Hip Hop in 2010 is not the right place for Killah Priest. Not for the former Sunz of Man frontman with the profound, religion-inspired verses, the deep voice and the nondescript flow. Not in a climate dominated by Drake’s good-guy persona, Lil Wayne’s over-the-top charisma, and Rick Ross’ life of luxury. Maybe it was when he was prominently featured on GZA’s legendary Liquid Swords, in 1995. But not in 2010.
Not that the Wu-Tang Clan affiliate seems to mind. Back with his eighth solo album, The 3 Day Theory, the Brooklyn native delivers to die-hards exactly what they’re used to: raw lyricism and potent storytelling over dark, ominous production, leaving little room for either suspense or surprise this time around.
Beat selection tends to make or break Priest’s music; the right ones highlight his masterful narration, while the wrong ones drown him, his spiritual subject matter, and his layered punch lines right out of the equation. His previous solo material has included assistance from the likes of Just Blaze, Sam Sneed, and a variety of Wu-Tang associates, but the sound on 3DT – mostly consisting of sinister strings and piano keys alike – was crafted entirely by Virginia-based beatmaker Kount Fif (composer of “Gun For Gun”, the Nas-assisted cut off Priest’s 2007 effort The Offering). And, though the front-to-back cohesion is great, Kount Fif is far from a super-producer, so a few duds are to be expected. The beats on the latter half of the album tail from suitable to downright uninspired, as unfortunate production turns the LP into a difficult, cumbersome listen.
But we’ll all be damned if Priest can’t write the hell out of a Rap verse. For the most part, every rhyme serves a purpose, and the stories are, if nothing else, rarely boring. He puts together an interesting account of his past on “Priest History,” holds his own alongside label-mates and punchline enforcers Copywrite and Jakki da Motomouth on “Fire Reign”, and watches himself fall victim to a car wreck in “Outer Body Experience.” On the majority of the songs, he doesn’t even bother writing hooks, understandable after the realization that the choruses that are present on the album barely add a thing in the ways of content, importance, or catchiness. The guests, meanwhile, range from effective, such as the aforementioned “Fire Reign” verbal jabbers, to unnecessary, as the host could’ve certainly handled the eerie, devil-inspired “Psalm of Satan” on his own.
It’s hard to imagine an emcee like Killah Priest gaining a slew of new fanfare nowadays, and The 3 Day Theory isn’t the kind of opus that’ll prove such a statement incorrect. Regardless, the select few still searching for Hip Hop doused in social commentary and coated with religious under-and-overtones will have plenty to feed on here, acknowledgement from the masses or not.