“They made us more than we were even concerned we were”.
Ominous patches of tragedy have now plagued Hip Hop for consecutive years of Earth-rumbling loss. In 2015, it was announced that Sean Price had somewhat mysteriously passed in his sleep. The succumbing of A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg to diabetes followed just over half a year later. And then, in June 2017, the coroner of Clark County Office, Las Vegas, disclosed that Prodigy – Mobb Deep’s primary emcee- had choked to death on an egg in hospital whilst under treatment for sickle-cell anaemia.
Yet, the legacy of Albert ‘Bumpy’ Johnson prevails. The atmospheric underbelly of Queensbridge, New York, will age forever in the wax grooves of 1995’s The Infamous. Mobb Deep’s benchmark LP is as rooted through Havoc’s production as it is by Prodigy’s hair-raisingly authentic street poetry. It was an approach aptly besmirched with the nihilistic disposition he accredited to his life-altering illness.
Whilst his death rippled heavily throughout the Hip Hop community, none were affected like those in Prodigy’s closest inner circle. Hit hardest were the comrades who shared closely the potently stark realities depicted in music most considered little more than entertainment. Meeting with one of P and Havoc’s closest childhood friends and frequent collaborators, Big Noyd, we touched on the unity of Mobb Deep as a family, its lasting influence and what Prodigy’s passing means for the sub-culture he helped shape.
“You want reality rap? Homie you got the right one”
Where did your connection to Mobb Deep musically begin?
It was crazy because I never wanted to be a rapper. Mobb Deep was grinding, Havoc was making beats, Prodigy was rapping his ass off, and of course I knew them when they was younger, but when they got in the studio it changed the atmosphere. I was in high school and I heard my brothers on a local video channel- Music Box, channel 31. And then I said ‘Yo, I gotta go back to Queensbridge to see my brothers’. And they was like ‘Yo, we got a record deal’. And they made the song ‘Hit It From The Back’-
And then you jumped on Stomp ‘Em Out…
And I jumped on Stomp ‘Em Out, and me and my brothers used to have to fight for me to rap on Mobb Deep’s music because I just thought that rap wasn’t something in the future I saw. Because I believe that everybody witnessed and realised that these were young kids that didn’t even have no blood stream but the way it was represented to the world it was like we were blood brothers. Like young kids just being together, grinding together, sharing Hero sandwiches, sharing 40 cent juices. I used to sleep at Twinz’ house and we became a family.
Our parents grew up the same way, y’know. Our parents’ drinking, just being young and being in the streets. We went through so much at a young age, we realised that we had each other. Even though our parents was out there doing crazy shit, we had each other. Because we the only ones that can relate to one another and we put that in our music.
How will the influence of Mobb Deep, and even their inspirations, live on as the rap game evolves?
I think it’s gonna go in a positive way because we were the same way. One thing about our generation: we did our history. Only because we grew up around MC Shan, KRS-One, Das Efx, Nas, LL Cool J. We recognised early in our career that they paved the way for us, but we still went out and did our own thing. So I think that it was so real that what we done means that there’s always gonna be kids that are like, ‘Mobb Deep was those niggas’. So I think they’re gonna carry on the torch wether they don’t even know they doing it, but they gonna do it. The influence is so real that it’s just stuff they gonna love and enjoy and represent.
Was it important to convey a sense of power in numbers around the time the Mobb blew?
It was, in that we presented ourselves a certain way, but by the same token we didn’t even try to act like we was gangstas. We were really just representing ourselves like ‘this is my crew’. Ty Nitty, Godfather, Gambino, they was my brothers. Anybody fuck with them, they fuck with me. And it was vice versa. Anybody fuck with Noyd they fuck with Havoc, they fuck with P. And I think a lot of people look at it like, ‘Yo these motherfuckers building a bond through music, through hanging out with one another’. And even older people recognise like ‘Yo, they got love for one another’. So they would always joke like ‘Yo, there go Noyd, no- there go Mobb Deep. There go Havoc, no- there go Mobb Deep. There go Twin, there go Gamino, there go Prodigy, no- there goes Mobb Deep’. They made us more than we were even concerned we were.
I love talking about this because without Prodigy being here, it showed me how much more I respect, love and miss him. I wouldn’t be here in Manchester for the first time in my life, in my career without Prodigy. He woulda never thought that I would be here talking to you, having an interview. He didn’t even think that. But we did in the sense that we always knew that we were always gonna stick together and that’s all that mattered to us. And I guess that it came across to the world like that.
How will the loss of Prodigy impact the game most?
It’s so crazy that now with the internet, everybody talking about Illuminati. Everybody talking about secret society stuff. Prodigy been talking about that since day one. It wasn’t a big thing then, but now that you go back and be like ‘Yo that guy was talking about that before Hip Hop was ‘alive’. And it proves just how real it was. I honestly believe that we bring more to the table in music than just dancing, drinking, and smoking and shooting guns because of Prodigy – and Havoc on his production. This was a guy who came out with a first album that didn’t do too well, and then decided to make his own beats, and that’s what blew Mobb Deep up. So that’s what’s gonna shine the most.
Do you feel like Prodigy’s involvement with taboo subjects had played a role in Mobb Deep’s success?
Yes. Off top. Because nobody would have took us serious if Prodigy wasn’t talking about certain situations that was going on in the world because we’ve all grown up in Hip Hop.
What about his death?
I don’t think it had anything to do with his death ‘cause I don’t know the facts about Illuminati, I don’t study it as much as P did. But I do believe that he was on something real. He was never talking about illuminati to sell records. He wasn’t tryna talk about other situations to make Mobb Deep bigger, he just spoke about the realness, and that’s why today you’re asking me does it have something to do with his death?. That’s what has something to do with his death- that he was just a real fucking person. And people recognise that around the world.
Big thanks to Dr. G and FLO161 for hosting Big Noyd in Manchester. Follow their page for upcoming events.