Music runs in the blood of many of the greatest hip hop artists, and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy was no exception. But what made his story unique was that he came from a family of jazz musicians, with his grandfather Budd Johnson being a legend in the genre.
Prodigy’s grandfather was none other than the renowned jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, Budd Johnson. Born on December 14, 1910, in Dallas, Texas, Johnson was a true jazz legend. He worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Johnson initially started his career as a drummer and pianist before switching to the tenor saxophone. He made his recording debut while playing with Louis Armstrong’s band in 1932-33, but it was his long and fruitful collaboration with Earl Hines that would define his career. In fact, he and Billy Eckstine, Hines’ long-term collaborator, are credited with leading Hines to hire “modernists” in the birth of bebop, which would go on to shape the sound of jazz for decades to come.
But Johnson’s influence on the jazz world didn’t stop there. He was an early figure in the bebop era, doing sessions with Coleman Hawkins in 1944. In the 1950s, he formed his own group and worked on sessions for Atlantic Records. In the mid-1960s, he returned to working with Hines, and in 1975, he began working with the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra.
In 1993, Johnson was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame, cementing his legacy as one of the most significant figures in jazz history. And while he may not have directly influenced Prodigy’s music, it’s clear that the love of music runs deep in the family. Prodigy and his Mobb Deep partner Havoc are responsible for some of the most iconic hip hop albums of all time, and it’s clear that their family’s musical legacy played no small part in their success.
In a conversation with Red Bull Music Academy, the Infamous P explained his rich family history to Sacha Jenkins:
Prodigy: My grandparents, my immediate grandparents, they were into music. My grandfather was a famous jazz musician by the name of Budd Johnson. He played the saxophone and the clarinet. He taught music, actually, at a national community college. My grandmother, she was one of the first Cotton Club dancers up in Harlem, so she was real big into dancing, and she created her own dance company called the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center, which was based down in Queens. They were always into music, and I grew up around them watching them conduct their business and how they went about it in the music industry.Mobb Deep | Red Bull Music Academy