The Eternal Influence of Sean PricePosted: August 17, 2015
There was once a time I was determined to be the king of rap, hip-hop, or whatever you want to call it. I studied Jay-Z’s advancement, I used moves that 50 Cent perfected, and I worked diligently to make up for my deferred basketball dream. I believed that mainstream success was the only kind of success. After flirting with the rap star life, that flirt turned into a dissatisfying tease and I began floating around the independent world of hip-hop trying to find my way as my dude Torae hipped me to the gold mine that existed when you control your own content. One day I caught wind of an interview with Duck Down records legend Sean Price who basically said that if he had to stop rapping and work at Costco because of his financial obligations, he would be still be Sean Price…just working at Costco. I’m paraphrasing, but the whole point of his statement was that his family was worth more than his rep or his image. I had never experienced a love like that at the time. I was chasing fame more than anything.
The first time I saw the “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” video I was an instant fan of OGC and Heltah Skeltah.I had heard Ruck and Rock on the “Cession at da Doghillee” and I eagerly anticipated their album.
But seeing Ruck’s charisma, his hilarious dance moves and effortless flow, he became a standout member of the collective. Even when Rock threw the fake Biggie off the stage in OGC’s “No Fear” video and B.I.G came at them on the early version of “Long Kiss Goodnight,” I didn’t stop wishing that my brethren from BK would leap into the same ocean of stardom that Bad Boy was swimming in.
It seemed destined for Duck Down to take a similar meteoric rise that the other labels like Roc-A-Fella and Deathrow were experiencing. Ruck and Rock’s first album was a stellar collection of hard beats, barbaric verses and a feel that was all its own. They were poised for greatness, and I was a witness. The whole crew came to perform at my college, Delaware State University and while we rapped in a cipher outside near their tour bus, Rock and Ruck jumped in and torched us all. I was hoping they would want to sign one of us, but it was a thrill to see them join in without flinching. Just the mere fact that they rapped with us without asking displayed humility and hunger. They were getting paid to grace a stage but they still had the desire to come spit with some students. I will never forget that. While my crew and I waved our Bucktown flags in school assured that Black Moon, Smif n Wessun, Heltah Skeltah and OGC were “next up,” something happened that we didn’t foresee.
Buckshot’s second album wasn’t as hard, the Cocoa Brovaz didn’t have the same impact the next time around and OGC dropped a solid debut, but it was in an era where crossing over meant staying alive. Even KRS-1 and Redman were making hits that could play in a club atmosphere and on the radio to compete with Puff’s takeover. Jay-Z, Mase, members of the Wu and Nas had all gone from hip-hop icons to notable music makers with radio appeal and commercial success.
Duck Down records maintained their same scale of success but the elevation wasn’t evident. It was a time where the Native Tongues were fizzling out, De La and Tribe seemed to be on their last limbs, and record sales were the measure of greatness. So while DMX added grit to the game and the Lox ascended, Heltah Skeltah and OGC were not becoming household names. But as the century turned and music was being streamed and collected online, I noticed a familiar name showing up on hiphopgame.com, and that was Sean Price. Duck Down didn’t need to rise, they remained steady and outlasted most of their so-called competitors. I didn’t value that fact as much as I do at this time in my life.
Either way, I would check out Sean Price’s music every time I saw his name pop up. I wasn’t sure if he had officially broken off from his group, if he and The Rockness Monsta had fallen out, or if this was just natural progression. His pen hadn’t fallen off, and over the years he had picked up a very strong following. Once my career had taken a turn from major deal ambitions to independent dreams, Sean P became my prototype for an artist doing what he wanted consistently and maintaining his fanbase. But my industry eye viewed the Boot Camp Clik as underground. Whenever I was in a Def Jam or Atlantic Records office and the topic of a Duck Down artist came up, there was always a disclaimer. “So and so is nice but…” But what? But they will never count in the real world is what they were trying to say. Even when I wrote for magazines like XXL, I noticed that hard-edged New York hip-hop, especially the crew I grew up loving, was taking a backseat.
“Maybe I should blame the boot camp for not staying relevant,
Nas contradicting himself, out of his element…”
What was I thinking? These were words I wrote on a song called “New York State of Mine” where I attempted to find the reason that my city fell off. In hindsight, I was probably trying to get a rise out of listeners as well as generate some type of buzz for toting the disrespectful line. I didn’t think these lines were feather rufflers, but at the same time I didn’t expect anyone to hear them and agree. So when I ended up on a group email with a few rap friends about organizing a show, I saw Sean’s name referenced and knew he was a part of the group. And then it happened…he hit me with a personal message saying that my line about the Boot Camp was real. My heart jumped instantly and I was slightly worried, embarrassed, flattered and weird all at once. Was he joking? Did he really think the line was good? Did he grasp my sincerity and love for their collective? How did he even hear my stuff?
My response was a bit drawn out explaining my stance and letting him know that he was one of my favorite artists. I wrote that I loved the Boot Camp Clik and I was disheartened that they weren’t more popular and it may have been a part of the reason why the southern rap movement had taken over New York City. He understood and didn’t think I was being negative. And neither did Rock, who I became cool with over the years as well. Sean and I met at shows like A3C in Atlanta and the Brooklyn Bodega festival and he invited me to multiple studio sessions while I tried to find the right record for us. As I look back, I see I was trying to give him concept records instead of just throwing on a beat and letting us rap. Luckily CyMarshall Law enlisted both of us for a track and we got to spit together. The same occurred when Willie The Kid put us all on a record. He saluted me on the songs and told me I bodied it. I never felt like I bodied anything because both songs he took over once he showed up. He once told me my Love Jones mixtape was one of his favorite tapes and that he and his wife listened to it. I was in disbelief that he not only took the time to listen to something about relationships, but that he would actually enjoy it and not call it soft.
After I dropped my album called My Soul To Keep and he had a show out in Atlanta, I met up with him and we talked for a while. He said the album was dope but it sounded like I made it for fans that knew me already. It wasn’t a debut album. He was right. I made mistakes with that release but I knew that I couldn’t receive that criticism from just anyone. I watched him command the crowd that night and I sat there marveling at the fact that he had all these songs with scarce choruses but lengthy, intricate verses and he didn’t run out breath or forget a line.
The people in attendance were true fans, they knew the words to his songs and were happy to be near him. It was something I envied and admired. He wasn’t on TV every day, he didn’t have a hit song in radio rotation, but he was dope. He was well-respected by everyone. When I was in hip-hop training, I was a slave to the record executives and the A&Rs that told me that I had to be somewhat fraudulent for people to believe in me. They warned me that I had to always appear fresh, maintain a level of arrogance, and talk about wealth as if I had it already. Sean showed me that being yourself is what counts. I thank him for that.
When he and my brother Digga got close, I was brought into Sean’s world. I was able to see how he managed a career as a hip-hop artist that was constantly in motion, and at the same time he was raising a family. He shared stories about his Brownsville past, his usual disdain for Flatbush guys that he put aside for my brother and I, his fascination with footwear, his unabashed truth telling and most of all…his bars. He sat me down in a session and let me hear each song on Mic Tyson and watched my facial expression as each hard-knocking instrumental compounded with witty, abrasive, and powerful lines came together. My only issue was that I wasn’t on it. But either way, it was fun watching one of my favorite rappers become one of my favorite human beings. And seeing that man with my brother forming their own brotherly bond was heartwarming.
Never have I ever witnessed an emcee that no other emcee, DJ, critic, or blogger could find fault with. He didn’t do commercial songs that sounded like “singles” on his album. He wasn’t attempting to go for radio or doing friendly choruses with the hopes of finding a hit. I didn’t just love Sean P’s music, I envied the fact that he could use his real name, that he was hilarious, that he never wavered from who he was and that he was a genuine individual. As I’m writing this, it still hasn’t sunken in. And it will take some time for me to recognize that his voice will now only be heard through speakers and headphones.
Somehow we as artistic people have this immortality feeling deep down inside of us. And although we know that we must all go, we can’t help but feel like we’re immune to some of life’s pitfalls. It never gets easy when we lose someone whose music we were just vibing to, or an actor we can still view on a screen, or a loved one that lives forever in our hearts. I can’t imagine what pain and heartache the Price family, the Duck Down family and everyone that was truly close to this amazing person must feel like.
I can only pray that your passing is a wake up call for others to live in the moment, enjoy each day as it comes, and most of all, be who you are. You taught me that if I’m going to rap, I might as well say what I want to say. And with that said, I do want to pick up the mic again in your honor. Rest in Power Sean Price. P!