New American Songbook: Prodigy

Aug 14, 2017

The rapper Prodigy, best known for his work as half of the classic duo Mobb Deep, died in June of this year. Mobb Deep was a breakthrough project, perfecting the art of noir rap during the nineties, one of the most productive and diverse periods of hip hop history. Their grim reporting from the borough of Queens inspired years of lesser imitators who reproduced the violent imagery of Mobb Deep’s lyrics without the context, history or community that made those lyrics really impactful.

The nineties were an intense period in hip hop history, where all sorts of threads of culture and ideologies became tangled together as often as they were woven. Politics, mysticism, religion and science existed on the same plane. The Qabalah, Five Percenters, Nation of Islam mixed into lyrics alongside cosmology and mathematics, sometimes coherently and at other times confusingly. What meaning existed was ironically obscured by the actual facts and became apparent only in the accumulation of verses—as usual, the revelation of hip hop was in the breaks and assemblages of partial information.

All of this setup is to introduce the final album recorded by Prodigy and released in January of 2017. Titled “The Hegelian Dialectic”, it’s not only the best album Prodigy has released since his Mobb Deep days, but it also fits well within this assemblage tradition. Is the triangle of Hegel’s dialectic—the abstract, negative and concrete—also the triangle of the Illuminati, or the Holy Trinity? That’s probably missing the point. When you’re looking for the truth, sometimes the biggest distraction is letting facts get in the way.

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