Happy 10th Anniversary to Sean Price’s Jesus Price Supastar, originally released January 30, 2007.
Only weeks after Nas pronounced the death of hip-hop at the closing of 2006, backpackers coast to coast rejoiced at the second solo offering from the emcee who had emerged to become not only the more prominent member of Da Incredible Rap Team (D.I.R.T.) a.k.a. Heltah Skeltah, but the standard bearer of one of rap’s most respected collectives, the Boot Camp Clik.
Sean Price’s rise was more than ten years in the making, with his unorthodox and unhinged brand of lyricism having become sort of an urban legend by the time he released Jesus Price Supastar in 2007. Price's sophomore album stands as his masterpiece full-length, which saw the Brooklynite bar-barian—who passed away in 2015 at the age of 43—engaged in a lyrical stand-off, defending emcee traditions being threatened by the oversaturation of gimmicky ringtone rap that many would say was polluting the atmosphere.
Six foot one weighing in at an even 200 pounds, Price’s rise through the ranks of the underground rap scene was made in true Brownsville fashion. He bumrushed upward, armed with the perfect blend of metaphorical genius and snappy humor that quenched the hip hopper’s thirst that had been parched since the pinnacle of Redman’s career circa 1997.
Five years before the release of Jesus Price Supastar, when Price was still known as Ruck, half of the Heltah Skeltah duo, he distinguished himself from his Boot Camp cohorts from the opening of the Clik’s sophomore album, The Chosen Few (2002), with the song “And So.” Shedding his stage moniker and persona, Price emerged from the group having traded his dreads for a demonstrative flow over a more concise delivery that divulged intimate and often self-deprecating lyrics, allowing his audience a view into the soul of their favorite emcee and his experiences on both sides of the music industry.
“I guess I’m back where I started / openin’ up for Buckshot and just rappin’ retarded,” Price rhymes on the opening bar of “And So,” which immediately grabs your attention with his touch of humor, and his revelation that his career had come full circle since Heltah Skeltah’s 1996 debut Nocturnal. And he doesn’t let up, as he then delves into his childhood, explaining that “from day one I had a bad start / to eat, Moms stole meat outta Pathmark.”
As Ruck, Price’s early appearances signaled that his lyrical ability and personality had the potential of rising to main event status. A prime example of his promise is the underground posse cut “Leflaur Laflah Eshkoshka,” a collaboration between Heltah Skeltah and their Boot Camp Clik comrades Originoo Gunn Clappaz, in which he provides the song’s intro and memorable exchanges with OGC’s Starang Wonder.
Ruck passed every test of emcee viability with his contributions to the Nocturnal album including his noteworthy verses on “Operation Lockdown,” the battle rap themed “Clans, Posses, Crews and Clicks,” and of course his solo performance eponymously titled “Sean Price.”
Over the ensuing few years, rapping under his actual name, Price embraced a reality rap of bars delivered in short burst rhyme schemes, usually ending with hilarious punch lines that caught whoever happened to be in the crosshairs. He maintained a healthy buzz, with his gritty flow and hood humor that made the more memorable moments of Heltah Skeltah’s 1998 follow-up effort Magnum Force. But Ruck seemed to truly refine his new brand and transition into the solo career of Sean Price on the mixtape circuit, while retaining the best qualities we loved about Ruck. With an unabashed balance of playfulness and frustration, he stole the show on Boot Camp appearances on Tony Touch, Green Lantern, and Doo Wop mixtapes in the early 2000’s, brilliantly setting up his solo debut Monkey Barz in 2005.
Heavily anticipated and well received within the underground hip hop community, Monkey Barz was the first release of the trilogy of Boot Camp Clik album collaborations with the North Carolina based Justice League. Moreover, it was a much needed dose of lyrical skill and Boot Camp’s signature street edge that Sean proclaimed on the first track as “ignorance at its finest.”
As impressive as it was, there was a subtle aura of pressure looming over Monkey Barz, as the indie label that was home to Sean and his Boot Camp kin waited intently for a base hit from the team’s leadoff hitter. The album unfurls as an experiment of a rapper who is outspoken about his frustration with the current state of the music industry, and it proved to be a valuable at bat as Sean scored big with Monkey Barz. The album was one of the most successful independent albums of the year and Duck Down Records’ most successful LP in several years, showing the stalwart emcee that he indeed had an audience and that his forthrightness and willingness to be completely perceptive on songs like “Brokest Rapper You Know” was important and overdue in the hip-hop world of extreme braggadocio.
With his sophomore release, Jesus Price Supastar, Price seemed more confident that he had cleared his own path, and relaxed in the seat as his record label’s top bill act. The album was just as street themed as we were expecting, but it was well constructed to boot, with memorable guest spots including Sadat X of Brand Nubian, who had grown to prominence throughout the ‘90s with lyrics heavily steeped in the ideology of the Nation of Gods and Earths. In “Da God,” Price trades lyrics with Sadat over a Jerry Butler sample, and includes a chorus courtesy of Boot Camp General Buckshot that with a stroke of genius, avoids becoming preachy but still manages to pay homage to the organization that helped shape much of New York slang and attitude in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
While others have frequently failed to make an entertaining alliteration record, “P-Body” succeeds, showing Sean’s full mastery of language as he heralds “rap Prime Minister pah, President P / poppin’ my pistol, partially parched pass the tea.” In complete rap mode over the 9th Wonder track, Sean returns to vintage Ruck with the line “my left hook will shatter your chin / similar to Darryl Dawkins when he shattered the rim,” a rhyme that would have fit perfectly even if used 8 years earlier.
Jesus Price Supastar did what few rap albums accomplished in the mid ‘00s and entertained all the way through. The heart of the album reveals some of the brightest moments, including joints from Justice League’s Khrysis, who produced “Onion Head,” the highlight of Monkey Barz two years earlier. On “Stop,” Price reiterates, “it’s evident by the way that I rap, way that I move / Sean Price ain’t a gimmick or act, nothing to prove”, and supplies his unique brand of comedy with lines like “I love Allah but I act Christian / make salaat then I’m back bitchin’ like I got the facts missin’.”
From intro to ending, Jesus Price is an entertaining union of raw street journalism with some of the premier production of the time, which helped season the meat and potatoes of who in my opinion was the game’s bar-for-bar best lyricist. With this brilliant second album, Sean Price not only further proved that he undoubtedly belonged in the conversation of the best rappers in 2007. More broadly speaking, it also provided the electric shock that returned a pulse to hip-hop, which may not have been altogether dead, but was headed for life support after years of abuse from its practitioners.
As the hallmark of Price's exceptional body of work, Jesus Price proves the immeasurable lessons to emcees past, present and future that the culture will always make room for impressive lyricism, while proving that being yourself makes the most lasting connection between the audience and true artistry.