Prodigy, one-half of the seminal New York City hip-hop outfit Mobb Deep, died Tuesday at the age of 42. Mobb Deep’s publicist confirmed the rapper’s death in a statement to Rolling Stone.
“It is with extreme sadness and disbelief that we confirm the death of our dear friend Albert Johnson, better known to millions of fans as Prodigy of legendary NY rap duo Mobb Deep,” the statement read. “Prodigy was hospitalized a few days ago in Vegas after a Mobb Deep performance for complications caused by a sickle cell anemia crisis. As most of his fans know, Prodigy battled the disease since birth. The exact causes of death have yet to be determined. We would like to thank everyone for respecting the family’s privacy at this time.”
Prodigy and his Mobb Deep cohort, Havoc, grew up together in Queens, New York City and broke into hip-hop with a raw, vivid and vicious distillation of East Coast gangsta rap. The pair released their first demo together in 1992 under the name Poetical Prophets, which they followed up a year later with their Mobb Deep debut, Juvenile Hall. While that record wasn’t well received, their 1995 follow-up The Infamous, remains a hardcore NYC classic and features one of the group’s signature songs, “Shook Ones Pt. II.”
Prodigy and Havoc would release eight records together as Mobb Deep, with their last, The Infamous Mobb Deep, arriving in 2014.
In 2000, Prodigy launched his solo career with H.N.I.C. and would go on to release an array of solo records and mixtapes, as well as collaborations with producers such as the Alchemist and Big Twins and Un Pacino. In January, Prodigy released his last solo record, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation).
Albert Johnson was born in 1974 to a family filled with musicians. His mother, Fatima Johnson – then known as Francis Collins – was once a member of the Sixties girl group the Crystals, while his grandfather, Budd Johnson was an acclaimed bebop saxophonist. Throughout his childhood, however, Johnson struggled with sickle cell and a father who was both a heroin addict and a petty thief. In his 2011 autobiography, My Infamous Life, Johnson recalled the time his father left him in the car while he robbed a jewelry store.
Growing up in New York City during hip-hop’s Golden Age, Johnson eventually found his way to the mic in high school. Under the moniker Lord-T (the Golden Child), Johnson managed to score a demo deal at Jive records and earned himself a debut feature on Hi-Five’s “Too Young,” which appeared on the Boyz N the Hood soundtrack. Not long after, Johnson united with Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita, but when Jive wouldn’t re-sign them as a duo, the pair struck out on their own.
By the time Mobb Deep released The Infamous, they’d signed to RCA and Steve Rifkind and Rich Isaacson’s formative hip-hop label, Loud Records, whose roster also included NYC stalwarts the Wu-Tang Clan, Big Pun and Dead Prez. Following the success of The Infamous, Mobb Deep continued to hone their hardcore hip-hop sound on a string of highly successful records, 1996’s Hell On Earth, 1999’s Murda Muzik, and 2001’s Infamy.
During the Nineties, Mobb Deep also became embroiled in hip-hop’s East Coast vs West Coast feud. Havoc and Prodigy guested on Capone-N-Noreaga’s 1995 track, “L.A., L.A.,” a response to Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound’s “New York, New York,” while the pair later became a frequent target for Tupac, who even called out Prodigy’s sickle cell on anemia on “When We Ride On Our Enemies.”
Via Rolling Stone