Rapper Prodigy Of Mobb Deep Dies At 42

Jun 21, 2017
Originally published on June 23, 2017 7:39 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we're going to remember a rapper now, Albert Johnson, though fans knew him as Prodigy. He was one half of the influential New York duo Mobb Deep. Johnson died yesterday in Las Vegas of complications from sickle cell disease. He was 42 years old. And NPR's Andrew Limbong has this remembrance.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: In an interlude on Mobb Deep's most acclaimed album, Albert Johnson, Prodigy, makes clear he has no time for the rhymes of his less grounded peers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "'THE INFAMOUS' PRELUDE")

MOBB DEEP: With your half-assed rhymes, talking about how much you get high, how much weed you smoke...

LIMBONG: "The Infamous" was a work of plainspoken realism detailing life in New York's Queensbridge Houses projects.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRADLE TO THE GRAVE")

MOBB DEEP: (Rapping) We was going to war. And even more, saw my man layin' dead on the floor. Kid I swore that our crew will live forever, I guess I was wrong...

LIMBONG: Prodigy was a very serious rapper, and he was a very serious kid, too. He was born in 1974 in Hempstead, N.Y., into a family of musicians. His mom was in the '60s girl group The Crystals. His grandfather was jazz saxophonist Budd Johnson. His grandmother, Bernice Johnson, ran a dance studio. But sickle cell meant he was in and out of hospitals. In his autobiography, he wrote about how the pain nearly drove him to suicide. In 2013, he told NPR that it was hip-hop that saved his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PRODIGY: My life before hip-hop was just pain. Like, sickle cell was my life before hip-hop. I ain't really have no life. That was it.

LIMBONG: And then he finds LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. and Juice Crew and, along with it, a vent for his aggression.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOOK ONES PART II")

MOBB DEEP: (Rapping) I got you stuck off the realness. We be the infamous - you heard of us - official Queensbridge murderers. The Mobb comes equipped for warfare. Beware of my crime family, who got enough shots to share.

LIMBONG: He formed Mobb Deep with his musical partner Havoc in the early '90s, standing tall in the crowded New York rap scene, making a name for themselves with their sharply observed lyrics. Prodigy continued to write and perform music, and he had other interests, too. In 2016, inspired by a short stint in prison on a gun charge, he put out a cookbook about how to eat healthy while incarcerated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PRODIGY: When you take care of your health, you start looking at life different. You start looking at people different. And your actions and thoughts different - and it just shapes you into a different type of person.

LIMBONG: Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.