August 8, 2015.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard that Sean Price died.
At the time, I was writing copy for WatchLOUD and I happened upon an Instagram post from DJ Premier. “R.I.P. Ruck….Love and Respect to The Duck Down Family!!! #SeanPrice.” Our managing editor was on vacation at the time, but as the internet was soon flooded with RIPs and well wishes for the venerable Brooklyn emcee’s family, you could feel the sadness from the islands to Brownsville. I had only been hip to Sean's catalog for a handful of years, but in an instant, the "Hanna-Barbera barbarian" was gone.
As one-half of the Boot Camp Clik duo Heltah Skeltah and a solo artist with more nicknames than MF DOOM, “gritty” doesn’t do Sean Price’s rap persona justice. He wasn’t just tough, he was Mic Tyson. He didn’t just rap well, he had Monkey Barz. He would “punch niggas through pizza shop windows” one minute and claim Magilla The Gorilla or Black Panther status the next. His take on New York street rap was at once tongue-in-cheek but menacing all the same and he had the bars to back it up.
Duck Down Records and Sean’s wife Bernadette Price have worked tirelessly to bring his planned fourth studio album Imperius Rex to life, and two years to the day of his death, it’s finally in our possession. Like the marble ape version of Price sitting on the project’s cover, Rex looks to serve as a monument to P’s legacy as one of "real" hip-hop’s most rugged lyricists.
As good as it is to get reacquainted with Sean P, though, some aspects of his style haven’t aged well. Both Price and guests liberally toss around a certain six-letter slur and a bar about raping an atheist on “Resident Evil” just lands with a thud. Sean P has always trafficked in exaggeration, but moments like these now feel somewhat cringeworthy and unacceptable when the tides of accountability are rising faster than ever. Also, while my hat is off to the team for actually piecing this posthumous project together, much like Songs In The Key Of Price before it, some of the shorter songs leave a plenty to be desired.
The aspects of the project that do work well are tied together by Price’s humor, love of family, and pure rapping ability. The recycled Funk Flex piss take “Not97 Skit” is as funny now as it was when it first dropped two years ago. Bernadette comes close to upstaging her husband with bars of her own on two separate occasions. Songs like “Ape In His Apex” are reminders that much like fellow fallen New York heavyweight Prodigy, P was still at the top of his game in his early 40s.
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As the last will and testament for a champion of the underground, Imperius Rex is a complete Sean Price picture, for better and for worse.
Rest well, P.
3 Standout Tracks
Hearing Price’s daughter Shaun rapping the intro to “Soul Perfect” is too perfect a laying of the gauntlet not to be mentioned. Over a sputtering low end and swelling strings courtesy of Alchemist, Price lets the couplets ring (“I Chewbacca'd your chicken; chin checkin' your chest / Get chopped champ, got stamped by the Boot from the Camp”) and stakes his claim as the “Brownsville Jesus."
"Lord Have Mercy" ft. Rim P & Vic Spencer
Lines like “I’d rather box, but I’ll shoot your ass” are Sean Price’s deadpan bread and butter and he sounds right at home in the pocket of the guitar twang of Joe Cutz’ beat. Sean and Rim P bring their A game on this track, but it’s Chicago’s Vic Spencer who steals the entire song out from under everyone. His snarl is perfect for selling a godly flex like “Read the rest of my bars in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
"Clans & Cliks" ft. Smif-N-Wessun, Rock, Method Man, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck & Foul Monday
If you were ever wondering what the Universal Monsters would sound like if they kicked a cypher, look no further than this Boot Camp Clik/Wu-Tang Clan mash-up. Price joins his Heltah Skeltah brother Rock for a game of hardball with fellow Boot Campers Smif-N-Wessun and a chunk of the Wu-Tang Clan over Nottz production for a scuffle that old heads’ dreams are made of. Despite the assistance, Sean walks away with the crown solely based on the strength of the following line: “I got three kids and claim two on my taxes / Popped three wigs and made two closed caskets."