Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, whose death from complications from sickle cell anemia was confirmed Tuesday afternoon, was a true rap legend. As a part of the duo Mobb Deep with Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita, and on his own (especially when partnering with producer Daniel “The Alchemist” Maman), P made classic music that will stand the test of time.
But almost as much as writing great rhymes, Prodigy loved a good rap beef. His career was filled with battles against many of the greatest rappers of all time, and he usually gave as good as he got.
Here is a by-no-means-definitive list of some of P's greatest rap beefs.
Tha Dogg Pound and 2Pac
In his 2011 memoir My Infamous Life, Prodigy traces his beef with nearly the entire West Coast to one video. He says that the clip for Tha Dogg Pound's collaboration with Snoop Dogg, “New York, New York,” which featured the rappers blown up to Godzilla size, walking through NYC wreaking havoc, was something he took personally.
So Mobb Deep teamed up with Capone-N-Noreaga and made “L.A., L.A.” in retaliation. As the East-West rivalry began to heat up, 2Pac, newly signed to Death Row, decided to get involved. 'Pac went at nearly everybody—Big, Nas, Jay Z, and Mobb Deep, plus a few more people for good measure—on “Hit 'Em Up.”
“Don't one of you niggas got sickle cell or something?” Pac teased on the track. “You fuck around with me, you about to have a seizure or a heart attack.”
P struck back immediately. In his book, he says that the very same day he first heard “Hit 'Em Up,” he went to the studio and recorded the vicious “Drop a Gem on 'Em.”
Sadly, just a few weeks later, 'Pac was killed.
Keith Murray and Def Squad
On the now-famous (and oft-parodied) monologue “The Infamous Prelude,” Prodigy took shots at (nameless) rappers who talk about “how much weed you smoke” and “space shit.”
One rapper who did just that, Keith Murray of Def Squad, felt some type of way. Eventually, they squashed the beef at a video shoot. That is, until Prodigy ignited it again by rhyming about “def kids feeling guilty 'bout the space shit” on LL Cool J's “I Shot Ya”—a record on which Murray appeared as well.
At that point, Murray got into a fight with P outside NYC nightclub the Tunnel (“Keith Murray and his whole clique/Yeah, you snuffed me in front of the cops, that's bullshit,” Prodigy recalled on “In the Long Run”). The two would continue trading disses back and forth for years.
The “New York, New York” video actually started a second major beef in Prodigy's career. Jay made a passing reference to the clip on his 1998 song “Money, Cash, Hoes”: “It's like New York's been soft ever since Snoop came through and crushed the building.”
It was a line Prodigy took public exception to. “Jay was nowhere to be found when that drama popped off between Mobb Deep, Dogg Pound, Pac, and Biggie,” P told The Source. “That was our little personal beef, not a coastal war… so Jay Z is a bitch-ass nigga for making that quote in his lyrics.”
Tensions that had been stewing for years (there were, P claimed, subliminals thrown back and forth on “Trife Life” and “Where I'm From”) exploded in 2001 when Hov debuted his Mobb Deep diss “Takeover” live at Summer Jam, and included the now-infamous picture of a young Prodigy at his grandmother's dance school.
“I did like the tactic that Jay used,” Prodigy said years later, about the photo displayed on the Summer Jam screen. “That was pretty slick.” He fired back with “Crawlin'”—and, at least according to his memoir, by nearly beating Jay up at Diddy's restaurant, Justin's.
On “Destroy and Rebuild,” released in 2001, Nas took some shots at P, but in a very Nas-like way: “Prodigy, I got love for you,” he says on the song's outro. “Just get them unloyal niggas from out your circle.” Prodigy claimed in his book that Nas rapped this because “he was mad at me for doing a song with Cormega on which Mega took shots at Nas in his verse.”
But there was actually another, deeper level. P said in an interview on Vlad TV that some of Nas' Queensbridge friends were upset that Prodigy was repping their hood even though he wasn't originally from there.
“I can't even really be mad at Nas, because these is the people he grew up with,” P said. “I had to distance myself from them, because [Nas is] standing next to someone who's threatening my life… that's how it got kind of crazy.” Nas and P reconciled when Prodigy returned home from prison in 2011.
Saigon and Tru Life
To hear Saigon tell it, the origin of this beef comes from Prodigy double-dipping.
“Prodigy stole $15,000 from Tru Life. Not stole it, but he did a verse for him, and went and did the same verse and took the money, and then went and did the same verse on some other shit,” Sai told This Is 50. “Tru was like, 'Aight, give me another verse.' Son kept ducking.”
Tru Life and Mobb had serious issues from then on, which were documented in the film Beef. Tru claims he and his crew ran into a Mobb studio session with guns and beat some people up.
Because Tru Life and Saigon were close, Sai got dragged in as things escalated. Not helping matters was an interview where P said he didn't like Saigon—something Saigon saw and promised retaliation. It all culminated in a fight between Mobb Deep and Sai at SOBs in the fall of 2007. The two would continue to snipe at each other well into 2011.
As for Tru, he and Prodigy would finally reconcile in 2016.
While incarcerated, P was still keeping up to date on what was going on in hip-hop. Vibe conducted a poll about the best rapper alive in 2008, and Prodigy was not happy with the results. “Vibe says 920,000 people voted for it,” he wrote in a letter. “I would personally bitch slap all 920,000 of these voters if given the opportunity. Who in the fuck picked Crooked I, Flo Rida, and Rich Boy? How did Vibe approve this?”
Crooked responded by challenging Prodigy to a fight.
P's propensity for feuds even extended to his own Mobb Deep collaborator, Havoc. In the spring of 2012, Havoc sent out a bunch of strange tweets attacking his partner in rhyme. He went as far as accusing P of having a homosexual relationship while locked up. “”I got n***as in the jail system to back up that prodigy was fucking homes in jail,” he wrote.
Havoc then released a statement saying his phone was stolen. But that was proven to be a lie when audio of Havoc going at P was leaked to the Breakfast Club. The group went on temporary hiatus, but reunited the following year.
But today, to mark his passing, it's been all love from the rap world. Prodigy is a legend and he will be missed.
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