Having done production for Rakim’s sonic masterpiece “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” and Kool G Rap and DJ Polo on “Wanted Dead or Alive” in 1990, the timeless grooves of Nas’ “One Time for Your Mind” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell in 1994 and Common on both remixes of “Resurrection ‘95’ “, to his most recently credited work, Cormega’s “Mars” (featuring Redman and Styles P from 2014’s Mega Philosophy LP), the track-pushed influence of forty-two year old Harlem, New York representative William Paul Mitchell, or Large Professor as most know him by, is undeniable. Having also lent his intelligent, straightforward verbal style, and his equally distinguishable depth that is his voice, to tracks starting back in 1990, and stretching to artists such as Nas and A Tribe Called Quest, Large Professor has spent the last twenty-five years proving he is a giant in the two most pivotal arenas of the Rap genre.
On his eleven track, economically scant, but awe-inspiring for the amount of topical ground covered, thirty-two minute fifth LP, Re: Living, which was released on June 9th, 2015, the varied instruments he utilizes to make his music came to life has built a bridge to the 90’s. The music Large Professor concocts on his most recent work evokes the 90’s sound, especially that of New York natives’ contributions to Hip Hop at the time, and feel so beautifully that if you close your eyes while listening to Re: Living, you feel transported. It is as if Large Professor has created a melodic time machine, which the best music always is, that brings you back to that decade when Rap was at its pinnacle.
We are moved twenty-five years into the past in the opening moments of the album’s first and title track. The melody Large Professor weaves here is decidedly the most modern,. Regardless, it has a furious energy resonating through its brief two minutes and forty-one seconds. With Large Professor, who sounds remarkably on this song with his slow, cool, but in command flow, and throughout this LP like Chuck D from Public Enemy with touches of another mammoth emcee from the 90’s: LLCoolJ, the tune is still old-school in the way it abandons common ego for letting the value of the rhyme be created from speaking sheer truth. It is also heightened by lines like, “What you call Rap I call excrement” (which can be perceived as a shot at New School artists) which give this dazzler the sense of an old-fashioned battle rhyme. “Re: Living” is a perfect way to start off the album.
With the second and third tracks, “Dreams Don’t Die” and “Opulence”, Large Professor’s impressively detailed story-telling and song-writing skills are in full bloom. On “Dreams Don’t Die”, Large Professor showcases his ability to capture our attention and build a scene in our mind with just a few words as he comes into the song stating, “Every Friday we’d turn off the TV and slide away/ The loveseat, Pops would nod to the beat/ Me and sis would insist which record was next/ While Moms tapped her feet on the floor/ God bless.” Throughout the body of its three verses and haunting, and emotionally riveting, refrain Large Professor creates a story which starts at these humble childhood roots and ends with him finding his ability to make more of this music he loved since a youth. It’s endearing, much as “Opulence” is with its cerebral and low-key orchestration and somber inflection used throughout, and as the aforementioned song dictates another tale of the horrors people will do for money, it seems to continue “Dreams Don’t Die” in a way and they mirror each other tremendously. Because of this: both tunes are album highlights.
As a showcase of pure wordless composition, “Earn” and “NDN”, are pure invention. As the fourth tune and the concluding opus respectively, the horn driven impression of “Earn” will get your head-nodding and speak to your soul as much as the heavy bass of “NDN”. These songs provide further variety and prove that a Hip Hop song is as much of an attitude, wrapped wholly in a grove, as it is a rhyme.
“Off yo Azz, On yo Feet” is a brief, but uplifting, message to the youth to do as the title says and also, “Get a job.” It’s the manner in which this idea is presented that is infectious, thoughtful and seems from a bygone era. The song is catchy, using sparse orchestration and carried by a pumping beat that hits the last syllable of the appropriate, driving refrain beautifully, and Large Professor’s verbal presentation is more of a kind father figure than the domineering nature that would be present if a newcomer were to do his or her take on a song with such a title as this.
The best song on the LP, “In the Scrolls”, which features a spellbinding verse from G-Wiz, is the story of Nas’ influence on Hip Hop culture and how his music was a call for everyone to step their bars up from 1994 when Nasir Jones first exploded onto the scene with his incomparable debut Illmatic. Featuring a spellbinding verse from G-Wiz this is where the 90’s feel coursing throughout Re:Living is at its most distinct and evident.
“Own World”, featuring Fortune, will easily remind you of a variety of LLCoolJ tunes from the early 90’s with its almost innocent, yet ardent, playfulness. James Todd Smith’s “Round the Way Girl” and “I Need Love” come to mind immediately in comparison to this tune, with its soulful vibe and smooth, yet simple and precise, romance chronicle and would have been a smash-hit two decades ago (and the uncomplicated, but nostalgic mood inducing, dance ditty which comes immediately after it, “Sophia Yo”, would have made a terrific B-Side).
“New Train Ole Route”, which as co-produced by J. Love, uses the symbolism present in the title to blatantly express the fact that he is trying to remain true to his style and capture the aforementioned sound and feel adored so many years. Large Professor’s imagery is finely tuned and unmistakably clear, the lyrics are contemplative and aggressive, and the song is cleverly constructed.
With a beat bang that leads into one of the most lyrically vigorous and gripping tracks on the LP, “Industry”, which features brilliant lines of wisdom and mind-bending wordplay from Cormega, Roc Maricano, Lord Jamar and from The Wu Tang’s own: Inspectah Deck. This, along with “New Train Ole Route”, are Large Professor displaying his most uniquely New York Hip Hop style and with “Industry” coming off as a Wu Tang track in its execution and the fact that it is a pure rhyme-fest, with each emcee vowing for the listener’s attention with what he hopes is better bars than the previous artist, it is also a highlight.
Large Professor has crafted a prime example of Rap as art with Re:Living. The full-length effort instantly seems timeless from how it largely ignores modern influences, uses sparse guests and focuses on the artist instead of the other way around, and gives those of us who heard him among some of the first emcees that ever graced our ears what we desire to hear, and have come to Hip Hop to throughout our lives, time and again. Re: Living is well-balanced, not afraid to use a variety of sounds, scratching and other sonic mechanisms, and returns to the days when lyricism wasn’t a trick played through just plays on words but was measured by how much truth and experience you can fit in a verse. It may not be one of the best albums of the year, though it is close, but it is guaranteed to be one that you will re-visit on occasion as time passes and find new wonders to behold, meaning that grows with you (as the best of Rap always does) and continues to teach in just the same way.