“The beat is smooth, the rap is hard,” Sean Price says on the flawless Jesus Price Supastar, his second full-length under his given name. That quote pretty much sums up this hardcore hip-hop record, a true beats-and-rhymes offering that’s so out of step with today’s trends that its unapologetic presentation should only contribute more to an inevitable cult following. But even if the album seems destined for the underground, it’s still a perfect representation of the genre’s core elements that will always be relevant.
After a performance that was just good enough not to ruin bad beats on 2005’s Monkey Barz, Sean Price (who, as Ruck, was one half of early-’90s East Coast rap outfit Heltah Skeltah) deserves the Most Improved Emcee award this year. In fact, based on his honest and playful performance here, Price might be one of the best lyricists today. He repeatedly spits complex rhymes and rewind-worthy gems like “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to fuck with/ Boot Camp Click ain’t nothin’ to Wu-Tang.” Meanwhile, the production is consistent and exciting. Half the beats come from Justus League affiliates Krysis and 9th Wonder, who contributed a few tracks to Price’s previous record. They are all successes, soulfully arranged and artfully funky. Khrysis in particular shines, like on the stutter step of “One” and the early-’90s-style orchestral banger “King Kong.”
But a comparison to the golden age of underground street hip-hop shouldn’t make the record out to be some sort of throwback. Though it often covers tired street tales, Jesus Price Supastar does it with enough of a healthy swagger that even the most cliche moments transcend average tales circa 2007. And even if the beats don’t sound like what’s on the radio now, they are of the moment, never sounding like retreads of some other, better record from 1992. Jesus Price Supastar is nostalgic for an era when hip-hop was focused and disciplined, but it’s currently at the forefront of the craft movement, a boiled-down essence of what this music should be then, now and in the future. If ten better hip-hop records are released in 2007, it will be a very good year.