Prodigy was, and still remains, one of the bluntest rappers to have walked the earth, so 2017’s “The Hegelian Dialectic: The Book of Revelation” always sounded like a bizarre name for such a straight-talking thug. It just doesn’t sound like something you’d associate with Mobb Deep, and yet when you understand what the Hegelian Dialectic is it makes complete sense. The problem here is that it’s a philosophical explanation often used to describe government behavior, in this specific case – the US government. An example of this would be doing nothing about obesity, because it means more profits for the healthcare industry, or encouraging crime to flourish, to make people buy more firearms, which in turn increases the need for more police. I’m just making these examples up, but the gist of it is an activity leading to another, which leads to another. Funnily enough, if you were to name conspiracy theorist rappers, Prodigy might not automatically spring to mind despite him injecting countless references to Illuminati and secret societies throughout his lyrics over the years. The first album dropped as Trump campaigned and became president, so it makes sense that Prodigy wanted to release an album that leaned more into his feelings regarding paranoia. I just think the name of the album, the first of a trilogy, may have put some listeners off.
Unlike Sean Price, Prodigy hasn’t seen the posthumous releases you may perhaps expect from such a prolific and celebrated emcee. “The Hegelian Dialectic 2: The Book of Heroine” is his first, and it includes some heavyweight collaborators so it surprises me just how ignored this project was when it dropped back in September. Given we ignored it until now, I’m aware of the irony! The second of a touted trilogy, it’s a fascinating concept album of Prodigy tracks that, while flawed, is a satisfying addition to his catalog and confirms the Queensbridge icon as one of hip-hop’s biggest paradoxes.
DJ Premier laces the menacing “Walk Out” which does what my favorite Primo beats do by switching it up on the hook and going ham with the scratches. Some of the bars feel lethargic as the beat plods along, but with Prodigy’s voice dragging you along you can’t help but be captivated as he casually talks about bumping into RZA whilst he’s out, before reminding listeners he can’t be seen in public too much because he has to keep his mystique mysterious. That line is a beautiful summation of the magic missing from many modern artists – we know everything about them now. The track is basically a sensationalized day in the life of Prodigy as he goes for a walk, but the way he ignores the distraction of women because he “has a lioness waiting in his bed” is where the album suddenly springs into its own. I really like the opener “You Will See”; which channels his brilliant “Product of the 80s” project with its retro-aesthetic and late-night driving atmosphere generated by the Berto Rich vocals, but these two singles are designed to ease casual Mobb Deep fans into what is an album that uses drugs as a metaphor for women.
You do need to ignore the elephant in the room on this album, which is that it’s supposedly (according to his wife) a “special homage to women” despite women only being referred to as bitches and their appeal being primarily sexual. There are some lines showing a more sentimental side to an often hard exterior, particularly aimed at his wife, and these are often where Prodigy is most effective.
He chooses to use drugs as his metaphor for love and sex to keep things interesting, and it often works well. “Dope” flirts between Prodigy’s own addictive appeal to women and his own ‘dopeness’ and the production choices continue the hypnotic neon wave sensibilities he has flirted with for so many years. While his peers have directly lifted names and stories from gangster flicks for inspiration, Prodigy has often embraced the photography and the soundtracks to build his crime narratives and it’s where he has often excelled in the latter part of his career. “Opium Poppy” makes the metaphor more obvious to the point where it’s hammered into your skull with sex binges, scratch-marks akin to an addict’s needle marks, and making the heroin/heroine crossover clearer than ever. It’s probably the best track on the album, thanks to a typically snappy hook, and actually follows the theme of the album title (well, the Book of Heroine bit).
Some lines cut deep, knowing how long he has battled with sickle cell disease and subsequently passed away five years ago. “I had a rough life, I’m just trying to chill” (“Flirting with Death”) is brutally honest and simplistic on paper, but the way Prodigy’s pained gruffness admits it is precisely what he described as “got you stuck off the realness” back in 1995. Long-term fans will also enjoy the Big Daddy Kane collaboration “You Don’t Want It”, which despite Kane’s own flirtations with love-rap, is a solid if hollow example of braggadocio which doesn’t fit in with the other tracks.
Considering this is a late Prodigy album, he retains the qualities we love and appreciate, without ever reaching those exceptional verses from his 1995-1999 run. Aside from “The Other Side”, where he doesn’t sound himself and given its placement at the end of the album adds a bit of an emotional punch, Prodigy proves that his solo career never quite got the respect it deserved. This isn’t a great album, because it does have some missteps and inconsistencies, and it quickly drops the Hegelian Dialectic philosophies it advertises in favor of sharing his love for his wife, but it’s an interesting and creative listen. The third in this trilogy is touted as “The Book of the Dead”, and is likely to be a darker more self-prophecizing listen, and I’m not sure I am ready for it yet. Few rappers can veer from ultra-violence to hard-hitting one-liners and outright emotional sincerity with such effortless charisma – Prodigy shows he remains a master of the craft and this album only makes me miss his voice even more.