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Prodigy, half of hardcore New York hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, dies at 42

Hip-hop duo Mobb Deep — Albert Johnson, a.k.a. Prodigy, left, and Kejuan Muchita, a.k.a. Havoc — in Queens in 2006. (Jim Cooper/AP)

Prodigy, who rose to prominence in the 1990s as a member of the hardcore New York hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, died June 20 in Las Vegas. He was 42.

The rapper’s publicist said in a statement that Prodigy was hospitalized a few days ago “for complications caused by a sickle cell anemia crisis.” Prodigy was born with the blood disorder and was in Las Vegas for a performance. The exact cause of death was not clear, the representative said.

Prodigy was born Albert Johnson in Hempstead, N.Y., on Nov. 2, 1974, into a family steeped in music. His paternal grandfather, Budd Johnson, was a saxophonist on many jazz and R&B records. His mother, known as Frances Collins, briefly sang with the 1960s girl group the Crystals.

In his 2011 memoir "My Infamous Life" (written with Laura Checkoway), he described his father as a heroin addict and petty crook who was convicted on a robbery charge. Prodigy grew up in the sprawling Queensbridge Houses projects in the New York City borough of Queens and left school in ninth grade.

He found success in the '90s with fellow rapper Havoc (born Kejuan Muchita) in Mobb Deep. The duo's hits included "Quiet Storm" with Lil' Kim, "Shook Ones (Part II)" and "Hey Luv (Anything)."

Mobb Deep earned a platinum plaque for the 1999 album “Murda Muzik,” which featured the memorable remix of “Quiet Storm,” still performed by Lil’ Kim on the road. The duo sold hundreds of thousands of copies of their albums “Infamy,” “Hell on Earth” and “The Infamous.”

Prodigy released several solo albums, including the gold-selling "H.N.I.C." in 2000. He released a cookbook of prison recipes last year, based on his time in jail. The book, "Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook," was released on Infamous, Prodigy's own imprint at Brooklyn-based Akashic Books.

He said that being in prison changed him. Prodigy served most of a 3½ -year sentence in a medium-security dorm at Mid-State Correctional Facility near Utica, N.Y., after a plea deal on a weapons possession charge in 2007.

“It made me realize the gravity, the reality of having everything taken from you. My career, my family, my freedom,” he told the Associated Press last year.

The rapper, who was a father of two, said it was hard to leave his children, who were young when he went to prison.

“I just tell them: ‘You know, it was horrible. You don’t ever want to be in that position. Learn from my mistakes. Learn from me. You don’t have [to] go through it yourself,’ ” he said.

— Associated Press

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