Eric B & Rakim. Biz Markie’s ‘All Samples Cleared’. Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s ‘Mecca and the Soul Brother’. Nas’s ‘Illmatic’ and ‘Stillmatic’. Diamond D’s ‘Stunts, Blunts & Hip-hop’. Kool G Rap. Big Daddy Kane. A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Rob Swift. The Beastie Boys. Roxanne Shante. Gang Starr. Main Source. Sound familiar? Then you know Large Professor. Go ahead, check the credits. We’ll wait.Since high school student William Paul Mitchell broke in with Main Source as MC and producer, Extra P’s been in demand. Think Lil’ Bow Wow or Chi Ali was a prodigy? Hell, the Prof taught the real Prodigy — the one out of Mobb Deep — his way around a studio. And that was after he taught DJ Premier how to use his SP1200. A grateful Primo reciprocated, introducing LP to his record collection and brought Main Source to the attention of Wild Pitch. Not impressed yet? Try this: at seventeen, going to school by day, LP spent his nights programming beats for Eric B & Rakim’s Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em. That led to a call to work on Kool G. Rap’s Wanted Dead or Alive. And by that time his rep was already growing amongst those in the know: 15-year old Nasir Jones — uh, NAS — had already enrolled with the Professor. If Extra P was as business-minded as some, he’d have an empire. But for him, the art’s always come first; LP’s dedicated to his vision of the pure hip-hop sound, and neither bad industry deals nor changing styles have affected his mission. Don’t feel bad for LP, though, and don’t write him off as old school: he’s classic.LP’s sound is as timeless as hip-hop gets. A beat scientist of first order, no one gets more out a drum machine, and he serves up his beats garnished with just enough melody to keep things moving. P’s a chef: his creations breathe. They get your head noddin’ and let the MC do the rest.Twelve years since Main Source’s Breaking Atoms, he returns with ‘1st Class’, and it’s vintage Large Professor: 16 tracks of first-class beats that any other MC would kill for, featuring old friends Nas, Q-Tip, Akinyele and Busta Rhymes.
He’s a gracious host: Large Producer’s greatest gift has always been fitting the track around the featured MC. If you can’t distinguish yourself over an LP track, you don’t deserve to be in the game. That’s not a problem for ‘1st Class’’s visiting faculty.Wrapped around a relaxed beat and a choral melody on “In the Sun”, Tip hasn’t sounded this comfortable since The Low End Theory. Nas returns to his Queensbridge roots on “Stay Chisel”, but he’s not the same old Nasty Nas ‘ this is the grown-up version; he and LP sit on the stoop, trading verses and telling stories. Akinyele joins in, but it’s fitting that he gets his own beat — he’s leaning out the window, screaming, yelling and telling it his way. And Busta Rhymes takes his turn in “On”, with a beat that’s as frenetic as the dreadlocked MC. One thing’s for sure: you’re not going to find another hip-hop album like it this year. And that’s not just because Ja Rule’s not on it, neither.