Brooklyn native Sean Price, one-half of Heltah Skeltah and one of many members of the Boot Camp Clik collective, died at home in his sleep on August 8, 2015. While he was never a household name, fans of hardcore hip-hop knew him as one of the realest MCs in the business, with a gruff voice and tough yet humorous lyrics, and his death came as a shock to the rap world.
Posthumous mixtape Songs in the Key of Price was already slated for release prior to his death, and arrived on schedule. Imperius Rex, Price's fourth proper solo album, was released exactly two years after Price's death. He had finished a few songs for the album before his passing, but much of the album was constructed afterwards, thanks to Herculean efforts from Price's wife Bernadette. By no means does this album sound like a tossed-together cash-in effort like so many other posthumous releases -- Bernadette and the cast of producers and guest MCs spent the better part of two years laboring over the album in order to make something that stands up to Price's legacy, and it flows just as naturally and hits just as hard as any of his prior works.
The beats (produced by Alchemist, 4th Disciple, Harry Fraud, and Crummie Beats, among others) are all rock-solid, occasionally venturing into left-field territory, particularly the industrial droning underneath "Church Bells" -- probably not the track you'd expect reggae crooner Junior Reid to provide the chorus to. Several of Price's peers show up, including DOOM, Styles P, Mobb Deep's Prodigy (who also met an untimely death before the album was released), and Freeway, who helps Price rail against the rap scene during "Prisoner." Most explosive is "Clans & Cliks," a posse cut featuring Rock (the other half of Heltah Skeltah) and Smif-N-Wessun, as well as Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck, Method Man, and Raekwon.
Of course, nobody on the album overshadows Price, who sounds as forceful, commanding, and even as funny as ever.