I hated “H.N.I.C. 3.” It was one of the most disappointing rap albums of all time for me, only coming in second place behind Divine Styler’s “Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light”. Actually no, it was worse than that because I only had one album’s worth of background to build up my expectations for Divine Styler’s follow-up LP, whereas I had almost 20 years worth of releases from Prodigy (solo and with Mobb Deep). I know most people were pretty let down by that album, but it really upset me and I was very close to throwing the CD out the car window on my first listen, I just couldn’t believe how bad it was (making Mobb’s “Blood Money” seem like a brilliant album in comparison). Maybe Prodigy only had his old Father MC and Candyman tapes in prison, or he was simply missing the punani too much, but I couldn’t understand or accept that at least one-third of the “H.N.I.C 3” album comprised of soft/smooth songs geared towards the ladies. Even the non-cassanova type tracks weren’t up to his usual standards, being either bland, or more “glossy” than usual and generically flavoured for radio play (“Pretty Thug” – WTF?!). In contrast, the “Black Cocaine” EP with Havoc was solid and hard without being amazing, P’s solo “The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson” EP (and later album) was decent and kind of cool in its theme, and “Product of the 80’s” from a few years earlier was outstanding, but P simply didn’t take the momentum from any of those releases, and instead kicked the hardcore material and his reputation to the curb with “H.N.I.C 3”.
Based on that most recent release I did have fears about whatever Prodigy was going to do next. That fear was somewhat alleviated when I found out that his next album was going to be produced solely by Alchemist (reassuring too that the couple decent tracks on “H.N.I.C. 3” were Alâ€™s creations), plus the album was to be called “Albert Einstein”. Surely an album with a name like that wouldn’t have P rapping lines such as “baby feel on my chest/I made that for you/and you can squeeze off my back and scratch up my tattoos”? Alchemist wouldn’t risk his rep to drown the album in smooth R&B ballads would he? THANKFULLY my assumptions were correct and “Albert Einstein” is Prodigy back in TOP FORM. The Theory of Relativity has been recalculated from E=MC squared, to P=MC DOPE.
The album starts off HARD. Actually we do first have a brief intro which speaks on Einstein “whose vision upsets the very foundations of the world as we know it”, which is questionable in relation to Prodigy (he’s not quite a visionary), and is ultimately pretty irrelevant to the album anyway as the Einstein theme isn’t adhered to. However, once the actual music starts with “IMDKV” (‘Infamous Mobb Deep King Vulture’), there’s little doubt that Prodigy is out to remind everyone of his viciousness, rapping with a cold intensity, and Alchemist brings an equally ominous and sparse sonic vibe. Prodigy is actually quite brutal with the verbals (definitely no seductive words for the ladies here):
“IMDKV Queens Massacre
The Infamous Mobb Deep King Vulture rapper
What niggas wanna do when you see me off camera
Nigga strip who? I’ll beat you till you lavender
You banned from the functions and concerts, cancel son
Void that, you can’t cash that, stop frontin’
You ain’t never see me in the streets while we was beefing
Talkin’ ’bout I white flagged you and said it’s all peace
When you know damn well it’s apocalypse season
Get your back radiated next time you try to flee
From this punishment you got comin’, don’t resist
You only gonna make it worse, stand the fuck still bitch
You screamin’, see motherfucker, you screamin’
Now I’mma have to stop that
Hand me the nail hammer and the baseball bat
I’mma buss his mouth open he trying to attract
The attention of them people
IMDKV, I’m evil
Straight black evil
When it call for it kidnap the pussy for torture
I’m all for it
Go on pop your gun and cut to the chase
Pussy nigga step up front, I’m cuttin’ up his face
On some brutal crime shit, get your eyeball sliced
Ugh, disgusting shit, I will fuck up your life”
“Give ‘Em Hell” is a chilled and melodic track, and isn’t nearly as “Hellish” as the opener musically. It’s the first taste on the album of Alchemist playing around with sung and other types of vocal samples, which occurs a few times with varying degrees of success, and on this occasion the dizzyingly rendered “ooh ohh ohh’s” provide almost as much rhythm as the bassline. Prodigy delivers rhymes that are exactly what you’ve come to expect from him:
Although most of the album is of a darker nature, with many purely hard and intense tracks, there are a few other songs beside “Give ‘Em Hell” that have a mellower lean. “Stay Dope” still comes raw, but at the same time it’s pretty laidback with a lounging whilst getting blazed feel, the word “dope” being used by P as a reference to the blunted effect, as well as in the hip hop skills context. “Death Sentence” with Roc Marciano is slow and low with a haunting, mysterious ambience and it’s probably one of the first times I can say that I “sort of” get it regarding the astounding hype for Roc Marcy, the fact he has a solid drum WITH BASS behind him for once makes such a difference to me. On the other hand, I don’t really like Domo Genesis on the cruisy “Y.N.T.”, he doesn’t sound to be in the same league as Prodigy at all, and in fact the divide between the two is so great that it sounds like P is Domoâ€™s father who decided to give Domo his 1st album appearance as a fatherly gesture. The gold medal for smoother tracks on this album definitely goes to “Breeze”. It’s somewhat jazzy and you best believe it is breezy, but it also sounds like Prodigy is rapping over Spandau Ballet’s “I Know This Much Is True” (or something very similar from the 80â€™s). It’s a throwback of sorts in vibe to something like “Temperature’s Rising” from “The Infamous” album, but yet it’s also a different and original flavour for Prodigy that really works and is very impressive (as opposed to his generic R&B/commercialised failures from “H.N.I.C. 3”).
Look no further than “Curb Ya Dog” for being impressed though, as it’s one of the best Prodigy tracks I’ve ever heard. As much as I love P bringing things as hard and menacing as possible, the funkiness in the track is incredibly refreshing and nostalgia invoking. Perhaps itâ€™s the obvious comparison, but there’s no coincidence that the dog barks throughout the track make it feel like something from “Saving Seamus Ryan” by Esoteric. The likeness doesnâ€™t stop at the dog though, as the track has less of that classic Mobb Deep darkness and much more Esoteric funky playfulness to it also. Something else that Eso does is channel bygone eras of hip hop, and Alchemist similarly takes the sounds here back to the old school with a classic break-beat and samples that combine to sound like a re-working of “Paid in Full” (i.e. the video version) by Eric. B and Rakim. Continuing on this angle, the song is the perfect backdrop to display how Prodigy has reminded me somewhat of Rakim at times. I’ve often thought there is some similarity in their tones and deliveries, and it becomes more evident with a song that sounds like something Ra would have glided over. Similarities to others or not, I really enjoy the added personality of P in this track and it feels like he’s having fun with the song (as much fun as is possible with someone that has P’s demeanour anyway). This different feel probably doesn’t show up by reading the lyrics, but try and imagine it:
“With them other bums that rap
They nothin’ like this
They wish upon stars that their bars can get
Similar burn as us, who had a run like this?
I peddle dope longer than Lance Armstrong
Alright, alright, okay, okay you got dough
How many times you gonna say it? We already know!
When we debate rap wars, money and plaques
This not a place for frauds
This a professional sport
You challenge me and I’mma treat you like a female dog
Bitch, must be rabid, these mangy fucks
My breed is champion, you’s a back alley mutt
Little puppy balls try’na run with the big huevos
Of hip-hop, Don P, senor fuego”
To me it’s also P reminding us that he still cares about the art of displaying his skills as an MC, and thereâ€™s more to him than just being a “thug rapper” that’s out to fuck people up.
Speaking of going way back, “R.I.P.” also does so in a few ways. If the fact that the track features quality verses by Havoc and Raekwon doesn’t take you back to the classic Mobb Deep “Eye For An Eye” jammy (minus Nas), then the use of Kane’s “Raw” has to take to you back to days gone by. Not to mention, Alchemist uses some chilling whistles which have been used by everyone from Kane himself to Silver Bullet to Insane Poetry, and numerous others, and the combination of those elements used sparingly over the beat gives it a kind of late night in a NY subway ambience. “Bear Meat” also goes back to classic Mobb Deep early days, with its threatening piano keys, crashing distorted cymbals and intense drums. P also verbalises the chorus in the typical Mobb way and gives a nod to the twitter beef between Hav and him being well and truly squashed:
“I expire these liars, move on me, get killed
Dude only mad because he want to be like the real
H-A-V-O-C, Prodigy, Mobb Deep, retweet that
Pussy, you sweet like bear meat”
Overall you know what you’re going to get with P lyrically, i.e. the many ways he will bury his foes and confident reminders of the way he sees himself in the rap game e.g. “Iâ€™m not these other niggas/Iâ€™m mandatory rap listening” or “Iâ€™m more than a hip hop legend/Iâ€™m iconic”. What has more impact in making or breaking these tracks is the success or failure of Alchemist’s experimentation. Somewhat on the negative is where the producer leads Prodigy down a route of getting lost in amongst the music, such as on “Confessions”. Appealingly it’s a really dynamic track with all manner of sirens and gunshots that come and go in reaction to P’s story-telling, but I can’t help feeling the slow flowing P gets dominated by all the noise, especially at points where the samples and effects all peak in crescendo. “Say My Name” (that closes the album) is another one of the mellower tracks and sits on top of what sounds like Spanish guitars, but the constant G-Funk whistle is quite overbearing and it has a piercing effect that reaches irritating levels on a loud system. Somewhat less dominating on “Dough Pildin'” is the singing that gets thrown on top of everything else intermittently, but it seems like an unnecessary afterthought. Otherwise it’s a solid track and I particularly like the precise diction that Prodigy displays in it. P displays this sharp word execution often in the album, and again itâ€™s quite apparent to me that heâ€™s very focused on this album in showcasing his talents from an emceeing point of view. Iâ€™ve heard and read many accusations of him supposedly becoming a lazy and dull MC with the slowing down of his rhyming, but I donâ€™t see it that way at all on this album. The man is totally on-point with precision in my books:
“The One” with Action Bronson once again has seemingly out place stabs of sampled vocals and effects jumping in haphazardly on the track. However it’s not too overbearing this time and I like the urgency of the production and I suppose the obtuse injection of sampling works for me on this one. My fondness for Action Bronson is increasing the more that I hear him, and his higher pitch, faster spitting is a nice contrast Prodigyâ€™s deep voice and deliberate technique.
Very interesting from Alchemist are the change-ups that feature in “Bible Paper” and “Raw Forever”. “Bible Paper” (featuring a pretty amateur sounding verse by Alchemist himself) opens up with what almost sounds like a sci-fi heavy metal feel, then the song transforms into the 80â€™s “Wild Style” influenced bleakness heard on P’s “Product of the 80’s” from a few years before. On the other hand, “Raw Forever” starts off with a plodding type of mellow, but Alchemist keeps the song interesting with drop-ins and outs of effects and touches of subliminal scratching – with Prodigy telling us that the life he speaks on is reality and he’s living that life forever. Another change-up then closes out the last minute of the song, coming off as almost a smoother reprise of “Breeze”.
This album is Prodigy and Alchemist giving long time fans exactly what they want. I personally don’t need P to be dropping conscious or uplifting rhymes and if he suddenly started doing that at this point in his career it would be as strange as when he thought he was Luther Vandross on “H.N.I.C. 3”. I’d rather him keep telling us how deadly he is, using his cocksure swagger and top notch MC credentials to deliver his threats and boasts. The only thing that lets the album down slightly is the few occasions where Alchemist twists the knobs of creativity too far. I have high expectations for the next Mobb Deep album, with Havoc’s “13” being very solid and now Prodigyâ€™s “Albert Einstein” coming up trumps (and outshining Havâ€™s album), and I canâ€™t see the guys letting anybody down again if they maintain their current form.