At some point, a lot of hip-hop becomes unlistenable to heads of a certain age. Longing for a community lost, it’s that old “Thrill Is Gone” business. The themes get tired, the lines become rote and the beats no longer spark the imagination. While the feeling often remains trapped in some nether dimension, Sean Price calls to mind a bygone era. A mythical time when backpackers walked the concrete to the sounds of Nervous/Wreck Records.

While time makes a mockery out of many staring 40 in its ugly mug, P remains in fine form on this his third full-length solo record. His delivery is a little more frenetic, but very little has changed in Ruck’s format since Smif N’ Wessun’s Dah Shinin’ (reference “Cession At Da Doghillee”). Some would call that a lack of artistic growth. Others revel in the consistency, even if the jokes don’t crack quite like they once did.

Some of 2012’s best beats are on display here. The Alchemist offerings, “Bar-Barian” and “Bully Rap,” remind us there is life left in the art form. On “Bully Rap,” ALC revisits Russian Roulette, perhaps lifting some sort of Bolshevik pastoral hymn. Ruckus also coaxes top-drawer beats out of Evidence, 9th Wonder, Beat Butcha and Wool.

Fans of SP won’t expect socially responsible commentary, but that’s not to say the MC can’t flip a storyline. “Solomon Grundy” is a spooky three-pronged fable (featuring Ike Eyes & Ill Bill) referencing the eponymous DC Comics archvillain/morbid English nursery rhyme.

Sean is a decepticon, and with or without the gang affiliation, he maintains shape-shifting qualities on the mic. Some among us may yearn for the more self-deprecating Sean of Monkey Barz but these times are far meaner, so Sean sticks to the braggadocio that signs his checks.

In an age of fussy listeners, the MC manages to keep us interested with immaculate flows and irascible flourishes on cuts like “Price & Shining Armor”—a track that finds him trading inside jokes with guest Ruste Juxx. You can hear the class cut-up on “Title Track”: “your jeans colorful/Rainbow Brite good night, I can’t fuck with you.”

Where MF Doom is scary for vaudevillian effect, Sean Price combines sincere menace with dark humor. You won’t find much in the way of a message on Mic Tyson (closest thing might be on the driving “Pyrex”: “wake up, all that crack and the street talk/is made up like Jack & The Beanstalk”), but you will find a raw rap sound seldom heard in these calloused days. Feels good to finally nod your head again (for some of us, it’s felt like eons).

- M.F. DiBella

 

 

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