Sep 1, 2015

R.I.P. Sean Price; A Niles P. Joint

There’s really no good time for anyone to leave. In the realm of Hip Hop, the art form is too new to have had any of our heroes die of old age. Instead it’s been a series of “gone too soon” situations. On August 8th, we lost another emcee as Sean Price (aka Ruck) of Boot Camp Clik and solo fame died in his sleep at 43. This one hit home because it was the first time in my adult that a rapper died while I was already a fan (I got into Biggie, Pac, and Big L during their posthumous releases and I was only in middle school when Pun passed). Speaking of middle school, that’s where this story began for me.  
Like most kids in 2001, I spent my time after school playing GTA III for PS2. While doing virtual drive-bys and picking up pixelated prostitutes, I listened to the Hip Hop station.  The whole playlist was dope but I was especially drawn to Rising To The Top. It was produced and featured Agallah but it was unmistakably a Sean Price joint. For a young me it was the perfect intro to Ruck: Irreverent lyrics filled with tough threats punctuated with funny references, all over a perfectly selected beat. This was unlike anything I heard at that point so I made a point to fall down the rabbit hole of Sean Price’s music. I found a freestyle via a PF Cuttin mixtape with fellow Brownsville veterans Thirsting Howl III and Master Fuol to start things off.  What really entrenched me as a fan was when I got into his earlier work in the duo Heltah Skeltah where he rhymed opposite Rock.  This of course led to interest in Boot Camp Clik’s early works as a whole and as side groups (Black Moon, Smif-n-Wessun, Originoo Gun Clappaz) and as individuals.  It was amazing how getting into one emcee could lead to a vested interest into one of the best rap crews in history and Duck Down as a record label turned institution in the genre.
Flash forward to 2005, Sean P. released his first solo album Monkey Barz. I hadn’t heard much from Ruck at that point so I jumped at the chance to buy a full solo album of his. I expected a good album and walked out with one of my all-time favorites. Price eschewed any mainstream rap tactics for his debut. In a time of wealth-related braggadocio, he named a track Brokest Rapper You Know and was constantly committed to making an album on his own terms. Aside from the aforementioned GTA III soundtrack offering, the album’s crown jewel was the Khrysis produced Onion Head which has become the quintessential Sean Price song. It helped launch the career of the young producer, and the album as a whole revitalized both Price’s career but Duck Down Records as a whole. It became a staple in my rotation and went to college with me, where it was joined by his sophomore effort Jesus Price Superstar in 2007. Sean Price leapt over the sophomore slump and established himself as an underground hero and critic’s choice.
In an unprecedented move, Sean Price took some time off to be with his wife during her pregnancy and after the birth of their daughter. Paternity leave was unheard of in the rap game but if you learn one thing from this article it’s that Sean Price did whatever the hell he wanted. He was still active via collaboration albums and mixtapes, but Price finally released his third studio album in 2012. Mic Tyson was a play on words that paid homage to another Brownsville legend. This was quite fitting as every bar Price delivered on the project hit as hard as an uppercut from Iron Mike in his heyday.  Hitting for three critically acclaimed albums in a row didn’t change Price at all. He was still rough yet funny, which was shown in a series of videos on Duck Down’s YouTube channel. He also ingrained himself on Twitter and had one of the best accounts on the whole damn site, dropping jokes/daily observations and blocking anyone that annoyed him in hilarious fashion. In conjunction, Soundcloud helped him as well as he would drop tracks at random, serving as an appetizer until his next project dropped.

I got the privilege to see Sean Price perform at the Duck Down BBQ at Betsy Head Park in Brownsville the past two years.  Always the family man, he arrived with his wife Bernadette and daughter Shaun in tow as inconspicuously as possible. Despite being a rap legend, he was still an everyman of sorts. On stage he performed the crowd pleasing hits but also made time to bring his daughter onstage to rap with him. She inherited her father’s lyrical dexterity as she was able to recite some of his tongue twisting bars before she was old enough to be in kindergarten.  This dude balanced fame and family life like no other.

2015 looked to be a big year for Big Ruck.  Aside from his usual guest appearances, he was gearing up for the August 21st release of Songs in the Key of Price and the ensuing record release party. He mentioned via Twitter that generally when he dropped a mixtape he soon followed it up with a studio album. I was amped at the prospect at having a year of two Sean Price releases, not even taking into consideration the other collaboration projects he had spoken of the year before. Sadly, Sean Price died in his sleep on August 8th. The entire Hip Hop community seemed to be in mourning.  Major news outlets picked up the story.  Almost all of my favorite rappers, producers, and djs put some sort of tribute on Instagram and other social networks; everyone had a story of how Sean Price had an impact on their lives. The record release party morphed into a tribute show attended by his friends and collaborators. A donation page for his wife and four kids was set up by Duck Down.
As I mentioned before, this one was personal. This dude had been with me musically since middle school. A lot of my life’s highs and lows played out with one of his songs as the soundtrack. Shortly after his death, I finally made a list of my favorite 5 emcees. These were the ones that almost never disappointed me when it came to things the put out. And amongst Jean Grae, Ghostface Killah, Rapsody, and Nas was Sean Price. It dawned on me that I had never heard anything Ruck was on and not been satisfied. The harshest criticism I could muster was that some of his newer projects were dope but short in running time, to which P humorously said in an interview “Just listen to it twice!”  Through his abundance of songs and comical yet poignant presence on social media, he dropped jewels for those listening hard enough. No matter what was going on, P always stuck to his guns and stayed true to himself. He truly lived life on his own terms and did what was best for him and his family. He also had no fear when it came to speaking his mind. I didn’t know the full influence he had on me until after he passed. But about a month before he did, I took up the name Niles P. as a pen name of sorts.  It was a family nickname used by my aunt and sister, but also a small tribute to one of my favorite rappers.
At his mixtape release show for the superb Songs in the Key of Price turned tribute event, his wife Bernadette said that there would be more Sean Price material released in the future. It hit me with mixed emotions because I was glad that there was more to come and simultaneously sad that there’s a finite amount of Sean Price music left  But when it’s all said and done, I’m glad that I got into his music when I did and glad that I allowed myself to fall down the rabbit hole and discover how dope he and his crew were. So thank you, Ruck, for the memories and music and the lessons within.  After you many rappers might be type nice but they’ll never be Sean Price with it.  Rest in peace.


Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

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