The first posthumous record from Sean Price.
The first posthumous record from Sean Price, the seminal New York hip-hop figure who died in 2015, is a collection of bruising beats and blustery bars that could only be more quintessentially East Coast if it came with a pair of Timberlands and a Yankees jersey. While it suffers from some of the standard hagiographic issues that plague releases from deceased MCs, Imperius Rex is still a thoroughly enjoyable example of what Price was like in cruise control.
A veteran of crucial rap indie Duck Down Records, Price only began releasing solo music in 2005, largely working with Rock as part of the duo Heltah Skeltah. Left to his own devices, Price produced a trio of unflinching LPs punctuated by occasional corner store gems like “Onion Head” and “King Kong.”
Here, “Dead or Alive” is a particularly emotional track; his wife, Bernadette Price, spits the hook. It’s a little clunky, but it’s a necessary acknowledgment of the fact that he’s passed into the overly sentimental.
For a street rap album, Imperius is a star-studded affair, with Styles P, Raekwon, MF Doom and the usual cast of Duck Down characters all come to pay their respects by sharing one more track with him. The late Prodigy of Mobb Deep even shows up on “The 3 Lyrical Ps,” one of the record’s most poignant cuts. The sprawling posse track “Clans & Cliks” is a highlight, and Price delivers one of the record’s strongest verses, equal parts menacing and self-effacing: “I got three kids and claim two on taxes/ Popped three wigs and made two closed caskets, Wu-Tang.”
On “Lord Have Mercy,” another standout, Vic Spencer’s verse is scorching, and the beat from Joe Cutz is masterfully understated. The sample builds but the drums rarely rise above a steady cymbal tick, allowing Spencer, Price and Rim P plenty of room.
Imperius Rex doesn’t cover much new ground, as the bulk of the 51 minute run time is spent asserting Price’s place in hip-hop in a way that would surely feel more tedious were it not for context. The leader’s verses are consistently solid but rarely reach the highs he was capable of. One exception is the dense, knotty internal rhyming of “Negus,” while on “Refrigerator P!” he offers absurdist boasts like, “Sold crack to bitches in their third trimester” that are vintage examples of P’s abrasiveness and dark wit.
The album isn’t likely to win Price new fans, but that doesn’t seem to be the intention. Imperious Rex is a labor of love by his family and close associates. Like most posthumous rap releases it’s intended to satisfy hardcore fans and put the deceased on a pedestal. Price deserves that treatment for his considerable contributions to New York hip-hop, but there’s no way for an album released under these circumstances to be as strong as what the MC put out during his lifetime.