Thug Tears: The Strangely Sweet Side of Gangsta Rap with Mobb Deep’s Prodigy

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“Sweet” isn’t the first word that comes to mind for most people when they think of legendary New York gangsta rap duo Mobb Deep. Maybe they think of the following iconic lines from “Got it Twisted” ("You bein manslaughtered right in front of my kids/a little blood get on my daughter/it’s nothing she’ll live"). Maybe they think of other equally brutal lyrics showcasing Mobb Deep’s utter commitment to the street life.

But in his autobiography, My Infamous Life, Mobb Deep’s Prodigy shows another side. What’s most striking about this book is not that Prodigy’s life is any different from how it's portrayed in his songs, but that through all of the horror and violence, he manages to maintain a bizarre sweetness. You get the sense that there must have been so many wannabe-gansta-rappers during that era that this undeniable "heart" might have been what separated Prodigy from the pack, that he had actual emotions to convey beyond the mere lifestyle affect. Prodigy is a man who's not afraid to admit he cried when his wife cheated on him, or that the pain of his sickle-cell anemia caused him to contemplate suicide as a child. And he laughs at anyone who thinks there is something soft about wishing someone happiness.

Prodigy’s account of his life leaves the reader conflicted in a way captured almost perfectly (as many things are) by a few lines from Kendrick Lamar’s "M.A.A.d. City":

If I told you I killed a nigga at 16, would you believe me?/Or see me to be innocent Kendrick you seen in the street/With a basketball and some Now & Laters to eat/If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat?/Would you say my intelligence now is great relief?/And it's safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep/With dreams of being a lawyer or doctor/Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul-de-sac hostage

Both probe the question of how the listener or reader should feel about the swirling violence in Kendrick Lamar and Prodigy's narratives given their clear thoughtfulness and warmth of spirit. We’ve pulled 13 moments from Prodigy’s autobiography that might help you answer that question. Read on.

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