When talking about group dynamics, people like to point towards Wu-Tang Clan as the quintessential example of a hip-hop dynasty; however, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s impossible to have such a conversation and negate the influence of the Boot Camp Click. They were a super-group composed of inner groups: Black Moon, OGC, Smiff-N-Wessun, and one of my fave groups, Heltah Skeltah.
Heltah Skeltah, a duo composed of Rock and Ruck (Sean Price), came into notoriety when they dropped their classic debut Nocturnal. It contained a few of my fav tracks of the era, namely “Therapy” and “Operation Lockdown.” As a group, they released three albums total – the aforementioned, Magnum Force and D.I.R.T ( Da Incredible Rap Team) – amidst a sea of collaborations, turmoil, and a brief split.
A few weeks ago, the hip-hop world was rocked by the unexpected death of Sean Price. Word spread quickly, and outpouring of grief, and dazed memorial set timelines on fire. His influence, and genuine respect among his peers – and fans alike – was apparent.
I decided to reach out to Sean’s longtime partner in Rhyme to discuss his music, Heltah Skeltah, and the legacy Sean P leaves behind.
Peep the interview below.
How did you get hip-hop?
Well, Beatboxing, and Roxanne Roxanne. Honestly, in its earlier days, when it was still a relatively small community, I was younger and wasn’t that into it; but, when I heard Roxanne Roxanne, that’s when I started writing. I wrote my first rap during that period.
How did you get into the game?
Well, I got lucky. I had friends that did a lot of the hard work – I just got to have fun. I just had to rap. Steele from Smiff N’ Wessun, he was the hardest worker. He used to hang out and do all types of fuckery with us on the street, and also went to school and worked a job to pay for studio time. So really, I got lucky… I came in the game on the strength of my mans and them.
[In hindsight, I wish I’d prodded a little more about his relationship with Tek and Steele. They were instrumental figures in the careers of not just Sean Price and Rock, but also the members of OGC. They all got their first taste of the industry on the back of their classic album “Dah Shinin”]
How had you initially met Sean Price?
I don’t know; our mothers knew each other. My earliest memory of him was at his 11th birthday party. It was his surprise birthday party, and he already had a job at that point.
At what stage did you decide to come together as a duo – at what stage did you decide to become Heltah Skeltah?
We agreed to that over the phone when I got locked up in 1992. But, I had already known for a while that was what I wanted to do. Once I heard son get busy, and I saw his abilities and all that [sic], I knew I wanted him to be my partner. It was just a matter of playing my cards right, feeling out the situation and making it happen.
What was the process of recording Nocturnal?
There were a lot of late nights. A lot of dudes, a lot of cigars, a lot of vegetables, and a lot of jokes. There were some women around – but not too many. There were also a lot of snacks around. Mad cookies and cakes, and a lot of greenery.
You guys appeared to break up after your second album, Magnum Force. What was the reason? Was there any animosity?
Nah, We didn’t break up. I just left Duck Down. We were just on two different pages at that particular point in time. Son was trying to do one thing, and I was attempting to do another; although, Heltah Skeltah was still intact. I was on his [Sean Price] first solo album. For all the time that I wasn’t with Duck Down and cats was saying that we had supposedly broken up… Yeah, I split with Duck Down, but I didn’t split with the Boot Camp. Duck Down just happens to be Dru Ha and Buckshot’s company, so it’s tricky. But it wasn’t that serious on a Heltah Skeltah level.
What made you guys get back together to do the D.I.R.T album?
We felt like it was time. It wasn’t that complicated. Everything was rapid-fire, and back to back. Ruck [Sean Price] dropped Monkey Bars; Smiff N Wessun dropped Reloaded, and Buckshot and 9th Wonder dropped Chemistry. Then we were out touring the Last Stand [a 2007 group album by Boot Camp Click]. It was in full swing. So while people were like “oh shit, Rock is back?” We were already albums deep. We had bullets in the chamber. We also recorded Casualties of War [another Boot Camp album released the same year] during that period. So at that point, all of the disagreements I’d had with Duck Down had been hashed out, and we were all in. By the time we did D.I.R.T, it was just a matter of asking “are you guys ready?”
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a bunch of shit. My solo album, for one. I’ve been working on it for a while now, but you know… Situations change, the sounds change, my ears change, and the message I may be trying to give the people may change. The album is in the process. Life happens though, and right now. I just lost the Yin to my Yang … My brother just died. So, there are changes that need to happen on my album now.
What are some of your fondest memories of Sean Price?
Just knowing him, just having the privilege to be chosen to be that nigga’s partner [sic] – that’s bigger than anything else. He was a one of a kind, unique soul. You don’t just find an energy like his anywhere. As unique as we all are as human beings, I mean, you may find somebody else at some point that reminds you of me, but you won’t find anyone that reminds you of him. He was one of one – and he chose me. I mean, I tricked him into accepting me, but he chose me!
What would you want the world to know about Sean Price?
Everything I just said. When I say he was special, I mean that. I want them to listen to his catalog – and his jokes, his vulgarities and all his slap the shit out you isms, and enjoy all of it. He epitomized the term not giving a fuck – and being yourself in the truest form. Always telling the truth is a part of being yourself, but with him, it was a bit more complicated. If he felt like lying to you, he would. He didn’t give a fuck about your rules. He would say what I was thinking. Shit that you were scared to say, he’d say – no problem.
On top of all that, he was a great father and a wonderful husband. He was proud to be married. He wasn’t one of these cats out here who’s married acting like they aren’t married – running around in videos and misleading the public. I mean, I get the look, but I also understand the subliminal messages we send to people through our music – and videos. We’re all programmed by what we see. I mean, there’s a nigga named Rambo in every hood [sic] … Where did we get that from? That’s the kind of stuff that came from our programming, things that were always pushed into our faces. Our whole lives. A vast majority of the punchlines that most rappers have were influenced by movies and TV.
We’re shaped by what we see.
The right wingers always want to come down on rappers for the messages we share, and the impact we have on the youth. I said it on wax: “We influence the kids – but who influences the rappers?” Biggie Smalls called himself Frank White. Where’d he get that from? They don’t want to talk about that.
When Biggie Small died, how old was he?
26, I believe. I remember being young and thinking he was a grown man… But in hindsight, he was young!
That’s exactly where I was going with this… I mean when you look back on it what, 15 years later, and you realize he was just 25–26… He was a fucking kid! All the hardest rappers out there were just kids. We were all young minds, still susceptible to peer pressure, and influence. If you’re in the NBA, those dudes protect your ass. Even if you’re in your 30’s, you still a system around designed to keep you straight. But not for us. We had to learn on our own. I have been around the world, and I learned: fuck all this imagery. That dude Sean Price took his wife everywhere – if he could take her, he took her. He rapped about her on half of his songs, and he’s got like 1000 songs. That type of thing speaks volumes. Very few of us out here are being our authentic selves.
And as well, the outpour of love and support he received worldwide speaks volumes to the impact he had on people’s lives.
Word. He was a magnetic dude. A fucking comedian. He’s legitimately one of the funniest people you’d ever meet – and he’d smack the shit out you. I just love that combination.
That’s an excellent combination.
That’s what I want the world to know about him… But really, the world probably already knows that. All they got to do is listen to one of his records. You’ll probably hear him mention his wife; you’ll probably hear him shout out his daughter; actually, you for sure will. He always mentions himself, and he named his daughter Shaun Price – so he legitimately says her name in every song. So her name will be immortalized. He did that for her, or maybe for him, but that’s that, he mentions her name in every song. You’ll hear everything I just said.
So in a sense, I could’ve just said, “play one of his records.” Because it’s all him – through and through. Even when he’s saying some weird shit that you know couldn’t have happened in real life, it’s still him.