Happy 15th Anniversary to Large Professor’s second studio album 1st Class, originally released October 8, 2002.
The story of hip-hop is not complete without a sizable chapter dedicated to the Mad Scientist, Large Professor. Besides making it cool to rock spectacles, the man known by his peers as Extra P, quietly amassed one of the genre’s most impressive resumes before dropping his stellar sophomore album 1st Class in the fall of 2002.
Associated with some of the most unforgettable moments in hip-hop, Large Pro seemed destined for greatness dating back to his apprenticeship on Eric B. & Rakim’s Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em in 1990. Finishing the production work started by his late mentor, Paul C. McKasty, Large Pro would go on to complete the album while he was still in high school. Never officially receiving credit for his contributions to the project that received widespread critical acclaim, Large Pro humbly moved on to his next assignment, which was assuming the lead in production duties for Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo’s Wanted: Dead or Alive released in the summer of 1990.
Standing out as the frontman of the group Main Source, Large Pro teamed with Toronto dee jays, Sir Scratch and K-Cut. The group would drop their seminal album Breaking Atoms in 1991. Heralded mostly for its stellar production, Breaking Atoms has aged to become the prized vintage of a music lover’s collection, placed alongside other 1991 gems like A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and Gang Starr’s Step in the Arena.
The good professor’s peer-reviewed catalog earned him coveted spots as the only featured producer on classics like Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “Act Like You Know” from Mecca And The Soul Brother (1992), Diamond D & the Psychotic Neurotics’ “Freestyle (Yo, That’s that Sh..)” from Stunts, Blunts, and Hip-Hop (1992), and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Keep it Rollin” from Midnight Marauders (1993).
Regarded as one of the top soundsmiths in his field, Large Professor’s name is frequently mentioned by A-list producers as an innovator of sound effects and a highly skilled technician of different beat machines. Still honing his craftsmanship on the boards circa 1993, Large Pro orchestrated several noteworthy remixes, namely for Leaders of the New School’s “What’s Next” and Organized Konfusion’s “Stress.”
Lending his expertise as an adjunct only helped grow the legend of the professor that would earn his tenure working on the debut projects of his protégés who featured on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque.” Extra P produced the entire Vagina Diner (1993) for the ruggedly unorthodox Akinyele, and more notably, produced three of the ten songs for Nas’ 1994 classic Illmatic. Extra P’s contributions included the albums two lead singles: “Halftime”, which also featured on the Zebrahead soundtrack, and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.” Monumental tracks for one of the most important eras in hip-hop, the two songs helped to establish signature elements of Large Pro’s distinguished beat-making pedigree. The sleigh bells that anchor “Halftime” became a go-to for many of Pro’s New York City affiliates, and the crate-diggin’ soul sampling of not only Michal Jackson’s “Human Nature” vocals, but the horn extractions from Kool & the Gang’s “N.T.” for “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” helped set a standard for production precision during the mid ‘90s.
Inking a solo deal with Geffen Records, Extra P’s original debut was scheduled for 1996 with an album simply entitled The LP. After multiple delays the album was ultimately shelved (and officially released thirteen years later in 2009), with only the “Mad Scientist” single released. Although the delay was a disappointment to Large Pro fans, the single alone served as a reminder that Extra P was one of the more formidable double threats who could step from behind the boards, when he offered rhymes like “I’m called the mad scientist Extra P / about to set up shop and drop this next degree / for the masses / yeah it’s the live guy wit glasses / from Flushing /known for programming a percussion.”
Despite his indefinitely postponed solo debut, Large Pro seemed focused on proving his acumen on both sides of the boards in 1996, adding an understated moment of brilliance to the High School High soundtrack, by trading bars and sharing production duties with the Chocolate Boy Wonder, Mr. Pete Rock, on “The Rap World.” With lines like “C'mon the loaded SP's the ensemble / Pete Rock together with Large the bomb combo / We raise the stakes on flakes and rock the show / Flipmaster mania son we got to go / to the top and won't stop, flop or fold whether cop a gold,” Large Pro demonstrated his smooth cadence and vocal timing over the signature jazzy sound of the Pete Rock beat accentuated by the familiar effects of the sleigh bells provided by none other than Extra P himself.
Maintaining his relevance within the culture Large Pro kept busy as the ‘90s closed out, collaborating with industry heavyweights like Slick Rick for “I Sparkle” (1999) and Busta Rhymes on “The Heist” (2000). The anticipation for Extra P’s solo output grew when he reunited with Nas in 2001 for two of Stillmatic’s most prolific tracks: “You’re the Man” and “Rewind.” The long awaited reunion helped revive the authenticity that had come into question with Nas’ work, and returned the fellow Queens, NY native back to his roots. More succinctly, the obscure selections of Ernest Gold’s “In Jerusalem” and Rodriguez’s “Sugar Man” for “You’re the Man” showed Large Professor’s growth as a producer and proved him to be one of the handful of the genre’s true geniuses.
Only months after Large P took an active role in supporting his friend’s return to emcee dominance, long-time fans of P’s prestigious work could finally rush out to enjoy a full length project from him, in the form of 1st Class. With more than a decade in the game, Extra P satisfied with a sound that managed to remain true to the Boom Bap Era he helped create while making the most of the modern technology of the new millennium.
The obvious highlights of 1st Class are his collaborations with Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes and of course Nas. While still basking in the success of Stillmatic, Nas returns the favor to his friend and mentor, with his metaphorical lyrics that compare heavy bodybuilding to introspective thinking on the song “Stay Chisel.”
Rising to the task of rhyming alongside Q-Tip, arguably the game’s purist hybrid of an emcee and producer, Large Pro followed his long-time affiliate who lent one of 2002’s best verses for “In the Sun” with his own reflection “Everybody gotta run for the ultimate goal / can't lose they soul / In the process, so and to you I say God bless / seeing your face lets me see my own / so I zone, and think about the days we got stoned / in the staircase of apartment buildings / little children / growing in a world so cold, just like pilgrims / we migrate daily / nowadays we rarely, get to see each other / but when we connect we still brothers.”
Even on the solo tracks, 1st Class proved to be a well delivered product, from an artist whose reputation long preceded its release. Songs like “Hip Hop” hammered in Extra P’s passion for the culture along with “The Man” which served as a prime example of his more autobiographical side.
In retrospect, you can see how 1st Class reinvigorated Large Pro and affirmed the rap legend’s staying power within the industry. The well-respected Queens, NY lyricist Cormega would tap Large for several collaborations over the years including Mega Philosophy (2014) where Pro produced every track. When N.O.R.E proclaimed that he was a Student of the Game in 2013, his claim received credibility when fans saw that the LP included a Large Professor track entitled “Built Pyramids.”
Large Professor’s work to elevate his Queens, NY borough-mates places him in the pantheon of legends such as Marley Marl, Q-Tip, and the Beatnuts. His methodical approach to writing and delivery places him in most hip-hop heads’ top five list of emcee/producer combinations. But his unparalleled musical IQ places him in a league by himself as a man with a special gift for crafting sounds that have shaped hip-hop culture for well over two decades.