Prodigy Biographer Laura Checkoway Reflects on 'My Infamous Life': 'His Spirit is Strong'

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Prodigy of Mobb Deep performs at O2 ABC Glasgow on May 10, 2015 in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

In 2011, Albert “Prodigy” Johnson shared his life story in My Infamous Life. Struggle, survival and hope; the hip-hop memoir is an intimate view into the Mobb Deep rapper as he traversed fame, beef and illness. Prodigy was incarcerated for three and a half years for criminal possession of a weapon. Because of this, book contributor Laura Checkoway gleaned much from handwritten notes that Prodigy would send her while behind bars. Following the rapper’s death at the age of 42 this week, due to complications from sickle cell anemia, Checkoway reflects on the process -- and lessons -- of My Infamous Life.

How did you get involved in writing My Infamous Life?

An editor at Simon & Schuster got an early draft of P’s book, which P had started writing during down time in the hospital. She sensed the power of his story and that he needed a co-author and she recommended me. At the time, I wrote for magazines and this was my first book.

Working with an artist on his autobiography is a very personal endeavor. What was your relationship with Prodigy like? Prior to the book, were you a big fan or had you worked with him?

I was a big fan. I grew up on his music. We developed a really close connection working on the book. While he was locked up, the book became his main focus. He’d send letters asking my advice about stories and secrets that he wasn’t sure whether to include because people close to him might get mad. He even sent me his prison diary. I admire him and it meant a lot to have his trust.

Take us deeper into the interview process. How long did it take to complete the book? Where were the interviews conducted?

When we started in 2007, we’d meet at [producer] Alchemist’s apartment in Manhattan. Then, when P went to prison in 2008, we worked over the phone and through the mail -- after I mailed him the first draft and he saw how it was taking shape, he’d send boxes full of notepads, handwritten on both sides. The book was published upon his release from prison in 2011 so it took three to four years.

The book covers both professional and personal points in P’s life. Were there any challenges getting material or was he game to answer every question?

P was totally open and a magnificent storyteller. I love details so we infused the book with them to make it vivid. The challenge was cutting down the material—there was a ton to sort through.

What's your favorite behind-the-scenes moment from writing the book?

There are countless moments, reflecting on how much we both grew through this process. When P was released from prison, I was so thankful that we had the patience and persistence to see it through and bring this book to life. I remember being at the studio with him while he was recording the audio book. He was finally free, and was still carrying his prison ID card in his pocket.

Wow. What's the biggest thing you learned about Prodigy in the process?

That’s hard to wrap my head around because we were writing his autobiography so I learned a lifetime’s worth. He really lived his own truth: “Keep it Thoro."

For sure. Is there anything you wish had made the book but -- for whatever reason -- was left out?

We condensed a lot and sometimes I wonder if I should’ve given P more room to rant in the book. There were scenes that he chose to cut because he realized he didn’t want to give certain people that much space in his story. There was also an intense legal review and we had to take out some parts. I put in work to prove parts that we especially wanted to keep.

Following his untimely death, how will you most remember Prodigy?

Wow. I imagine his wisdom and words will show up in all sorts of ways. His spirit is strong and all of us who love him and his music will carry that with us.


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