Who knows what it’s like to be Large Professor. At the top of a 20+ year career, his production is deeply woven into the story of New York hip-hop. He has worked with legends on nearly every branch of ‘90s rap lineage, from Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and Kool G Rap, to Organized Konfusion and Nas. Cut this man and he bleeds boom-bap.
In comparison to peers like DJ Premier, however, he has never truly become an icon. For one thing, Premier managed to make records with artists that would have massive commercial legacies like Jay-Z and Notorious BIG. Without a doubt, Illmatic is a perfect album, but it was not a commercial success upon its release, and Nas’ troubled career has not given him the Mom-recognition of Jay or Big. Large Professor is a name well known to hip-hop insiders, but you would be hard pressed to find a dabbler who knows who he is. During the past decade, rather than making songs with Christina Aguilera, he has developed a large and diverse production catalog, including four solo albums. Premier’s sound defines a generation of New York hip-hop. Large Professor’s sound is only his own.
Looking back at Illmatic, Pro’s three tracks are probably the album’s most adventurous. “Halftime” is by far the LP’s fastest and “One Time for Your Mind” the slowest. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” is a choppy track with mildly abrasive samples, a massive risk/reward tradeoff that both Nas and Pro managed to knock out of the park. While Professor @ Large doesn’t have Illmatic’s success rate, Pro maintains both his creativity as well as his eccentric sound throughout.
The album’s best songs are its most energetic. Tracks like “Straight from the Golden” and “Live Again” burn with the fire of a much less experienced musician. His flow follows suit. Large Professor is not the greatest MC, but he holds his own with an easy but impactful flow in the tradition of fellow Queens-native Prodigy. It’s a simple, yet nuanced delivery made to for his style of production.
None of the featured rappers get much fancier. The album is filled the fellow outer boroughs boom-bappers–from Busta Rhymes to Action Bronson to Roc Marciano–who reign in their eccentricities to be part of the team. Each gives an over-par performance without drawing attention away from the production. Calling this album a definitive statement would be a stretch, but everything is definitely in its place.
A well-considered set of songs may be all we can hope for from musicians like Large Professor in 2012. As ?uestlove said in his 2005 interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, hip-hop is a “here today, gone today” genre. Continued relevance and creativity are career traits limited to a handful of people. For everyone else, the most they can hope for is an audience and enough creativity to continue making music, regardless of the lack of popularity that sound has in the mainstream. For both maintaining his integrity and continuing to passionately make unexpected music, Large Professor deserves a lot of credit.