"Imperius Rex" is a treat for Sean Price fans, or anyone who appreciates the art of lyricism.
"What do I really love about rap. Me. You know you really had to be saying something and say it well when I came into the game. Now they say anything, so I can tell that these kids don't have a lot of schooling man. They sound like idiots. I'm nice. I don't care what they say as long as they go, ‘Yo Sean P go in!’” - Sean Price
First and foremost, rest in peace to Sean Price. Last week on the second anniversary of his untimely passing, Duck Down Records released the posthumous album Imperius Rex. The album artwork features an ape-like rendition of Sean crafted in stone akin to the Lincoln memorial seated beneath this engraved eulogy: “Underrated. The Best in the Land. He Left footprints engraved in Sand. His name is Sean P.”
More often than not, those aligned with P’s camp of rhyming tend to be lauded by rap aficionados but overlooked in the greater realm of pop culture. Yet beyond his titanic rhyming ability is an honesty within his music, allowing him to maintain a feeling of authenticity even when being hyperbolic. Rappers frequently obscure their truths in order to present a version of themselves that can sell records or promote a particular lifestyle. More than once on the album Sean not only makes it clear that he is unconcerned with how he is perceived or the reception of his music beyond receiving recognition that he is an elite rhymer.
The most impressive thing about Imperius Rex is the urgency maintained throughout the entire project, and even at his weakest moments Sean can still outrap the majority of today’s rappers. Yet between the hard hitting cinder-block-to-the-head raps is a healthy dose of hilarity. The outro of “Definition of a God,” for example, finds Price doing a Stephen A Smith impression and insisting that he and the listener aren’t friends, while “Not97” features Sean Price channeling Funk Flex, dissing Duck Down Records and saying things like, “ Ya PayPal is trash. Ya website is trash. Nobody wants to buy Sean Price hoodies”.
This album certainly succeeds as a homage to that gritty, “old” New York rap, but as a result, may alienate some modern listeners. Unapproachable lyricism aside, there definitely are a couple of questionable lines included on the album such as on “Resident Evil” where he says “The godfather/ Big black brother with burners and large armor/ Big bottle of brown, call it the car starter/ Rape an atheist 'til the bitch say, "our father"/ Hail Mary.” Later on in the same song, he says, “Stop a bastard. Thematic/ Solve problem when shit get problematic/ I'm not your man maggot/ I'm not your friend faggot/ Pop your friend drastic/ Box your chin classic.” Still, Sean Price has never been one for censoring his rhymes, and has never bent to the conventions of the times. It’s this same quality that has allowed for the creation of such a unique and dense body of work throughout his career.
Despite the complex raps about bing-bonging bullets into the faces of enemies, some of the strongest moments come from Sean Price the family man. As he explains at the start of “Price Family,” “I’m a rapper to everybody else but in here I’m just dad. Father. Husband. Know what I mean. I Leave that rap shit outside.” The album even begins with Price’s daughter Shaun rapping the beginning of his dizzy verse from the 2015 "Soul Perfect” before saying “listen to my father bitch.” His wife Bernadette joins P on both the hook for “Dead or Alive” and the final verse on “Price Family”. There’s something exhilarating about Price rhyming about toting a shotgun and then taking his wife out for mofongo in the same breath.
As tends to be the case with many posthumous albums, Price gets assisted by numerous features. In addition to his daughter and Bernadette, Price is joined by a number of rap veterans including but not limited to Method Man, Raekwon, Buckshot, the late great Prodigy, and the ever elusive MF DOOM. Although the features makes the album feels crowded in some places, it is also nice to see the old vanguard of underground elites paying homage to the fallen legend.
Overall, Imperius Rex is not only a nostalgic bump for “hip-hop heads” but also a beautiful testimony to rap and the importance of family. With the recent anniversary of his death landing in close conjunction to the 44th anniversary of hip-hop, it’s nice to see a grittier, take on the joint themes of identity, fatherhood and maturity. It’s always distressing when a legend is lost before their time, but with the help of Duck Down Records and Bernadette Price, the words and legacy of Deceptacon Sean will live on forever.