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A conversation with Prodigy of Mobb Deep

“I wanted to tell the story of how it is, what really happened from my perspective.”

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In November 1996, Mobb Deep released Hell on Earth, the follow-up to the duo’s breakthrough second record, The Infamous. Still considered a touchstone of New York hardcore hip hop, The Infamous was a lot to live up to, but rappers Prodigy and Havoc had plenty of material to draw from. Hell on Earth is a heavy, haunting look at the violent streets of Queensbridge, New York. Now, Mobb Deep is promoting a forthcoming reissue of the record, which will include unreleased tracks and some new material. “It’s like a time capsule that was just sitting there, waiting for us,” says Prodigy, who spoke to CP over the phone during a sound check at the Blue Note in Manhattan. 

The Infamous was such a big record for you. Did you feel any pressure going into the making of Hell on Earth?

Yeah, I mean … every album we try to top ourselves and make some new-and-improved songs. … So the pressure is always there, every time we in the studio. Just cause we our own worst critics, you know? [It’s not] like, “What are the people going to think?” [It’s] … can we impress ourselves and make another dope album? 

What memories come up when you listen to Hell on Earth now?

When we were working on that album, we were going through a lot of deaths and murders and a lot of craziness in our life. ... So, just going back and listening to it … you know, it definitely brings back a lot of those bad memories. But at the same time, we [took] something bad and made something good — we made an album and made history with it. So, you know, you just try to look at the good side as much as possible. 

That record is very cinematic, which makes me wonder: Will there ever be a Mobb Deep movie?

Yeah, we’ve definitely been talking about it, but it’s hard to find the right team and director and producers, and get the right money behind it because … the story is so important because it’s a story of ’90s hip hop. … We were coming up with Biggie, Nas, Jay, fucking Wu Tang … it was a special era. We been throwing around ideas of doing movies but we’re not trying to do no low-budget, corny-ass B-movie. 

Hell on Earth came out during the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry. What are you memories of that era?

When you young, you just like … all about your team. You not tryna hear nobody, you not trying to take advice, you’re real hard-headed, taking things to the extreme. And that’s how we were. We were defending Mobb Deep, we were defending New York, that’s how we felt. When I look back at that it just reminds me of being young and foolish, you know what I’m saying? Because a lot of those people that we was beefin’ with, we cool with now. We all understand that we were all young. ... That’s just how it is. And hopefully you grow up one day and you can move on to better things. 

You put out your autobiography a few years ago, and in it you say that you never liked having anyone in your business. Do you have regrets about putting all that personal stuff into the world?

I’m definitely glad I wrote it … I wanted to tell the story of how it is, what really happened from my perspective. I don’t want nobody to tell my story for me, they don’t understand why things happened or why I made the choices I made. … I think it [was] perfect timing because when I went to jail, I did three years and then when I came home, I decided …  that book is my entire youth. A lot of people were like, “Why would you write a book? You’re only thirtysomething … people don’t write autobiographies until they old and they career is done and all that.” But I was wrapping up my youth.

Do you think you’ll write a part two?

Oh for certain. That’s certainly going to happen. I started a publishing company … I do a lot of novellas. … I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Donald Goines. He would make these hood novellas that were like 80-90 pages, and when I was a young kid, it was more appealing to read a book like that than to see some big, thick intimidating thousand-page book. I wanted to inspire other kids to read, so I made these novellas that just tell little short stories, and I can get the work out there fast. … I also got a cookbook coming out — it’s a prison cookbook of all the stuff we used to make in jail using a microwave and a toaster oven.  

Do you write a lot on the road?

I definitely try to write whenever I get time … just get it out my system, get it in my laptop and get it out there. Cause I got so many stories. A lot of stories I can’t tell because, you know, it’s incriminating. … But in a certain way, I can put it into fiction and twist names around and change things around and get away with it. 

That sounds therapeutic, actually.

Yeah, it is. It definitely is. 

You must have excellent mental health.

Ah, man [laughs]. I try. 

Are you involved in politics right now? Do you have any thoughts on the current political situation?

Nahhhh, I don’t like to get into politics, because I have nothing good to say about politics at all. And I’ll piss people off because I got an opinion. … I let it be known in my music and my books how I feel, but politics, I’m not really feelin’ it. I don’t believe anything this system has to tell me, it’s the same system that enslaved my ancestors, so why should I believe anything that they have to say? They’re lying to us, it’s all corrupt, I’m not trying to hear it, you can’t pull the wool over my eyes. … That’s how I feel about it. 

You and Havoc have been making music together for more than two decades. What’s the secret to being in a duo and not hating each other?

Man. Just having a love for the music that we make. Cause the music that we make is very powerful, it’s not like we making some bullshit. We know exactly what we’re doing … we know this shit is powerful. And the love that we have for each other — we been through so much. A lot of real situations where a lot of our friends are dead and gone, a lot of real life-and-death situations, and just love and happiness and feeling good, the ups and downs. ... So that helps keep us together, because we got a lot of memories and we can just sit back and laugh about a lot of shit. And we created a lot of history together. We did a lot of groundbreaking things together and started trends that didn’t exist before. … And then, on tour and we see the big-ass crowd coming to see us. … And we look at that and just smile at each other, like, “Look what we did. Look at all these people coming to see us. How can we be mad at each other and fuck this up?”


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