In May 2011, about two months after his release from prison, I had the opportunity to interview Prodigy from legendary Hip-Hop outfit Mobb Deep. P was on a press run after his autobiography “My Infamous Life” hit the shelves and sparked a little controversy, so my friends at Street Report Magazine commissioned me to conduct the interview.
P and I spoke for an hour and had what I thought was a good chat, but when it came time to turn the interview into a 1000-word piece for publication, it admittedly lost much of its luster and never made it to print. We entertained plans of putting the audio on the magazine’s website, but that never happened.
I still consider this a very good interview, though — we talked about his past, present and future, how he’d handle the backlash from some of the things he wrote, his faith in God, linking with G-Unit, the arrest that sent him to jail and more — so I’m sharing it here. A loose transcript is below (some of the questions are truncated ‘cause I’m kinda long-winded in real life; P’s responses are basically verbatim with the exception of a few minor edits). If you prefer listening to reading, stream the audio of the chat here.
How are you different now than when you went in?
I’m more focused. I’m physically stronger, mentally, spiritually more stronger. And my priorities are definitely in order right now, you know? They just in the right position, right place right now. I feel that I’m definitely a much more positive person. I definitely feel like I came out a much better person than when I went in. I was definitely able to transform myself into a much better individual.
You don’t seem to be bitter. A lot of ppl come out bitter after doing time because they lost years of their life that they’ll never get back. You don’t feel that way?
Nah, not at all. I feel like the three years I had to sit down helped me way more than they hurt me. For one, I’d never been in shape before. Now I’m physically in shape – like, for real. And I’d never really thought about the path I was goin’ down before as far as the choices I was makin’ in life. I never really thought about it the way I did when I was locked up. Now I see things more clearly than I could ever see ‘em before.
When you in the world – you know we grew up in the music industry from the time we were 15, 16 years old, and we were so focused what we was doin’ it was like we were suspended in time ever since we did Juvenile Hell and The Infamous. We never really had a chance to grow up ‘cause we was constantly on the road, in the studio, doin’ interviews – it’s like you’re on this rollercoaster and it don’t stop, y’knowhatimean? We had lil’ ups and downs but the ride never stopped. So when I went to prison it was like, “aight, the ride is over” – but it’s not really over, it was just like I was takin’ a break for a lil’ while. But now I get to really see what the hell is goin’ on. I’m not on that rollercoaster; I’m sittin’ still now and I’m lookin’ at everything like, “Wow, this is crazy. I never noticed these things before,” knowhatimsayin’? I just see all the mistakes that I made, all the bad decision-making and just be like, “Damn, I was buggin’!” Certain things I would say and certain things I would do – it just wasn’t good, man. That was cool when we was teenagers comin’ up in the game, pokin’ our chests out and lettin’ people know who we are; but you get to that point where that’s not cool no more. You gotta be a man about things and be a businessman—
You gotta grow up.
Yeah, and concentrate on the business side of the music and not just the music itself. A lot of that I thought I was doin’, but I wasn’t really doin’ it correctly.
There’s a line in the introduction of the book that says it was “like I was sixteen years old for seventeen years.” That’s a deep line.
Yeah, man. Like I said, we was just on that ride and it was like I never got off it ‘til I got locked up. I think it hurt both myself and Hav in a way because I wasn’t around and we wasn’t able to do certain things like touring. I really messed our money up a lil’ somethin’, y’knowhatimsayin’? I put a dent in our bank account by doin’ that. Three years of not touring – that’s a lot of money we missed out on ‘cause Mobb Deep is a big, big touring group. Tour around the world is what we do. I was bein’ real selfish in a way because I wasn’t thinkin’ about how this would affect my family, how this was gon’ affect Havoc, how this was gon’ affect Mobb Deep, knowhatimean? I was just runnin’ around doin’ me, not worried about how it was gon’ effect other people or the consequences of what I was doin’.
How did your time away affect your kids?
It was bad, man. Kids need both parents to raise them correctly, otherwise trouble happens. A mother can’t be a father and a father can’t be a mother. Both parents need to be there to provide that balance of that masculinity and that femininity, that love and that strength. It’s a balance of power that parents have to share to raise their kids. So when I wasn’t around for them three years it hurt my kids. When I was runnin’ around doin ‘what I was doin’ I was bein’ selfish. Not consciously, but I just wasn’t thinkin’.
You think pops’ need to prove he wasn’t soft kinda rubbed off on you? Did you feel you had to prove yourself since you were smaller and had sickle cell?
That’s definitely possible. That probably came into play when I was younger, comin’ up and tryin’ to make a name for myself and be liked. That probably had a lot to do with a lot of the trouble I used to get into, but a lot of that I attribute to the sickle cell and just bein’ an angry kid growin’ up. Like, I was angry that I had sickle cell. I was angry at God – just the pain I was goin’ through didn’t make me too nice.
Felt like you deserved to be there? Even though the way it went down was bullshit?
Umm… well it was definitely a lotta lies goin’ on with the cops. It was definitely an illegal search. I know the difference between an illegal search and a legal search. By law they’re supposed to ask you if they can search your car and they didn’t do that; they just started searchin’ my car. So they broke a law with that. The second thing they did that was illegal was try to get me to set up 50 Cent. They wanted me to plant a gun in his car so they could arrest him. They needed to set him up because they know that 50 keeps his nose clean. He doesn’t get in trouble, he just makes money and does positive things in life and they don’t like that. You got a select group of people in law enforcement that are racists, that are haters who hate their own lives ‘cause they don’t make as much money as they’d like to make. It’s just a select group of them, not all of them. They don’t like to see these young, Black, successful kids runnin’ around in Lamborghinis and Porsches and bulletproof cars, all over the TV and in Madison Square Garden, doin’ giant stadiums – you know, just bein’ successful and havin’ fun in life. They don’t like to see that, y’knowhatimean? So that’s what we were dealin’ with in the case.
But are you not bitter about that? That some haters had you sent to jail?
Nah, I’m not even bitter about it. Let me finish explainin’ it to you so you can understand: So you got a group of law enforcement that’s like that, but then you got a whole ‘nother, larger group of law enforcement that’s not like that. That’s just how it is in life. You’re always gonna have bad apples in the bunch. So during the trial they lied on the stand and said they saw a gun in my hand when they walked toward my car, which would give them probable cause to search it. So they twisted facts around to put things in their favor and make what they did look legal. Aight, so I was kinda angry about that at first but there was nothin’ I could do about it. I knew I had to go to jail at that point. So when I went in I thought about everything that happened, why I got locked up and all the circumstances, and I just always bring it back to “I put myself into the position for this to happen.” So I can’t be mad at a racist, lying cop or anything they did because if I was movin’ correctly I wouldn’t have been in the position for them to do something like that to me. I wouldn’t have been vulnerable and they wouldn’t have been able to take my life away for three years like that. So it’s my fault. Ultimately, I brought this upon myself by carrying myself a certain way. That’s the reality that everybody needs to deal with: you need blame yourself first. Don’t play the blame game and start blaming other people for your own faults. It all goes back to you at the end of the day. You did something wrong. You wasn’t movin’ right and made a bad decision. Of course sometimes people are set up and get locked up when they didn’t do anything, but most of the time it was something that you did somewhere along the line that got you in that predicament.
So it’s karma catching up to them.
You think you’ve paid all your karmic debt?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t got too much bad karma. I’m not that bad. Compared to a lot of things I’ve seen in this world? I’m one of the good guys compared to that. (laughs)
You’re admittedly a pretty private person. What made you wanna write it and how hard was it?
Around 1999 when I was working on the Murda Muzik movie I was like, “You know what? We need a book, too.” My ultimate goal for doing these types of things is never about Prodigy — it’s always about Mobb Deep. I tried to make it where everywhere you turned – bookstore, video store, record store, wherever – you’d see Mobb Deep.
You wanted the Mobb Deep brand to be big.
Yeah, exactly. So we’re constantly on people’s minds. So in ’99 I decided we need to make a book. I didn’t actually start writin’ it ‘til 2004, though. I was tryin’ to figure out how we’d do it, ‘cause me and Hav got two different stories. I thought, “How can we pull this off and do it right?” So in ’04 I decided to just tell my side of the story and leave Hav room to tell his. Then I just started writin’ it on my laptop. It was fairly easy gettin’ the stories out ‘cause it was all real – you just gotta pour it all out. Then we got the G-Unit deal and we went on tour and a lot of things started happening around ‘05 so I had to put it on pause. When all that started to settle down I picked it up back up around 2006-2007. Then I finished it up when I got locked up.
I know what makes a good book and what makes a good autobiography: You gotta share things, man. You gotta be for real with the people. I lost a lotta fights in my life, had people try to treat me like a herb or whatever, I got the whole bedwetting thing in there – so I’m showing you the real, not hiding nothin’ or tryin’ to be something I’m not. There’s a saying that goes “if you tell a story, tell the real story – warts and all.” I’m not ashamed of anything. I’m glad everything happened the way it happened ‘cause it made me who I am.
Part of your story intersects with other people’s stories. Did you ever hesitate or think about censoring yourself?
I really didn’t, ‘cause I didn’t have anything bad to say about anybody. Even Capone – I didn’t say anything bad about him, I just said what happened. I wasn’t disrespecting anybody. Even the parts with Keyshia Cole or Lil’ Kim or whatever parts with the females, I’m not bein’ disrespectful. There’s nothing for somebody to be like, “Oh my god, he just exposed this person for somethin’ crazy,” knowhatimsayin’?
But snitching is like a cardinal sin in the ‘hood. Can you understand why a ‘hood cat like Capone would be upset that you brought his name up in that context?
When you’re dealin’ with situations like that – there’s no gettin’ around that. There’s no hiding that. That’s public record. That’s in the County Clerk’s office. The trial transcripts have everybody’s name in it. You can’t hide that. That’ll never go away. You can’t make that kind of story up, let’s put it like that. I didn’t disrespect him in any way, he disrespected himself. I didn’t do anything to him, he did it to himself. He chose to do that, knowhatimsayin’? That’s somethin’ that he has to live with. That’s not on me, that’s on him. If he’s mad, that’s bad. He needs to be mad at himself for doin’ that.
How’s your health these days?
Right now I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life, physically, mentally and spiritually. I work out every day – I’ve never felt this good before.
Are you a religious cat?
I definitely have my own personal connection and relationship with God. I don’t like to followany religions or what have you. There’s nothing wrong with being a part of some religion or whatever; a lot of these religions help save people’s lives. I’m not really into speaking bad about religion because it helps people. But I got my own relationship with God. We good. We tight. (laughs)
I always compare preachers to motivational speakers. One might use a book that they’ve written to motivate people while the other uses the Bible, but at the end of the day it’s about listeners finding the necessary inspiration in those words. Some people don’t need that outside push because they have their own relationship with God and draw inspiration from within, but that doesn’t make the inspiration any less valid just because they don’t go to church every Sunday.
That’s like the best way I’ve ever heard anybody explain it. That’s so perfect right there. It’s just like a personal trainer — some people need that motivation to go work out, some people don’t. So there’s nothin’ really wrong with religion. At times my connection with God wasn’t so great when I was growing up. Like I said, I was real angry kid dealing with my sickle cell and I’ve been goin’ to the hospital since I was born. I’ve been in pain and in situations where I almost died a lotta times. I dealt with a lotta pain and death. So I had to through that spiritual war within myself – that tug-o-war between good and evil – and figure out what it was gon’ be. Everybody has to go through that war.
You spoke on that a bit on “You Can Never Feel My Pain” off the H.N.I.C. album.
Yeah, yeah. I said, “I’m beggin’ God for help / Only to find that I’m all by my goddamn self.” There was a lot of learnin’ that I had to do. I felt for a long time that God wasn’t lookin’ after me and protectin’ me. I didn’t realize that everything happens for a reason and that there are lessons to be learned. God’s givin’ you lessons to learn. You gotta go through things because it makes you the person you’re gonna be. That’s what shapes you.
How did the books you read help you?
Definitely enhanced my vocabulary and my knowledge of certain issues. The more information you take in, the more you have an understanding of what’s really goin’ on. Of course, that depends on what kind of information you’re taking in. That’s why I stay away from fiction. I like to read real stories about history, autobiographies – real things that you can actually learn from. When I read I only read certain books.
Are you really thinking about writing another book?
I got a few books in the works already. The next project I’m doin’ is basically about my prison experience. I left that out of my autobiography for a reason. I touch on it a lil’ bit but the prison parts of the book are only like one or two pages, I don’t really get into it. I did that so I can have another book come out! (laughs) My wife told me to do that. She was like, “Nah, don’t tell ‘em all that. Save something so we can get another deal, write another book!” I said, “Yeah, you right!” (laughs) I got a couple books I’m workin’ on, too. I can’t talk about all that, though, ‘cause I don’t want nobody to do ‘em before me.
Has wifey read this book?
Yeah. She don’t really wanna get too far into it though because of all the girls and the groupies. She checks out certain parts then puts it down like, “aight, I don’t wanna read no more.” (laughs)
She knew what was goin’ on, though. That’s just how it was. She was with me all those years. She didn’t know everything, but she’s a very intelligent individual so she knew what was goin’ on. She decided to still deal with me and stick around ‘cause she saw a better person inside of me even if I didn’t even see it myself, y’knowhatimean? So I’m definitely thankful for her. She made me better and a stronger individual.
What beats did you write to while locked up?
I was actually writing to Havoc, Alchemist and all my producers who’d sent me beats and whatnot. I had beats in there. It was a difficult process gettin’ ‘em in there but I got ‘em. I had to jump through a lotta hoops and do a lotta stuff I wasn’t supposed to be doin’ but I got ‘em.
What was like writing in there? Was your creativity stifled?
My experience locked up was great. I got nothin’ but good things to say. I mean, nobody wants to be in jail and it’s painful to be forced to sit in that cell for years; but I was able to take a bad situation and turn it into something good. I was so focused and determined to turn a negative into a positive that I didn’t let nothin’ depress me, I didn’t let nothin’ bring me down and I used every minute of the day to do something that was gon’ make my future better. So I wrote like 20 albums, movie scripts, books, I got my body in shape – I turned it into a positive experience. I chose to make it a positive experience.
Are you worried about fallin off into your old vices?
The thing about that, man – I been in that life since I was 12, 13 years old and the thrill is gone. That lifestyle doesn’t excite me anymore. I did all that already. I’ve had all the jewelry, the cars, all the nice things, all the groupies – you name it, we did already, knowhatimean? I got that all outta my system when I was young for a reason: God has a plan for me. So right now my personal plan is to be the person I am right now who doesn’t do all that stuff and just focus on health and success and continued longevity.
How will Mobb Deep keep up with the joneses and stay relevant?
One good thing about us is that we had a strong following in the ‘hood and around the world. We had a real loyal fanbase. Now, you got a whole generation of rappers and fans whose parents, aunts and uncles were Mobb Deep fans. They grew up listening to our music. A lot of people come up to me like, “Yo man, my mother loves Mobb Deep. That’s all she plays!” You know? Seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, yo. “I learned about Mobb Deep from my Moms,” or “My pops got all your albums” – a lot of teenagers wrote me in jail and told me that. It’s one generation passin’ it down to the next generation. And I think the style of music that we make is timeless. We don’t rap trendy; we keep it grounded and stick to our formula. So it’s kinda easy for us to keep that goin’. Poverty, which we represent, stays the same. Knowhatimsayin’? No matter what trends is goin’, no matter what’s happenin’ in the world, poverty is forever. People are strugglin’ and it’ll always be like that. Our music represents the struggle. I think that’s another reason we were able to last so long because that just doesn’t go anywhere.
Given any more thought to where you’ll record? Is goin’ indie an option? I know that at one time Havoc wasn’t down with the independent route.
We’re definitely thinkin’ about it more now ‘cause it’s closer to time to make a deal. I been home for two months, and in that two months we’ve probably made 120 songs so it’s about time to start thinking about the next move and how we gon’ release this music. We been tossin’ around ideas; been talkin’ about stayin’ independent. Havoc is definitely more with that now, especially the way the game is now. He understands that it would make a lotta sense to do that. At the same time we been talkin’ to 50, tryin’ to see what his opinion is and what his plans and ideas are. Just pickin’ his brain to see where he wants to go with this and see if he wants to maybe do a new deal with Mobb Deep. We’ve also been talkin’ to other labels, you know? I ain’t gon’ name ‘em, but we’ve been talkin’ to different people. So we’re just tryin’ to weigh it out.
The best thing for us is to just work on the music, because it’s better to let the music speak for itself. I could sit there and tell people, “Aw, Mobb Deep, we did this and we did that,” but nobody cares what you did, it’s what are you doing now. That’s the only thing that really matters. That’s why we’re so focused on the music and not really worried about the label situation because you’re only as strong as what you’re doing right now.
Is it more about getting the music out or making the most money?
When it comes to reaching people, I think we’re pretty much on auto-pilot. I think we could drop some songs tomorrow on the internet and people are gonna know about it ‘cause we got a following that’s real loyal to us and they’re gonna find out about it through word of mouth. So it’s not so much about reaching people. If we’re gonna do a deal with somebody, it has to be somebody who understands preserving the Mobb Deep legacy, it’s not just about right now and how much money we’re gonna make. That’s what Mobb Deep is all about – we’re all about that longevity. What keeps us goin’ is our goal to be one of the longest-lasting groups ever in Hip-Hop, so we gotta deal with a company that understands that.
I hate jumpin’ around from company to company. That’s real corny to me. When we were on Loud, we had a home that we built. We built that house, knowhatimean? That was our house.
Right. You and Wu-Tang.
Yeah, exactly. Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep built that house. That was ours. We didn’t own it, but we were Steve Rifkind’s main focus. We were the focus of the whole label. That was a situation that was perfect for us. Once he decided to walk away from that and not do it anymore it was like, “Damn, now we gotta go deal with some other label? This is wack.” There’s no relationship there; no connection to the music. So when we did the deal with 50, it was a good deal for us because that relationship was there and that connection with our music was there. 50 was brought up on our music. Mobb Deep was one of the biggest inspirations in his life ‘cause we from Queens. It was a Queens thing. So it was definitely a good deal when we did that.
But you know that, from a fan’s perspective, a lotta folks didn’t like that move to G-Unit.
That’s how emotionally attached people are to our music. They wanna see us be independent and start our own label. They wanna see it go down the same way I wanna see it go down — that’s what I would love to see, too. I would love to see Mobb Deep be independent and have our own Roc-A-Fella or G-Unit. We supposed to have ours, too. But what people need to understand is that our life didn’t play out that way. We’re not them. We didn’t have the same life as Jay-Z. We didn’t have the same life as 50. We’re Mobb Deep, and Mobb Deep didn’t start out independent. Mobb Deep started out signed to a label. That’s Mobb Deep’s career: We put out good music and we make deals with different labels. That’s just the way it is. And I’m sure people wanna see it differently ‘cause I would like to see it differently. And it’s something that we could do, but that’s just not how our life played out. Stuff like that is good to do from the door. Like, when they first hear about you you’re independent. That’s how Roc-A-Fella came in the game – independent and rose to the top. Even though 50 signed with Dre and Em, his label was independent the whole time. Mobb Deep didn’t do that. People wanna see us be like that and have that kind of success but that’s just not how it happened. Mobb Deep signed with a label and made good music.
If you look at the big picture, the only thing we doin’ is bein’ consistent. We consistently make new deals. We made a deal with Loud, we made a deal with Sony/Columbia, we made a deal with Jive – like, we really just bein’ consistent. We not doin’ nothin’ out of the ordinary.
What ever happened with your Voxonic deal?
That whole thing went south because got I locked up and it scared them away. It was a good situation and basically I ruined that by putting myself in a position to get locked up and serve some time. I blame that on myself. Even though they made a bunch of promises and a contract that they didn’t uphold. We settlin’ right now, so it’s all good. At the end of the day I only blame myself. I gotta make better moves so I don’t ruin opportunities for myself.