In the mid-'90s, Sean Price, known then as Ruck, and partner Rock dropped their debut album, Nocturnal, as the rap outfit Heltah Skeltah during a time when East Coast hip-hop was delivering mainstream and underground classics left and right. Heltah Skeltah and the rest of their collective, the Boot Camp Clik, never enjoyed the popular success of East Coast acts Wu-Tang Clan or Mobb Deep, but they did receive that same critical acclaim. Source magazine nominated them for Best New Group of 1996. Price, however, was always cast as the sidekick half of the group on account of Rock's gritty and baritone voice, despite the fact that they were both masterful lyricists. By the time of their second release in 1998, Magnum Force, none of this mattered. The album did poorly, as did the Boot Camp's record label, Duck Down Records. Priority Records dropped Duck Down from its distribution deal in 2000. Rock left Duck Down to pursue a solo career with DJ Lethal (of House of Pain and Limp Bizkit fame) and his new label, Lethal Dose Records; however, that project folded. Price found himself either in jail or back on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, hustling and selling crack in order to survive. After a few years of hard times, a serious girlfriend, and children, he began appearing on various mixtapes and other albums as a solo artist using his birth name, Sean Price. A notable guest appearance during this period was on "Rising to the Top," a duo with Dipset affiliate Agallah that was featured in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto III. A reinvigorated Duck Down Records obtained a new distribution deal with Navarre in May 2005 and announced their "Triple Threat" campaign, a three-album collaborative effort with rap collective the Justus League and their in-house producers, 9th Wonder and Khrysis. Monkey Barz, Price's solo debut and first installment of the campaign, was also released in May 2005, attaining very favorable reviews. Upon winning Independent Album of 2005 in both Source and the influential website AllHipHop.com, many began to consider Price to be the Boot Camp's star rapper -- a title usually given to Boot Camp leader Buckshot. His second solo album, Jesus Price Supastar (2007), was received just as favorably as the first, and even prompted some major-label interest in the veteran MC. In 2011 he joined Black Milk and Guilty Simpson in Random Axe, an underground hip-hop supergroup that released a self-titled album that same year. After a long wait for his next solo release, 2012's Mic Tyson also received favorable notice. Sadly, Price died in his sleep at his Brooklyn home three years later in August 2015; he was 43 years old. The posthumous mixtape Songs in the Key of Price climbed the Billboard charts one month later. Two years after his death, Price's Imperius Rex was released, containing guest appearances from DOOM, Prodigy, Method Man, and several others. ~ Cyril Cordor
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Rap/Hip-Hop - Released November 22, 2005 | Duck Down Music Inc.
Having lost its distribution deal with Priority, Duck Down Records, the home of New York's Boot Camp Clik, was at a low point around the turn of the century. BCC member Ruck's predicament did not fair any better. However, during the mid-2000s, he became one of underground hip-hop's MVPs under the name "[he] chooses to be called when [he's] in front of his moms," Sean Price, and Monkey Barz was vindicating proof of that fact. On this first installment of Duck Down's "Triple Threat" campaign, a collaborative effort with Justus League producers 9th Wonder and Khrysis, Price guides you on a journey of wit, humor, and grime. His deep, commanding voice on the opening track attempts to set a solemn tone for the rest of the album, even though the actual tone of Monkey Barz fluctuates from dead serious to slapstick nonsense. "Fake Neptune" has Price spitting filthy rhymes ("How you gonna sh*t on me/After I let you sh*t on me, freaky deakay") over a beat that does sound like a bootleg version of the Neptunes-produced track by Birdman and Clipse, "What Happened to That Boy." The real question posed is whether or not he can deliver with Justus League productions; the 9th Wonder-produced "Heartburn" offers the best answer. 9th composes a delicate, steady beat with hard drums, a husky bassline, and a beautiful soul sample, and yet Price's "courting" (more like repelling) of his love interest basks in his hardcore image. That peculiar contrast, which is representative of the album as a whole, makes Monkey Barz that more intriguing. Even more captivating is the title track, a rhyme session of jungle rap acrobatics in which his lyrical modus operandi -- the stop-and-flow delivery of clever rhymes and non sequiturs -- is epitomized: "We Mighty Joe Youngin' it/Thuggin' it/Straight from the jungle my brotha/My ni**as, Banana Republican/Orangutan slang/Chewbacca, not proper/Tube socks full of rocks plus the cops watch us, yo." Price clearly knows his strengths. His charisma alone can hold any song together and definitely stands out on tracks like "Jail Shit" where the production is less than stellar. The sexism expressed in some of his lyrics can be a bit off-putting, but by the end of the record, he will still have you chanting the ad libs along with him, "Sean P"! ~ Cyril Cordor
Rap/Hip-Hop - Released August 8, 2017 | Ruck Down Records
Brooklyn native Sean Price, one-half of Heltah Skeltah and one of many members of the Boot Camp Clik collective, died at home in his sleep on August 8, 2015. While he was never a household name, fans of hardcore hip-hop knew him as one of the realest MCs in the business, with a gruff voice and tough yet humorous lyrics, and his death came as a shock to the rap world. Posthumous mixtape Songs in the Key of Price was already slated for release prior to his death, and arrived on schedule. Imperius Rex, Price's fourth proper solo album, was released exactly two years after Price's death. He had finished a few songs for the album before his passing, but much of the album was constructed afterwards, thanks to Herculean efforts from Price's wife Bernadette. By no means does this album sound like a tossed-together cash-in effort like so many other posthumous releases -- Bernadette and the cast of producers and guest MCs spent the better part of two years laboring over the album in order to make something that stands up to Price's legacy, and it flows just as naturally and hits just as hard as any of his prior works. The beats (produced by Alchemist, 4th Disciple, Harry Fraud, and Crummie Beats, among others) are all rock-solid, occasionally venturing into left-field territory, particularly the industrial droning underneath "Church Bells" -- probably not the track you'd expect reggae crooner Junior Reid to provide the chorus to. Several of Price's peers show up, including DOOM, Styles P, Mobb Deep's Prodigy (who also met an untimely death before the album was released), and Freeway, who helps Price rail against the rap scene during "Prisoner." Most explosive is "Clans & Cliks," a posse cut featuring Rock (the other half of Heltah Skeltah) and Smif-N-Wessun, as well as Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck, Method Man, and Raekwon. Of course, nobody on the album overshadows Price, who sounds as forceful, commanding, and even as funny as ever. ~ Paul Simpson
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