Since I've already run a Reader Review for Sean Price's third album, Mic Tyson, I figured I may as well scratch the man off of my list today. If/when he sees fit to release another solo project (as I just noticed that there was a five-year wait in between his sophomore album, Jesus Price Supastar, and Mic Tyson), I may or may not throw him back into the mix: most likely I'll be too busy writing screenplays and short stories from the comfort of my hovering skycondo to still pay any attention to this blog. (Does that sound like a future you don't wish to live in? With the blog, anyway: I'm sure you two could care less if I end up purchasing a hovering skycondo. Then help me extend the site's life by submitting a Reader Review or two for stuff I'll probably never get to. Shameless plea!)
Anyway, Sean Price. The artist formerly known as Ruck, from the New York-based duo Heltah Skeltah (alongside his rhyme partner Rock), is seen today as one of the more popular members of the Boot Camp Clik team (if not the most popular: he's certainly the most visible). To date, he's parlayed his critical and blogger acclaim into three solo albums, one Heltah Skeltah reunion project (which, yeah, is still on my list, so I guess I'm not getting away from Ruck that easily), one collaboration with Black Milk and Guilty SImpson (Random Axe), and some stirrings of interest from major labels (most notably Roc-A-Fella, back when Jay-Z was still president of Def Jam, although Sean denies this ever happened). His debut, Monkey Barz, was a rough but promising effort that paired Sean P's smart-ass swagger with some harder-edged beats, none of which mirrored what the Boot Camp Clik was able to do back in the day when they kept production team Da Beatminerz on retainer, but were still enjoyable enough.
His follow-up, Jesus Price Supastar, is a boldly-titled continuation of the same Monkey Barz theme, except the bars themselves now came from the mouth and mind of a guy who had proven that there was an audience (a small one, mind you, but still) for his hip hop niche, mixing humor with violence almost as though it weren't possible to have one without the other. The main difference between the two albums is what most critics would refer to as a "maturation" of sound, although I choose to look at it as Sean Price decided that he really liked Little Brother albums and wanted their influence woven into his work.
As such, Little Brother's primary producer, 9th Wonder, was brought into the mix. This wasn't news: 9th Wonder had previously contributed a beat to Monkey Barz, and had already released a collaborative effort with Boot Camp Clik founding member and Duck Down CEO Buckshot, so he already knew his way around the building. What changed this time around was the fact that he invited some of his Justus League comrades, including fellow Little Brother member Phonte, to contribute a bit more heavily this time around. This caused Jesus Price Supastar to take on a soulful feel, as that was the sound 9th Wonder mostly trafficked in at the time.
Jesus Price Supastar ended up being the first album from the Boot Camp Clik team to (barely) crack the Billboard 200 since 1999, which actually is quite a feat, considering that most underground artists never get to perch from those heights. It was also met with critical acclaim, and bloggers love the shit out of it. So much so that they actually became angry (or at least very very irritated) when Mic Tyson kept getting delayed to high heaven.
But what says Max?
1. INTRO (JESUS PRICE)
Although it seems at first that this track will eventually be metaphorically thrown into a pile of other useless rap album intros that fail to set the overall tone or raise the listener's expectations, everything changes when Ruck decides to take P.F. Cuttin's simple-yet-effective beat for a spin. Sean delivers a quick single verse, paying homage to The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Who Shot Ya?” while reassuring the audience that he's still the gruff, cocky asshole who headlined Monkey Barz. Jesus Price Supastar is off to a good start.
2. LIKE YOU
Ruck's two verses single-handedly elevate “Like You” to being a passable track, as 10 for the Triad's instrumental is far too bland for it to connect with anyone actually listening. Sean Price's performance is entertaining as shit, though, offering up threats, boasts, and jokes with equal measure, and even delivering a goofy choice of a metaphor that the untrained ear may accept as a potshot at the Wu-Tang Clan (which makes no sense, given the history between the Wu and the Boot Camp Clik, and by the way, where the hell is my Wu-Tang / Boot Camp collaboration album?). The interlude at the end isn't what I would deem “necessary”, but at least it ties in to the project.
3. P-BODY (FEAT. ROCK)
A potential Heltah Skeltah reunion is derailed by 9th Wonder's instrumental, which isn't bad but isn't a good fit for Sean Price's aggressive flow, and also by the fact that all Rock does is perform the hook anyway (although he does so using as many words starting with the letter “p” as he can before it stops making grammatical sense, so kudos to him). Ruck's punchlines and threats sound pretty fucking good (I especially liked his “this ain't no gangsta rap / How many motherfuckin' gangstas rap?” (italics mine)), but they clash with 9th's production work, which might have clicked with a less confrontational rapper. I'm probably in the minority here, but this should have been much better. Oh well.
4. CARDIAC (FEAT. BUCKSHOT, RUSTE JUXX, & FLOOD)
Illmind's beat underneath this Duck Down posse cut explores the same soulful boom bap domain that 9th Wonder was trying to reconcile on “P-Body”, but Illmind is far more successful, as “Cardiac” bangs. Ruck only handles the first verse, though, so maybe “Cardiac” is far more successful because it doesn't have to do battle with Sean Price's stare-you-down-and-offer-a-sarcastic-comment-before-outright-dismissing-you flow for very long. Buckshot rides the bitch seat and sounds alright, while Ruste Juxx handles the final verse and Flood ties the room together with his hook, which wasn't necessary in any fashion except to adhere to traditional songwriting convention. But Sean P. is the star of his own show, and all is as it should be.
“Oh, so apparently the entire album sounds like 9th Wonder and friends?”, I remember asking myself the first (and, honestly, the last) time I spun Jesus Price Supastar. (The answer is a definitive “no”, but after the past few tracks, I still think it's an honest question.) This approach works for some artists, namely 9th Wonder and friends (and Ghostface Killah, but he sounds good over pretty much everything), but not necessarily for Sean Price, as he sounds downright neutered by the beat presented on here. The thing is, Khrysis's instrumental is pretty good, too. “Stop” is just one of many bullets in my nonexistent Powerpoint presentation to hip hop illustrating how the mismatch of artist and musical backing can negatively affect the listener's overall enjoyment of any said track. Groan.
Okay, seriously, was Jesus Price Supastar intended to be a practical joke? Did Sean Price swipe the instrumentals from another rapper's project and then decide to rhyme over every single goddamn one of them? I find it very difficult to believe that he actually purchased this beat from 9th Wonder because he thought he would sound any good over it. And yes, I realize that our host even explains, “The beat is smooth, the rap is hard” at one point on “Violent”, but it's hard to sit through an aural contradiction for the entirety of a fucking album. Also, this shit did nothing for me, and not just because there isn't anything remotely “Violent” about it.
7. DA GOD (FEAT. SADAT X & BUCKSHOT)
Producer 10 for the Triad thankfully eschews most, but not all, of the soulful tropes present elsewhere on the project, instead turning in something a Wu-affiliated beatmaker might have crafted during a particularly harrowing daydream. Even with all of my complaining, though, this isn't the direction Sean Price should run in, either, as “Da God” is pretty fucking awful. Sadat X is an acquired taste, but listeners won't be acquiring that taste after listening to this shit: everyone involved sounds bored out of their goddamn minds (a fact Ruck even sort-of cops to at the very end, save for the “bored” part), as though having to work the titular phrase into their bars stifled their creativity. Sean Price could have “accidentally” left the master recording for “Da God” in a station wagon that was somehow pushed into the ocean and I wouldn't have missed it.
8. OOPS UPSIDE YOUR HEAD (FEAT. STEELE)
The title is ridiculous, but Ruck only quotes it exactly one time, so I'm willing to let that go, as “Oops Upside Your Head” is interesting enough otherwise. MoSS's instrumental swoops around until every listener is entranced, and both Ruck and his guest Steele (from Smif-N-Wessun) both sound convincing enough with their shit-talking, which is all I can really ask for at this point. Sean P even interrupts his opening verse in order to divide up some money, and it's a testament to how compelling he can be (when he wants to be) that the listener will sit around and wait for him to pick the verse back up without questioning his motives.
9. CHURCH (FEAT. ROCK & THE LOUDMOUF CHOIR)
This song actually is a proper Heltah Skeltah reunion, but it kind of blows, because it's hard to decipher exactly what Ruck and Rock were going for. They pass the microphone around as though they're sharing an appetizer with the table, working alongside Tommy Tee's beat as best they can, but are undermined at every turn by the chorus, performed by The Loudmouf Choir in the silliest manner possible (they even directly reference the previous track's title, which had me confused as to exactly which song I was actually listening to at one point). Both artists deserve a better showcase.
10. KING KONG
Khrysis's work behind the boards on “King Kong” marks the finest beat on Jesus Price Supastar. Easily. It successfully renders dramatic tension into an audio form, making every Sean Price bar sound essential and visceral. Rock appears again, this time to merely supply the hook and to give the listener a reprieve, but Ruck is the star of the show, dominating the paint like Michael Jordan in his prime with two verses that don't even give a shit if you're paying attention, he's that confident in his craft. About fucking time someone saw fit to throw a banger on here.
A quick two-minute trifle that breezes by without ever sticking to your ribs. Sean Price one-ups Ghostface Killah by making his own “One” actually about singular objects and reactions, but working within this limitation is probably the reason why this track only lasts for two minutes. Khrysis's instrumental is okay: although it swings the pendulum back to faux-soul with the vocal sample, it doesn't hang around long enough to offend my sensibilities.
12. YOU ALREADY KNOW (FEAT. SKYZOO)
Ruck invites Brooklyn-based stalwart (and labelmate) Skyzoo to the party, but then forces him to serve drinks and to not engage in direct eye contact with anybody on “You Already Know”. Over an alright-but-repetitive 9th Wonder instrumental, Sean Price lays down the law, if not in an overly memorable fashion, while Skyzoo's hook is wordy and intrusive. Not our host's finest hour, but it certainly could have been so much worse.
13. DIRECTORS CUT
Maybe this seemed like a good idea in the studio, where a marijuana-induced haze permeated everything around our host, but “Directors Cut” is a fucking mess. It's a one-verse wonder (produced by Khrysis yet again), so at least it's short, but the execution is faulty, as Sean P only spits two bars at a time, alternating with random dialogue that is supposed to approximate a metaphor referring to most other rappers as actors, until it just stops doing that. It's hard to get into the flow of things when the track interrupts itself every eight seconds or so. Bleh.
14. LET IT BE KNOWN (FEAT. PHONTE)
Considering the fact that 9th Wonder and his accomplices had such a seemingly heavy influence on Jesus Price Supastar, it makes perfect sense that a member of his (now former) crew, Little Brother, would pop up for a cameo. That role is played by Phonte, a blogger favorite who sounds legitimately excited to be making an appearance on a song by a rapper who most listeners wouldn't expect him to ever work alongside. The problems lie with the beat, which doesn't work, and with Sean Price's lazy flows, performed as though he really could give a rat's ass if Phonte were a part of the track or not. The hook was also uniformly terrible. Oh well.
15. HEARING AID (FEAT. CHAUNDON)
Now this collaboration, between Ruck and the Justus League's Chaundon, works much better, as the invited guest has enough shit-talking tendencies to match Sean line for line. The Khrysis beat was dull to me, as it sounds like a Jay-Z retread off of some version of The Blueprint that doesn't exist, and the hook, as always, left a lot to be desired, but the chemistry between Sean Price and Chaundon at least is real. Moving on...
16. MESS YOU MADE (FEAT. BLOCK MCCLOUD)
Jesus Price Supastar ends with a Masse production that features yet another faux-Blueprint-era Hova beat and a hook performed by Block McCloud that is okay, but unnecessary. However, Sean Price's lyrics are among the best of the entire project, as he takes the listener on the journey of an artist whose level of critical success in no way lines up with his level of monetary compensation. The title of the track causes our host to end each verse with a terrible rhetorical question, but the rest of his bars succeed at making the listener believe that Sean Price has truly been overlooked in our chosen genre for too long. He also mentions the long-planned-but-ultimately-aborted Fab 5 album: I now want that project to be revisited, if only because of my appreciation for Starang Wondah. Sigh.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Although I liked a lot of Monkey Barz, I cannot stress enough how disappointed I was with Jesus Price Supastar overall. Sean Price still has bars for days, and he certainly hadn't lost a step from his debut (or, shit, even his earlier Heltah Skeltah days). But his beat selection leaves a lot to be desired. Ruck sounds much better over beats that fucking knock, and those are few and far between on this project. Perhaps this was a deliberate decision: maybe he felt pigeonholed within his Duck Down family and wanted to branch out, or maybe he just really loves soulful beats akin to the stuff Kanye West produced very early in his career. Who knows. (Although Price may sound pretty decent over some of 'Ye's more recent output: hell, he may even give some of those Yeezus tracks a bit of the soul that they were all missing.) But I was nonplussed by Jesus Price Supastar, which helps explain why it took me so goddamn long to write about it in the first place. This album isn't even worth a side-eye: I'd rather just choose to forget that it ever existed.
BUY OR BURN? Jesus Price Supastar is an album full of somewhat-intriguing ideas and poor execution of said somewhat-intriguing ideas. As such, burn this shit if you want. I won't tell anyone. Honest.
BEST TRACKS: “King Kong”; “Cardiac”; “Intro (Jesus Price)”