Sean Price Lives on Through His Lyrics on Posthumous ‘Imperius Rex’ Album
When Sean Price passed away in his sleep two years ago at the age of 43, hip-hop lost an underground legend. He may not have been a household name, but there was a good chance he was one of your favorite rapper's favorite rappers. For two decades, Price was a force to be reckoned with in the underground scene, first as one-half of the duo Heltah Skeltah in the 1990s, and then as a solo act throughout the 2000s. Sean P was a lyrical threat known for his punchlines. In the blink of an eye, he could threaten your life with his tough-as-nails bars and follow that up by making you crack up with his wit.
Imperius Rex, released on the two-year anniversary of his death, is his fourth studio album and the first one to be released posthumously. The album is a continuation of the work Sean P was doing before his passing.
While many posthumous releases may seem like cash grabs, releasing whatever leftover music an artist had with little to no quality control to make a quick buck off a late artist's fans, Imperius Rex is far from it. The album is a labor of love with heavy involvement from Price's family. The intro of the album is done by Price's daughter Shaun, who gives her own rendition of the opening to Price's 2015 track "Soul Perfect." Price's widow Bernadette shows up on "Dead or Alive" and "Price Family" to let loose. "Dead or alive, y'all niggas can't fuck with P/Bernadette and the league, who the fuck you be?/Fronting on P, you get your head busted quick/Many niggas claim loyal, but they all full of shit," she raps on the hook of "Dead or Alive." Price's family isn't letting Sean's business go unfinished.
The album is full of reminders of Price's lyrical prowess. His raps are as hard as ever on the project, dropping gems like, "Sean Price, King Kong in the place/Big gun, watch the bullet bing bong in your face/Murdered the bastard, he murders the surgery plastic/Face reconstruction when the eight heating something," and declaring, "I ain't old school, I ain't new school/I'm a dropout with the tool that pop out."
On "Rap Professor," Sean P expresses his continued dominance over other rappers and takes them to school: "Niggas quiet, can't do a thing when I smash down/Claiming you king? Word to God, I'ma snatch crown/Put it back on my head, I'm taking it back now."
Price's humor is in full force on the project as well. On "Dead or Alive," Price starts off by saying, "What do I love about rap? Me!" He pulls out his Stephen A. Smith impression at the end of "Definition of God," as well as his Funkmaster Flex impression on the "Not97" skit. All the while his reference game is strong as ever, covering anything from "Brenda's Got a Baby" to Michael Dudikoff from the American Ninja films.
Plenty of Price's old and new friends show up to round out the project. His fellow Boot Camp Clik members Buckshot and Steele show up on "Apartheid" to pay tribute to their friend. There's another BCC reunion on "Clans & Cliks," as Price is joined by Steele, Tek, and his Heltah Skeltah partner Rock as well as Wu-Tang Clan members Method Man, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck. MF DOOM has an inspired turn on "Negus," while rising Chicago rapper Vic Spencer shines on "Lord Have Mercy"
The highlight of the project comes on "The Three Lyrical Ps," a collaboration with Styles P and the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep. This is one of the first verses we've heard from Prodigy since his passing this past June. It's a bittersweet moment hearing two of New York's finest lyricists taken from us way too soon trade bars over Harry Fraud keys, and it makes the listening experience of Imperius Rex even more emotional than it already was.
Along with Fraud, production duties on Imperius Rex are provided by The Alchemist, Crummie Beats, Nottz, Marco Polo, Stu Bangas, and others. Alchemist provides some cinematic-sounding strings on the title track. Crummie Beats' production on "Negus" is a perfectly sinister-sounding backdrop for Price and the villain DOOM. Nottz' sampling and boom bap sound is just right for the 90s crews rapping over "Clans & Cliks." The production is tight and polished throughout the album, but never outshines Price and his many guests.
Like many posthumous releases, Imperius Rex can occasionally sound like it's stretched a little thin. That's par for the course when having to work around a limited amount of material. It's left up to many of those guests and producers to flesh out one-off verses into full songs and get the project to its 51-minute run-time.
Yet those features still largely go well with Sean P.'s bars, and the album is so clearly crafted with the love of Price's family and friends that the album works. Even if an individual track only features a short Price verse, he's still the focal point of everything. Imperius Rex is a worthy entry into the Sean Price canon, and proof that his voice will still live on in hip-hop well after his untimely passing.
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