Artist and curator Eli Lazare (@elementsofstyle_nyc) was in Queensbridge when he got news that the rapper Albert 'Prodigy' Johnson, one half of the iconic duo Mobb Deep, had passed away due to complications from sickle cell anemia.
Lazare was in the neighborhood touching up his highly discussed mural of Nas that he curated and painted with Jorit Agoch.
"Having been born and raised in Queens during the 90s, I had an automatic connection to Mobb Deep. Prodigy’s poetic verses and Havoc’s, who was also very lyrical, beats and production had a way of connecting with your conscience and touching your emotions."
As Lazare worked on the Nas mural, Queensbridge was filled with the intoxicating sounds of Mobb Deep. Music was blasting from apartment windows and cars. Hip-hop had lost one of its finest.
"The whole neighborhood was pumping Mobb Deep and Prodigy classics. It amped me up and that was then when it really hit me – I had to rep correctly and do something big."
Lazare decided to pay homage to the late rapper with a mural in Queensbridge and enlisted the help of artist Jeff Henriquez.
The honorary mural was erected on the side of Urban Upbound, a nonprofit dedicated to breaking cycles of poverty, on 13th Street and 40th Avenue, directly across the street from the Queensbridge Houses where Prodigy came of age. It took six and half days to complete.
The mural attracted attention from the press and love from fans and hip-hop artists alike, but only hours after it was completed, to everyone's disappointment and surprise, it was defaced. Prodigy's portrait was covered over with white paint.
At 6:30 on the morning of July 8th, Lazare got a phone call from Urban Upbound letting him know about the damage.
"As soon as I received it, I got out of bed, got dressed and my wife and I drove down there. On my way there, I called Jeff and told him the bad news.
When Jeff arrived at the location, he got additional paint to repair the mural. From that point on, adrenaline kicked in and we jumped right into restoration mode."
Word of the mural defacing spread quickly on social media...
whoever did this to prodigy's mural needs to be arrested. RETWEET so a snitch can snitch pic.twitter.com/savRvue3SY— unpforgettable pfire (@firefire100) July 8, 2017
Lazare's artistic roots are firmly planted in the graffiti world, so he's no stranger to other artists writing over their peers' work. Nevertheless, he admits that this was the first time a mural of his has ever been vandalized.
"A (property) owner can change their mind and decide to buff walls you have painted on, but this was a first.
I didn't focus on the negative cause this wasn't about me, it was for the culture, his family, friends, Hip Hop, Queens, NYC and fans worldwide."
It took additional 15 hours to clean up the mural. Fans and supporters joined Lazare and Henriquez as they brought the mural back to life. Sadly, the mural would once again be destroyed. This time the culprits splashed red paint over it.
Lazare says he had a feeling whoever attempted to destroy the mural the first time would be back.
"Overall, it definitely is a sad thing, not just because it was P, it could have been anyone, and it was about honoring a life and to respect one's passing, one's impact."
Lazare later learned that there may have been personal matters, not related to them, at the root of the defacing. Bishop Taylor, owner of Urban Upbound, worried more damage would be done to his property made the hard decision to take down the mural indefinitely. Plans for a community mural are underway.
The artists have been asked to do another Prodigy mural at another location, but for Lazare, another version of the mural won't have the same impact as to the one he and Henriquez initially collaborated on.
"It was one of the most talked about walls in NY. The mural may be gone, but not forgotten, and his music (his legacy) is still there and can't be erased.
The greatest gift I received from all of this was a personal message from Prodigy's daughter. It was of a heartfelt and deep appreciation for what we had done."
The Urban Upbound plan to celebrate Prodigy's legacy at the at their gala on October 25th. In the past, Mobb Deep has performed for free at past Urban Upbound fundraisers.