Product Placement: Review of Prodigy’s “Product of the 80s”

>Harold Stallworth comes equipped for warfare. When Product of the 80s was released, its marquee contributor, Prodigy, was locked inside New York’s Mid-State Correctional Facility serving a...
By    January 13, 2015


>Harold Stallworth comes equipped for warfare.

When Product of the 80s was released, its marquee contributor, Prodigy, was locked inside New York’s Mid-State Correctional Facility serving a three-year stretch for criminal gun possession. This was 2008, just six months after the release of the second installment of his H.N.I.C. franchise, which was prematurely billed as a swan song of sorts, relegating Product of the 80s to an afterthought in the ever-expanding universe of Mobb Deep spin-off projects.

H.N.I.C. 2 was nothing if not a triumph of extrapolation, gleaning a small but remarkable facet of Prodigy’s rap persona—the crackpot conspiracy theorist who sees a plot behind every shadow, tyranny around every bend—and magnifying it to an absurd and entertaining degree. If H.N.I.C. 2 was intended to warn against Big Brother, then Product of the 80s imagines a world in which the New World Order is no longer new, per se, but rather an enduring reality of American governance. Still, for all the latter’s sci-fi-ness, what really separates it from Prodigy’s earlier solo work is the deliberate absence of nuance. Here, he’s visceral even by his own brain-stabbing, TV-tossing standards. Gone are his fits of paranoid delusion and the uncanny blend of violence and vulnerability, to be replaced with threats of the straightforward variety. As a result, the burden of the album’s ambitious theme rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its producers.

Notably absent from the liner notes are Prodigy’s most frequent collaborators, Havoc and The Alchemist, perhaps to the betterment of this particular concept: their beats, at their most iconic, have always been as colorful as they were blood-curdling; Product of the 80s is a grayscale affair, calling for what Sid Roams—a criminally underrated production team composed of Joey Chavez and Tavish “Bravo” Graham—have so eloquently coined as “zombie musik.” Nothing says hopeless dystopia like piercing synths and 8-bit orchestration.

Sid Roams does the heavy lifting here, producing more than 80-percent of the album, the rest of which is split between Sebb and Jake One, both of whom do an excellent job of co-opting Sid’s undead aesthetic. Collectively, they provide the soundtrack to an Orwellian existence. And it helps that the rapping, from a purely vocal standpoint, is almost as spooky as the production: Prodigy and his long-tenured weed carriers, Big Twins and Un Pachino, who appear sparingly as bit characters rather than co-stars, stand to make a killing doing end-boss voiceovers for the video gaming industry.

The trio’s lyrics are reminiscent of a funhouse: half funny, half disturbing. The most imposing tracks on the album find them trying to quantify the cold—cold-blooded murder, ice-cold pimpery, and, more often than not, just plain old unbearably cold New York weather. “Cold World” is an ode to just that. “Stop Stressing” and “Damn Daddy,” a pair of post-apocalyptic, lady-wooing tunnel bangers, work to surprisingly great effect. On “Anytime,” Prodigy lays claim to guns that oddly and inconveniently require portable compressors. On the album’s final track, appropriately titled “Am I Crazy,” he transcribes a bizarre dream and ruminates on martial law, karmic retribution, and alien encounters. There are more oddities than hits on Product of the 80s, and for that reason, it will never join the ranks of Mobb Deep’s canonized works. But its especially unique commitment to novelty earns it a charming distinction in Prodigy’s solo discography.

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