Styles P is as hard as it gets. Even though he hasn’t repeated the mainstream success of his first single, 2002’s “Good Times,” in his near decade and a half in the game, the gimmick-free purveyor of hard-hitting rhymes has become regarded as one of its most well-respected vets. Four years removed from his last official album, 2007’s Super Gangster, Extraordinary Gentleman, Styles has been dropping several mixtapes and quietly appearing on one of last year’s biggest songs, Rick Ross’s “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast).” Now, with the release of his fourth studio album, fittingly titled Master of Ceremonies, SP the Ghost again reminds why he earned the moniker as The Hardest Out.
The ceremony kicks off with the gully “We Don’t Play,” a street-savvy New York cut alongside G-Unit’s self-proclaimed Punch Line King, Lloyd Banks. The Ghost wastes no time, as he callously roars, “Ghost is apocalypse/Hole in your esophagus/Run through your shit like a motherfucking rhinoceros.” Providing the raspy hook and a verse, Banks dishes out corner boy lines of his own, rapping, “Left hand on the whip, other one on the draw,” before reminding, “Small money, tall money, nigga we want it all.”
In characteristic fashion, SP keeps it rough and rugged on the mellow “I’m A Gee,” with the opening line, “Most of us coming from a broken home,” before later, boastfully spitting “Ghost never on that swag shit.” It’s bars like these that, in many ways, encapsulate why he’s been able to achieve his revered status over time. Through the trends that have come and gone in the last fifteen years, The L.O.X. member has stayed true to himself and his community, often kicking a narrative that balances a socially aware search for a better tomorrow with a hustler’s understanding of the realities of today—which he again shows on the stick-it-out anthem “Keep The Faith.”
The Yonkers native is also standout in his also ability to take average lines and give them life with his spirited delivery, like on the light keys of the Araab Muzik-produced “Ryde On Da Regular,” where he snaps, “You the prey/I’m the predator!” Thanks to his ferocious, no-nonsense flow, a simple line becomes hard as hell.
Later, the serene sample-laden Statik Selektah produced “Feelings Gone” and the turbulent Busta Rhymes and Rick Ross-featured “Harsh” recertify Styles’s skills next to big names.
There are a few surprises on the 12-track album, including appearances from Pharrell on “Don’t Turn Away” and Pharoahe Monch on the introspective “Children.” Despite a loaded list of features and the underwhelming Avery Storm-assisted “How I Fly,” Master of Ceremonies exhibits more wins than duds. Holiday certainly lives up to the album’s title. —Ralph Bristout