Sean Price – Monkey Bars review by Todd E. Jones
Sean Price (aka Ruck of Heltah Skeltah) is one of the few emcees who can truly rock every song with each performance. His debut solo album, “Monkey Bars” proves that he also is one of the few emcees who can create a complete album that you can repetitively listen to from start to finish. A “real” emcee (in every sense of the word “real”), Sean Price (also a member of The Boot Camp Clik) is one of the “chosen” few. The phrase, “Keep it real”, is overused in the hip-hop culture. You are either real or not. The honesty within Price’s music connects him to each listener. A diversely talented emcee, Sean Price has a myriad of flows, a smooth voice, and sharp lyrics. A member of a myriad of crews (B.C.C., M.F.C., Decepticons, Heltah Skeltah, The Fab 5), Sean Price has made a name for himself among some of the most talented / respected emcees in underground & independent hip-hop. Originally introduced to the world as Ruck (1/2 of Heltah Skeltah), Sean P gained major exposure on the single, “Lafleaur Laflah Eshkoshka”. Consisting of Rock and Ruck, Heltah Skeltah made realistic, serious, and unique hip-hop. When the listener first heard Heltah Skeltah, Price was overshadowed by Rock’s thick, baritone voice. Da Rockness Monsta’s deep voice instantly caught people’s attention. Through multiple listens, fans began appreciate the style, precision, wit, and intensity in Ruck’s performances. His verses on “Headz Are Reddee Part II”, “Therapy”, “And So”, “I Ain’t Havin That”, “Lethal Brainz Blow”, “What Would U Do?”, and “Lafleaur Laflah Eshkoshka” have become timeless classics. Heltah Skeltah (and O.G.C.) proved that B.C.C. had more to offer than the previous generation (Black Moon and Smiff N Wessun) of B.C.C.
The two Heltah Skeltah albums were completely separate entities in both theme and production. Both albums gained very different responses. Both LPs were clever, unique, emotional, aggressive, and hardcore. Heltah Skeltah’s debut, “Nocturnal” LP is now considered a certified hip-hop classic from the 90’s era. The album included tracks like, “Therapy”, “Operation Lockdown”, and “Lafleaur Laflah Eshkoshka”. Ruck was extremely involved with the creation of Heltah Skeltah’s sophomore LP, “Magnum Force”. He chose many of the producers and helped to organize the collaborations. A complete emcee, Sean Price’s hardcore style still displayed clever wit, vulnerability, and hardcore style. Ruck rhymed about romance with “Chicka Woo”, a song about a failed relationship. “Hold Your Head Up” was a poignant track about the daily emotional struggle. When Price mentions his mother’s death, even the hardest emcees felt compassion. On the opposite end of the emotion spectrum, humor balances the LP with tracks like, “Black Fonzerellez”, “I Ain’t Havin That”, and the “2 Keys” skits. The vigorous track, “I Ain’t Havin’ That” was a magnificent portrait of the group’s energetic skill. Unfortunately, the album received lukewarm reviews. (This critic loved “Magnum Force”!) Due to jail, promotional issues, and mild sales doomed the commercial success of their sophomore album. Heltah Skeltah eventually split up. Rock left Duckdown Records completely. Ruck, on the other hand, stayed with the B.C.C. and contributed magnificent verses on multiple collaborations.
From the late 90’s to 2004, Ruck’s debut album was consistently discusses and promoted. Fans waited for years. Finally, fans began to rejoice in 2005. Released on Duckdown Records, Sean Price’s debut solo, “Monkey Bars” LP has a strong mid/late 90’s feel mixed with a 2005 mentality. While Price had to share songs with Rock in the past, Sean P uses “Monkey Bars” to prove that he is one of the most talented solo emcees today. Fans saw the potential in Price when he rocked those past verses. On “Monkey Bars”, Sean Price reaches his potential as one of the most talented emcees today.
Most songs by Sean Price are immediately satisfying. Most of the tracks on “Monkey Bars” are too. The single, “Boo Bye Yeah” is an anthem for the entire B.C.C. over a maelstrom of head-bashing rhythms. Ruck is a juggernaut who is at once, humorous and hardcore. “Boo Bye Yeah” is one of those songs that when you first hear it, you say, “Damn! This is dope!” Every verse has a confident energy and aggressive style that hip-hop lovers have not heard since the mid-90’s. Price rhymes, “…You can catch me in ya tenement, doing too much drugs / Straight Jimi Hendrexin’, pop the drinker, my mom’s on dope / Pick up they bad habit, now the God do both / Poppin’ some pills, sniffin’ a line, drinkin’ some wine / Up in the club, grabbin’ my gun, fucking my shine / Bling bling, bling bling, it’s a Sean Price thing / Too many clowns want the crown, but it only one king / I’m, the King ask Rock, there is none higher / Bitch ass niggaz, better call me sire / Burn my kingdom, must use fire / Big bag of weed, a dutch and some Eazy Widers / Yo, Ruck at it, drug habit and all /Bust matics, chrome static I ain’t fuckin’ with y’all / Don’t get my hands dirty, I got goons that spray / Quick to kill a motherfucker, like boom bye yeah!…” Instead of chanting a catchy commercial-style verse, Sean Price uses this exceptional riot-inspiring beat to say “Whut up!” to his fellow B.C.C. and M.F.C. brothers. Produced by Tone Mason, “Boo Bye Yeah” displays a true connection between the emcee and the producer. Another song which earns the listener’s attention is “Heartburn”. This track proves that 9th Wonder (of Little Brother) and Sean Price work perfectly together. The classic feel of the soulful sample falls over the drums like waves. For his verses, Price basically lists everything he loves with a humorous honesty. Produced by P.F. Cuttin (Blahzay, Blahzay), “Mad Mann” has a sinister bounce within the production for Price’s dangerous style. The hard yet cool track, “Shake Down” features Starang Wondah (of O.G.C.) and Steele from Smiff N Wessun. Although other emcees contribute excellent performances, Ruck uses a subtle style in his final verse to claim the track. “…Time is money and money is time / And I just got enough time to get my money…” Remaining on beat, Ruck rhymes as if he is talking to you. This raw style not only grabs the listener’s attention, but his displays his skill with diversifying his rhyme flow. Produced by Khrysis (Justus League), “Onion Head” is Sean Price’s anthem that tells you to get the hell out of his way. Khrysis uses a classic sound, mixed in with the hip-hop melody, to create a soulfully cinematic track. Tek (of Smiff N Wessun) handles the thematic hook. Every song on “Monkey Bars” offers a rugged look into Price’s crazy world where listeners will want to return.
Price always injected a sharp wit into his songs. From “Therapy” to “I Ain’t Havin That”, his songs have always included strong, humorous lyrics, delivered with a confident style. “The Brokest Rapper You Know” (produced by TY Deals) is a short track where Price adeptly rhymes about his lack of funds. The beauty of this track lies within this honesty. Sean rhymes, “…Rock solo, Ruck broke / Here’s a hundred dollars, what a fucking joke / Eviction notice, yo, I gotta go / Album been out two months, ain’t did a fucking show / Ruckus, you ruined, I put the barrel to my dome /But what the fuck are you doing? Chill / Found a new way to build / Fuck rap, started selling 2-ways and pills…” Lyrically, Price shows a universal vulnerability. He even rhymes about how he did not get a gift from his kids on father’s day. Few emcees would let the listener in on these personal aspects and simultaneously make them laugh. Most emcees want to be very serious when they create hip-hop songs about being broke. While the poignant truth of “The Brokest Rapper You Know” gives the song a serious undertone, clever use of bittersweet humor will catch the listener’s attention. The brutally honest, “I Love You (Bitch)” is another song with an amusingly sharp bite. Price probably got in trouble with his girl when she heard the song. Dub Z’s ethereal distorted orchestra melody adds an epic sound for the emotional rollercoaster ride. Brutally honest and emotionally raw, Ruck constantly goes back and forth from hate to love as he tells of the dark feelings of relationships. The yin and yang of relationships have never been captured in a hip-hop song with such potency. Price raps, “…Words can’t express the way that I feel / Yo, your ass is fat, your brain is small / You slap the kids and ya chain is pawned / You look like shit, you destroying yourself / Heineken for breakfast-ass bitch / You don’t even make my dick hard no more / Gotta think about my ex to get erect / Gotta take X when I’m erect / Stretch-marks, titties looking like prunes / Fuck you with the lights off from behind in the room / My sister told me to leave ya ass alone, but fuck it…” Every man felt this way at some point, but only Sean Price had the balls to express it on a record. The perfect balance between emcee and producer is captured on these tracks. Although the album features excellent production and talented guests, Sean Price is never outshined.
Multiple listens are required for a few tracks that still deserve to be appreciated. The opening cut, “Peep My Words” (produced by Kleph Dollaz) uses lyrics from “Operation Lockdown”. Price’s flow works extremely well over the production. At first listen, the song may not sound especially moving, but multiple listens will hypnotize the listener into the rest of the LP. The Grand Theft Auto theme song, “Rising To The Top” is a bonus track that was also featured on a Game compilation (“Game Tight”). Agallah’s driving beat captures the feeling of ascension. Other tracks that deserve multiple listens include “Bye Bye” (featuring Buckshot), “One Two Y’all”, and “Monkey Bars” (which uses the classic vocal sample from “The Message).
Rock and Rustee Juxx have always had a strong friendship with Sean Price (aka Ruck). Together again, Rock and Ruck team up on the rugged track, “Jail Shit”. Agallah’s gritty production perfectly complements the hardcore theme. With his usual deep voice, Rock handles the hook where he states how the streets are almost as dangerous as prison. On “Spliff N Wessun”, Ruck and Juxx display their hip-hop connection over Ayatollah’s production. Nominated by Ruck as “Crown Height’s best emcee” (on “Live The Life”), Rustee Juxx adds a fresh vibe to the album. The hard-hitting track, “Slap Boxing” has Ruck, Rock, and Juxx all beating the shit out of the mic. These collaborations not only show solidarity, they prove that ill feelings do not exist between Ruck and Rock.
Every album has some minor flaws, but any weakness on “Monkey Bars” is stronger than the average hip-hop track. “Fake Neptune” (featuring Buckshot, Steele, & Louisville) is a decent track with a self-explaining title. The bouncy & glossy sound does make the beat sound like a Neptunes rip-off. Sean Price’s performance makes this track skip-proof. The only other strike against the album is the exclusion of the old (but essential) track, “Solidify”. Instead of “Rising To The Top”, “Solidify” would have made the album perfect.
Like real monkey bars on a playground, Sean Price’s debut solo album is fun, a bit dangerous, funky, and always ready for play. Does the title have anything to do with racism and hip-hop verses? (“Monkey” is a racist term. “Bars” are lines of lyrics.) Like “Do The Knowledge” (the Snickers bar skit from “Magnum Force”), Ruck may be finding humor is a horrible act of racism. (Maybe I’m looking too deep into the title…?) Fans had to wait years for Ruck’s debut solo album. “Money Bars” does not disappoint. The hardcore album has a mid-90’s hip-hop energy with 2005 sentiments. In the songs by Heltah Skeltah, the deep baritone voice of Rock caught the listener’s attention while Sean Price’s overall performance solidified their credibility and style. The album has some songs that instantly satisfy and catch your attention. Other songs are just as strong but require a few extra listens. As an album, “Monkey Bars” is greater than just the sum of its parts. A contemporary hip-hop classic, the LP improves with every listen. “Monkey Bars” by Sean Price is not only refreshing and entertaining; the album is one of the best released LP in the last 5 years. Although you may get hurt, play on these “Monkey Bars” because the pain is worth the good time.