Many reverent stories about Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy have been circulating since his unexpected death Tuesday. He died in Las Vegas following complications attributed to sickle cell anemia. There's something about how P carried himself that put him in a class all his own.
Over my 11 years living in New York, I was fortunate to share a breathing space with Prodigy on two occasions. While he and I never directly exchanged words, the memories are vivid.
Pity any act who has to follow Mobb Deep
The first time I saw Mobb Deep perform was a few months after I'd moved to the city to attend NYU in 2005. They were headlining a benefit concert at a large church that had recently been converted into a nightclub.
This show happened to be the day after Mobb Deep had been dropped from Jive Records, so I anticipated the viciousness to be at top Mobb levels.
I somehow followed a winding dark staircase in the back of the club and found myself watching from the balcony in a room full of confused and/or scared college ravers. Mobb Deep was joined by longtime collaborator the Alchemist who remained on stage for the duration of their set. On the balcony, I was alone.
Or at least, I was by myself for the first few songs. At some point, I felt the presence of three men behind me to my right. Between songs, I heard barely audible mumbling and the clinking of ice in their glasses. Fixated on the Mobb, I don't look over until their set begins winding down.
I was standing next to the Sugar Hill Gang.
Once I recognized them, I began eavesdropping. Turns out they were supposed to close the show with "Rapper's Delight" as a surprise. Their voices sounded bewildered by the vibe, but just as impressed by such a uniquely ominous set. Mobb left the stage and the show abruptly ended without even exiting music as the lights went on in the former church and all departed.
Mobb's set was so aggressive and dark that the Sugar Hill Gang apparently decided they had no choice but to say, "We can't do it." In one night, I got the perfect physical manifestation of Mobb Deep's impact on hip-hop.
Record shopping with Prodigy
The other time I saw Prodigy was a few years later at a famed NYC record store Fat Beats. All your favorite and most-hated rap personnel went there. The closest Minnesota equivalent would be Fifth Element. Being an under-21 hip-hop fanatic at the time, it became a destination hangout for me at least three or four times a week.
A longtime Mobb Deep fan, I was bummed I couldn't get into their Webster Hall show in 2008, Prodigy's last before a then-5 year prison bid. I walked into Fat Beats later that week to hear how the show was, and catching my eye as he was going through the throwback singles on the far wall by the window was Prodigy.
This dude loved hip-hop so much that he willingly spent his last day as a free man for the foreseeable future shopping for rap records.
My friends and I at the store decided to not bother him. A few minutes later, a star-struck shopper dapped him up and chatted a bit. This kid had the balls to ask if he could interview Prodigy for his street DVD or something. Prodigy agreed and kid pulled out his DV camera. Prodigy gave this young total stranger a spontaneous interview. Afterward, they dapped up. Kid left. Prodigy followed.
To this day, seeing Prodigy's stoic face perusing those records in mid-day Manhattan burns vividly in my brain.