The producer-emcee is a rarely successful Liger in hip-hop. Large Professor was one of the first, but it’s debatable whether he’s one of the greatest. Do things change on his third solo offering with Professor @ Large ?
At one time Large Professor was able to carry an entire album (back when albums easily ran over 60 minutes too), but post-Breaking Atoms he hasn’t really hit the same lyrical highs. I was OK with that though because he always had production to fall back on – given that he’d been producing hits for living legends whilst in high-school following the tutelage of the late visionary Paul C. While his story is criminally little-known, LP’s isn’t. As time went on it seemed like he decided to put all his experience points on production and we were all treated with seminal pieces of hip-hop as a result.
While these featured production spots have garnered LP a mythical status, it’s interesting that I’ve found his solo discography to be hit-and-miss. Although the stop-start release of LP eventually gave fans a solid album, few moments from 2002’s 1st Class remain memorable for me now, and there’s a reason why his instrumental Beatz Vol. 1 & 2 aren’t talked about with the same fanaticism as instrumental projects by other producer’s on his level.
In recent times however, LP has spoken on taking his time to meticulously craft “paintings” of music, as opposed to having a high volume of sub-par material. For a substantial part of Professor @ Large this is near-enough achieved. Mostly, it has a laid-back approach unconcerned with a desire to appeal to a new audience or establish a bloated character. Whilst this means that nothing ground breaking is presented, it also means we’re saved from a potential dud.
The album starts and ends well enough. First LP jumps right into the rapid-paced “Key To The City” (video, right), taking on a hasty flow whilst still retaining his signature neat clarity amongst scratches by Rob Swift. On the last track he takes production duties only, leaving the verses to Cormega, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano and Saigon.
However, in a not too commonly found structure, I felt this album was strongest in the middle. These six or seven tracks include the dense and grandiose instrumentation by Marco Polo on “Professor @ Large”, earning its titular role, and the more ambling “Light Years” where LP gets into his own groove and rhymes effortlessly.
There’s a double serving of mellow instrumental tracks with “Barber Shop Chop” and “Sun, Star and Crescents”, and the listening just gets plain fun with “Live Again” and “Kick Da Habit”; I think when LP was running his gloved fingers (another influence from Paul C) through records for samples, the grade-A choices ended up in this part of the album. “Mack Don Illz” continues the vibe sounding like a lost cut from ninety ninety something with a feature from Grand Daddy I.U.
Most other features were largely forgettable though. For example Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Fame do their thing on “Straight From The Golden” and “Happy Days R Here”, respectively, but don’t leave a lasting impression. Despite this, it’s great to see LP sharing the stage with fellow New Yorkers. Flashback circa ’93 and the voices of Stretch & Bobbito can still be heard on late night radio interviewing LP who talks on a lack of inter-artist support on the East Coast. It’s great then to see that his principles stand true 19 years later on Professor @ Large with the guest spots, even if they aren’t mind-blowing performances.
The album looses some steam towards the end, before the previously touched upon four man feature “M.A.R.S.” gives a decent finish. Props are due for a strong 90’s vibe evoked once more here, especially from the video direction (left).
Overall, this is a good album. I’ve found myself returning to a strong handful of tracks the past few days and I can see them sticking around for years to come. I don’t think Large Professor is trying to be the greatest producer-emcee; he knows his strengths and he plays to them well here. Where I experienced dull moments, die-hard fans will likely find things to appreciate, and within these circles especially I think the album will go down very well.
“Professor @ Large” is out now on CD, and pre-sale vinyl and digital via Fat Beats Records