Underrated Classics: Large Professor

large professor

In a world of ultra-inflated egos, “world’s best rappers” and constant flavors-of-the-week; it can be very hard for the guy behind the scenes, the producer, to step up to the mic and achieve just as much fame and acclaim as the stars for whom they make beats. Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule (Diddy, Kanye, RZA), but in most cases, the beat-makers who also rap seldom release albums and/or often fall into obscurity somewhere down the road. Even if you’re the producer that other producers and rappers bow down to, the rest of the world still may never even hear your name, let alone your solo rap records. Unfortunately, this frustrating scenario happened to one of the most prolific rap producers of the 90s New York City boom-bap scene. This rapper/producer is Large Professor.

As Large Professor was making beats for some of the biggest rising stars of the mid-90s, he was writing and producing a record that was very ahead of its time in mastering and is perhaps one of the finest examples of sampling beats in rap history. The album he was making is aptly titled The LP. Shortly after Large left Main Source, and right before he produced for Nas, he signed a record deal with Geffen Records. After four years of producing tracks for others and writing his debut album, Geffen released two singles in 1996. The first one was the classic track “Funky 2 Listen 2.” The second single, “Mad Scientist,” was just as exciting. After these two singles had videos, and a decent amount of promo, Geffen suddenly backed out of the project, claiming it sounded “dated.” Due to a bootleg of the album that wasn’t supposed to leak out to the public, the album was shelved until Large Professor reacquired the rights in 2002.

In 2002, he officially released a shortened version of The LP, and this was the version of the album I’ve been listening to for the past five years. The album starts out with the unbelievably spacey “Listen (Blast Off).” Large does a very impressive job of incorporating the boom-bap style of the early 90s, with very atmospheric and robotic sounds, a theme that’s consistent throughout the album. The cameos on the album are amazing as well. On “One Plus One,” Nas opens the track with one of his finest lines in his career, “The greatest lesson ever learnt, has yet to be taught/Niggas running outta the court like ‘what the fuck they thought?’/It made me somber, my mans, I just can’t picture being locked up.” Large closes the last minute, with some impressive wordplay like “Out of nowhere, I go where few can go on the strength I be rising on tunes and flow with the flock very seldom,” all over a jazzy piano and a heavy bass-filled beat.

The other great cameo is by Neek the Exotic on a track called “Spacey,” a fitting title for Large’s production style. Built around a jazz track by flutist Hubert Laws, Neek has a really impressive line where he uses his Queens high-pitched voice to spit a firey  “I am like everybody there that can’t understand it/Don’t panic, I’m spreading like an epidemic.” But The LP’s strongest tracks are the ones where Large steps up his strong lyrical delivery. On “For My People,” he opens with “Some people said it couldn’t happen, it couldn’t be done/Settin’ up campaigns to diss from day one.” On closing track “Mad Scientist,” he describes his production process with clever metaphors, and in the last verse he delivers his most flawless line: “A strong black rebel, who loves the track level/Kinda loud, so turn it up so I can find a crowd to rock.” The track has a constant echo of a “Thriller”-sounding maniacal laugh that recalls Dr. Octagon and MF Doom. Meanwhile, the basslines are some of the most complex I’ve ever heard in hip-hop.

The LP eventually got released in full on vinyl and CD on his own imprint, Paul Sea Records, in 2009. Despite universal acclaim, at that point it was too little too late for Large Pro. Unfortunately for Large Professor, he never achieved the same success in the 2000s as he had in the 90s producing, but he still raps for some of “the underground’s” most respected MCs. The LP is a terrific rap album, that doesn’t even sound dated in 2012. There are a few cases of 90s musicians having their albums shelved (see: Spoon), but many of those artists achieved success on the indie circuits anyway. Large Pro never got a chance to achieve that success, but he’s still a legend in many hip-hop aficionados’ minds. Not only is The LP revered as one of the most underrated rap albums of all times, the Professor is also one of the most respected producers in hip-hop history. Every now and then, there’s a rumor that Nas and Large Pro will work together again, and I really hope that becomes a reality within their lifetimes. For now, we have an excellent rap record that, despite getting the books closed on it during the 90s, has found a whole new generation of hip-hop fanatics that will gladly nod their heads to Large Professor’s groundbreaking beats.