Since Prodigy’s tragic death on Tuesday, tributes have been pouring in from friends, fellow artists and fans like ourselves—everyone who was stuck off P’s realness. But while most people have been pouring one out to Prodigy and Mobb Deep’s classic catalog, DJ Premier decided to dig into his archives and unearth this early M-O-B-B cut called “Cop Hell” in all its “uncut” glory.
“Cop Hell”—Mobb Deep's very first single—was originally released in limited numbers in 1992 as the B-side to Gang Starr’s “Doe In Advance” (also produced by DJ Premier) and was set to appear on Mobb Deep’s 1993 debut album Juvenile Hell. According to Premo, however, the song was pulled by their label at the time, 4th & B'way, following the nationwide controversy surrounding Ice-T’s similarly titled “Cop Killer.”
(Dan Charnas’ The Big Payback has an excellent chapter on this: in 1992, “Cop Killer” sparked an angry protest from police organizations and politicians alike, including President George H. W. Bush. At one point, Warner Bros. Records’ Burbank headquarters was evacuated after a bomb threat. “Cop Killer” was at the heart of a fierce debate surrounding not only freedom of speech, but the role of police officers as protectors of some and punishers of others. After a noble fight, Ice-T eventually removed “Cop Killer” from Body Count of his own volition).
“Cop Hell,” though not as sinister or steely-eyed as Mobb Deep’s 1995 magnum opus The Infamous, was still plenty violent; two buck wild teenagers from Queensbridge living out their fantasy of slaying cops in cold blood. “Grab his nightstick and beat his ass down till he’s flat line / And now I’m up to my knees in police blood,” raps a young, noticeably hyper Prodigy (who else?) over a squealing horn sample and Fat Larry’s Band drum break. It's not hard to see why 4th & B'way got shook.
Like most of Mobb Deep’s best work, “Cop Hell” was born from Havoc and Prodigy’s trife life experiences. “Me, Prodigy and Havoc got pulled over by the cops in 1993 and they were on some foul shit but we were able to get away without them finding out how dirty the car was back then,” Premo writes, perhaps getting his dates wrong by a year or two (the song was released in 1992, remember). “So we wrote this song about it.”
Rest in peace Capital P.