It’s hard to put into words what Prodigy’s solo album H.N.I.C. means to me. Released during the fall of 2000, my senior year in high school, it dropped while we were still digesting Mobb Deep’s underrated third LP Murda Muzik. I finessed my way into a work program that allowed me to leave school every day around noon but administration didn't know I only worked three days a week. During the days I had the afternoons to myself, I would head to either Washington Heights or the Bronx to cop haze from the Dominicans and some of those fat, dookie laced (allegedly) chocolate dimes from Jerome and Elliot so me and my friends could make beef and broccoli blunts for the rest of the week. H.N.I.C., Murda Muzik, and Snoop’s Tha Last Meal soundtracked those uptown excursions.
“Keep It Thoro,” “Can’t Complain,” “Y.B.E.,” and “Veteran’s Memorial” stayed on repeat that year. That P did a song with Cash Money’s B.G. was so intriguing to us. Here’s this definitively New York rapper collabing with a new Southern rapper whose crew was taking the game by storm. Nashiem Myrick’s future-computer beat and the chorus hooked us—we thought that shit was so empowering as we flipped our little punk ass dimes in school. “Can’t Complain” remains my favorite track, though. From the phone convo P and Twin Gambino have in the intro to Chinky’s smooth vocals over the “Rhapsody in White” loop to the lyrics telling a story of a typical summer day in NYC, everything about this track is, still, perfect. Riding around in the summer, smoking trees with the AC on blast, and listening to P was a favorite pastime of mine. Whenever we got pulled over and the cops lets us keep our weed, we referenced “Can’t Complain.”
Prodigy could paint pictures with his words. Punchlines are cool and all, but it's special when a rapper can make you feel their pain and their happiness like it’s the listener’s own. His bars on “Keep It Thoro” made you wanna throw a TV at someone’s head and maybe start a fight in a basement party off the Henny. “Veteran’s Memorial” made us reminisce about the friends we lost to the streets. About all the times we watched Martin and Yankees games together before having to deal with their passing. Those days of watching our friends die, get locked up, or deported should prepare your for news like Tuesday’s, but still the fact of Prodigy’s passing hit like a nose bone to the brain.
Hip-hop legend Matty C put it best on his IG: “Pee had those rhymes that raise the hairs on the back of your neck.” Albert T'Chaka Johnson achieved that level as surely as any of the artists we consider GOATs.
Because of Prodigy’s ability to put words together like a modern day Edgar Allen Poe, he will live on forever. His music is as timeless as it is capable of time travel. Whenever I’m in a car and I hit play on H.N.I.C. I’ll always remember those days I cut class with J Fat and Tone. You ever hear some old shit you love and you can smell the air from that time? When I listen to “Can’ Complain” I can smell my piff’ed out ‘89 Honda Accord like I’m riding in it.