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November 17, 2000|SOREN BAKER

*** Prodigy of Mobb Deep, "H.N.I.C.," Loud. After participating in four nearly flawless albums with Mobb Deep, this rapper arrives with a strong solo album that traverses much of the same sinister subject matter he and his Mobb Deep partner Havoc traditionally explore.

Prodigy is one of hip-hop's most brutal lyricists. His menacing verse details bone-crushing activities with an intimidating aura crystallized in his chilling, deadpan delivery. In these 22 songs, the New Yorker spends much of his time telling tales of death and despair. It's his insight and detail that make him such a forceful writer, and his gruff voice complements his harsh words. But one of the album's strongest moments comes on "You Can Never Feel My Pain," in which Prodigy abandons the tough talk to frankly address his struggle with sickle cell anemia.

Although much of the album is handled by producers other than Havoc, many of the songs have the same macabre tone of Mobb Deep's work. Still, at times "H.N.I.C." emits a decidedly brighter vibe, as some of the string arrangements and piano loops give it an elegant, even serene flavor. But the overall impression remains stark, dark and eerie.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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