Sean Price & Small Professor
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Sean Price died the exact same day my daughter was born: August 8, 2015. The joy of bringing life into the world was, obviously, the only thing on my mind that day, but once things started to settle into some kind of routine, it finally sunk in that one of my favorite artists had passed away.
My initial hope was that there would never be any posthumous Sean Price albums. If the various albums from the estate of 2Pac have taught us anything, it’s that unreleased music should often stay that way. Nothing spoils the legacy of a musician quicker than a mediocre collection of tracks released after their death, so I was skeptical about new music from Sean Price in the years after he died. Thankfully, Price’s record label has so far protected his memory well, first with his final solo album proper, 2017’s Imperius Rex, and now with the excellent new project 86 Witness.
In short, the new album is hardcore hip-hop with no glitz or glamour, which is all you ever really need from a Sean Price album. It’s this tough, no-frills style that endeared him to us in the first place and represents what we miss about him the most. 86 Witness has tons of that classic Sean Price shit-talk, witty bars and rewind-worthy wordplay throughout the ten tracks. Highlights include lines about selling crack to heavily-pregnant women on “Refrigerator P!” and dressing like Don Cheadle while searching for The Beatles on the standout Quelle Chris featured track “Latoya Jackson.”
But 86 Witness isn’t just a Sean Price album. It’s a collaboration with the talented Philly-based producer Small Professor. To make an entire album with an artist held in such high regard must have been the dream project for a producer with a largely underground following like Small Pro.
He rises to the occasion perfectly, thanks not only to his talent but because he and Price did actually work together on the album. A lot of posthumous music is stitched together from unused vocals and random beats. For 86 Witness, Price and Small Pro were actively putting the album together at the time Price died. This comes across on the final product with Small Pro’s beats providing the perfect accompaniment to Price’s gravelly flow and sharp lyrical barbs.
There was never any shortage of people ready to feature on Sean Price albums, and nearly every track on 86 Witness has at least one guest spot. The lineup includes Price’s long-term partner in rhyme, Rock, plus his fellow Random Axe member Guilty Simpson. Elsewhere we get some off-the-wall combos that work brilliantly, like Quelle Chris on the aforementioned “Latoya Jackson” and Your Old Droog on “John Gotti.”
Small Pro also beefs up the features list with verses from members of his own extended crew, including regular collaborators like Curly Castro and Zilla Rocca on a “John Gotti” remix. It’s a wise choice by Small Pro that probably made up for any shortfall on unfinished tracks due to Price’s death. You also can’t be mad at Small Pro for putting his crew on the record, because who doesn’t want to be able to say they appeared on a Sean Price album?
Those who were close to Sean Price have understandably become gatekeepers of his music since his death, notably Dru Ha, the head of his record label Duck Down Music, and Bernadette, Price’s widow. They only cosign music of quality that they feel will prolong his legacy. That they approved 86 Witness is a mark of the high standard they’ve embraced and a testament to the hard work of Small Professor. You get the sense this is a personal and meaningful piece of music for the producer and the team at Coalmine Records, who have released the album in partnership with Duck Down. They have taken great care to craft something way bigger than just a mere tribute album.
Notable Tracks: “John Gotti” | “Refrigerator P” | “Latoya Jackson”