Prince Po

The Slickness

(Lex; 2004)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

Organized Konfusion blazed trails of superior rap in the early '90s with their first two records, the self-titled debut and Stress: The Extinction Agenda. In fact, Stress might have been the best hip-hop album of 1994. What, ho there, Chet, that’s the same year the ridiculously classic Illmatic came out, you fool! Yeah, I know.

Stress looped sinister jazz through heavy beats that thunder-clapped under the steady, almost melodic flow of Prince Poetry and the institutionally ill hysterics of Pharoahe Monch. This was a rap duo with serious super tricks, and they were portrayed as equals, but Po was definitely the Robin to Monch’s holy-wild-verbal-gymnastics Batman. On “Thirteen” and “Stray Bullet,” Monch dropped verses that could unwittingly draw and quarter the mettle of most emcees and send them off to settle for office jobs. The angel of death wouldn’t fuck with the Pharoahe’s flow. He was the bright and shining black star, his energetic radiation making everything glow… that included Prince Po, who served very well as the more conventional sidekick Joe.

Years pass, The Equinox comes and goes with the faintest of fanfare in ‘97, O.K. splits, Pharoahe becomes Mr. “Simon Says” and drops his worst verse ever in promotional ads for that hilarious show of Dave Chappelle’s. The reclusive Prince Poetry makes a rare guest appearance on DM and Jemini’s Ghetto Pop Life. Little birds chirp about a Prince Po solo debut on the same label. Heads ask, “Can the squire become knight?” Okay, heads don’t really ask it like that.

The Slickness shows the Sancho Panza trying to step into the limelight, grab the mic, and dream the impossible dream. Just like you would expect from someone like Sancho, Prince Po makes a good go at it, but he doesn’t quite have the brilliant delirium to pull off the role of Pharoahe’s Don Quixote. So, now Prince Po is the central character, and he’s amiable enough, but he’s upstaged by the fine work of his eclectic cast of supporting players.

You can’t really blame him, though. Three tracks produced by Madlib, three from Danger Mouse, and an absolutely cracking opener from Anticon’s Jel would chew the scenery out from under Ricardo Montalban, and that’s saying nothing of the guest verses by Jemini, MF Doom, and Raekwon. Why, the sheer novelty of hearing one of Wu’s finest spit on “Bump Bump,” a sly Madlib imitation of “In Da Club,” would distract the most dedicated of Organized Konfusion zealots. And there’s even the restaurant cracker pluses of a single from Richard X, a couple tracks from J-Zone, and some nice self-production by Po. Backpackers worldwide should be pinching themselves right now.

But somehow, on an album that has a song that mixes the “super villain” with that guy who wears the crazy rodent costume, nothing really makes a claim at outstanding. The central presence of Prince Po is rock solid yet a tad pedestrian, and that presence informs his hip-hop dream team surroundings. Almost every track stands on that mellow party album ground of a pretty good time, with nothing prepared to head over to that crazy fucking awesome bash just down the street. Consistency of sound with this carnival of personalities could be considered a minor feat, but Jel’s contribution of “Hello,” the only beat divergent from the pack, strikes as the only song that could possibly be called a highlight. And even then, Po remains constant. Certainly, he flows reliably strong like the Old Faithful blow, but the quotable quotient is low. The dynamism and bluster of Pharoahe’s word torrent makes its absence felt.

Essentially, it’s a matter of casting. Oh, and the cast here is excellent, but former best supporting actor Prince Po isn’t quite best actor material, his straightforward role as the lead obscured even by the muted dazzle of his backing ensemble. If only Pharoahe Monch would work with these kinds of collaborators. If only Organized Konfusion would regroup. If only “if only” wasn’t such a tantalizing alternative to the still very good, present reality of The Slickness.