“Shook Ones, Part 2” is probably — actually, it is the most popular, well-known Mobb Deep track. Today, we learned that half of Mobb Deep is gone, with Prodigy’s death at 42. The hip-hop community is in mourning, and “Shook Ones, Part 2” is on repeat on countless playlists around the world.
For me, though, the best Mobb Deep song was “Quiet Storm.” It was Prodigy at his lyrical height, delivering all three verses with Havoc handling the hook and completely in his bag on the production tip. First released on the In Too Deep soundtrack, then becoming the lead single for Mobb Deep’s fourth album, Murda Muzik, the track was built over a sample of the bass from the Furious Five’s “White Lines,” and a three-note piano riff that for some reason reminded me more of the Jaws theme than anything else.
It fit; the murky, menacing beat perfectly matched the grimy threats P and Hav growled, sounding subterranean as all hell, just like a submerged shark swimming just below the surface in search of its next victim. That’s what being 13 in the hood felt like: Non-stop forward motion to avoid death by starvation or predator, unseen by mainstream America, unnoticed by anyone other than those that mainstream America viewed as the sharks that surrounded me, and would eat me alive if I didn’t also become a shark myself.
It’s a philosophy shared anywhere that might be considered the “inner city,” or the ghetto. Kill or be killed, we all have to be sharks to survive.
While I wouldn’t dream that my life coming up in the environment that I did was anything near as hectic as Queensbridge housing projects in the ’80s, the lyrics and the vibe on “Quiet Storm” spoke to me, to that growing, gnawing kernel of nihilism that I still carry to this day. It was born of the sense that I lived in an unsympathetic world, a world that saw me as just another predator (shout-out to Hilary Clinton) because of where I grew up and the color of my skin. The world would never care about me… but a part of it would understand.
The song opens to the muted rumblings of thunder, like the titular storm brewing on the horizon; it felt like the undercurrent of paranoia every kid from the hood becomes aware of on the cusp of puberty. Things can be quiet, but there is the ever-present threat of violence, of chaos, of inhumanity suddenly visited upon the unsuspecting, the innocent. Prodigy, sounding neither desperate, melancholy, or relaxed, delivers the introductory monologue:
“Done been through it all, man
Blood, sweat and tears, n****s is dead and shit
What the f*ck else can happen, yo?
I don’t think much more, son, word to mother, yo
We done seen it all, and been through it all, yo
Let y’all n****s know right now
Word to mother, for real, for real
That sh*t is the truth, I’m not lyin’”
More than perfectly summing up that feeling of fatalistic despair with his words, it was his tone that spoke most directly to me. He asks “What else can happen?” not out of fear or longing; there is no pleading in his modulation, only quiet, resigned acceptance. This is just how it is, so what else can happen? Nothing would surprise him, or me. Then, just when it seems like there might be no solution but abject hopelessness in the face of this gargantuan, monolithic system that seems to thrive from its exploitation and ignorance of the day-to-day struggles of its cast-offs, he delivers the cure:
“I put my lifetime in between the paper’s lines.”
It’s so simple, really. If They don’t see us, make them see us. If They don’t hear us, make them hear us. If They don’t want to face the reality that their security is built on our sacrifice, shove it in their faces, until they can’t do anything else.
It wasn’t Prodigy that made me want to be a rapper, but it was Prodigy who showed me, even if I didn’t know it at the time, the power of the pen.
I wasn’t the only one; Jay Z himself counted Prodigy as one of his many inspirations, countless outpourings of grief and thanks for his contributions to hip-hop and rap have filled social media and blogs, and his legacy and unflinching, uncompromising style is on full display in the modern work of young rappers like Tee Grizzley, Vince Staples, and even Lil Uzi Vert. His influence and impact are undeniable and inimitable.
The rest of that “Quiet Storm” verse is filled with nuggets and quotables that will no doubt make their way to the timeline of your choice. “What the drilly with that though, it ain’t bangin’,” has long been a favorite of mine, although honorable mention goes to, “I’ll take the life of anybody tryin’ to change what’s left / And through all of that a n**** ain’t scared of death,” which, again — perfect summation of the mentality the hood tries to drape over a young, Black kid’s mind early on.
Thank you, Prodigy. You saved at least one young Black kid’s life, putting him on the path to writing. I wouldn’t be here without you. From one knucklehead who made it out to another, rest easy. I only hope I can pay it forward.