In Defense of Albert Johnson

I wrote this for George Bush Money last week. Enjoy.
I think it’s safe to say Mobb Deep’s initial post-penitentiary efforts have been greeted with a lukewarm critical reception. It came as no surprise to witness ‘Dog Shit’ written off as underwhelming, as Nas is habitually maligned across the blogosphere. What is puzzling, however, is the cold shoulder Prodigy has received thus far considering just a few weeks ago “Free P” was certainly a ubiquitous movement.

Much of the disparagement appears to stem from his inability to rekindle the Murda Musik era vogue, but unless New York’s Mid-State Correctional Facility now provides prisoners access to wormholes and flux capacitors, there was never any reason to assume Prodigy would come home twelve years younger. Apologists have suggested he should be alloted ample time to shake the rust off, but this is a flawed argument when his recent contributions pick up right where HNIC 2 and Product of the 80′s left off. Nas’ assertion that while “locked in prison your clock stops ticking” was a spot on assessment of Prodigy’s performances on ‘Dog Shit’ and ‘Love Y’all More’.

Although revisionism has quite successfully convinced the world otherwise, Prodigy’s progression toward liberal non-rhyme schemes and the dilatory delivery present in the latter half of his career was absolutely not a result of the infamous summer jam screen ridicule. This suppositious line of thinking is problematic because it suppresses the nuances within P’s career trajectory. Proposing such a narrative is akin to assuming Ghostface Killah abruptly introduced his abstract approach on Supreme Clientele. It’s a gross oversimplification, ignoring the fact that Prodigy’s current spoken word incarnation first reared its head on Murda Musik, further transitioned on HNIC and Q.B.’s Finest, and fully manifested on Infamy.

I choose to view Prodigy’s artistic direction over the last decade as a journey of growth, rather than a series of missteps. The elements of paranoia, vulnerability, and awareness that separated Mobb Deep from their contemporaries continue to permeate his music (particularly his solo catalog). In fact, I would argue that the ominous imagery of his later works actually trumps that of his most heralded material. In defense of Albert Johnson, he’s been in rare form since the release of Return of the Mac back in 2007. I’m not so sure the same can be said for the 'discerning' ears of his fans.

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