It’s almost crass to review Percee P’s debut album – its existence is an achievement, a belated document of a talent that’s turned heads for over two decades. A card-carrying member of rap’s golden era, Percee P, once known as The Rhyme Inspector, was a collaborator with Pharoah Monche and lyrical adversary of Lord Finesse. “Fast-rap,” the rapid fire, battle-oriented rhyme style that peaked in the late 80s, was Percee’s style, and there were few who did it better – his “Let the Homicides Begin” is a classic of the mini-genre. Yet the rap game, always a cruel mistress, never provided for Percee. Many, many days of hawking homemade CD-Rs outside New York’s Fat Beats record store ensued in the late ’90s, leading to underground credibility, a deal with Stones Throw, and the services of underground production auteur Madlib. The result is the apply titled Perseverance, a title that testifies to Percee’s dogged adherence to the classic stylings of late ’80s hip hop as much as it does to his patience.
Membership to hip hop’s vanguard can be a burden – it can stultify an MC’s style until its corny and dated – but what’s impressive about Percee is his avoidance of this pitfall while wholly embracing the style that made him a revered, if unheard, lyrical presence. Part of this is due to his voice, which is considerably gruffer than his Rhyme Inspector days, recalling the street hardened command of Big Daddy Kane more than any sort of old school dorkiness. More than this, though, Perseverance showcases the percussive, golden-era lyrical delivery, and reminds us how important it was (and still is) to the rhythmic composition – see “Throwback Rap Attack” where Percee P’s lyrical bars hit as hard as the snare drums Madlib lays down for him. In fact, the album’s weaker spots are when he decelerates into streetwise narrative, like in the tired “Ghetto Rhyme Stories,” a style in which Percee proves to be merely competent.
Percee P’s rhymestyle is a triumphant throwback, but hip hop is not kind to revivalists, and without Madlib’s reimagined golden era, Perseverance might be Cold Chillin’ in the bargain-bin. Fortunately, Madlib is perfect for the role of resurrector – his sense of hip hop’s then and now is unmatched, and he’s not afraid to use a drum loop. Nor is he afraid to combine retro boom bap with dark, gurgling synthesizers, or offbeat samples like his rework of the theme to Contra on “2 Brothers from the Gutter.” Yet it’s Madlib’s smart adaptation of contemporary East Coast sounds, especially on “Mastered Craftsman,” which sounds like the work of a crate-digging Dr. Dre, that serve Bronx-born Percee best, locating him in both the past and present of his city. Which is perfect, really, seeing as Perseverance exists to remind us that Percee was there all along.