hostface Killah, Lloyd Banks, Lupe Fiasco, and countless others went platinum many times over in 2006 and they surely couldn’t have done it without major-label muscle. But why is Koch still such an easy punch line? Less than a year after the predictably dismal Blood Money, the most hands-off label in hip-hop is letting Prodigy rehab his rep with an album that has a vicious efficiency Clipse was allowed only after publicly warring with Jive for years. Plus, if we believe the rumors, P’s getting $5 an album or better for this. Everyone’s a winner.
There’s also the fact that this is easily the best thing Prodigy’s been a part of since H.N.I.C., something I would say more confidently if his 21st century output didn’t render it basically meaningless. “This is a mixtape, imagine how the album sound,” he raps on “Stop Frontin’,” but the upcoming H.N.I.C. 2 stands almost no chance of being as cohesive. Aside from a couple of pointless skits, Return of the Mac is eleven tracks produced entirely by Alchemist, truly the only dirty white boy Prodigy should be getting beats from. The album as a whole takes cues from the exceedingly squalid, no-budget video that accompanied “Mac 10 Handle.” Alchemist’s brew of blunted basslines, plush string tones, deep soul samples, and ice-grilled snares is the perfect soundtrack for a variety of your favorite activities: drinking that Easus Jesus straight from the bottle, wishing you had a better reason to beat the shit out of someone, not cleaning your bathroom for months, or complaining about all hip-hop that came from somewhere besides New York between 1996 and 2001.
This is all in P’s best interest, as the Mobb Deep slump seemed to boil down to a case of lone wolves trying to be homecoming kings. It’s a return to form of sorts for Prodigy, but the brutal introspection that came from the Mobb’s twin masterpieces is a little too much to expect. Rather, Prodigy indulges in the style of Murda Muzik and Infamy (the parts that were good), almost exclusively using violence, revenge and paranoia as his muses, keeping a stone face during his most hysterical rhymes (“Might treat myself to a nice Ferrari for the winter / Gate my whole crib up: do not enter”).
There’s plenty of competition for your thug rap dollar or download, so why fuck with P in 2007? For one thing, Return Of The Mac is what it is, and it doesn’t try to sugarcoat its nihilism with claims that it’s motivational speaking or a way towards an ill-gotten, but better lifestyle. As evidenced by the brutally bugged-out rhymes (“in interrogation rooms, high on crack / I ain’t got nothin’ for ya / Talk to my lawyer”), the only reward for making it to the next day is getting to deal with other bullshit.
The main draw here is in Prodigy rediscovering his way with words, for lack of a better term. Rather than bombarding the listener with easy similes, P employs his language like his trusty boxcutter, a little unusual, but highly effective. Word choice is slightly skewed (“it’s a cash explosion”) and line construction is often stunted for maximum impact. On “Stuck On You,” the album’s sole beacon of opulence, he turns a clichéd premise—a rapper in love with money, guns, and bitches? Do go on!—into droll wordplay: “my bestest friends, my worstest enemies / Some can even say that my life gon’ be the death of me / You can get me out of a drama or put me in a locker / You’re gonna have me end up in the chair with the tires,” he rhymes (sorta) before likening himself to a combination of Michael Myers and M. Bison.
Even the small glimmers of thoughtfulness are smeared with blood. “Legends” further explores the relationship with his father from “Quiet Storm”: “pops gave me a knife, told me handle my thing / And if not, when I came back he would handle me.” Later on, he laments “n****z bodied JMJ right there in Queens / Goes to show there ain’t no respect for the OG’s.” But it’s possible that he’s speaking on the critical pigpile that greeted Blood Money and turned him into a shell of his former self. If that’s the case, it’s the best kind of self-awareness Prodigy can have right now; hitting the club was the safe route, but the open arms that greeted “Mac 10 Handle” are evidence of where P needed to be all along: “alone in my dirty-ass room / Staring at candles, high on drugs,” plotting revenge on anyone who doubted him.