Sean Price, one half of 90s rap duo Heltah Skeltah sadly passed away in 2015 and today, on the second anniversary of his death, we have his posthumous solo album titled Imperius Rex released on Duck Down records. The album is a satisfying listen for any fan; whether you’re someone who followed the music of Heltah Skeltah or Sean P’s solo career, or whether you’re someone who found out who Sean was after he passed, there’s something here for everyone.
This album contains Tawl Sean’s typical rap style; a mixture of unrelenting wordplay, comedy, and braggadocio content laid over hard-hitting beats. That’s not to say that this album is perfect in any way, some of the production for instance lacks that “oomph” to truly lift this LP to being a classic. “Dead Or Alive” for instance sounds too 2000s as does “Definition Of God” with its slightly corny electric guitar sound, but thankfully, these songs are few and far between. Better produced tracks such as “Ape In His Apex” with its great use of an organ, “Apartheid” with its Tenor Saw influence, and “Refrigerator P!” with its Mediterranean or Arab-esque sound, raise the level of production to well above average. The song “Negus” (which shows how to better use an electric guitar in Hip-Hop) contains a steady march-like beat and the echoing guitar makes for a very satisfying, head-nodding joint. The Harry Fraud produced “The 3 Lyrical Ps” is another understated but very enjoyable joint. The fact that it features two deceased rappers (Price along with Prodigy of Mobb Deep) makes this a special song.
When it comes to lyrics, Sean Price rarely disappoints. Although he had a tendency to break up his flow and yell “P!” or “Sean P!” once he embarked on his solo career, he was still a brilliant lyricist. In the aforementioned “Dead Or Alive” Ruck spits some witty alliteration; “Four-fifth in your face and your faculty of fuckboys forfeit in your face” and in “Ape In His Apex” he also brings a similarly humourous line; “Shoot the shit till your shit shot, should’a shot a fare one”. Comedic lines were of course part of Sean’s repertoire, “I had three wishes – I wish a nigga would” from “Definition Of God” proves he was as witty as he was orotund and verbose.
This being a posthumous release, there’s of course the inclusion of family members and friends such as Sean Price’s child on the intro, his wife Bernadette Price on two of the songs, and of course a raft of guest appearances ranging from Boot Camp members to outside rappers. “Apartheid”, another one of the better produced tracks on the album, is a fantastic song that brings together one member from Black Moon, one member from Smif-N-Wessun, and one from Heltah Skeltah. Sean Price, Buckshot, and General Steele come together to form a trio of 90s Brooklynite greats. Both Buckshot and Steele have grown in terms of flow and together the three rappers make for a mean-sounding, underground banger. The Jamaican-style chorus makes for a typical B.C.C. sound for old-school fans of the collective. Tracks like this show that the Boot Camp Clik can still make relevant Hip-Hop music.
Imperius Rex is a decent LP, it will probably satisfy everybody who seeks it out; fans of Sean Price, fans of Heltah Skeltah, fans of the Boot Camp Clik, fans of Random Axe, fans of 90s Hip-Hop, fans of underground Hip-Hop, they’ll all come away feeling content with this album. But, with this being a forth album as well as a posthumous album, Imperius Rex isn’t on the same level as Monkey Barz or Nocturnal. Out of the sixteen tracks my favourites are “Ape In His Apex”, “Apartheid”, “Negus”, “Church Bells”, “The 3 Lyrical Ps”, and “Refrigerator P!”. These stand-out songs will be playing in my car for months to come.
The only problem I have with this and some of the other solo Sean Price albums in the fact that his Gorilla/Monkey metaphors could easily lead to affirming racist language. But, having said that, this was something that Sean himself said and did, I remember that he used various pictures from The Planet Of The Apes as his Twitter profile image, so it’s not like this is something added after his death to discredit him in any way. I think the concept of a strong animal that rises against the system is potentially a powerful metaphor if not a little misguided, but I guess that’s by-the-by at this point.
Back to Imperius Rex, this is an album that is released after Sean Price’s death and so it suffers from incorporating too many featured artists and a compilation-like structure. Don’t get me wrong, the guest spots don’t overtake the album and it’s a satisfying listen but there’s always something that feels bolted on in order to satisfy a mourning fanbase when it comes to a posthumously released album. I’m sure there’s more music out there that will undoubtedly make its way to the stores, I heard there were plans for a collabo album with Ill Bill titled The Pill, so despite no longer being with us, Sean Price and his music will live on.
There’s many similarities between Sean Price and the late Big Punisher. Like Big Pun, Sean’s voice slowly became more lethargic and breathy, and this is noticeable in these, his last recordings. Also like Pun, Sean Price was one of the all-time great MCs as well as being one of the most underrated MCs in the game, it’s a shame that he never really got the recognition he deserved during his lifetime. Like the title of this LP suggests, Sean Price was indeed Imperius Rex – the imperious king.
As a longtime fan of the Boot Camp Clik, Ruck and Rock were two of the best rappers of all time. Sean Price in particular showed over the course of his rap career that he had the stamina to remain in the industry and he was able to make relevant music for two decades. I’ll always remember Heltah Skeltah and the Fab 5 with a sense of wistfulness, I have fond memories of listening to Nocturnal on my Walkman in the mid 90s. Sean Price was always a humourous, highy-skilled, yet underrated rapper. He will be missed.