Prodigy's Unlikely 25th Hour
Still here, for now
It's hard to imagine what I'd do if I only had a few weeks before I had to go upstate to start serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence. But I know some things that I probably wouldn't do. I probably wouldn't film a YouTube rap video where creepy demon-kids sing the alphabet and I smash a cop's head in with a broken TV. I probably wouldn't launch an ungainly social-networking website to promote an album that wouldn't be in stores until I was behind bars, and even if I did, I probably wouldn't use that social-networking website to write long all-caps blog-posts about how tough I am. I probably wouldn't even bother with recording a Koch-rap album in the first place. I'd probably just curl into a ball and wait for my life to effectively end, which just means that I'm not Prodigy. A couple of months ago, Prodigy got arrested for gun possession. He copped a plea and took his sentence quietly, and he'll start serving it out early in January. Since taking that sentence, Prodigy's kept a generally stoic attitude about his impending time. In the same blog post where he tells the story of the arrest, which he alleges involved an illegal search, he writes that he'd gotten away with plenty of crimes in the past, "so me doing 3 1/2 aint shit compared to what i deserve." And since then, he's been insanely productive. He even performed at a Jam Master Jay tribute show at the Hammerstein Ballroom, a show that even Havoc didn't bother with. Three and a half years is an eternity in rap time; before Prodigy gets out, G-Unit could become a disco label or 50 Cent could join the Red Hot Chili Peppers or something. And still, Prodigy's working hard to cement his legacy. Even if the music he was making was terrible, Prodigy's recent burst of productivity would be pretty amazing. And it's not terrible. It's pretty good. That guy deserves a salute.
About a year ago, Prodigy posted his "Mac 10 Handle" video on YouTube and launched a truly unexpected and welcome comeback. These days, practically every rap video is YouTube-only, and the director Rik Cordero has made a career out of cheap, grainy jump-cut clips of dudes standing on corners rapping. With cable channels cutting down further on their music-video time more every year, YouTube has become the main place rap videos are seen. Still, none of the YouTube rap videos I've seen have come close to equalling "Mac 10 Handle," with its brooding murky textures and dank lighting and freaked-out drug imagery; even Prodigy's two follow-ups were pretty pathetic in comparison. "ABC," the new Prodigy video, isn't quite on the level of "Mac 10 Handle"; it's more obvious in its slasher-movie bites and less mysterious in its general sense of evilness. Still, this is powerful stuff: P rapping at a bare lightbulb in an empty room or sneering at the camera on a night-vision rooftop, dirty apartment walls covered in occult scrawling, a Satanic-looking homeless white guy popping up repeatedly for no reason. The track attached to it is a strong piece of slow organ-heavy misanthropic NY goth-rap. The hook is a bunch of kids singing the alphabet up to P, and then repeating P over and over again. It's about the dumbest idea for a hook I can imagine, but the kids deliver it with such a Nightmare on Elm Street creepiness that it totally works. The whole thing is really deeply unsettling. On his blog, P mentions that prosecutors threatened to play his videos for the jury if he didn't cop a plea, so they could better depict him as crazy and dangerous, and it's almost like he's trying to give any potential future prosecutors more ammo with this thing.
Return of the Mac remains one of my favorite albums of 2007, but that album always seemed like an aberration. Prodigy originally intended it to be a mixtape, and so he worked with one producer, Alchemist, and didn't worry about the prospect of clearing all the crackly 70s soul that burbles under every one of the tracks. When Koch released the thing, they didn't bother clearing the samples anyway, so it didn't matter. Return of the Mac is such a resolutely anticommercial move that it's hard to matter any of the source material's creators would attempt a lawsuit. So Prodigy was totally free to recapture his nihilist past glories, which is exactly what he did. But HNIC 2 is supposedly P's second proper album, and he seems to want it to succeed commercially in all the ways that Return of the Mac didn't. Common critical wisdom had it that HNIC 2 wouldn't even touch Return of the Mac, and so far, it doesn't. I've only heard four songs from the album so far ("ABC" plus the three that Nah Right posted here), and none of them is as good as any of Return of the Mac's highlights. But they're still a whole lot better than I could've expected. They all have slow, ghostly beats, tracks that could've come from Alchemist even if they didn't. "Finest" is a rote for-the-ladies love-rap, but it also features P singing Kelis and Richard X's "Finest Dreams" on the hook, which is just weird enough to be endearing. "Superstars" is a pretty-good thug-rap track with that would work better if it had a more organic, lived-in beat like the ones on Return of the Mac. And "My World is Empty Without You" is the showstopper, a weird sidelong song for God (almost an apology for P's antireligious verse on Mobb Deep's "Pearly Gates") jammed with messy historical ideas and black pride and conspiracy theories: "We even built pyramids on Mars / They won't tell us 'bout that cause then we realize who we are." It's the product of a restless mind, and even after Return of the Mac it's the last thing I'd expect from anyone associated with G-Unit. It's a shame that prison's going to interrupt this creative bender, but maybe Prodigy will be ready to resume it in a few years. I hope so, anyway.