“Queens represent, buy the album when I drop it.” It’s hard to believe it’s been almost ten years since Large Professor uttered those infamous words in a quick guest appearance on “Keep it Rollin'” from the Tribe Called Quest masterpiece “Midnight Marauders.” Most listeners were already familiar with the Pro from his equally stellar raps AND production from Main Source’s “Breaking Atoms.” The anticipation that surrounded his solo debut left the whole hip-hop nation feeling like they lived in Queens too, waiting to represent and buy the album when he dropped it.
So we waited. And we waited. And we got a teaser or two from Geffen Records, an occasional beat for someone, and exclusives on an underground rap show. Years went by though, and the album he was supposed to drop never did. From 1993-2002, the rap nation rolled on. A lot of stars rose and fell in that time, some even taken before their time, but as far as most people knew Large Professor could himself have been a victim. His name was the perennial subject of the rap question, “What ever happened to…?” And then inexplicably, without warning, Matador Records released “1st Class.” A new label, and a completely different album from anything we had heard teasers of over the years. After all this time, Large Professor is back.
The hip-hop blood that pumps in my veins tells me there’s no reason I shouldn’t love this album thoroughly and without question. After all, the man was years ahead of his time: a brilliant producer musically who was gifted with the pen too, who could write classics like “A Friendly Game of Baseball” and then turn around and introduce us to rap’s future stars like Akinyele and Nas on “Live at the BBQ.” With the mystique built up around Professor’s disappearance from the mic arts and his surprising return, “1st Class” should have reeled in a touchdown like Rich Gannon connecting with Jerry Rice; but where the latter has aged well and perhaps even improved over the years, Large Professor often sounds dated. When paired with great teammates like Nas on “Stay Chisel” and Q-Tip on “In the Sun,” the beats and the lyrical effort both seem stepped up a notch. On tracks like “Born to Ball” though Large sounds like a dinosaur, stuck in a ’93 rap mode that clearly hasn’t evolved since “Fakin’ the Funk.” Peep the linguistics:
“Get up on the man rappin
I’m leavin people amazed with they hands clappin, word
Get down for your town, even rock for the suburbs
Professional, Large flip the flow for Long Island
And Cali and back for more wildin
Just out there professin my street style flow
And answering questions for peeps who wanna know..”
What they really wanna know is why so many of these tracks lack as much enthusiasm musically as they do raps lyrically. When you think of the classics this man made for Nas on both “Illmatic” and the recent “Stillmatic,” you’ll question HOW IN THE BLUE HELL he could put out something as jiggyfied and whack as “Bout That Time.” How bad is this beat? Not nearly as bad as “Brand New,” a song that wouldn’t even pass muster as a throwaway track by P. Diddy for Fabolous to rap on for the “Jackass: The Movie” soundtrack. The only one left feeling like a jackass is the listener, who expected a brilliant producer with a stellar reputation to drop diamonds and instead got handfuls of cubic zirconia. “Large Pro” is a mess, with P dropping ridiculous braggadocio like “this’ll be the hottest shit you ever heard” over an unconvincing bassline and some whiny synthesque sounds that are probably the bleeting of electronic sheep. “Alive in Stereo” is almost anything but, and “Radioactive” will have Bosco Money and Sam Sever looking for some payback Downtown Science style for tarnishing the name of a rap classic. The rhymes on it are as unconvincing as the former great’s now dated mack game:
“Do not attempt to adjust your dial
I’m transmittin live with the hardcore style
Fresh new kicks and the all-star glow
I’m up in the mix, dis Paul, Large Pro
Straight out the gate with the fabulous track
And my devestatin rhymes get the platinum plaque”
Speaking of tarnished, Large Professor has dug himself a hole with this album that it’s going to be hard to come out from. One hates to speak ill of a legend this way, but something happened while P was away. If he honestly believes that lines like “I’ma be that fella, with the mozzarella, always cookin up the new hot seller” fly in 2002, he needs a ghostwriter in the WORST possible way. For a musical impresario with the Professor’s credentials, whack rhymes could’ve been forgiven with a stellar album of 16 bangin’ beats. And to be fair, some of these tracks do have that Large Pro magic. The spacy “Ultimate”, the rugged “Akinyele” featuring said same, and the tribal pound of “On” featuring Busta Rhymes showcase the music at it’s very best. The rest of the album doesn’t though, which means that although the title is “1st Class” Large Professor only paid for coach, and you’re in for a very bumpy ride. Some reviews are hard to write, but none are harder than when a legend comes back and you discover that the shit just ain’t the same any more.