Status Ain't Hood Interviews Prodigy and Alchemist
Got some shit for y'all
I've already written at length about "Mac 10 Handle," the eerie, paranoid new Prodigy track, and its dark, psychedelic video, but it still bugs me out how unprecedented this whole thing is: a major-label rap star who's been going through a creative slump as his budgets have gotten bigger suddenly cutting away all frills and reemerging as the same nihilistic psycho he was when he was a teenager and we first heard of him. A big part of that is the spare, creepy production, which reconnects with the sort of grimy, cinematic style that New York was pushing in the mid-90s without out-and-out recreating it. Alchemist produced the song, and he also produced all of Return of the Mac, Prodigy's new solo album. Originally conceived as a mixtape, Return of the Mac is getting a commercial release on Koch in March, and I don't know how the fuck they're going to be able to afford all the sample clearances on this thing. I really hope it sees release in the form it's in right now. I got to listen to about half of the album while I was waiting to be ushered into the conference room at the Koch offices to do this interview, and I can't wait to sit down with it and digest it properly. At first glance, it's great, a fierce example of the hazy, paranoid goth-rap that's been sorely missing lately. Most of the music is a lot more cluttered and frantic than "Mac 10 Handle" (see also video number two, "New York"), but all of it has that organic hardness. Like this guy says, Prodigy's husky mumble has a flat weariness that bleeds into the tracks and gives them a sad beauty. Prodigy doesn't have that same flatness in his everyday speech, or at least he didn't yesterday when I was talking to him. On record, he sounds spaced and guarded; I always get the idea that he never shows emotion because it's all been drained out of him over the years. In person, though, he was warm and inviting, and he's justly proud of Return of the Mac. I don't want to lay on the praise too heavily this early, but that first half-listen made it sound like a small masterpiece.
Alchemist, you were saying when I met you last year how you were impressed that Muggs did that album with GZA and put it out independently, taking a different approach to the whole thing. It seems like that's sort of what you guys did with this album.
Alchemist: Yeah, but you know what? This one wasn't even thought out. I think with Muggs and GZA, they planned it first, and he had a label situation. This was just me and P doing what we do everyday. P came up with the idea, and then when we went in it just developed into some shit. It was more than just a street mixtape.
You were planning on putting it out as a mixtape first, right?
Prodigy: Yeah, we still look at it like a mixtape. They gonna sell it like an album because they trying to make they bread off it, but this is really just a mixtape for H.N.I.C. 2. This is getting people ready for my next solo album.
I was just listening to Return of the Mac in the other room, and it's got a ton of samples on it. You don't really hear albums like that anymore; with clearance laws, people have to pay too much money. You're getting away with it?
P: Yeah, they're clearing it up for us.
I read an interview a while ago where you were saying that G-Unit was thinking about putting it out.
P: No, I never said that. It was a misprint or something.
So that was never on the table?
What made you decide to do a solo thing right now?
P: Because it's about that time again. I ain't have a solo album out in seven years, and I got to the point where I can't hold it in no more.
The two videos you put out, especially the "Mac 10 Handle" video: it's one of the bet music videos I've seen in years, but you had to know it wasn't going to get any play on any TV station.
P: Yeah, that's why I went and put it on YouTube. I wasn't shooting for TV. I know there's a whole world on the internet; I don't need TV. My music is too grimy for TV, anyway. TV is not for me. They ain't gonna play my shit anyway. They might play it once, but they scared of it. A dude like me? They scared of me. They don't want to hear what's coming out of my mouth. They don't want to give me the platform and let me open my mouth. They'll play it a couple of times, but that's about it. Mobb Deep's whole career, we got love on MTV and BET, but it was real limited. And when we did catch a little fire, catch a hit, it was [snaps] that fast and it wasn't on no more. So why cater to them? Rap started where they came to us; that's how rap started. Rap didn't start by catering to MTV; these people came to us, like, "What is this music y'all have called rap?" And that's how I feel it's gotta be now. MTV need to be coming to me, like "What is this 'Mac 10 Handle' thing you're talking about?" And that's what we gonna make them do.
Have you gotten any kind of response like that yet?
P: Yeah, definitely. Everybody is like, "What's this video you got on here now?" Everybody's saying the same shit. Everybody's like, "I heard about it" or "I seen it; it's crazy."
It looks like a Martin Scorsese movie from the 70s or something. Is that what you were going for?
P: Yeah, we shot it with a horror movie look, just something different. I wanted to make it graphic, with blood and weapons so they wouldn't play it on TV. I wanted to go the total opposite direction.
The part where you're stabbing the chair and blood is coming out - what was that?
P: It's just something different. Dan the Man, he did 50's Massacre re-release videos, when 50 put twenty-one videos out, and he shot "Mac 10 Handle." Me and him were talking all day, like "The shit gotta be a horror movie. I want to be in a room, looking like I'm crazy, mad sweating, weapons all over the place, all kind of crazy shit in the room, I'm looking in the mirror like I see the devil. I want the shit to be psychotic." And that's how it turned out.
The album turned out great, from what I just heard. It seems like there's been something missing from mainstream rap albums, where they had this connect-the-dots idea, where someone does the club song and the girl song and everything else.
P: That was the whole idea, going in the total opposite direction. You hit it right on the head. How long we been doing this shit here? After a while, you feel like this shit is kind of boring and it's time to do something else.
A: It shows you that if we had our own companies, these big million-dollar companies, we would change the whole fucking game. This is what me and P did in our own studio, with no budget, with nothing. We run through million-dollar budgets and make albums all the time, but when we do this shit just with us, we make a product that has people going, "This is what we want!" And P is always that way. P don't give a fuck; he always knows he's that dude. Sometimes I be like, "Man, I gotta step it up." But when we do this, it makes me realize that we don't gotta change shit. We should stick to what we do because it's great to be Prodigy and be Alchemist. We don't gotta be anybody else. When we do us, it's beautiful. That's what it's about. The fact that you could hear the whole project and sit here and say that it's dope, that means a lot to me because that's why we did it. I knew my job was to make it play from beginning to end because I knew P was going berserk on every song. The album is about P because the album is the lead-up to H.N.I.C. 2. I didn't produce all of H.N.I.C. 2. We did H.N.I.C. 2 like H.N.I.C. 1. But this was just a special product. Once P did those videos, that shit changed. That's why we're really going to have it out on a major level. That imagery is important nowadays, and when he attached that shit to it, he put that shit on YouTube and didn't send any e-mails out. No bulletins. We didn't hire a publicist. It's like reverse psychology. If we were to send e-mails out, I think everybody would've gotten it and be like, "Cool." But when they heard from their man, like "You gotta see this Prodigy shit," it made people want to see it more. And we're taking it back; that's what hip-hop was. That's that against-the-grain shit. And we ain't really trying to bring nothing back; we're going to the future with it. I'm not trying to be retro; it's all about the future. And you can restore a certain feeling that people used to get. That's what we're doing, trying to restore a feeling, not trying to bring an old sound or rhyme or old flow or do an old beat. So that's how this shit came about.
It does reconnect to that sort of thing that people miss from albums, that kind of cinematic...
A: Soundscape, yeah. People are going to hear this shit and be mad, like "Why aren't we doing shit like this?" People are so stuck in that formula of having to make certain types of records for everything, and it's not really about that. It's about making some fly shit.
P: Yeah, it's all about making good songs, good visuals. We've spent millions of dollars on videos. We got million-dollar videos with Nas, "It's Mine." We got half-million dollar videos all the way down to twelve thousand-dollar videos. "Shook Ones" cost twelve Gs. "Survival of the Fittest" cost 50. Then you got the Hype Williams video cost 1.2. We just shot a video with Young Buck for the Blood Money album that cost 250. I shot a video for my last solo album with B.G., and that shit was like 250, 300 thousand dollars. But a few of those videos, like the B.G. video: that didn't get no play, that didn't get no burn. I could've put that 300 thousand in my pocket and shot a camcorder video that could've got more burn than ten 300 thousand-dollar videos. And that's what we just proved by shooting the "Mac 10 Handle" video. We spent nothing on that.
A: Creativity took the place of paper.
P: That shit is getting more praise than anything we just did just because it's creative and visual and people know we're not trying to do something; we're just being natural. That's what people want to see. They want to see the natural you; just be yourself without all of the fucking flashy shit, without all the extra seasoning.
How do you feel about the reaction that Blood Money got?
P: I feel like it was good. It could've been better. We could've gotten more push by Interscope. 50 did everything he could do, spent mad money on the album. Or not just the album because we came under budget with the album, actually, but we spent a lot of money promoting the album. We was on a world tour. It was a whole bunch of things that we did. We had a Dr. Dre single. The album has a lot of big records on it. I feel like Interscope didn't push it hard enough, but I also feel like we could've come up with some better songs. I feel like I could've wrote a better verse. Everything is a reason why the album didn't do good, but to me, I think it did pretty good. And then we on to the next shit. We ain't stuck on, like, "Oh people ain't feeling that?" We don't give a fuck. You put out shit out? This is what it is? All right, cool. Next!
My favorite thing about Blood Money when I first heard it was your verse on "Pearly Gates," and then when the album came out, that verse was mutilated; they took out everything you said and made it about nothing.
P: Yeah, that was foul, man. They just violated my freedom of speech. That's how you know Interscope wasn't behind the album. They didn't like the things I was saying, so that's how you know they didn't like something about Mobb Deep. They didn't like my lyrics, and they said I had to change it or they weren't putting it out. That's freedom of speech; I don't have to change a motherfucking thing! But they said, "No. You don't change it, we're not putting this out."
It seems like they didn't know what they were getting when they got you.
P: Yeah, so I changed it because I didn't feel like going through all the bullshit. I didn't want to stop Mobb Deep's album from coming out or slow it down. I said, "All right, I'll change it up, I don't give a fuck." While you stuck on that, I'm gonna be doing album number seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve. And I'm going to say what the fuck I want to say on those albums; who's going to stop me then? I ain't even worry about it because I know this wasn't my last album. I got a long road ahead of me.
With Return of the Mac, I only had time to do a quick run-through. Do you have any guests on the album?
P: No, it's just me. I got Un from Far Rockaway; he on one song called "Seventh Heaven," but that shit just happened. It's not like we planned it.
With record sales plummeting over the past year, it seems like people's careers are just dying on the vine, and a lot of the reason seems to be these expensive connect-the-dots albums that nobody seems interested in. It seems like people need to readjust.
P: That's exactly what we did. If people follow our trend, everything will be all right, I think.
What can you tell me about H.N.I.C. 2?
H.N.I.C. 2 is just going to be a whole lot more about this kind of attitude. That's my second solo album, so of course I'm trying to make it better than my first one. But the whole way of thinking is I want to go in the opposite direction. Everybody's going that way, I'm going this way.
So are you putting it together the same way, looking for the same kind of cohesiveness?
Yeah. I want my visuals to be strong. I want my lyrics to be strong. Just good music, good visuals.