Interview: Prodigy Talks New NYC Rappers, Feeling Ripped Off by Loud Records, and His Career Without Havoc

Interview: Prodigy Talks New NYC Rappers, Feeling Ripped Off by Loud Records, and His Career Without Havoc

Few rappers have been as successful as Prodigy; even less have been active for as long. From Mobb Deep’s early days to Prodigy’s most recent effort, H.N.I.C. 3, the Queensbridge kingpin has remained newsworthy, musically or otherwise. The 38-year-old MC's career has been a rollercoaster ride through the heights of impressive sales and critical acclaim to the dark eeriness of a cold jail cell, and he's still here.

It’s been almost two years since P’s release from prison, and in that time, a lot has happened in the rap world around him. He's patched up his relationship Nas, seen manager and confidant Chris Lighty's untimely passing, and unfortunately, had a falling out with Mobb Deep partner HavocWith the Mobb on hiatus, P is moving on with his career as a solo artist, and in this interview, he never once utters the name “Havoc." Silence speaks volumes.

Interview by Paul Meara (@PaulMearaDotCom)

Your album H.N.I.C. 3 dropped a little while back and there was mixed reaction to it. Some people are feeling the new P, some not as much. What kind of reaction have you been getting?
There ain’t no new type of P. There’s one P. Same P as always. I always make hardcore songs, hits for the block. I make all types of music. People wanna put me in a little box and they get mad when I don’t stay in there. [Laughs.] You can’t put me in a box. I do what the fuck I wanna do. I’m a creative person and I’m gonna be creative so whoever’s upset because of that, that’s too bad. [Laughs.]

The album is doing good. I’ve got an independent brand with Infamous records, and my brand is not based off of first week sales or even going gold for that matter. At this point in the game I’m completely independent, and the ultimate goal of my brand is to have a catalog of 30, 40, 50 albums that’s invaluable. That’s my goal. I don’t know about all the short term stuff that people think about. My goal is to sell a little bit of units here and there, keep dropping artists, keep dropping albums and I’ve got something that’s worth more than gold or platinum.

 

There ain’t no new type of P. There’s one P. Same P as always. I always make hardcore songs, hits for the block. I make all types of music. People wanna put me in a little box and they get mad when I don’t stay in there.

 

You also released the Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP. Like with H.N.I.C. 3, you dropped a mixtape version prior to the retail release of the album. How did that come together?
Yeah, the Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson that was an EP that I put out when I first came home from jail so now I’m just re-releasing it as a full album this time, with five new songs and some new videos. By the time you turn around, I’ll have about five or six albums out by the middle of this year. It’s going to happen so fast that people are not even going to understand what’s going on. They’re not going to realize what happened ‘til years later. Like, "Dang, he did that mad quick. I didn’t even realize all that shit he was doing."

You also have a project with Alchemist. We're used to you working with him, but what was it like getting together again?
The last one we did together was Return of the Mac, so we figured it was about time to go ahead and do the next one. That was our first project together and it did real good. It had a nice little concept. The concept was it had a blaxploitation '70’s feel to the album. So this new one that we doing, once again there’s gonna be a concept. And we gonna surprise people with what it is this time, but it's basically the same type of thing, though. Al doing all the beats and I’m just going in and painting a picture of what the whole thing is gonna be.

What was it like when you started working with him?
On Murda Muzik he did the song with Kool G Rap, “The Realness.” So we did that and that was the first time that I was like, "Wow! This kid is ill. He can make beats." So we recorded that song the day I heard that beat with Kool G Rap on it. I heard a bunch of other beats, too. I probably heard “Keep It Thoro” that same day but it didn’t come out til a year later. I knew that Al was that nigga. He was in the same vein as the music we make.

How did you two meet? I know he was tight with Cypress Hill and DJ Muggs in the early '90s.
It was from one of my homies from Queensbridge named Twin. He was working with Muggs and that’s how he got introduced to Alchemist, and basically Alchemist told him like, "Yo, I’ve been going hard. My goal is to meet Mobb Deep and produce for Mobb Deep, and other New York artists and other artists also." So he just hooked up the meeting and that was that. The rest was history. He came to the studio, he played me about 20 beats. I was like, "Yeah, I like this kid."

 

I love what A$AP doing. I really like Bada$$, he’s real dope. It’s a bunch of artists, man. I definitely support the new rappers because they got something new to bring to the table. 

 

Speaking of New York artists, do you keep up with the young blood in New York?
Yeah, I like what they doing. I like new rap music. I’m a fan of hip-hop. I’m a fan of rap so anything new that's happening, I’m hip to it. I’m already on to it. I’m checking out what’s on the Internet, mixtapes, all that. I’m usually ahead of the curve before it gets popular.

I definitely love what A$AP doing. I really like Bada$$, he’s real dope. It’s a bunch of artists, man. I definitely support the new rappers because they got something new to bring to the table. You can’t keep doing the same old shit. It gets boring. So it’s good to have a whole bunch of choices, 'cause too much of the new shit get boring and you want to hear something else, too. So you gotta have different things.

Do you ever see a young Prodigy in any of these artists? Do you ever say, "Yo, that was me at 17?"
Yeah, definitely. When I see, it doesn’t even have to be rap music, anybody in the music industry on the come up, they just remind me of the grind or when we was coming up grinding.

 

Chris was the greatest hip-hop manager that ever lived. He was more than just a manager, too. He was one of the greatest business minds as far as bringing hardcore hip-hop and real street hip-hop to the corporate world. He did that real good. There was a few people that was real good at that and he was one of the best ones. His networking, his communication skills were incredible.

 

You had a very close relationship with Chris Lighty. How did you feel about his passing?
Chris was the greatest hip-hop manager that ever lived. He was more than just a manager, too. He was one of the greatest business minds as far as bringing hardcore hip-hop and real street hip-hop to the corporate world. He did that real good. There was a few people that was real good at that and he was one of the best ones. His networking, his communication skills were incredible.

I learned so much from watching how he communicated, just his tone, his mannerisms, his work ethic, just everything. That was an incredible individual and he managed us for a long time. We’ve been through a lot with Chris. A lot. It hurt a lot when I found out he passed.

Outside of business, what was your personal connection like with Chris Lighty?
Chris was like an older brother to me. When I was in trouble, anytime I got locked up, anytime I was in any kind of trouble, Chris was always there. Like, if I had to spend a night in jail and go to court the next morning and when I walk into the courtroom Chris already sitting there waiting to bail me out, all the time. So I’ve been through a lot with him and you could always depend on Chris like if you call him and tell him you got a problem and he’s going to fix it or he’s gonna do what he can to fix it or help you and assist you.

If he’s your artist and he manages you or he really fucks with you like that, he’s going to do what he can to help you and he did that for me a lot, not just with music but my personal life. Chris was always there. Chris made us a lot of money, too. Our talent got us into the position we in but Chris was able to take that and push it even further.

 

For anybody to say that they ghostwrote something for Nas, you’re a motherf***in' fool.

 

Nas is someone that is back in your life and has been since soon after you were released from prison. I know he’s always been in your heart as another brother, but you’ve also had an off-and-on relationship with him for a number of reasons. Did you feel that it was just time to put all those issues aside?
Definitely. I never really had an issue with Nas. I never really had any ill feelings towards him, no negativity, nothing like that. I looked up to Nas. I wrote a book, before I got locked up actually, and I finished it while I was locked up and it came out right when I came home and in the book I explained how much I used to look up to Nas and still do and how he inspired my life, my music.

Hearing Nas and being around him, seeing his success, it pushed me to be great. I wanted to be great just like how he was and he inspired me just like how Run-D.M.C. inspired me or LL or Jay-Z, Biggie. He was one of the major ones because I was right there with him. I was right there in the neighborhood. I was right there when his Illmatic album went Gold. We was there celebrating with him at parties, performing with him and all kinds of stuff. It felt good to see that and we was like, “Yeah this is how it is. This is how it gotta be. We gotta be great. We can’t just be mediocre.”

What did you think of the ghostwriting allegations against Nas last year? What do you think of ghostwriting in general?
First off, with Nas, for anybody to say that they ghostwrote something for Nas, you’re a motherfuckin' fool. I don’t even know about that whole ghostwriting situation with Nas and whoever. I heard about it but I don’t know the details but all I can say is for anybody to make that accusation, something is mentally wrong with them. As far as ghostwriting goes, it’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a good way to make money. Like, for me to sell my rap to somebody and we make an agreement, like we can’t disclose the information, we got to sign some agreement where we can’t talk about it and that’s cool, why not? People do it all the time. I ghostwrote a couple of songs that don’t nobody know about and I only did two of them, but I did it.

Cormega visited you in prison, among others in that brotherhood of Queensbridge artists. How often are you in contact with him, IM3, Noyd, Littles, N.O.R.E., Tragedy and all of those guys who grew up with you?
I mean, we older now, so everybody doing they own thing, have they own life, so we not in communication that much. But obviously, I see IM3 and Noyd and my side of the team that’s directly involved with me. I see them a lot cause we’ve got a lot of things that we’ve got to take care of all the time, video shoots. But as far as people that’s not directly involved with the inner circle, like N.O.R.E. or Trag or some other people, I might not see them for years. Years might pass.

What’s your relationship like with them when you do talk?
I was just talking to Mega the other day. He did Rock the Bells with me. We definitely see each other, kick it, re-hash old times, whatever, whatever.

You put out your book My Infamous Life. Everyone has dissected that thing, read through all the flashy stories, the surprising stuff, the negative stuff. I liked how you added a lot of things in there about those core people that have always been around you, and you were honest about their bad sides, and yours as well, to an extent. What was that ultimate goal of the book?
The ultimate goal of the book was to share my life with my fans, and with young troubled youth in the street globally, around the world. Because I knew that my story will be one where a kid that doesn’t read will pick up my book and read it. A kid that never read a book in his life will pick up my book and read it because he feels like he can relate to that shit. Maybe he been through the struggle, he been through the street shit, like he's going through some poverty situations or health situations or just hard times, however it is. And he can find his story within my life, something that he can relate to, in my story. Do you know how many parents came up to me and said, "My son’s never read nothing," and my book was the first one they ever read and it helped change they life, as far as decision-making and choices they make with friends, and things they do in the street and health and diet and career decisions and all kinds of shit?

 

My ultimate goal was to share my life story with my fans and to share with the rest of the world that hopefully they can get the help, or help some kid that’s in trouble like I used to be. I was a f**ked up individual. I was a f**ked up person. That was the whole reason I wrote that book.

 

So my ultimate goal was to share my life story with my fans and to share with the rest of the world that hopefully they can get the help, or help some kid that’s in trouble like I used to be. I was a fucked up individual. I was a fucked up person. That was the whole reason I wrote that book. I went through a major transformation in my life and people needed to see that and know that. The shit that I used to do was wrong. [Laughs.] You’re not supposed to do that type of shit, but it happens and that’s just the reality and it’s going to keep happening. But you know, my book may be able to help somebody make a right choice.

Instead of doing 25 years in prison, you read my book and decided not to pull the trigger. That’s how I see it. It’s a real story. I’m not making myself look good in the book. I talk about losing fights, getting beat up. I talk about getting robbed. I talk about my sickle cell health problems. I talk about pissing in the bed when I was young. I talk about all foul shit. So it’s not like I painted myself in some picture where I’m like this perfect, nothing ever happens to me, I’m the toughest guy in the world, or the realest rapper. That’s not what this book is. This book is very fucking real and there won’t be a lot of artists that’ll write a book like that because they’ll be too scared to tell people real shit, like what I told them. They be too scared to divulge their own personal dirt and their personal fuck-ups and mistakes, and they don’t wanna tell people that they got fear and they scared.

You know, you could get beat, too. Like rappers got this tough guy persona that they wanna fuckin’ put on and that’s all it is, like there’s nothing else to the story. I’ve read reviews about my book that said I tried to paint myself in a picture that says nothing happens to me like I’m the illest. Just bad reviews, and you can just tell that this person never read my book. If they did read it, they would see that that’s not true.

You started writing the book before prison and you released it after. Did you ever change your life outlook during the process?
Oh, hell yeah. I was a fucked up person before I went to jail. Like, I started changing a little bit before I went to jail. I started trying to change a little bit but jail is what really changed me permanently. Jail fixed my problem for real, because I don’t wanna go back in that motherfucker. I’m not trying to be sitting in a cell for three years losing out on hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tour money. I’m not trying to do that no more. So that shit taught me major lessons in life, when in prison. It taught me about patience. It taught me about being kind to people. It taught me about making the right choices. It taught me about being more social with people, a lot of things man, a lot of shit, good, positive shit I got out of being in jail. That was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, getting locked up.

That’s ironic. Many would think that that’s a negative situation.
I went in with the intention of coming out with positive change. See, most people get locked up and they don’t go in with those intentions so it just doesn’t happen for them. I had the intentions already to make a positive change. That’s why it happened for me. I had a goal to reach. I went in and I reached my goal and I did it. Normally most people that get locked up, they don’t have no fucking goals, and they don’t have no good intentions, so they go in and come out worse than when they came in. Because jail will definitely toughen you up and harden you and make you a worse person if you let it. It will make you a very bitter, angry person.

Where are you at this point in your career as an artist and as a person?
I see the future. Like, I see 20 years from now. I’m not thinking about today’s money or tomorrow’s money, even though that’s important, of course you gotta pay the bills, but I’m really thinking about 10, 15, 20 years from now money and I’ve got long-term goals now.

You look at an artist like Tech N9ne, for example. Tech N9ne been out for years, many years. When he first came out, it was a time in hip-hop where his particular style of hip-hop music, it wasn’t really that popular. What was popular was what was on MTV, BET, the platinum, the diamonds, whoever got songs on the radio, the clubs, whatever was trendy, whatever people were feeling. He was still on the come-up, on his grind trying to make a name for himself. But it always seemed like he never got over that hump where he could be as popular as the other rappers, and it seemed like a lot of people probably laughed at him.

Like, who is this guy with the paint on his face? Who’s this guy doing all this crazy shit? I never heard of that shit, guy's wack. But he was consistent and he was being a shrewd businessman. He was diligent, he was consistent, and he kept going and he didn’t let nothing stop him, frustrate him, stagnate him, or nothing. He just kept going, kept going, kept going and finally you’re here in 2012 and he got one of the most successful independent underground labels. He does tours, makes a shitload of money, got a big ass compound, warehouse, manufacturing, awesome studio, all that, everything he need right now because he kept going, moving his little numbers, signing his little artists and doing his whole thing and staying independent and keeping focused on his goal.

So I say all of that because I admire that. I admire what he did. I admire that route that he took and that’s sort of what I am doing right now. It’s not the same thing at all but it’s definitely similar, because I’m seeing 20 years from now. H.N.I.C. 3 came out, it sold maybe about 10,000 copies right now. For an independent label with no promotional money into it at all, no videos on MTV, BET, no song on the radio at all, everything that I do for this label comes out of my pocket, my budget, I create the budget. I create my own budget and release schedule and all that so people might look at that and be like, “Ha, this nigga only sold 10,000. How much the other nigga sold? Oh, this nigga sold 200,000 copies first week. Oh, Prodigy’s washed up. His career is done.”

See, they got the wrong idea because they fail to realize that first of all, Prodigy knows how to be consistent and survive. So as long as Prodigy keeps doing what he’s doing in the next 10-15 years let’s see what happens then. Let’s see how many albums Prodigy got out and let’s add up all the sales of it at the end of the day. Let’s add up the whole catalog, let’s add up all the artists that he got and then let’s make this judgment of what that man did 'cause right now, this is nothing, this is just the beginning. If people could only see what I see in my head, the plans that I got for my label and myself they would understand and say, "Okay, I see what this nigga doing. That nigga smart as hell." It’s nothing short term about this shit at all.

You were on a major label back when you were with Loud, later with Jive for Amerikaz Nightmare and then with G-Unit and Interscope, but now you're gone independent so you've had experience with both. To you, what is that difference?
When I was on a major record company, I would sell 500,000 copies and put an album out every two years. Now I sell between 10,000 on a bad day, maybe 40,000 on a good day and maybe I’ll drop four albums a year instead of one album every two so it adds up to the same as selling gold. [Laughs.] If you sell an album every two years that sells 500,000 or you drop four or five albums every year that sell 40,000 copies independently, you do the math. That’s the only difference to me. It’s just a different structure. The math is just structured different but it adds up to the same and on a great day it can add up to way more, making way more money.

You mention putting your own money into this and the pride of not having people telling you what to do. Do you feel a better sense of accomplishment being an independent artist and doing things on your own?
Oh, yeah. I love it, man. It’s not like I’m forced to do this. I’m not forced to be in this position. When I came home from jail, do you know how many labels was courting Mobb Deep? I was like, "I’m not doing that no more, sorry." I’m sorry if you wanna see Prodigy on Def Jam selling whatever but I just can’t do that, I did that already. I was raised to own and operate my own business. That’s how my family raised me so it was hard for me to see, you know when we came up we made Loud $60 million in maybe like five years. We made them 60 million dollars and it was hard for me to digest that in my mind like, "What, we made who and where did this money go?" [Laughs.] That made no kind of sense to me after I figured that out 'cause you know we were like kids when we came into the game. We was like 15 or 16 and didn’t know any better really. We had to learn.

 

I don’t wear that suit. It don’t look good on me. That shit don’t fit my character so it was only right that I put my foot down and say, 'F**k this, I'm doing this shit independent. Whoever with me, with me. If you’re not with me, f**k off.'

 

So once I learned that we made these muthafuckas $60 million and like 99 percent of it or 95 percent of it did not go to us, I couldn’t do it anymore. It just didn’t sit right in my stomach, man. It was like each time we would make these deals, I would be pissed about it. I would still do my job, still go into the studio, do the album and make it dope, but I would be fucking pissed. Like, I’m doing all this hard work, busting my ass trying to come up with good lines, good bars, do the songs so these niggas can get rich and put they kids through college and they grandkids and shit. Like, fuck this shit, man. I’m on some other shit. I’m a leader. I’m not a follower. I’m a trendsetter. I’m not an employee. I’ve got a boss mentality. I’ve got a boss attitude. I’m very aggressive with certain shit so it’s like I’m not supposed to be in a position of a prostitute. That’s not me, dog. It just doesn’t fit.

I don’t wear that suit. It don’t look good on me. That shit don’t fit my character so it was only right that I put my foot down and say, "Fuck this, I'm doing this shit independent. Whoever with me, with me. If you’re not with me, fuck off."

As someone who's always been honest and spoken your mind, what's up with the other half of Mobb Deep? Where do you stand with Havoc?
All you got to do is look at what I’ve done while I was in jail. I put out two albums while I was locked up, I created a skateboard company called Blood Sport, I put a skateboard out, I created a sneaker deal with Supra, all this stuff while I was locked up. Then I get home and look what I’ve done.

You know, I’ve put the book out, I’ve put out projects with Complex, EPs, I just dropped an album. My work ethic doesn’t make sense. I’m going around to colleges, doing speaking engagements at UConn, at Penn State, and I’m talking to little kids about health and diet. I’m doing big speaking engagements where I’m talking to kids and doctors about health and just doing positive things so look at all the stuff I’m doing. I created a label, I found a distribution deal with Sony, got a nice label situation, dope distribution deal set up. I’m out here grinding, I’m doing great things and that’s all I got to say about that. Just look at what I’m doing and take it from there.

Do you feel like Havoc’s not on board with that at all?
I can’t even say. All I can say is what I’m doing. I’m all about Infamous. I’m all about the team. I’m a team player, not only a player, I’m a team leader and I lead this motherfucker. Somebody gotta lead it and that’s what I do. I’m in a leadership position. I got leadership qualities. Anybody can see that. I play my position and that’s what I do and that’s all I can speak on.

Also check out Prodigy on Complex TV's The Combat Jack Show Ep. 1 below. 

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