Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, founding member of legendary Queens rap group Mobb Deed died Tuesday (June 20) at 42 after being hospitalized for complications with sickle cell anemia. The rapper and author has battled the blood disease since birth but it is still not clear what caused his sudden death.
In his last interview before passing, Prodigy spoke with Tincture Magazine’s Vikki Tobak about healthy living, including the dietary measures he took throughout his career to stay healthy on the road, in the studio, and in prison. He told Tobak that he was “just starting to connect the dots” of the food injustices that face so many of the world’s citizens in the interview, which was conducted just months before his death.
In 2016, Prodigy released a cookbook, Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook, his fourth published book. It was inspired by the three-year prison bid he had just finished and featured tips on healthy eating along with anecdotes about how difficult it is to eat right behind bars.
It’s hard not to shake your head thinking of the impact P could have had on the next generation if his interest in health was able to mature on the global stage. There’s no doubt that the natural charisma and leadership skills that made him a star would have been valuable in the fight to fix the world’s health problems — many of which start with poor nutrition.
With a little help from health-conscious comrades like Styles P, Erykah Badu and even Rick Ross and his pears, P could have helped make physical health as important as financial wealth to millennials and Gen Xers. It’s already begun to happen, as veganism and juicing continue to trend in niche pockets of the culture. But P would have played an important role in pushing the trend of healthy eating over the tipping point and into mainstream conscious. His last interview gives an honest and relatable portrait of someone whose quest for survival lead them to the world of eating healthy.
P told Tobak about how far he had come since Mobb Deep first broke into the industry: “Hennessy for breakfast, St. Ives for breakfast …shit like that. I would get sick alot. Like 5 or 6 times a year and it would stop me from doing shows. Sometimes I would get sick in the middle of a flight. Then at 21, I started to figure out that I could control sickle cell through diet.” His steady quest for better health shows it’s possible for anyone, even a touring rap artist, to take the steps necessary to eat right.
P also spoke to Tobak about how his favorite rappers had sparked his interest in healthy eating. “I would listen to Rakim’s songs and I would learn to eat fish,” he joked, “which is his favorite dish… And then Wu-Tang, they were talking about similar things. They would talk about eating salad in their lyrics and that made it cool. That made it, like, not corny.” He followed their example and encouraged the next generation to be more self-aware in all aspects of their lives. But the wise MC was also aware of the line between being poetic and preachy. He wanted to slip ideas of wellness into his fans’ mind subconsciously for fear that it would turn them away.
“Our fan base is like criminals,” he told Tobak. “Out there on the block, shooting people, robbing people, this is where we come from. This is the audience that made us popular to the world. I wanted to put information into the songs but not come off as preaching. By the time we got to the Hell On Earth album, I said the word ‘Illuminati’ in a song but I didn’t want to explain. I was planting seeds. Now I’m at the point where I’m getting ready to put out a new album and I’m talking about all kinds of stuff — conspiracy theories, health, spirituality — all that.”
“Illuminati want my mind soul and my body, secret society trying to keep they eye on me” is one of the most notable rap bars penned by the HNIC rapper; He spit it among legends on LL Cool J’s 1995 all-star “I Shot Ya (Remix),” inspiring whispers and chatter about a phantom secret world order years before the idea was a pop culture meme. Jay-Z sampled the prophetic line on his debut album’s darkest cut, “D’Evils,” ironic given the beef that developed between the two, as well as the Illuminati rumors that have followed Jay’s financial success.
Growing up in Long Island and Queens, P didn’t have anyone lacing him with the same gems he sought to flood his music with. “My grandparents were from the south, Virginia and Texas, so they were big on chitlins and pig feet and all that stuff and they weren’t too health conscious. The only things I knew (about nutrition) was don’t eat pork. That was something my grandfather told me.” But P’s volatile health status made him take a unique interest in living his best life. “Some people say ‘oh you gotta die from something’ and my answer to that is that you do your best,” he told Tobak. “You do better than you were doing before.”
Prodigy’s razor-sharp storytelling skills and poetic way with words set him apart from New York City’s crowded 90’s rap scene. From the opening bars of Mobb Deep’s classic “Shook Ones (Pt.II),” P’s skills on the mic shined brilliantly over Havoc’s gritty production. By the time the group’s second album, 1995’s The Infamous, was released, he was in the conversation with Biggie, Jay and Nas as one of the city’s most elite spitters. As flag bearers of Hip Hop’s birthplace, they didn’t hesitate to clap-back when 2Pac began dissing New York City as a whole in the midst of his beef with Bad Boy Records. Pac famously mocked P’s sickle cell diagnosis on the classic diss track “Hit Em Up.” But fans were mostly in the dark about the rapper’s health condition until his death.
Looking back at Prodigy’s legacy conjures feelings of sadness and pride for those who know how important his life was to Hip Hop culture. P was more than just a gifted poet and fearless trendsetter — his life embodied the core elements of creative expression and self-empowerment that makes the culture far deeper than most mainstream rap products suggests. From his fighting spirit to his stylish ways, P’s one-of-kind flavor will be dearly missed on this earth. But although his passing breaks our hearts, Mobb Deep’s H.N.I.C. will still be breaking bread, ribs and hundred dollars bills for many moons after after his untimely departure from this earth. Those that wish to join him in the ranks of history will have to adopt his survival tactics, including healthy eating, if they plan to live a life as infamous as P’s.