Prodigy’s 25th Hour

A Queens rap icon scrambles to prepare for life on the inside

"A number of these stops of late, they're not legitimate," says attorney Stacey Richman, who's representing both Lil' Wayne and Ja Rule. (Wayne has since been arrested for drug possession in both Idaho and Arizona.) "They'll arrest a lesser person within a well-known person's group and threaten them for information. People forget that the police are allowed to lie to you—that's a legitimate investigative technique. It's frightening and unpalatable to the public, but the fact of the matter is, they can do that."

"50 is the big man right now," says Derrick Parker. "There's a lot of homicides out here that are linked to 50's crew, and if you can get somebody like him, it's a bonus prize."

They're using Prodigy to set up someone who's bigger," says Malcolm X Grassroots Movement organizer Kamau Franklin, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he focuses on police practice in New York. "It adds to promotion, publicity, and fame within the department. But obviously, targeting 50 Cent at this stage in his life is not something that's going to stop crime."

Albert "Prodigy" Johnson is facing three and a half years for gun possession.
Chad Griffith
Albert "Prodigy" Johnson is facing three and a half years for gun possession.

Prodigy and Alchemist refused to cooperate with the police; Prodigy was brought up on the gun charge and faced 15 years in prison. After his trial started—and a jury was empaneled without a single black person—Prodigy took the plea offered by the D.A. New York Supreme Court Judge Edward J. McLaughlin sentenced him to three and a half years.

It's just after midnight on January 8 at Context Studios in Brooklyn. A few close friends sit around, smoking and soaking up the hours, while the video crew gives Prodigy one last push to the finish line. He has to turn himself in by noon today. Asked what 50 Cent's reaction was when Prodigy told him about his situation, Prodigy answers that 50 wasn't surprised. "He already knows what time it is. 50 got cameras all inside his car. It just confirmed it for him. I didn't get a chance to soup my bulletproof truck up like that yet. I was being lazy, and I got caught."

But Prodigy is far from lazy now. He's been going nonstop since the moment he woke up, shrugged off the aggravation, and faced his last full day on the outside for a few years. He was at Hot 97 by 7 a.m. for a Miss Jones in the Morning interview. Then it was off to court to handle some paperwork; to the glossy magazine XXL and the popular hip-hop site for more interviews; to Republic Airport on Long Island to shoot a video in the hangar in front of a handful of private planes; to the studio; and to a private family dinner at his "secret spot" with Kiki and his children, cousins, and closest friends, where he had a few sips of Grey Goose and the spicy chicken he'll miss so much. He had appearances booked on Power 105.1 and Sirius Satellite Radio, but there wasn't enough time to pack it all in. Now he's back at the studio to shoot footage deep into the morning. "Tonight, we got three more videos to shoot," Prodigy says, then recalculates. "Actually, we got five more."

He just keeps going, song after song, video after video, trying to ensure that though gone, he won't be forgotten. In this moment, he's obsessed with staying relevant, though his heyday has long passed. While Mobb's 2006 comeback attempt, Blood Money, left listeners shaking their heads as the duo chased dollars alongside 50, Prodigy's critically acclaimed indie mix tape, Return of the Mac, marked a powerful resurgence the following year, and fans hope H.N.I.C. 2 will follow suit. P will have plenty of time to reflect on that possibility, starting tomorrow.

Before heading back to the set, Prodigy is solemn yet clear about what's ahead. "I know why it's happening, and it don't got nothing to do with no cop, no D.A. or judge," he says. "When I go in, they ain't put me there. The Higher Power put me there. I realize that my job is to reach the niggas on the street, the Mobb Deep fans. Once you clean yourself—your mind, your diet—everything else is like a domino effect. And if I gotta go to jail to make my mind and body stronger, I'm gonna be so focused. I'm just gonna be thinking of beats in my head and writing."

Albert Johnson shaved his braids off and went to 100 Centre Street ("the Tombs") later that morning to begin a new chapter of his life. But Judge McLaughlin unexpectedly granted him five more weeks of freedom, ordering Johnson back to the Tombs on February 13. Cohen had sent Prodigy's medical records to the judge to prove that he suffers from sickle-cell anemia, a fatal blood disease. Judge McLaughlin agreed to place Prodigy in a facility with adequate medical personnel and postponed his sentence until the location is settled. (Prodigy is requesting Coxsackie Correctional Facility in upstate New York.) "I didn't expect that, so it was a pleasant surprise," Cohen says. "I wasn't crazy about the trial and the rulings, but the judge seems to be understanding about making sure he doesn't suffer in prison. As it is, sickle-cell disease shortens your life."

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