March 8, 2007

Price's Broken Self

Print More

Sean Price is a troubled man. Since first appearing in 1996, as one half of the excellent Brooklyn underground duo Heltah Skeltah, Price has consistently disappointed his loyal cult following. These eleven years have tested Price as a talented but poor artist, who must be bombarded each day by the wealthy, artless rappers of the mainstream. As such, he has found himself in a heartbreaking purgatory between drug-dealer and rap star. His pain is palpable throughout Jesus Price Supastar — at the start of “Violent” he announces, without a trace of irony: “I’m such a failure.” This is an outstanding track, on which Price lashes out at his adversaries over the dulcet booms, baps and strings of bourgeoning producer 9th Wonder. On it, he notes that “the beat is smooth, the rap is hard,” subtly admitting that his pain prevents him from writing rhymes befitting of the tender beat. In this sense, Price’s depression leads him, like Edward Norton in Fight Club, to “destroy something beautiful.”

Jesus Price Supastar is, more specifically, an examination of the artist’s failings. His financial troubles take center stage on the album, he even names himself “the brokest rapper you know,” or rather, don’t know. Price’s guilt is the subject of “Mess You Made,” a stuttering, piano-laced effort on which his fellow Brooklynite and R&B singer, Block McCloud, repeatedly forces him to consider the “mess” that is his life. The lyricism on this track is near-brilliant as Price laments his status in terms of money and music: “Money ain’t a thing says the guy who’s rich/ While the broke motherfucker’s thinkin life’s a bitch/ Slit my wrists with a knife or blade/ Damn, look at the mess I made, the mess I made.” Within this line, Price echoes the words of Jay-Z (see: 1998’s “Money Ain’t a Thang”) and Nas (see: 1994’s “Life’s a Bitch”) in separating himself from the moneyed former and identifying with the streetwise latter. Truly, though, Price links himself with his non-rap-star audience in revealing the depth of his struggles with life on the streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Regret remains a focus throughout the album, as Sean Price looks back on mistakes that kept him from success in his rap career. But while it is refreshing to hear the compunction of an artist much less self-confident than his peers, one cannot help but hope that Jesus Price Supastar will bring Price all that he wants. Such is the honesty of his testimony. It is as though his rhymes are the secret confessions of the rapper’s inner consciousness (and he reminds us to keep it quiet on the album’s cover). The album includes fifteen consistently listenable tracks that see Price reuniting with the legends of the Brooklyn underground, Boot Camp Clik, and working with more recent partners, members of the North Carolinian label, Justus League. He relies on these friends to keep him aware of his talent and relevance, and to make sure that the devout rapper never loses his faith in the art of hip-hop.