Songs in the Key of Death: Keeping Sean Price's Legacy Alive

The best way to pay tribute to a fallen rapper is make sure the next generation listens, so that's what I did.

Sean Price would have slapped me for bullshitting, so I won't bullshit. 

I took Sean Price for granted while he was alive. Like any east coast '80s baby raised on underground hip-hop I had been listening to Sean's gravel-inflected voice since the Heltah Skeltah days, a review of his Sean Price Supastar was one of the first pieces I ever wrote for DJBooth. I loved him for the same reason I loved Ghostface, they were both rappers who could make you laugh one minute and then punch the canine teeth out of your mouth the next. But as the years ticked by it always felt like there was more time. I'd cross him off my interview bucket list the next time I was in New York, I'd go back and listen to that new song in a couple days. Truth be told, if he was still alive I can't say I absolutely would have taken the time to write a review of his Songs in the Key of Price album. There'd always be more time, the next song, the next album. 

Now there's no more time. Sean Price is dead, taking a piece of hip-hop with him, and I'm forced to reckon with his legacy, ask myself whether I did enough to spread the gospel of P! while he was alive. I didn't. And so an album review doesn't feel like nearly enough, dedicating an episode of my Dash Radio show to him doesn't feel like nearly enough. It's been infuriating to watch places like Hot97 tweet their condolensces but still refuse to play any of Sean's music on air* - Lord forbid they disobey their Clear Channel overlord's playlist even for one song - but I can't control Hot 97. I can influence what DJBooth does though, and in thinking about what doing my part to pay tribute to one of rap's truest emcees would look like, I came to realize that carrying on his legacy meant passing on his legacy.

If the only people who listen to Sean Price after his death are the people who listened to him before his death, then his music will end with us. For Kimbo Price to live on the next generation needs to pick up the torch, and as it just so happens I have the next generation working for me. And so I made Lucas sit down and truly listen to Sean's now posthumous project, Songs in the Key of Price. Lucas felt like a perfect candidate because he was familiar with Sean, could recite the basic facts of his career, but hadn't ever really sat down and dove into a Price project because the more music you listen to the more you realize how much music there is you haven't listened to. There's always more time to get to that artist you've been meaning to get to until there isn't, until some force makes you finally stop and listen. 

I'm also very aware that the worst way to make someone love music is to make them love music. So my goal in having Lucas listen to this album isn't to convert him to a hardcore Sean Price fan or face the wrath of my hip-hop headbutt, applying that kind of pressure to someone's listening experience is counter-productive. My goal was to make sure Lucas at least understood why so many of us loved Price, to appreciate his contributions to hip-hop on a deeper level than being able to recite the facts on his Wikipedia page.

Did I accomplish my goal? 


I know and knew very little about Sean Price.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, it’s not the greatest thing considering I work for a hip-hop website (and I even covered Sean’s work before), but I knew that with Sean there was no bullshit, and I respected him for that. It’s in that spirit, the spirit of no bullshit, that I admit I am not particularly a Sean Price fan. I was prepared to remain silent on his passing, not because I didn't care, but because I didn’t want to do a tribute piece and pretend as though I knew him musically or personally, to capitalize on his passing. It feel disingenuous to send out condolences in the name of retweets, pageviews or credibility. Then Nathan pitched me this idea for a review/introduction/tribute/chance to laugh about dope lines and I was interested.

I’m really glad I listened to Songs in the Key of Price. I dug the production, especially some of the sample flips - "Brazil" is amazing and "D.L.F" is also used on this obscure Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture album I used to love - and Sean’s flow is so unique. It has this great bite, almost like it’s constantly echoing. I love the way he’s so funny yet so hostile at the same time. He reminds me of that scene from Goodfellas, one minute he’s cracking a joke then the next he’s at your throat.

“The god Donkey Sean throw barrels at Mario”

The project was great and honestly, I felt it way more than I expected considering my tastes always fluctuate and I’ve been on a non-hip-hop kick lately. Still, what I got more out of this experience was the research the album inspired me to do, digging past the tribute articles from people and sites that never covered P (maybe I'm being hostile but something seems wrong with a site like People covering his death so impersonally) to something closer to who he really was. It was funny to see him pick apart shitty rappers and make fun of R.A. The Rugged Man in this, but one interview really stuck out to me.

The last question reads:

Noisey: "How do you want to be remembered in the rap game?"

Sean Price: "I think people will go, 'Yo! That nigga can rhyme'” And I’m cool with that. It’s the rap game, man. I wish that they would go, 'He’s dope and had 8 platinum records,' but I don’t and that’s cool. For those that don’t know. Sean P? That motherfucker can rhyme. I’m cool with that because motherfucker, I can rhyme!

I don’t think there’s a tribute piece that can ever fully capture any person, and I certainly am not qualified to write one for Sean. So I’ll just say it: that motherfucker can rhyme. Lets leave it at that. - Lucas


I don't expect anyone reading this to suddenly watch the hip-hop heavens part and have the holy light of Sean Price's music bath them in his glory. Don't pretend to love Sean Price's music because it's now an easy and important thing to do, faking anything to look good in front of strangers on the internet is everything Sean stood against. But if this prompts even one more person to truly listen, if Lucas can now pass along his music to someone else, then I'll feel like I've done something more than just tweet #RIPSeanPrice, something more than write another album review.

And if you're similiarly inspired to do more, Songs in the Key of Price drops August 21, you can cop it, along with all sorts of dope deluxe packages, via DuckDown Records. In addition, a memorial show is going down at NYC venue SOB's next week, with all proceeds going to Sean's family, and donations to his family can be made anytime via CrowdRise

Thank you for the decades of music Sean Price, I know you're in hip-hop heaven slap boxing the shit out of God. 

[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. This is his Twitter. Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth and a proud rap nerd. This is his Twitter.]



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