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Rap artist Prodigy, who rose to fame as half of the legendary Queens, New York, duo Mobb Deep, died June 20 in a Las Vegas hospital while on tour. He was 42.
Though the official cause of death has not yet been announced, the rapper had been admitted to the hospital days earlier with complications from sickle cell disease, which he had dealt with since his youth.
Born Albert Johnson in Hempstead, Long Island, on Nov. 2, 1974, his mother Fatima Johnson was a member of ’60s girl group the Crystals and his grandfather was renowned jazz saxophonist Budd Johnson.
The diminutive Prodigy had already embarked on his rap career by his early teens, making an appearance on the “Boyz N the Hood” soundtrack in 1991, but it wasn’t until meeting his future rhyme partner Kejuan Muchita aka Havoc at a New York City high school that things really began to take off. Bonding over music and their equally short stature, the two teens paired to form a group called Poetical Prophets, which would eventually become Mobb Deep.
After an ill-fated record deal and little-noticed debut album, the two regrouped in 1995 to release the classic “The Infamous…” LP, which went gold behind the group’s signature song, “Shook Ones, Pt. II.”
Mobb Deep went on to become one of the genre’s most revered and beloved groups, thanks in no small part to Prodigy, whose icy delivery and unflinching tales of life in New York’s fabled Queensbridge housing projects placed him in the pantheon of the game’s top rappers.
Along with Nas, the Wu-Tang Clan, Black Moon and The Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep was at the forefront of a mid-’90s resurgence of East Coast rap, releasing a string of successful and well-received albums. The group was also briefly involved in the East Coast-West Coast rap war of that era, with the duo recording a scathing track about 2Pac after the iconic artist disparaged Prodigy’s battle with sickle cell in a song.
Prodigy, affectionately known as P, also carved out a notable side career, with his debut solo LP “H.N.I.C.” going gold in 2000.
Though a well-publicized beef with rap giant Jay Z the following year briefly sent Prodigy’s career into a tailspin, Mobb Deep kept its status as one hip-hop’s top groups, scoring another gold album with 2005’s “Blood Money” during a short stint on fellow Queens artist 50 Cent’s G-Unit record label.
Unfortunately for Prodigy, he was also arrested for a weapons violation during a traffic stop about that time, which resulted in a three and a half-year sentence in a New York state prison.
Upon his release, Prodigy released his autobiography “My Infamous Life,” which quickly became a best-seller and notably drew the ire of several rappers and known street figures for its less-than-flattering portrayals of them.
The book also resulted in a bizarre public feud between Mobb Deep, though the two partners eventually reconciled and resumed recording and touring until Prodigy’s death.
A public funeral was held in Manhattan on June 29, attracting numerous stars and entertainers, as well as Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who eulogized the late rapper.
Prodigy is survived by his wife, Ikesha; a son, T’Shaka; a daughter, Fahtasia; and numerous others.