Prodigy: Rap legend now works to empower today’s youth
New projects include novellas on dangers of street life
D. Kevin McNeir | 11/28/2013, 9 a.m.
Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, 49, is one half of the legendary rap duo Mobb Deep — Havoc being his equally-talented partner behind the mic. But one of the things you realize when sitting down with Prodigy is that he is not the stereotypical rap star. His grandmother, Bernice Johnson, who he says taught him about the world of business and a lot more, was the founder of her own dance studio in Queens, rising just behind the iconic Alvin Ailey in terms of success. grandfather, Budd Johnson and his uncle, Keg Johnson, were both stars in the bebop jazz era — his mother, Fatima Frances Collins, was a member of The Crystals — one of the defining acts of the girl group ear in the early 60s. And it is reported that he is the great-great-grandson of the founder of Morehouse College.
So with such a lineage, music and intellectual thought were clearly part of his DNA. But what’s Prodigy doing these days and how’s life now that he’s served his time associated with a gun-possession charge?
“I’m here in Miami to promote my series of novellas, the first one entitled ‘H.N.I.C.,’” he said. “I took some of my friends from Brooklyn and made a fiction story about us. It was originally a movie script and I plan to make it into an independent film with me in front of the camera. I’ve wanted to get into Hollywood but it’s still very tough and so I’m doing to do my own thing.”
Reflections on the rap business
Prodigy’s musical career and the beef between rappers from the East Coast and the West Coast is well chronicled. But how does he compare old school rap to those who are entering the industry today.
“We had something special going on back in the early 90s and from my perspective, it was a defining moment in terms of hip hop,” he said. “We created a new sound — New York hip hop and I came up with folks like P. Diddy, Wu-Tang Clan and Nas. It was truly a golden era — one in which we were laying down substantive lyrics. It was a dangerous world too and I’m glad to say that New York City, at least, is a far safer place today than it was back then.”
He says that his lyrics and his life were equally impacted by his health — he has dealt with sickle cell anemia since childhood.
“My belief and relationship to God were instrumental in my living beyond 40 — that’s the estimated lifespan for a person with the disease,” he said. “But also, being in New York and exposed to KRS-One, the Five-Percent Nation and the 120 Lessons made me want to learn about our history and expand my mind. We need more people to bring that kind of thing to the table. You see it’s not just about partying, sex and spending money.
There was a rage within us back in those days and you can hear it in my lyrics and even those of Tupac. I’ve written my memoirs and now I’m writing fiction that has really allowed me to use my imagination.
My hope is that novellas like mine will inspire youth to want to read more. I didn’t read when I was growing up. I just want to write things that interest them and teach them about the ups and downs of life.”