Let's talk about epigrams for a second. Not punchlines, not general wordplay, but saying some shit in less than a bar that sums up everything you stand for.
"I love to rap, but I hate the game."
That's Sean Price. Ruck. Megatron Sean. P-Body. Mic Tyson. Kimbo Price. Brownsville's finest. In 40 years of hip-hop, no one's ever distilled themselves better than that. It's a mission statement expressed in half a bar. Nine words. And when we lost Sean Price last night, at a mere 43 years of age, we lost one of rap's only polestars.
In the mid-'90s, when he first popped up as half of the duo Heltah Skeltah, Ruck was already a curmudgeon at 23, wearing nothing flashier than jeans, Timbs, and a disdain for other rappers. His poker-faced grumpiness gave essential counterweight to Rock's dungeon-dragon histrionics, and made him the working-class hero of the already no-frills Boot Camp Clik (Black Moon, Smif-n-Wessun, and the best-named-ever Originoo Gunn Clappaz).
Over 20 years (20 years), the young turk turned into a fixture. He released an astonishing amount of material—with Heltah Skeltah, with BCC, as a solo act, as part of Random Axe, and in countless loosies with other artists—and all of it was best defined by what it wasn't: gimmicky. He never wrote a verse starting every line with a different letter of the alphabet, he never rapped from the point of view of turkey bacon, and he never did that self-satisfied allegorical shit where you thought he was talking about clothes when in reality he was ISSUING A SCATHING CRITIQUE OF CAPITALISM.
What Sean Price did was write bars. Thousands and thousands of them, each an exercise in menacing literality. But his ice grill was deadpan; every threat was tinged with a laugh, and you could always hear the smile lurking behind the serious.
"I'm in the hotel with ganja/Dope needle, Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda..."
"I carry a gun, paw/Barbarian, Thundarr/Switchblade bitchmade niggas like 'en garde'..."
"Take it back to D-Cept, back out the hammer fam/I ain't talkin' hammer 'blam,' fam, I'm talkin' hammer, damn..."
Adjectives and prepositions just got in his way, so he left them behind for other lesser rappers to pick up.
Hip-hop changed around him, as it did around anyone with the talent or sheer willpower to stay relevant. P didn't get caught up, though. The jeans stayed baggy, the Polo stayed on, and he stayed in Brownsville. He embraced his image as an unappreciated journeyman—"the brokest rapper you know" was his preferred phrase—and Brooklyn (and the Internet) in turn embraced him.
The record industry wasn't quite so welcoming. (What, you're gonna coax a guy who rhymes "Malachi York" and "Ballantine quart" into trimming his beard and becoming the next Flo Rida?) Price felt that, chafed at it, but processed his frustration into disdain just like he always did.
And yeah, he evolved, but not in that Electric Circus way. He got married. He had kids. But he kept rapping, and kept talking shit about Dru Ha, and kept making you laugh with how he would say whatever the fuck popped into his head. ("I don't parlay with a crew, nigga/I don't Wale with them new niggas.")
Sean Price was an old head. He liked it that way. And those of us who grew up alongside him liked it that way too.
The idea of "grown-man rap" is a weird one. We embrace 22-year-olds for showing some world-weariness and acting like they have some perspective, but the moment someone manages to amass some actual wisdom, we turn it into a pejorative. So make no mistake: Sean Price was an old head. He liked it that way. And those of us who grew up alongside him liked it that way too.
That doesn't mean we can't appreciate the singular genius of Kendrick or Chance, or that we don't fuck with Kevin Gates or Vince Staples or any one of the dozens of artists who remind us every day that hip-hop is in a great place. It just means that Brooklyn has always depended on rappers who stay rooted to the concrete, 10 toes down, and no one did that better than Sean Price.
I'm going fishing Sunday at sheepshead bay I did it last week it was relaxing— GRAY HULK (@SeanPrice) August 7, 2015
Wherever you are, P, we hope you get to relax.