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Stuck On You" (2007)
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