A Beautiful Tribute to Sean Price’s Legacy, Imperius Rex

by Rajin

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Two years from the day of Sean Price’s passing, Duck Down Music released Imperius Rex, a posthumous Sean Price album. P was working on an album with that title, however, he had passed before getting too deep, completing only four songs according to his wife, Bernadette. As such, she took it upon herself to complete the album with what materials she had. She had taken the few songs Sean had fully completed, and fleshed the rest of the project out with unused Sean verses and filled the blanks in with guests. The end product is an impressive collection of songs that feel almost completely like a normal Sean Price album.

The album opens up the with the title track, which was one of the few songs that was properly completed before Sean’s death. Before the song starts, we are greeted with a preface by Sean’s daughter Shaun (that’s always going to amuse me) doing her signature cover of Sean’s song “Soul Perfect.” Honestly, I can’t think of a better way for the album to start, because Sean bringing his daughter out at a show to do that had become one of the coolest moments to see happen in Sean’s career. The track kind of serves a similar purpose as “Genesis of the Omega” from Sean’s last album, Mic Tyson, where it is just a bar-fest used to get the listener ready for what the album has to offer. It may not be a coincidence that The Alchemist produced both tracks.

Most of the rest of the album has a sort of apocalyptic sound to it. The soundscape laid by songs such as “Apartheid,” “Negus,” and “Church Bells” is eerie, spacey, and threatening. The beats to those songs and several others feel almost hellish, with minor distortion in the instruments used and ghoulish pianos. It is by no means experimental or out-of-the-ordinary (as that would defeat the entire purpose of this being a Sean Price album), but it is definitely a cool sound. I don’t know whether Sean himself had decided that this was the direction that he was going to go in or if that was just the type of production that Bernadette decided to use, but regardless, it was a cool artistic choice. It feels like the next logical step from where Mic Tyson had left off, as that album was definitely muddier, darker, and more Alchemist-driven than his previous two, which had more of a typical Duck Down-9th Wonder/Khrysis-influenced soul-sampling sound to them. Of course, that is still present on a few tracks like “Ape In His Apex” and “Clans & Cliks,” but overall there is a more minimal, creepy atmosphere to the album.

The guests on this album were chosen very well. While most of them were put on the album in order to fill the gaps that couldn’t be filled with more of Sean’s verses, none of them actually felt that way. Coming from who they came from and being done the way they were, it all felt like Sean had personally worked with them for their verses. Aside from Freeway alluding to Sean being dead on “Prisoner” (whose contribution I did not like in the slightest), I genuinely can’t tell whether the verses were done before Sean’s death or after. They did a great job at not talking about his death, but rather just adding to the song in whatever way they would have done under normal circumstances, and most were very enjoyable overall. Also, there were thankfully no really left-field features, which tend to happen a lot on posthumous releases. Everyone featured on this album is someone who I could have seen Sean working with, oftentimes because he’s already worked with them. In my opinion, DOOM came with the best feature verse on the entire album by a long shot, showcasing a hunger that he hasn’t had since Born This Way. It was also sort of fun to see Mrs. Price actually rap on the album too. It’s definitely something I see Sean enjoying, being the family man he was.

I would have to say the most impressive part of this album is how well the songs were put together, considering what they were. As stated earlier, Bernadette Price painstakingly went through verses and hooks that Sean had in the vault for various reasons and chose which ones to put together to create full songs with. On occasion, such as “Dead or Alive” and “Definition of God”, you can definitely tell the verses come from two different sources; on both songs, the first verse would have Sean sounding like he always does, and the second verse had him sounding a lot raspier, almost alarmingly so on the former. However, there are no other times I can think of that noticeably displays a difference. In fact, the verses tend to sound very natural together. If I didn’t already know what the creative process was for this album, I honestly would have thought that more of it was completed before Sean’s death, the verses are placed together that fluidly.

Of course, being that this is a Sean Price album, the content doesn’t offer much more than rapping about rapping and talking about how he’ll slap the shit out of you. As taken from a voice clip used on “Refrigerator P!” Sean says that he is a hardcore emcee and that he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. While yes, it can be fun to hear a rapper rap, it can get very boring unless you have substantial enough skill to back this up. Thankfully, Sean did. I believe that Sean’s artistic style did play a role in what makes Imperius Rex feel so much like a real Sean Price album. Given what Sean usually rapped about, it may have been a little easier to piece songs together.

As this is a posthumous album primarily consisting of songs that Sean himself did not complete, we feel as though it would be unfair to assign a score to it. This is not technically an official review so much as it is my thoughts on the album and the work going into it. I just wanted to discuss it, not only because I enjoyed the project a lot, but because I am floored at the care put into this project.

This album was meticulously crafted and sequenced with reverence towards Sean’s artistic process. Everybody involved on this album clearly meant for this to sound like what a fourth Sean Price album would sound like, rather than a tribute album with Sean Price vocals on it or Sean Price but artificially updated. I want to salute Bernadette Price specifically for what she did in creating this album. She has, quite frankly, set the standard for posthumous work in my mind, as far as the integrity behind it goes. This is, hands down, the most tastefully done posthumous album I’ve ever heard. No vulture-like treatment of the music (a la posthumous 2Pac and Biggie records) to be seen here. There was no misplaced guest verses, no questionable beat choices, no corny concepts. Mrs. Price did her absolute best to make something that would sound like something her husband would have made, and aside from moments where you can tell the verses aren’t from the same song due to a change in Sean’s delivery, she was immensely successful.

RIP Sean Price.

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Artist of the Month: Proof

by Apu

Proof

This April we’re fittingly making Deshaun Holton, better known as Proof, Artist of the Month. Proof is known primarily as the founder of Detroit-based rap group D-12, Eminem’s hypeman and best friend, and the man who ran the battles in the Hip Hop Shop similarly to the character of Future in 8 Mile. He was also a member of the group 5Ela and half of the duo Promatic. He was an instrumental role in establishing Detroit hip hop, being associated with acts from J. Dilla to the Fat Killahz.

He is most known for his roles in the groups that he was a part of, but his talent as a solo artist was undeniable. His first solo album, I Miss The Hip-Hop Shop, had a sound that was grittier, more soulful, and less aggressive than the D-12 material that had been made up to that point. He showed that he was capable of more than just the signature Shady style. The album still had all of the charm and wit that he and D-12 were known for, but he also showed a more reflective side that wasn’t as present on the group material, on songs like “Broken”, the Promatic cut “Nowhere Fast”, and “Love Letters”, dedicating his verses to Paul Rosenberg and Denaun Porter of D-12.

He only kept building creatively for his next album, Searching For Jerry Garcia. Proof created a sound that was only fitting for an album with that title. Songs like “Purple Gang”, “Ali” featuring the late MC Breed, “No.T. Lose” with a bluesy hook courtesy of King Gordy. “Jump Biatch” and “M.A.D.” have a quite unique sound that can only be described as psychedelic rock-rap. This album is also very dark. Much darker than anything else he had put out beforehand. “Kurt Kobain” and “Forgive Me” are the two most notable tracks off the album. They are hauntingly dark songs on which Proof uses the backdrop provided by the producers and his raspy voice to build an atmosphere of melancholy, numbness, and frustration. Much like Tupac, Proof seemed to predict his own death on this album, on more than one occasion.

Genius artists, so retarded,
Broken hearted, my soul’s like an open target,
And I’m ready to leave Earth,
You step to my death, next year on my T-shirt.
No.T. Lose

Proof was not just an ordinary rap artist. He had a vision that became clearer and clearer as he got older, fusing psychedelic rock with a soulful hip hop style reminiscent of Dilla/Slum Village as early as his first solo release, the Electric Coolaid Acid Testing EP. Even songs off D-12’s Devil’s Night like “Revelation” and “These Drugs” (from the limited edition bonus disc) sound like they have Proof’s fingerprints on them, even if they were not produced by him. Being a member of D-12 might have subjected him to the stigma of being an Eminem clone, just one of Em’s boys, but any time he did solo music he quickly broke out of that mold, using musical styles that Eminem has not attempted at length, aside from maybe “Stimulate”.

Proof was also a legendary freestyler. Eminem detailed in his autobiography how Proof once forgot a verse he was supposed to be performing on the air while he was midway through, and he pulled one out of thin air. You wouldn’t have even known if you hadn’t heard what the verse was originally going to be. Back in ’06, he was challenged to make an entire project in 24 hours. Being the quick thinker that he was, he managed to make 22 tracks in that time span, creating the Time A Tell mixtape. And if that wasn’t enough, the mixtape had a level of lyricism that an embarrassing amount of rappers can’t put on an album that takes them 3 months to make. Unfortunately, the mixtape was delayed because of his death. However, it did manage to come out 4 years later as a fantastic posthumous release.

And Proof may be heard again, if D-12 can finally actually make an album. They mentioned that they’ve messed with his vocals to see how he sounds on newer beats. Generally, posthumous material organized by other people end up being used as cash-grabs and get littered with artists who the rapper would never have rocked with (just ask Method Man about Biggie’s posthumous The Duets album). But it’s a different story when it’s the group that you started, which already has the selling point of having the biggest rapper ever as a member, just using your verses to pay homage, isn’t it?

Before I end this article, I would like to add a small personal tribute. I first started listening to Proof and D-12 in mid-2006, just a few short months after his death. The first time I heard him was on “When The Music Stops”, then on “Trapped” off Eminem Presents The Re-Up (which I later found out was just a portion of the song “Oil Can Harry”). I knew he was something special after listening to “Trapped”. Searching For Jerry Garcia is one of my absolute favorite albums. I don’t know if any other rapper has ever attempted the sound that Proof managed to create. He used to speak about being open minded because his father was a musician, and I think that helped him differentiate himself from his group and from other rappers in general.

It’s weird for me to listen to some of his music as I’ve gotten older and started to understand the gravity of what he was saying prior to his death. I can think of at least 5 different times his death was brought up before it actually happened, most notably on “40 Oz.” and in the video for “Like Toy Soldiers”. There’s a whole new level (well, not really new, since it’s been 10 years [Jesus…]) of darkness and depth to a lot of his music.

Proof is the real reason why I listen to hip hop to begin with. He’s the one who formed the group that flipped my world upside down at age 12. The group that interested me beyond all the rap that I had heard up to that point. The group that introduced me to the darker side of humor and taught me you could say whatever you wanted to. Without him, none of the music that basically raised me would have existed. Who knows what my life would be like?

Rest in peace, Big Proof.