On Tuesday (June 20), after a lifelong battle with sickle-cell anemia, Mobb Deep emcee Prodigy, a living rap legend, passed away. He was 42.
Over the course of my 15-year career in broadcast radio and then later in online journalism with DJBooth, I have been fortunate enough to interview hundreds of talented emcees and producers. Prodigy was one of my favorite interview subjects.
In February of 2008, a few months before the release of his second solo album, H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, and just days before turning himself into authorities to serve a multi-year jail bid for an illegal gun possession conviction, I had the chance to speak with the Queens emcee for the first time. He was everything an interviewer could ever ask for: candid, funny, insightful and respectful. He never bit his tongue and no question was off limits.
The last time we spoke was at SXSW in 2012—Mobb Deep performed at our showcase with A3C—but I'll never forget that first interview in 2008. During our hour-plus phoner, we talked about his battle with sickle-cell, a future in motivational speaking and not being afraid of death.
While sickle-cell anemia, which is red blood cell disorder, has nothing in common with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that my mother has battled for the past 20 years, I felt a closeness to P after we talked about his decision to be vocal about his health and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Like my mother, P was a fighter. It's easy to be quiet when you're sick, especially, when you've been sick your entire life. It's far more difficult to talk about your illness.
Below is a portion of our conversation from 2008:
DJBooth: The way people handle disease and illness vary. Some like to keep it private; others feel it's very important to let the world know what they're battling. You've made your fight against sickle-cell anemia very public. Was that a hard decision?
Prodigy: No, definitely not, 'cause it's something I was born with, and I deal with it every day. It's definitely not a hard decision. I love to promote good health and certain things that you're supposed to be doin' with your diet, because I want other people with sickle-cell to learn how I live, because a lot of times we do shows, and after the show a fan will come up to me like, “Yo, how you got so much energy on stage?” and “How do you this for so long, and live this lifestyle. Like, I got sickle-cell too; I don't know how you do it.” I always tell 'em, it's the diet and the mental attitude too. I definitely put it out there so people can learn from my situation, and see what I go through, and hopefully, I can inspire other people with sickle-cell to get their stuff together and get out there and do what they gotta do. Don't let it hold you back.
DJBooth: Who knows, maybe when you finish your jail sentence you can do some motivational speaking?
Prodigy: Definitely. We always go to juvenile detention centers and we been doin' it for years, since the beginning of our career. We go to jails in DC, and there will be little kids 12 to 13 years old, locked up for murder, and we'll be there talkin' to them for like an hour or two. Or even in Atlanta, we'll go to the centers down in Atlanta. That's what Mobb Deep's been doin'. We like doin' things like that to give to the youth, to the kids and community.
DJBooth: P, you've been quoted as saying, “I'm not afraid to die.” So, is that Prodigy the rapper talking, or is that Albert Johnson, Jr., the man talking?
Prodigy: Nah, it's always Albert Johnson talking. I just go by Prodigy in the rap world 'cause it sounds better than Albert Johnson [laughter].
DJBooth: Do you really feel that way, or is that just a comfort to all of your fans who have followed you for so long, to let them know that you're going to continue doing what you're doing, and you're not going to let anything, whether it be a jail sentence or a disease stop you?
Prodigy: It's just real. That's how it is, that's how I feel. Every day I wake up like, “This might be my last day, and I'm not scared of it. I'm gonna go out there, do what I gotta do; I ain't gonna let nothing stop me.” Nothing puts any fear in my heart. [I’m] never scared to bite my tongue about something, or never be scared to come out and speak about something—that's what I mean. Like, I ain't scared of death. What you gonna do to me?