"People die, and life goes / there's nothing you can do about it, just stay strong."

Words from the man himself, fittingly grim. Being a Prodigy fan - at least, speaking for myself - was something of an act of denial. We knew he had sickle cell, and the diseases' implications. Several years ago I finally googled the average life expectancy of one suffering the affliction, and staring the cold facts in face, went back to putting off the inevitable.

Reports indicate a perhaps more ignoble passing from choking, but the truth is, we all knew this was coming, and there was no way it was going to be pretty.

It doesn't soften the blow. Regardless of the Jay-Z diss, Prodigy and Mobb Deep never stopped being essential to hip-hop. Raekwon would make mafioso rap it just a few months after The Infamous, and Jay himself would further glamorise it a year later, but the Mobb doggedly stuck to reality throughout their heydey. If their breakthrough record had been dark, Q-Tip managed to let in glimpses of light: Hell on Earth, with Havoc left entirely to his own devices, was grim the point of claustrophobia, an oppressive experience. In the best way possible. It still sounds as good today as it always has.

Full disclosure, I first heard the LP at 2005, but it along with The Infamous, solidified them in the vanguard of artists forever immortalized in my rap awakening, realizing just how much more rap had to offer than Eminem, Ludacris, and Speakerboxxx/Love Below-era OutKast. For what would grow into my greatest musical obsession, Liquid Swords and Hell on Earth forever stick in my mind as almost religious experiences, my brain nearly popping as it entered this new sonic world.

I digress. While most of my friends started buzzing over the 'Outta Control' remix - these old school cats were down with 50! - I was delving into their past, and while Blood Money certainly turned out to the be the least 'truly Mobb' record yet, it was still cool to see them carrying across generations. It also gave us one of Prodigy's bluntest moments, albeit censored by Interscope watchdogs:

"Now home if I go to hell and you make it to the pearly gates / Tell the boss man we got beef And tell his only son I'ma see him when I see him And when I see him, I'ma beat him like a movie For leaving us out to dry on straight poverty For not showing me no signs they watching over me..."

Few rappers have dared to so truthfully confront the disharmony between faith and the lives led by those in poverty in America, so while the words may be harsh, they bea an honest pain.

Prodigy was never one for avoiding confrontation. As Mobb Deep flagged following the poor reception of their G-Unit album, and Prodigy encountered legal issues, he refocused on a solo career not touched since his 2000 classic, H.N.I.C.. If you want to talk his mainstream impact, remember Wiz Khalifa named O.N.I.F.C. for that effort, and while we may not be able to say much more for him, Wiz was certainly omnipresent in 2012.

Regardless, Prodigy returned with a vengeance, crafting (with erstwhile supporter Alchemist, credit due) what was supposed to be a minor buzz tape into such a masterpiece that it was released as its an album in earnest. Return of the Mac signalled P's return in a big way, gaining accolades all the way into Pitchfork's coveted world of Best New Music. Speaking for myself, 'Mac 10 Handle' ("I sit alone in my four-cornered room... high on drugs") soundtracked many a night in my college rooms for...obvious reasons. Not unlike the album, the song is a minor masterpiece, P's delivery on the chorus boasting a seemingly impossible balance of sly humour and grim realness. Such was his gift.

Not only had Prodigy survived what was meant as a death blow from Jay-Z, he was back to making more vital music than Hov had himself the year prior. Granted, Jay would right his ship later in 2007 with American Gangster, but after? Put anything since against Albert Einstein, and the answer is clear: Prodigy went out as he came in, seething and grim, still one of the greats.