WNYC Studios Announces “The Realness”
A Podcast Series Exploring the Life and Death of Rapper PRODIGY,
Including His Battle with Sickle Cell Anemia
Hosted by WNYC Health Reporters Mary Harris & Christopher Johnson
“The Realness” Debuts Today
(New York, NY– July 19, 2018) – THE REALNESS, WNYC Studios’ six-part podcast series exploring the life and death of famed rapper Prodigy, debuts today.
Albert Johnson (aka Prodigy) was part of the legendary Queens musical duo, Mobb Deep. As the group was taking over the rap world, something else was taking over him: sickle cell anemia.
THE REALNESS will take listeners behind Prodigy’s music to his battle with the rare blood disorder. Using never-before-heard audiotape of Prodigy discussing life with sickle cell and exclusively-obtained medical records, the podcast will reveal how the disease touched almost every aspect of his life: from the sound of his rhymes to the circumstances of his death in 2017. The series will also go beyond Prodigy’s story to explore the broader issues surrounding sickle cell anemia – a condition that overwhelmingly affects black Americans and is chronically underfunded – including medical racism and institutional neglect.
Hosted by WNYC health reporters Mary Harris and Christopher Johnson, THE REALNESS features interviews with notable figures and personalities discussing Prodigy’s impact and legacy, including Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest; hip hop pioneer Roxanne Shante; and Hot 97 radio host Peter Rosenberg. Listeners will also hear from Doctor Dre, co-host of “Yo! MTV Raps Today”; rapper Big Twins, who met Prodigy when they were both just teenagers; hip hop journalist Bönz Malone; and Matty C, one of the founding writers at The Source, who went on to produce Mobb Deep’s first hit record, “The Infamous.”
The series includes a creative collaboration with Grammy-nominated jazz trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who composed an original song for the show’s theme music and provided archival music for inclusion in the series.
THE REALNESS is available today at wnycstudios.org, Apple Podcasts, and all other platforms. Additional episodes will be released every Monday and Friday through August 6.
“If you want to know Prodigy – his life, his music – you have to get his pain,” said Johnson. “With THE REALNESS, we wanted to introduce listeners to the man behind the rhymes, whose lyrical bravado masked years of crushing agony. This is about how a sick kid from Queens rose to become a legendary rapper. It’s also about the struggle of those living with this disease outside of the spotlight. In many ways, Prodigy’s story is their story too.”
“Prodigy had resources many sickle cell sufferers could only dream of, and yet he still died young,” said Harris. “The question for so many close to Prodigy was: why? As we tried to figure that out, we realized what happened at the time of his death was just part of the answer.”
Episode descriptions are as follows:
Episode 1: “This Sunny Day Right Here”
When the legendary rapper Prodigy died in June of 2017, his fans were stunned. Mobb Deep helped define a generation of hip hop in the 1990s. We take you inside the early years of this hip hop duo and reveal how sickle cell influenced Prodigy's laid back, signature sound. It's a disease he rarely talked about at the height of his fame, but those who toured with him became deeply familiar with the painful crises it caused.
Episode 2: “T’Chaka”
When Prodigy was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia as an infant, he wasn't expected to make it past early adulthood. But in the years leading up to Prodigy's birth, a loose collection of doctors, celebrities and activists -- including The Black Panthers -- transformed this long-neglected disease into a civil-rights issue that even the President of the United States was forced to reckon with. Thanks to the use of antibiotics and other advances, patients like Prodigy began to live longer. But as he grew, Prodigy and his family had to ask themselves: what kind of life was it?
Episode 3: “Son, They Shook”
Prodigy became famous as a teenager with an “arrogant asshole attitude,” by his own admission. We give you three takes on how Prodigy came up. First, how a New York talent show cemented Mobb Deep’s reputation. Then, someone gets shot at Def Jam Records, and a rap star chases Mobb Deep through the streets of Manhattan. And: Prodigy convinces a hip hop mogul to sneak a bag full of weapons into one of the most decadent clubs in New York’s hip hop scene.
Episode 4: “The Most Racist Judge in Nassau County”
Around the time Prodigy was making his most iconic music in the mid-1990s, he went on trial for a probation violation. The judge wanted to sentence him to prison for one to three years. When we tracked down the case files, we found over 90 pages of Prodigy's medical records. They chronicle his life with sickle cell and show how the courts, and even hospitals, often turn a blind eye to this misunderstood disease."
Episode 5: “Up North Trip”
In 2008, Prodigy's penchant for carrying guns finally caught up with him. Following an early morning traffic stop, he was sentenced to three and a half years behind bars. For years, Prodigy had pushed his health to extremes, but by his own admission, prison offered him some redemption and he emerges a changed man.
Episode 6: “Missing You”
When Greg Collins stopped by his brother Prodigy’s house last June, he got some disturbing news. Prodigy was supposed to fly back home right after a show in Las Vegas. But he never got on that plane. A few days later, Greg and the rest of Prodigy’s family learned that the worst had happened. As the hip hop world mourned, many are still asking - why? We try to find answers, and go inside Prodigy’s memorial service to say goodbye to a hip hop icon.
Bonus Episode - “A Realness B-Side: Roxanne Shante”
Roxanne Shante is the queen of Queensbridge rappers. As a teenager in the 1980s, she lyrically demolished all comers. Today, younger artists call her Aunty Roxanne when they call her for advice. In this outtake, we talk with Roxanne about meeting Prodigy, encouraging his partner Havoc to go solo, and how the water in Queensbridge bestowed her with rap superpowers.
WNYC’s health coverage and The Realness is supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Jane and Gerald Katcher and the Katcher Family Foundation, Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
ABOUT WNYC STUDIOS
WNYC Studios is the premier producer of on-demand and broadcast audio, home to some of the most critically acclaimed and popular podcasts of the last decade, including Radiolab, 2 Dope Queens, Nancy, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Death, Sex & Money, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, On the Media, and A Piece of Work with Abbi Jacobson. WNYC Studios is leading the new golden age in audio with podcasts and national radio programs that inform, inspire, and delight millions of intellectually curious and highly engaged listeners across digital, mobile, and broadcast platforms. Their programs include personal narratives, deep journalism, interviews that reveal, and smart entertainment as varied and intimate as the human voice itself. For more information, visit wnycstudios.wnyc.org