The Boot Camp Clik are a hip hop supergroup who have received very little support on the blog, which makes very little sense when you look back at the mostly positive reviews the various members have garnered from me. Maybe it's too daunting of a task to track down each and every single ancillary member of the Camp in order to write about solo albums that are possibly below par. (No, this isn't the case: I seem to have no problem doing the same for the much larger Wu-Tang Clan.) Or it could just be due to my overall laziness. (Which is more likely.) Either way, today's attempt to fix that oversight will focus on the beginning of the solo career of Sean Price, both formerly and currently known as Ruck from the duo Heltah Skeltah.
Shortly after the release of their second album, Magnum Force, his partner Rock began to have some problems with the rest of the Duck Down Records staff, which led to him leaving the crew to kick off a solo career with an entirely different label, one which never really materialized (until, arguably, much more recently, but that's a story for another time). Ruck had no such quarrel with the folks who brought him in to the rap game, so he stuck by the side of Duck Down heads Buckshot and Dru Ha, providing contributions to the albums of other members of the group. All of the goodwill he spread came back to him tenfold when it came time for him to record his solo debut, Monkey Barz.
Ruck took on a new rap moniker inspired by his actual birth name, Sean Price, in an attempt to show that he was taking his career seriously. (Besides, nobody would give much of a fuck about an album coming from a guy who still called himself 'Ruck'.) Monkey Barz was released shortly after a mixtape, Donkey Sean Jr., tested the waters, and even though it is technically yet another example of a rap album with no cohesive theme, thanks to its multiple producers (although, sadly, no input from Da Beatminerz) and guest stars galore, Monkey Barz became one of the most successful Boot Camp Clik releases in the crew's history. It even helped usher in a new era for the Boot Camp, as Monkey Barz was the first of three Duck Down projects released in 2005 to help get show the fans of our chosen genre that they were back and they still meant business. (The other two albums that were a part of this "Triple Threat Campaign" were the Buckshot and 9th Wonder collaboration Chemistry and Smif-N-Wessun Reloaded, from the artists formerly known as the Cocoa Brovaz. These three albums are forever linked by some badass comic book-inspired cover art that form a triptych when combined.)
Monkey Barz not only kicked off Sean Price's solo career, it also, ironically, served as an official reunion of sorts for Heltah Skeltah, as Rock, after having finally put his issues behind him, makes a couple of guest turns on the project. Far from being Nocturnal Part 2, though, Monkey Barz is a showcase for a skilled rapper whose delivery is as effortless as the simple act of breathing. Which is absolutely not a trait that I would have classified Sean Price as having back when I was writing about Heltah Skeltah.
It's nice to see people evolve in hip hop.
1. PEEP MY WORDS
This was pretty much a rap album intro, in that our host for the evening is being introduced to the audience, but Sean Price kicks two solid verses in a drawl that doesn't sound like anything he ever used on Heltah Skeltah's songs. As such, he announces that Monkey Barz will sound nothing like, say, Nocturnal. Kleph Dollaz's production is slow and dramatic, complementing Price's bars, which include the line, “Soon as I punch a n---a, he's like, “Ouch! I'm telling!”, which is just fucking hilarious because of the droll way Sean delivers it. Not a bad way to kick things off.
2. ONE TWO Y'ALL
MoSS provides a beat that sounds two steps removed from something Ghostface Killah would have rhymed over circa The Pretty Toney Album (this isn't a bad thing), and the hook is laughably lackadaisical, not unlike what Busta Rhymes did on the Flipmode Squad's “To My People”. But the true draw on “One Two Y'all” is Price himself, who provides two verses full of slow-burning flames before the third one devolves into utter nonsense, almost as though he completely lost his focus and decided to use the go-to cliché of “I'll fuck your girl” instead. It was fun while it lasted, anyway.
3. ONION HEAD (FEAT. TEK)
Sean hooks up with his labelmate-slash-coworker Tek (of Smif-N-Wessun) but only uses him for the hook, which is kind of like asking Wolfgang Puck to cook something for you but having that something be a couple of Hot Pockets. But the results were decent: Price actually does sound like one of the nicest rappers in the game on here, which isn't something I would have ever imagined after exploring his roots. Then again, after “Through The Wire”, I wasn't expecting a lot out of Kanye West, either, so there's that.
4. FAKE NEPTUNE (FEAT. BUCKSHOT, STEELE, & LOUISVILLE SLUGGAH)
That title is fucking brilliant, but the Phat Babyz beat isn't blingy enough for this to be mistaken for an actual Neptunes instrumental. Buckshot, of Black Moon and Boot Camp Clik newsletter fame, only handles the hook, which is kind of like asking your godfather for a favor but then having that favor be a ride to the mall, and Steele (the other guy from Smif-N-Wessun) sounds fucking weird, but Price and O.G.C.'s Louisville Sluggah make the song their own. Price even manages to get two verses in, almost as though even he noticed that his first contribution was so chock full of references to A Tribe Called Quest that he felt his fans deserved a redo. Not bad.
Sean Price's version of M.O.P.'s “I Luv”, on which he lists a bunch of random things that he loves about his life, including selling drugs, fucking, and watching Falcon Crest. Strange. Anyway, the lyrics were goofy enough, but the reason this track works as a whole is thanks to 9th Wonder's soulful loop, which provides just enough of a sharp contract to expose the irony in the song. I grew a little tired of the beat by the time the third verse started, but Price's skill behind the mic held my attention for the remainder of the runtime.
6. SHAKE DOWN (FEAT. STARANG WONDAH & STEELE)
One of the best things about Monkey Barz thus far is that, even though Sean Price is calling in favors from his B.C.C. brethren, they've all made sure that they don't outshine their host. That trait continues here: Steele returns to spit a (much better) verse, and O.G.C.'s Starang Wondah (my appreciation for his work is well-documented on HHID) turns in a passable guest spot, but both cede the microphone to Sean P., who spits two verses. True, Price's second verse sounds like it was patched together on the spot, as it doesn't really fit the flow of “Shakedown”, but this was still alright.
7. MAD MANN
P.F. Cuttin's beat is really fucking good, even though its use of a distorted vocal sample from Emerson, Lake & Palmer's “Knife Edge” is more than a bit creepy. Price flows freely over the experimental instrumental, proving that he may be one of the few artists out there that sound good over nearly any type of beat, and I say that even though it's obvious that our host is just goofing off (most of his bars return to his favorite subject matter, fucking). The flourishes in the beat help it to sound more majestic than it has any right to, given that the song is called “Mad Mann”. But I liked it as a whole.
8. BROKEST RAPPER YOU KNOW
This is the first truly weak song on Monkey Barz, but thankfully, it lasts for only the length of a single verse. This Ty Deals beat is melodramatic, and Price sounds technically proficient when rhyming about his financial woes, but for me, whenever an artist talks about making music strictly for the money, their output starts to ring hollow, because if that were truly the case, you would be better off actually getting a real job. You have to have at least some interest in hip hop if you insist on continuing to write verses for mass consumption: not everyone has this particular talent. Anyway, at least this shit was short.
9. BOOM BYE YEAH (FEAT. 5 FT)
This is pretty fucking insane. Tone Mason's beat makes things move along at a fast pace, and Price steps up to the challenge, delivering three verses of increasing interest, all of which sound great. This has got to be my favorite song on Monkey Barz, hands down, even though Price exposes his secret to writing rhymes: “I rhyme about nothing [and] it sound like something”. So maybe “Boom Bye Yeah” sounds more substantial than it really is. I don't care, it's a fucking great song.
10. I LOVE YOU (BITCH)
The introduction to this song contains a shout-out to “Dru Down and the Boot Camp Clik” instead of Dru Ha, the guy who's been a part of the camp since Black Moon were suffering through their initial label issues. So you would really think that Price would have edited that shit. And then it happens a second time. Unless he's really a fan of West Coast stalwart Dru Down and his luxurious locks, there was really no reason for this to happen. There's a reason why I'm focusing on such a minute detail: this song kind of sucks. Sean P. technically sounds alright, but this ode to a destructive relationship doesn't ever really need to be heard by anyone. But hey, at least it wasn't a love rap, so that's something.
11. BYE BYE (FEAT. BUCKSHOT)
Buckshot returns to Monkey Barz, this time to spit actual verses on a song that elevates the level of misogyny on this project to brand new heights. It's fairly obvious that Sean Price seems to like women for a singular reason: this track is essentially about kicking them out of his house when they become more difficult to handle. It's easy to see why the Boot Camp Clik doesn't have much of a female audience. Anyway, this Khrysis beat is okay, and the performances from both artists were decent, but the song still comes across as morally reprehensible, which is weird, since I've heard a lot worse from our chosen genre, even before I started the site in 2007. But still.
12. SPLIFF N WESSUN (FEAT. RUSTEE JUXX)
The title doesn't make a lick of sense, but the song is still pretty good, even though Sean Price shows the first signs of lyrical exhaustion, as his bars become more and more lazy as the song moves along. His apprentice Rustee Juxx, who I always thought should be signed to a different indie record label such as Definitive Jux or Stones Throw based on his rap name alone, sounds pretty decent over this catchy Ayatollah instrumental, though, so this shit still works much better than it should, especially as neither Smif and/or Wessun have anything to do with it.
13. JAIL SHIT (FEAT. ROCK)
I should be more excited, since this song is marked as not just a reunion between both halves of Heltah Skeltah and as a return to the B.C.C. fold for Rock, but this song was fucking boring. Also, Da Rockness Monsta only handles the chorus and the outro. What was the point of this shit, exactly?
14. MONKEY BARZ
I wasn't feeling this title track, either. This must be the part of the album where the audience is expected to step away for a potty break or something. I will say that The Artist Formerly Known As Ruck sounds much more awake on here than he has on the two previous songs, though.
15. SLAP BOXING (FEAT. RUSTEE JUXX & ROCK)
The finale of Monkey Barz features the true return of Heltah Skeltah, as Rock finally gets the opportunity to spit a verse alongside Sean price and an encore performance from Rustee Juxx. “Slap Boxing” is reminiscent of the better posse cuts in the Boot Camp Clik catalog, with the simple instrumental staying out of the way while all three emcees proceed to rip the stuffing out of it (especially Rock, who must have just ended a thirty-day fast just before stepping into the booth, as he sounds like he was starving). A pretty nice way to sort-of end things.
The final song on Monkey Barz is considered to be a bonus track.
16. RISING TO THE TOP (FEAT. AGALLAH & BAZAAR ROYALE)
“Rising To The Top” is considered a bonus track not just because it doesn't really fit in with the rest of Monkey Barz: it was also previously released as a Agallah song. You may remember it as a part of the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto III, although to be honest, I hardly remembered Sean Price appearing on the game version of the song: my mind seems to think that this has always been a solo Agallah track. Weird. Anyway, it sounded okay, if a bit dated, but it only conjures up images of stealing cars and picking up prostitutes. Actually, “Rising To The Top” succeeds in making you want to revisit the video game, so it has that going for it, which is nice.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Sean Price's solo debut Monkey Barz is actually a fairly solid effort from a guy who wasn't expected to sound this good by himself. Sure, he's a blogger favorite today, but everyone had to start somewhere, and Price hasn't always been championed, although he quickly proves why he should be on here. He doesn't step his lyrical game up as dramatically as one would hope, but his flow has never been a problem. Monkey Barz doesn't sound like a cohesive album, thanks to the multiple producers it took to bang this out, but price sounds fairly consistent throughout, with only a few missteps here and there, making this a successful debut anyway. Sean Price was able to leverage this album into a cult following, which is deserved. The Boot Camp Clik cameos sound out of their element, but most of them manage to deliver for their boy, turning Monkey Barz into an enjoyable diversion. After listening to Monkey Barz, you may find yourself starting to actually believe those rumors about how Jay-Z was interested in signing Sean P. to Roc-A-Fella.
BUY OR BURN? I suggest you pick this one up. Not every track works, but enough of them do to make this worth parting with your cash.
BEST TRACKS: “Boom Bye Yeah”; “Slap Boxing”; “Heartburn”; “Madman”; “Spliff N Wessun”
As I mentioned above, there are a few more Boot Camp Clik-related reviews to be found on the blog. Clicking here would be a good start.