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Prodigy
Hip-Hop


Acknowledged as the more skilled member of the duo Mobb Deep on the mic, Prodigy spent years making a name for himself alongside partner Havoc on acclaimed albums such as Hell on Earth (1996) and Murda Muzik (1999) before releasing his first solo album, HNIC, on Loud Records in late 2000. With this album, Prodigy teamed up with a roster of outside producers such as the Alchemist and Rockwilder, trying to prove his own without Havoc's production to carry him. And even though Havoc did appear on two tracks, Prodigy undoubtedly proved himself to be a visionary solo artist, even going as far as to produce a couple songs himself. Though the album didn't elevate him to the superstar status of Jay-Z or DMX, Prodigy did win the hearts of both critics and fans alike as he had with his work in Mobb Deep, dropping harsh reality-based rhymes about the darker side of urban life with an unbalanced and sedate flow. Mobb Deep members Prodigy and Havoc originally met while both attending the prestigious Graphic Arts High School in Manhattan as teenagers, thanks to their mutual residence in Queens along with their mutual passion for hip-hop. Still in their late teens, the duo released their debut album in 1993, Juvenile Hell, on the 4th-n-Broadway label. Though the album wasn't that successful from either a financial or critical standpoint, it did serve as a fitting platform for the duo to launch their careers; not only did the duo produce their own beats, but they also crafted their own style: a street-smart poetic approach centering on the ghetto lifestyle surrounding them. Their brutally honest reality rapping and complimentary melancholy beats landed them a deal with the up-and-coming Loud label in 1995, resulting in their first major-label release, The Infamous. Propelled to awareness partially by fellow Queens rapper Nas, who took a similar approach lyrically on his championed Illmatic album from 1994, as well as with the aid of a successful single, "Shook Ones," Mobb Deep suddenly found themselves developing a quickly growing cult following. A year later in 1996, Prodigy and Havoc released Hell on Earth; debuting at number six on Soundscan, the album found them fully realizing their approach, dropping both evocative beats and cinematic rhymes that communicated the dark side of New York's urban landscape. And thanks to a grim video for "Hell on Earth (Front Lines)" and theatrical Scarface-like photos inside the CD booklet picturing the duo with guns and a mound of cocaine, Mobb Deep had created an elaborate image for themselves that took hardcore gangsta rap to a new level that the East Coast had yet fostered. It was then no surprise that their succeeding release, Murda Muzik, was heavily bootlegged while it was still in its demo stage, leaking rough versions of the nearly 30 songs the duo had recorded onto the streets and over the Internet. Months after the bootlegs first leaked and after several pushed-back street dates, Murda Muzik finally dropped, debuting at number three on Soundscan and quickly going platinum on the strength of "Quiet Storm," a song that epitomized the signature Mobb Deep style. Not surprisingly, the album was welcomed by critics, who again applauded the group's lucid cinematics, driven primarily by Havoc's inimitable production. In late 2000, Prodigy finally released his long-rumored solo album, HNIC, which saw the more lyrically gifted member of the group collaborating with outside producers such as the Alchemist and Rockwilder on tracks that didn't depart far from the trademark sullen Mobb Deep style. Jason Birchmeier

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