Large Professor 1st Class

"Queens represent/Buy the album when I drop it." It seems like a pretty innocuous line, but when it was uttered at the end of "Keep It Rollin'" by the Large Professor, from A Tribe Called Quest's seminal Midnight Marauders, it had hip-hop heads salivating at the prospect of a full-length of Extra P's beats and rhymes. Given his track record as the creative force behind Main Source's essential Breaking Atoms and his remix and production work for Nas, Gang Starr and Slick Rick, to name a few, Large Professor was on par with the best producers of the time, and there was a right to be excited. But save for a few static-ridden cassette bootlegs, The LP never reached the masses and the album's initials might as well have stood for low profile, as Large Professor seemed to go underground after his deal with Geffen went awry in the mid-'90s. Now, nine years after he delivered that rhyme, Large Pro finally comes through with 1st Class. Evidently, many things have changed and Large Professor finds himself in the unenviable position of reminding veteran heads of his relevance and introducing himself to novices that may have never heard of him. Aside from a verse on "Born To Ball," where he cleverly runs through his resume, this doesn't really seem to concern him, and he approaches the record in a laid-back manner. The beats concocted for this record are serviceable, although most of them aren't very memorable, but "Kool" and the neck-snapping "Radioactive" are dope exceptions. On the mic, Large Professor's strength as an MC in Main Source was his storytelling ability. But here he seems stuck in skills-first mode. He does elevate his game when paired with old crate digging pal Q-Tip on the atmospheric "In The Sun" and protégé Nas on "Stay Chiseled." Yet while the forceful delivery is still there, the topical focus that made "A Friendly Game of Baseball" a brilliant dissertation on police brutality and racism and "Looking at The Front Door" a frank assessment of the dissolution of a relationship is lacking. That said, there are flashes of brilliance on this record, in the beats and rhymes department, and having finally gotten a monkey off his back by releasing this album, there's evidence that listeners will be able to focus on his music, rather than a decade-old rhyme. (Matador)