When Queens rapper Prodigy (born Albert Johnson) came home from prison in 2011 after serving three years for gun possession, he had a lot of lost time to make up for, and a lot of lyrics to record. "I wrote when I was locked up," he says. "Got right in the studio, put 'em on beats," he says over the phone from New York. "Since I've been home I put out about five albums already."
All those albums, however, were solo projects, outside of Mobb Deep, the legendary group that made Prodigy famous. He initially linked back up with his old partner, rapper/producer Havoc (born Kejuan Muchita), in 2011, and they released a handful of new songs on the Black Cocaine EP, but progress on a full-length album was stalled when the two lifelong friends briefly beefed on Twitter.
"Any partnership, friendship, you're gonna go through your ups and downs. It just spilled out to the public because of the social media stuff they got going on now," he says. "Me and Hav, we always work it out, nah mean, we're smarter than that. We know that what we're doing is too important, it's worth something to us." Things are looking up, and Prodigy sounds uncharacteristically upbeat on this current press run, particularly for a guy who is known for holding nothing back in ranting about his contemporaries and whose most famous lyric may be a threat to "stab you in the brain with your nose bone."
After the long wait and all the setbacks, the first Mobb Deep album since 2006's Blood Money is finally being released next week. The Infamous Mobb Deep will be released independently on the duo's new label, Infamous Records. And both ventures were clearly named in tribute to the group's classic second album, 1995's The Infamous, which has another link to the new project: a second disc featuring 10 unreleased songs recorded during the 1994 sessions for that album.
After celebrating the group's 20th anniversary with a tour last year, Mobb Deep went deep into their vaults, finding great music that simply got left off of their albums that can now be released along with their new recordings. "Every album that we did, there's a good 20, 30 songs just sitting there that'd never be used," he says. "On the Hell on Earth anniversary, we're gonna have the same thing; on the Murda Muzik anniversary, it's gonna be the same thing."
Mobb Deep will headline Baltimore Soundstage this Sunday, March 30, which will mark the second time in less than a year that Mobb Deep has performed in Baltimore. Last September, the duo performed at Paparazzi, along with producer the Alchemist, with whom Prodigy has just released the excellent collaborative album Albert Einstein. Mobb Deep left town after that visit with a souvenir-Baltimore-based rapper and jack of all trades Tha Profitt directed a video for the Albert Einstein standout "IMDKV" while they were here, and it recently made its way to YouTube. In the video, Prodigy brandishes a spiked bat in front of Baltimore rowhouses while the narrative sections of the video feature local actor Tray Chaney, who played Poot on HBO's The Wire.
"[Tha Profitt] wrote a dope treatment, sent it to us, so we was in the area, so we shot the video before the show," Prodigy says, noting the ease with which rap videos can be shot and uploaded online now compared to in the early days of Mobb Deep. "The technology wasn't there in the '90s, everything was more expensive. Now anybody can make a video with your iPhone, as long as you're creative with it."
The new songs on The Infamous Mobb Deep feature a variety of guests, including fellow NYC rappers like Nas, the Lox, French Montana, and Busta Rhymes. There is, however, one guest from out of town who Mobb Deep has a complicated history with: Snoop Dogg. In 1995, at the height of media hysteria about East Coast/West Coast rap beef, Snoop Dogg and the Dogg Pound made a video, "New York, New York," in which the California rappers stomped through the five boroughs as giants, knocking over buildings. Mobb Deep, along with Capone N Noreaga and Tragedy Khadafi, took umbrage, enough to respond with the track "L.A., L.A."
Those days, according to Prodigy, are water under the bridge. "We were always fans of Snoop, even during that time," he says, thinking back to the tense era that claimed the lives of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. "It got bad, but I think we all learned from that. It's not worth dying over, it's hip-hop. It's how we feed our families and create jobs for people, have fun with it, make money, be creative, make great music."
As it turns out, "Get Down" from The Infamous Mobb Deep isn't even the first collaboration between Mobb Deep and Snoop Dogg-they previously recorded a song together, for the group's 2004 movie, Murda Muzik, that's yet to be released. And that, of course, just leads Prodigy back to the topic of more archival releases from the Mobb Deep vaults. "It'll definitely come out eventually."
Mobb Deep headlines Baltimore Soundstage March 30.