REVIEW: Large Professor – First Class

First Class

Artist: Large Professor

Album: First Class

Label: Matador

Rating: 7.5 / 10

Reviewer: A to the L

“Queens represent, buy the album when I drop it.”

I’m sure when Large Professor ended his guest verse on A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Keep It Rollin’ with this line, he didn’t anticipate how long we would have to wait before having a chance to cop his album. Nine years is a hell of a long time, even for a cat like Extra P who is as skilled on the boards as he is on the mic. So can an official Large Professor album still fit into the ever changing landscape of Hiphop today? Many would think so – the clamour on Ebay everytime someone decides to auction their copy of his bootleg album on Geffen, or the classic Main Source “Breakin’ Atoms” LP certainly suggests that people still wanna hear his words. His production work on past Nas, Akinyele and ATCQ albums still gets regular rotation by heads worldwide, while his latest outing on the boards on the old-track-on-new-album ‘You’re Da Man’ for Nas’ “Stillmatic” longplayer suggests that he hasn’t lost the magic touch. With many people fiending for Rakim’s Dre-fuelled reappearance on wax, is it possible that another true Hiphop great could surpass the R with his own “back from the dead” act?

The opening intro certainly bodes well for the rest of the album. Its a quick minute and a half opener with Extra P tossing off a nonchalant freestyle over ‘Illmatic’ era beats. Simple, effective, and devastating – a no-bullshit way to greet the slavering hordes.

‘Bout That Time’ follows a similar formula – a distorted horn sample runs in a quick loop over a high string section as a simple drum pattern directs the flow. Large Professor’s lyrics meanwhile follow the blueprint he laid down on his Main Source debut – clear, concise, and to the point delivered in the trademark casually arrogant Extra P manner. ‘Ultimate’ meanwhile raises the bar a little on the production stakes, as we’re treated to layers of strings and horns echoing in and out of the mix, giving this track a true anthemic feel.

It’s interesting to see Extra P pay homage to the cult Main Source track ‘Live At The Barbeque’ by bringing back two of the guests from that joint to guest on this album, and namechecking the original joint. First up, Nas repays the large debt owed to Extra P for putting him on that cut, and for his sterling production work on “Illmatic”, by dropping a guest verse on ‘Stay Chiselled (BBQ 2.1).’ The track is a straight throwback to the early 90’s style without ever sounding dating, and Nas just destroys the mic – “Stay chiselled like a boxer, wifebeater by Fila / Lou Ferrigno Arnold Schwarzenegger type stilo / Stay chiselled, check your paper nigga – bring the bar to your chest / Then push it up harder than the rest.”

‘BBQ 2.2’ follows hot on the heels, and unsurprisingly features the irrepressible Akinyele. As with his previous work, Extra P has gone to great pains to match the type of beat with the emcee flowing over it – in most cases, its Large Pro himself ripping the beat, but with ‘BBQ 2.1’ and ‘BBQ 2.2′, he’s worked hard to ensure that the beats are perfectly matched to the flows of Nas and Ak. Where Nas’ cut is more laidback, Ak’s is vicious with heavy kicks that match the vocal tones of this particular emcee.

There’s a sequence of tracks in the middle of this joint that illustrate exactly how dope Large Professor is both as an emcee and a producer. ‘Born To Ball’ is an extremely bouncy track featuring an understated guitar lick spread over mellow chimes and organs; ‘Kool’ is simply superb – a mesh of beautiful flute loops that throw up images of walking through Central Park in autumn rocking this in the headphones; ‘The Man’ slows things way down, flipping the same sample used on Nas’ ‘You’re Da Man’ over cinematic strings. All three tracks show different flavours. All three are excellent. And on all three Extra P blesses the mic with his trademark flow.

There’s a few sub-standard tracks too though – ‘Brand New Sound’ is musically dull, a stripped down track dominated by clap effects, with the vocals a little too low in the mix. ‘On’ features Busta Rhymes guesting, and as with many recent Busta appearances he manages to grate on my nerves – the situation is not helped by a repetitive audio backdrop though. ‘Large Pro’ doesn’t do a lot for me either – despite the best efforts of Extra P to blaze the steel, the track doesn’t stand up to the test. The positives far outweight the negatives though, and the album concludes strongly with the bubbly ‘Alive in Stereo’ and the disgusting beat on ‘Radioactive’ in particular standing out.

The thing that makes this album so attractive for me is the fact that is sounds so much like it could have come out ten years ago, and yet it STILL sounds fresh today. It’s a nice position for Extra P to be in, because those who are already aware of his relevance will snap this up and love it for the sound he’s produced, while those he may have missed him the first time around may be tempted by his work with Nas – I think these people in particular have a treat in store.

“Queens represent, buy the album when I drop it.” Believe what the man says. Pick this up.

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