It’s time for another thrilling edition of everyone’s favorite game, Guess the Mid-Level Rap Star! Ready? Ok, who are you? A little while back you got arrested on a weapons charge. Maybe this arrest was part of a vast police conspiracy, maybe you just had an illegal gun. Either way, you’re found guilty and sentenced to 15 years. Thinking that 15 years is a pretty long time to spend anywhere, let alone in prison, you plea bargain down to three years. While you’re not a rap superstar, meaning there aren’t any offers for your own reality show, you are a legitimate force in the game, so you spend your last few days as a free man taking care of business: moving all your money to offshore accounts, recording as much music as possible and of course, calling Z for an interview.
So who are you? If you guessed Prodigy, congratulations, you’re a true hip-hop fan (and if you guessed Ashanti, congratulations, you’re retarded). The much-admired Mobb Deep alumni is now behind bars, but before he shipped off he apparently decided to begin challenging Tupac for the “Most Music Released by Someone Who Shouldn’t be Releasing Music” world record. Now, just months after what everyone widely assumed was his last album, comes Product of the 80s, a quasi-solo album that leans heavily on the production work of Sid Roams and his partners in rhyme, Big Twins and Un Pacino. A decided departure from his more Alchemist-based work of the past, Product of the 80s is a good but ultimately forgettable album that will be remembered more for the circumstances of its release than the music on it.
First and foremost, let’s clear up some confusion: Product of the 80s is from the 80s largely in the metaphorical sense. Musically, there’s nary a Run DMC or De La Soul sample to found. Sonically, Product has much more in common with Prodigy’s more recent G-Unit ties, leaning on the raw sound of production team Sid Roams...except when it’s produced by Jake One. "Shed Thy Blood," Product’s lead single, is a Jake-produced affair that’s electronically distorted, crumbling and gritty as Prodigy’s native Queens. Lyrically, Prodigy seems to be moving closer to his boss 50, ditching his surprisingly lyrical style for more swaggering lines like, “I just do the two step, first I pull it out, then I empty the clip.” In the end, the track is hard enough to get the job done, but I can’t imagine anyone but the most ardent Prodigy fans putting it on repeat. On a similar level is "Catch Body Music," a track that finds Roams twisting some video game-esque synths into a darkly compelling track while P gets back to basics, spitting the same laid-back killer style that first made Mobb Deep a smash. Every verse on "Catch Body Music" is unflinchingly violent while the chorus is nothing but booty, but that strange verse/chorus disconnect aside, "Catch Body Music" is old school P at his best, a state that’s unfortunately rare on Product of the 80s.
In the intro I called Product a “quasi-solo” album, which means that how you feel about Big Twins and Un Pacino will largely determine how you feel about Product, considering they’re on half the album. Personally, they seem like the type of good, not great rappers who owe much of their airtime to their patron, a hardcore version of the St. Lunatics if you will. Just take "In The Smash," for example, one of the album’s more mellow tracks featuring Big Twins. Now I’m all for raspy voices, but Twins' vocals sound like the man gargles broken glass, and he just doesn’t have anywhere near the lucid imagery and lyricism that makes Prodigy stand out.
For his part Un Pacino is slightly better, his verse on the boom-bap "Anytime" is decent, but here’s the truest test: Honestly, are you listening to an Un Pacino track if it’s not on this album? I thought not. In fact, that’s the most accurate assessment of Product I could possibly write. It’s not nearly bad enough to inspire hatred, but I can’t picture a time when I would ever say to myself, “you know what album I’d like to hear right now? Product of the 80s.”
So here’s to hoping that Prodigy makes it out of prison safe and sound—it will be a shame if this is the last album he ever drops.