Jay-Z isn’t entirely to blame for what happened to Mobb Deep’s Prodigy. You can go back to 1999’s Murda Muzik to hear a sluggish, wildly tired and/or bored Bandana P half-rhyme his way through lines, revving up occasionally to deliver an inspired verse. In the three albums since Jay’s infamous (no pun intended) Summer Jam dis, Prodigy’s grim boasts have continued to slide from conscious-less to just careless, and what was once considered a slump is now, sadly, accepted as style.
Which is, of course, what’s so thrilling about Return of the Mac, Prodigy’s relentless, street-legal mixtape entirely produced by the Alchemist. It’s not just that P sounds excited to be rapping again, although that would be enough. It’s how comfortable he is working with the Alchemist, flipping out over scratchy Blaxploitation soul samples (see below) instead of Scarface retreads or out-of-place club tracks.
The YouTube hit “Mac-10 Handle,” which uses the opening line from Geto Boys’ paranoid classic “Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me” as its hook, is the best of what’s here, but everything else comes pretty close, especially the sobering therapy of “The Rotten Apple” and “Legends” and the pimpish “Take It to the Top.” Prodigy’s been rapping in his own shadow for years, but Return of the Mac isn’t about comparisons — there’s a certain weight that’s been lifted off P’s shoulders, the effects of which have allowed him to make a project that’s both cohesive and independent of its parts. He’s doing something he hasn’t done in years: approaching each concept, no matter how trite or overdone, as if it’s his first time, surprising himself as much as he surprises us, and in the same breath. In other words, he cares again, without really caring at all.
Bonus: Here’s a list of previous songs that have used the same samples as ones from Return of the Mac do.
“Return of the Mac”: KRS-ONE, “Higher Level”
“Mac-10 Handle”: DMX, “Crime Story”; Digable Planets, “Nickel Bags”; Cypress Hill, “Something for the Blunted”; Nas, “True Dialect”
“The Rotten Apple”: Ahmad, “Back in the Day” remix
“Nickel and a Nail”: Busta Rhymes, “Turn It Up”; Special Ed, “The Bush”; Styles P, “Listen”
“Stop Fronting”: Black Moon, “I Got Cha Opin” remix; Compton’s Most Wanted, “I Gots ta Get Over”; Beanie Sigel & Bun B, “Purple Rain”; Ghostface, “Wise”
Mobb Deep: http://www.mobbdeep.net/
The Alchemist: http://www.alchemistbeats.com/