Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Return of the Prodigal Dun

P sees macs

‘Return of The Mac’ is not the return of Mobb Deep. And apparently it’s not even the return of the HNIC aka Prodigy. However, it IS a return to form for Prodigy, one of the most visionary vocalists of hip-hop. But it is still an odd title. The pimp pun of ‘mack’ doesn’t apply to P. And the Mac 10 reference begs the question: Has gun talk ever subsided in our favorite reality rap? Maybe there was the formality of a slight lull after Biggie’s violent murder. And that may be the reasoning, however twisted, behind Prodigy’s flip of Biggie’s (now ghostly) roll call of firearms for the titular ode to guns. P, like Big, will forever be remembered as bringing hip-hop’s epicenter back to NY. P didn’t have the approachability or variety of flows that Big had but he did achieve what could be the epitome of East Coast gangsta rap. The world P presented was endlessly detailed… or at least the details were endlessly described in new cold-blooded terms. Prodigy had a heavy-lidded myopic eye and he kept it focused looking down a tunnel. It wasn’t the transcendental third eye but for street tales it was capital-V ‘Vision.’ His delivery seemed brutally un-constructed and although the slang was far from beautiful, the 'dun' language (or ‘thun’ for us etymologists) became known for its unique blunt poetics. For whatever reason, the greatest hip-hop vocalists lose their way in a long career and Prodigy was no different. I wouldn’t discount his health or any of the comforts of success for letting him lapse in his lines. But it seems that the recent audience reaction to his G-Unit paychecks brought the fire (and ice) back to his to his bars. There should be guilt associated with ‘Blood Money’ and it’s as if Prodigy turned the interrogation lamps on his ‘Hollywood P’ self and said “OK... you know you done messed up right?” (What up, Duke?)
Alchemist has served in the Mobb Deep camp as something of a ‘fifth Beatle’. Al is most often brought up as one of the purist (and purest) disciples of the DJ Premier style which many would argue IS 'The New York Sound.’ His consistency for conjuring chopped sequences of head-nodding samples is impressive but can lapse into the bad version of repetition. Havoc, on the other hand, has repeated styles within an album but always seems to come up with a new sound for the lead into the next Mobb album. His diversity, nonetheless, adds up to the brilliant Mobb Deep catalogue: ‘Shook Ones Pt II’, ‘G.O.D. Pt III’, ‘Quiet Storm’, ‘Burn’, ‘Got it Twisted’.
Prodigy and Alchemist make it clear that ‘Return of The Mac’ is just a mixtape, the definition of which seems to be ever-changing. Although it is released on Koch it has only one sample credited which belies the abundance of recognizable music. These loops create the familiar and, dare I say, comforting vibe. I suppose there is a loose feel on this long-player with no commitment to crafting a ‘single.’ ‘Stuck On You’ may be the closest P comes to a love song but it is not radio ready (“Shots spread like flu through your lungs and your peoples”). The flip of the soulful vocal samples are exquisite examples of a style from the last decade that probably influenced Kanye’s work.
The tracks work well together maintaining familiarity with a few surprises much like uncovering one more dusty crate of records. The rhymed atmosphere is the smoky air of the world-weary but seemingly death-proof gangster.
The jump from the Scarface influenced imagery (and hook) of the ‘Mac 10 Handle’ video to this album cover is a bit jarring to those that hoped to see a more gutter level shot of the rapper. Instead P and Al survey their domain from a window seeming to enjoy their success… at least for the moment. Prodigy’s lyrics, however, contradict this satisfactory pose. His street knowledge and survival boasts always come tinged with regret or sadness. He creates classically weary and brilliantly ‘unlyrical’ bars for ‘Bang On Em’:
Don’t ask me why Queensbridge can’t stick together / If you don’t know the answer than you don’t know the ghetto / Everybody don’t get along and that’s what that is / We either shoot when we see them niggas or we gon’ get hit

But, as Mobb Deep’s catalogue has proven, sometimes it is the skit that portrays Prodigy in his truest form, at least for the duration of an album. If that is the case ‘Return of the Mac’ is a misnomer. Prodigy looks forward to the ‘real album’ he and Alchemist are plotting (‘H.N.I.C. 2’) but he also looks back to days before G-Unit or ‘The Takeover’ or resurfacing childhood slides… to the sentimental days of going to battle with ‘L.A, L.A.’ while rocking the biggest chain. This ‘mixtape’ has been blessed upon fans of the cold dark corners of Prodigy’s mind but when ‘P. Speaks’ he assures us “We just havin’ fun.” A lighthearted statement from a maestro known for conducting his paranoia and depression might inspire the knee-jerk rejoinder “Well we’d hate to see this guy when he’s NOT having fun…” But, recently, I think we have seen him at his lowest although his paycheck may have been the largest it’s ever been. The promise of a true ‘return’ via the next ‘H.N.I.C.’ installment and then a reunion with Havoc (also currently doing solo work) is greater than anyone could have expected a year ago. And if it’s “just havin’ fun” that lets Prodigy get back to his cold, dismal verses then keep the playground open. But don’t bother sweeping up the broken glass.

Prodigy – Return of the Mac
Bang On Em
Nickel and A Nail