Note: The songs mentioned in this review come from the full 30 track mixtape that can be purchased at the Duck Down Music shop. You can purchase the re-issued bundle at the official Duck Down shop, here:
Sean Price’s death has been profound to say the least. Not since the untimely passing of Guru has Hip Hop endured such a feeling of profound alienation. Price was an emcee’s emcee, and as such affected us in a tangible way as the representation of an idea: that Hip Hop stripped to its roots is beats and rhymes cleverly and or poignantly filling in our days and nights with meaning. That the emcee has the ability to speak to our realities. In the days and weeks that followed, the outpouring of fan and peer support has been comforting, especially for those who knew and loved Ruck. A CrowdRise Kickstarter campaign for his family has nearly doubled its initial fundraising goal of $50,000, and a brand new street mural in Crown Heights, Brooklyn went up on August 10. To see such a dedicated following manifested accordingly has been truly special.
Anticipation for Songs In The Key Of Price started before the news broke on August 8th. Sean, the selfless soul he was, had been working on a forthcoming studio LP and sought to appease fans in the meantime with a mixtape, comprised of songs scrapped during the LP sessions. In total, Songs In The Key Of Price boasts impressive tracks with great sequencing and scratching, and the flow is reminiscent of something from Madlib’s Beat Konducta series. Given its overall structure, the Duck Down Music re-issued mixtape works as an incredibly good collection of pure Hip Hop music.
The first track after the intro, “Fiqure More,” sees Sean and frequent collaborator Illa Ghee setting the tone of the album over a dark, grimy beat. Sean gets the ball rolling with his patented simple, yet smart wordplay: “Sean Sparks ain’t John Starks / Nah, Sean ball like John Wall / Don’t catch a Washington Bullet / Finger on the trigger / Now nigga watch me just pull it, P.” After Illa’s verse, the track segways into “S.E.A.N.,” the first official release, sampling “Chicago” by Graham Nash (made famous by Westside Connection on “Gangsta Nation”): “I’m the raw rap writer, reciter of raw raps / All that wack shit that you’re talking, just fall back.” Each time, the music is different in its own unique way, but the lyrics boost the replay value while the inter-track sequencing gives the illusion of a more technical mastering process.
The short song lengths may not be loved universally, but Sean still masterfully maximizes each one. “Garbanzo Beans” has only one verse, but that’s all P needs to get his point across. It’s as if he had so many beats and rhymes at his disposal that he just couldn’t let any fall by the wayside. When he does let loose for more than eight bars (“Magic”), it’s a welcome treat that also doesn’t hinder the experience..
For all of Sean’s individual greatness on Songs In The Key Of Price, Illa Ghee holds his own too, with six guest spots on the full mixtape. This pairing is nothing new, given a history that dates back to 2011’s “Price To Be Illa.” They trade verses on “Barbituates” and “Dave Winfield,” an effective sequence that succeeds in unison. Fans of Price signature, grimy New York Hip Hop will enjoy the collaborative efforts from this duo, but that certainly isn’t to suggest that Illa is the only successful guest emcee. In fact, Ruck enlisted the services of several New York City artists, from Royal Flush, to up-and-comers like Rim and Foul Monday. His support for fledgling artists speaks volumes about his character, touted by industry peers, like Statik Selektah and Guilty Simpson.
Songs In The Key Of Price just happens to be the way Ruck is saying goodbye, at least for now. The way it ebbs and flows is an experience in and of itself, and the vibe is the perfect blend of underground, trippy, stony and grimy all rolled into one. There’s plenty of material to work with here, and it instills a Sean Price kind of mindset: out of the box and unlike anything else.
Thank you for everything, Sean. Rest in peace.