Has any fall from grace been as well-documented in Hip Hop as Prodigy’s [click to read]? DMX is sure trying to claim that particular throne, but the point remains – Prodigy hasn’t been the same since circa 2001. Whether you attribute it to Jay-Z, [click to read] a general decline in skill, or countless other possible factors, P went from one of the greats to the emcee of yesteryear. So when he released 2007’s surprisingly solid Return of the Mac [click to read] and 2008’s H.N.I.C. pt. 2 [click to read], fans were shown that the Queensbridge emcee had something left in the tank. With Product of the 80’s, his third solo outing in the past two years, Prodigy aims to drive that point home.
The majority of the production on Product of the 80’s is handled by Sid Roams, a two-man team Joey Chavez and Tavish “Bravo” Graham. Eleven of 15 tracks are handled by the duo, and Jake One [click to read] chimes in for two others, creating an extremely cohesive experience. As one would expect, the musical palette ranges from dark, eerie and ominous to aggressive and high-charged. Check the stabbing synths on “Whaddup Gz” or the primal drums and old-school scratches on “Anytime” for an example of the range. True to its name, Product of the 80’s takes you back to the golden era with the retro beat featured on “Stop Stressin,” leaving little to complain about the beat selection here. Someone should tell Sid Roams that they sampled the same exact dialogue as on Ghostface’s “Iron Maiden,” though. Twelve years in the Hip Hop memory may seem to be a lot, but it’s the difference between disposable art and classic albums.
Prodigy has never been known for switching up the subject matter very much, and this album doesn’t change that. The difference is, P used to be a significantly better spitter than he is today; and it takes a very capable emcee to keep someone interested through 15 tracks of violence, violence and more violence. Prodigy doesn’t really fall into this category, though there are some moments where he shines. “P Keep Spittin” features some of Prodigy’s more lyrical outings on the album, though it is curious to hear him wanting to be compared to Jay-Z. “Am I Crazy?” is definitely the lyrical highlight of the album, as P reflects on past beefs and friendships, and casts light on his storytelling abilities: “My nigga E. Moneybags, RIP, he told me back in ’99 this was gonna be/We both tried to tell Nas, but Nas was doin’ him/His little brother Jungle was the only one that listened/Jay-Z and Jaz-o know, Jay-Z chose to ride with the other side though/The math all add up, you can check it out/I told you, me and Pac woulda worked it all out/…and we’d have all been brainstormin’, wow/Imagine life with a homie like that right now/That’s what I’m talkin’ bout, that’s real power.”
In the current climate of Hip Hop, most artists are here today, gone tomorrow. Rarely can an emcee stay relevant – and even more rare is an emcee coming back after having been deemed “fallen off.” Prodigy logs in his third solid release in just two years – an impressive feat indeed. But it’s clear on this outing that the production is doing most of the work. Halfway through the album, it’s just not very engaging anymore. If Prodigy wants everyone to think he’s one of the greatest to come from New York City, he’ll have to (re-)learn how to carry an album with his emceeing, and not let the producers do the majority of the leg work for him.