Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of posthumously released rap albums. As someone who has been entrenched by hip-hop culture since my adolescent years going back to around 1991, I’m usually turned off as soon as I glance at the track list, only to find that the record label has tried to exploit the fame of the deceased with filler fare that follows whatever the current trends are in the genre.
My favorite exception to the rule of this unfortunate subgenre goes all the way back to just weeks before my high school graduation, when the independent label Rawkus Records released Big L’s Big Picture in May of 2000. A few things made this album different. First, Big L had recorded a sizable chunk of the project’s songs prior to his untimely death. And second, Rawkus seemed to allow oversight from his close friends and frequent collaborators. The result was not only an exceptional album, but more significantly, it proved an important chapter in the legacy of a remarkable hip-hop artist.
Sean Price’s Imperious Rex album has vast similarities to the Big Picture LP with respect to the format of a successful posthumous album. As with previous Boot Camp Clik affiliated releases, the album arrives courtesy of Duck Down Music, arguably the gold standard among indie hip-hop labels and a company that has maintained a family atmosphere and dedication to supporting top-caliber hip-hop since releasing Black Moon’s debut single “Who Got Da Props?” back in 1992. Considering that Duck Down’s core label roster has remarkably remained consistent since the latter years of hip-hop’s Golden Era in the early to mid ‘90s, it should come as a surprise to no one that Price’s Boot Camp brothers feature prominently throughout Imperious Rex.
A pleasantly unique touch is the noticeable presence and apparent oversight of Sean’s wife Bernadette Price. Mrs. P, who has frequently been seen performing verses from her late husband’s historic catalog alongside his Heltah Skeltah partner Jamal “Rock” Bush and other members of the BCC’s Great 8, pleasing Price’s strong fan base that still retains the quality and purity of a devoted cult following. She surprises fans with some original bars to help open and close the LP with the pair of tracks “Dead or Alive” and “Price Family.”
The heart of the LP returns listeners to the Boot Camp glory days of Smif-N-Wessun’s debut album Dah Shinin’ (1995) and Heltah Skeltah’s inaugural effort Nocturnal (1996) with the hard-thumping drum patterns and sinister bell samples heard on the Junior Reid assisted “Church Bells.” “Ape in His Apex” features Price’s longtime Brooklyn affiliate Ruste Juxx, and “Apartheid” is a collaboration with Smif-N-Wessun’s Steele and Black Moon front man Buckshot. All produced by Crummie Beats who did an exceptional job of placing Price’s vocals over tracks reminiscent of his early days as Ruck, circa 1995. Just a few months removed from his tragic passing, the late Prodigy appears on the Harry Fraud produced “The 3 Lyrical Ps” along with Styles P.
The ultimate ‘90s nostalgia rush for longtime fans is “Clans and Cliks,” the long overdue follow-up to Heltah Skeltah’s “Clans, Posses, Crews, and Cliks” from Nocturnal, which seemed to extend a challenge to other rap collectives. The song sparked one of my favorite debates of the 90’s, with my friends and I nurturing a decade-long, back-and-forth regarding who’s lyrical skill reigned supreme as far as rap crews go: Brooklyn’s Boot Camp Clik or their Staten Island neighbors Wu-Tang Clan. Not surprisingly, Price and Raekwon’s verses take center stage for the epic emcee showdown, where no verse disappoints, while the track is held together with a beat provided by one of the game’s premier soundsmiths, Nottz.
A solemn reminder that we’ve lost one of hip-hop’s bar-for-bar best lyricists, Imperious Rex, as an organic product, accomplishes what many posthumous albums invariably fall short of achieving: a credible addition to the artist’s catalog. Authentic with every skit and collaboration, Imperious Rex feels like what would have been Sean Price’s fourth LP and lands atop the list of best rap albums of 2017.
Notable Tracks: “The 3 Lyrical Ps” | “Church Bells” | “Clans & Cliks” | “Prisoner”