Friday, November 03, 2006

One Plus One

The days of the self-made star are done. Look around from Hollywood to 106 & Park, and though the big names in music, movies, and television might have manufactured some of their own hustle, they didn't get there completely by themselves. Maybe it was a mentor, a DJ, a casting agent, whoever, but chances are someone along the line gave them that all-important first push. For Nas, that person is without a doubt Large Professor (himself a product of Paul C's good graces). And although Large Pro would be absent during much of Nas' most commercially successful times, he was behind Illmatic, he was behind the music that got Nas to the point of Illmatic, and, for that, his credit is unquestionable.

Beyond producing a third of Illmatic's tracks and its first two singles, it was Large Professor, a fellow Queens native, who blew breath into the Nastiest lungs, supplying the beats and studio time for Nas' earliest recordings. Afterwards, as one third of Main Source, he would give Nas his first exposure, out of the blue, as this unknown entity, on the now legendary posse cut Live at the Barbeque, "I was trapped in a cage and let out by the Main Source." Nas' verse quickly achieved classic status and soon won over the ears of MC Serch, who would later get Nas a record deal and oversee the making of Illmatic. And while Serch's great involvement here shouldn't be ignored, it was truly the work put in by Extra P that put Nas on.

However, it's not as though Large Professor's legacy rests merely on making Nas known. In fact, before there was ever any word of 1994's Second Coming, it was the MC's involved in that previous line of Hip-Hop lyricism, those like Rakim and Kool G Rap, who Large Pro was also working with--all while still attending high school no less. And even when he wasn't laying down the initial round of production for rappers, his remix résumé proved to be just as extensive and notable, e.g. tracks with Common Sense, Gang Starr, Organized Konfusion, and Slick Rick. What's more, his reputation would have only further been bolstered if his 1995 solo album, The LP, had actually come out back in 1995.

Being signed to Geffen Records was Large Professor's first bad break. Known primarily for putting out John Lennon's solo work and the likes of Whitesnake and Guns N' Roses, Geffen started signing Hip-Hop acts as the genre demonstrated staying power. However, this meant that the label was still kind of new and naive as to how to handle and market these rappers. They knew they could get some sales if they had Bart Simpson do Deep, Deep Trouble and that they could tap into the already-established Wu-Tang fanbase with GZA's Liquid Swords, but Large Professor must have been, and apparently was, an enigma. So while two singles, IJUSWANNACHILL and The Mad Scientist, were released and the rapper / producer, in a guest appearance on ATCQ's Keep It Rollin', had implored, "Queens represent, buy the album when I drop it", no such album ever made it out.

A bootleg was eventually passed around, and when 1st Class, Large Pro's too-long-in-the-making 2002 solo debut with all new material, did get released, it was accompanied by a promotional version of The LP, in a plain jewel case like a seven-year time capsule. And although this promo copy was still missing some previously bootlegged material, such as Queens Lounge, no matter how delayed, incomplete, or anti-climatic it might have been, it at least came in good sound and with a number of gems that time and Geffen had once seemed to forget. A duet with Nas, One Plus One, perhaps best epitomized the overlooked-but-not-unheralded quality of the work.

Recorded after Illmatic and before It Was Written, One Plus One features Nas at a crossroads between his Nasty and Esco personas. It's him celebrating a bright lights lifestyle, "Avirex gortex wet with fly jewelry", while the very same lifestyle leaves him depressed, "feeling slight chills finding out that rich niggas have to write wills." Overall though, Nas' words do favor this latter somber tone, thanks, in part, to the rather melancholy production on display. For instance, the track's opening isolated clangs are reminiscent of a dawn-hour worker whose only company is the early morning echo. Match this with some understated keys and consistent drums, and you'll see why heads continually plead for more Nas-Large Pro collaborations. On the mic as well, though he seems to always be thought of for beats first and then ignored in favor of whatever guests he's joined by, with a strong, clear voice and a quick rhyme scheme, Large Professor efficiently holds his own. It was just Geffen that never did their job.

Rebel To America: Large Professor collection
Includes: Common Sense: Resurrection '95; Eric B & Rakim: No Omega; Gang Starr: Gotta Get Over (Large Professor remix); Kool G. Rap f/ Ant Live, Freddie Foxxx, Large Professor: Money In The Bank; Large Professor: IJUSWANNACHILL; Large Professor: The Mad Scientist; Large Professor: Queens Lounge; Large Professor f/ Nas: One Plus One; Organized Konfusion: Stress (Large Professor remix); Slick Rick: It's a Boy (Large Professor remix); A Tribe Called Quest f/ Large Professor: Keep It Rollin'


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i miss the days when large professor was a true and present force in hip hop. im gettin tired of all the electronic soul-less beats these new-age producers are pumpin out. songs like "one plus one" exemplify the true spirit of hip hop and its emotional and nostalgic soundscapes. anyways, im gettin more and more excited for nas's new album hearing all these classic tracks again!

November 03, 2006 3:51 AM  
Anonymous Colin said...

You crazy for this one! That collection of remixes and the like looks mighty appealing.

As for "One Plus One", just an undeniably fantastic song. Large Pro is one of the best producers behind the boards and on the mic, it's a true shame that The LP never got released. When we finally get albums like that or Q-Tip's Kamal The Abstract it's hard to see why they couldn't just get released.

November 03, 2006 10:38 AM  
Anonymous understanding said...

Yeah my dude Large Pro is a gem in the hip-hop world 4 real. I had the honor of meeting him a few times b/c I used 2 rhyme and the cat who did production 4 me [Dr. Butcher] was cool with him from back in the days when Butcher lived in Corona, Queens. I remember one time we were in the car goin' somewhere and we asked P 2 kick this ill verse that he had done 4 a Sprite commercial and he did lol!!! It was iller than most of the stuff on the radio at the time.

But real talk I have a bunch of stuff by him that I think was supposed 2 be on the LP which is a damn shame that it was never released. I have this joint "Dancin' Girl", I have "For My People [The LP] Parts 1 & 2", "Large PROverbs". I even have this joint that I taped [yes taped] off the radio years again called "Get Off That Bullsh*t" where he's talkin' about gang violence and black on black crime. I've yet 2 find that online anywhere but I'm NOT givin' up! That album was classic material 4 real. Anyway Fletch thanx 4 another excellent and insightful read. It would be nice if Large Pro had a track on H.H.I.D cuz' we all know that those two cats have worked 2gether fairly consistently over the years. Alas I don't think that'll happen. We'll see though. Maybe a remix somewhere down hte line ...

November 04, 2006 9:12 AM  
Anonymous iLL Change said...

this track is ill. NaS kicks a mad cool verse (pack the uzo) and the beat is real smooth. lovin' the falling and rising keys blended together. NaS & Pro need to connect on HHID for an end-of-record sleeper, somethin' nostalgic.

fletch, i dont know the archives, but have you broken down NaS's features on AZ's first 2 albums? those would be some cool posts.


November 04, 2006 6:06 PM  

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