Imperius Rex (released August 8, 2017)
On this day two years ago, I sat at the very desk I’m sitting now and wrote one of my most difficult posts to date – my posthumous tribute to Sean Price, the best rapper hip-hop never appreciated. P was a huge part of my music fandom. It’s hard to imagine hip-hop without him.
I loved P for his authenticity. When hip-hop vets began toying with autotune and mimicking the flows of younger peers in a futile attempt to maintain relevance, Sean P always stood his ground. He became the embodiment of “old man rap” – boom-bap beats, menacing bars and substance over style.
Simply put, P would step into your all-white party in a black hoodie and Timbs just to smack the hors d’oeuvres out of your hand and laugh about it.
In an industry where fraudulence is celebrated, Decepticon Sean was as real as it got.
Sean P never changed, so his fans never stopped loving him.
Imperius Rex, P’s fourth solo album, marks the end of his journey, capping a 20-year career that included stints in landmark groups like Heltah Skeltah and Boot Camp Clik, as well as more recent collaborations with Random Axe. And while posthumous albums almost always have a cloud of doubt hanging over them – we’ll never know if the project was truly what the artist envisioned before leaving us – Imperius Rex certainly gets one thing right: this is the same Sean Price hip-hop fell in love with back in 1995.
On the opening bars of the title track, P goofs around by flirting with his wife Bernadette before snapping out of it and reminding us that “We gorillas” and “Ape don’t kill ape.”
The war for the Planet of the Apes then begins in flurry of fiery alliteration: “I Chewbacca’d your chicken/Chin checkin’ your chest/Get chopped champ/Got stamped by the Boot from the Camp.”
“Definition of God” gives P the chance to reclaim his spot at the top of rap’s food chain:
P! My knuckles drag when the God walk
I ain’t old school, I ain’t new school
I’m a dropout with the tool that pop out
I’m the s*** up in my hood
I had three wishes; I wish that a n**** would
He also takes a few moments to indulge in his favorite pastime – bullying hip-hop’s weaker links on the intro to “Dead or Alive”: “I can tell that these kids don’t have a lot of schooling man, They sound like idiots/I’m nice.” Wife Bernadette even hops in on the hook, sounding like she’d eat most of today’s female rappers for lunch.
As with most posthumous albums, you should expect lots of guest stars to fill in some of the recording gaps. “The 3 Lyrical Ps” with Styles P and Prodigy is extra bittersweet in the light of Prodigy’s recent passing. All three MCs are cut from the same ragged cloth, so they mesh well, with Sean leading the charge once again – “I’m not just a rapper I’m a painter by trade/Abstract art, just throw a grenade to your brains.” P and MF DOOM bookend “Negus” well and “Clans & Clicks,” featuring members of both The Wu-Tang Clan and Boot Camp Clik shape up to be a dream track on paper. In execution it’s solid but not the classic you’d expect – maybe the result of too many cooks in the kitchen.
That’s the unfortunate drawback of Imperius Rex – while most of the tracks are entertaining (largely due to P’s charisma), many of them lack the elements to take them to the next level. “Church Bells” and “Lord Have Mercy” are handcuffed by tepid product while other tracks suffer from weak or improvised hooks. Even P’s delivery sounds a bit lethargic in some places – there’s a noticeable weariness in his vocals.
Thankfully, most of the tracks on the second half of Imperius Rex sound like the P of old, whether he’s christening himself as “The Groddfather” on “Resident Evil” or going off on hilarious tangents on “Refrigerator P!” – “Never catch P on the girl song/I smack s*** out your ‘We Are the World’ song.” In fact, this review too so long to post because I had to constantly rewind tracks to catch his endless array of quips. P is a punchline machine.
It wouldn’t surprise me if newer fans were put off by P’s no-frills approach to hip-hop and his politically incorrect commentary. And that’s cool, but this album isn’t for them. It’s for us – those fans who remember when Nocturnal dropped in 1996 and still spin Monkey Barz and Mic Tyson regularly.
It’s like I told y’all – Sean P refuses to compromise himself or his art. Therefore, Imperius Rex stands as an imperfect monument to one of rap’s greatest emcees.
Sean P never got his crown but real heads know who really was king of the jungle.
Best tracks: “Definition of God,” “Refrigerator P!,” “The 3 Lyrical Ps”
3.5 stars out of 5