Percee P Perseverance

[Stones Throw; 2007]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: old-school hip-hop, fast rap, (proper) freestyle
Others: Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, MC Freshco

There is something immediately gripping about Percee P's unorthodox delivery. While MCs today typically adopt a certain style to deliver their lyrics, Percee P instead uses lyrics as a medium for his styles. A freestyle rapper in the antiquated sense of the word, Percee P's lyrical verses sound pre-written to a rhythm or flow, not to a beat -- only through years of experience could anyone pull off such a feat. In fact, Percee's been rocking the old-school vibe since 1979, yet he didn't even record his first song until 1988. And while he's appeared on more than 20 different cuts since then, it's only now in 2007 when he's finally releasing his first proper full-length album, Perseverance. The result? A mesmerizing display of lyrical construction and vocal acrobatics, with a solid array of accompanying beats courtesy of Stones Throw labelmate, Madlib.

Needless to say, Madlib is a remarkably inventive producer/beatsmith. His overall output displays a distinctive aesthetic, yet they seem to come from random, disparate sources. On Perseverance, the prolific producer has honed in on the 1970s and 1980s with a bevy of synthesizers, James Brown-like breaks, and 8-bit video game soundtracks ("2 Brothers From the Gutter" samples the title music from Contra, an intense "old-school" video game with a brutal difficulty level). It's hip-hop if 1988 had grown up without the negativity of West Coast G-funk and the imitation gangsta rap that followed in its wake. Madlib does occasionally get carried away with his insistent vibe preservation, sounding forced at times and slightly self-indulgent in others (most notably with the jarring beat swaps and short instrumentals that might have worked better tacked onto the beginning or end of songs), but there is certainly more excellence than mediocrity, with tracks like "The Man to Praise" and "Last of the Greats" having particularly impressive beats.

With such a solid foundation of beats over which to rhyme, Percee P comes through in spades. Machine gun-styled raps are the rule here, not the exception, and it's for the most part unbelievably impressive. A few of the verses here have shown up on Percee's previous singles, but the tempo has been downshifted dramatically on Perseverance, and it's fascinating to hear how he adapts his freestyles. He dominates each track with an unending stream of words, carefully constructed to optimize his control over the flow. Admittedly, sections of tracks "No Time for Jokes" and "The Hand that Leads to You" are overbearing in a Busdriver, Mikah 9, and Gift of Gab kind of way, but they are overshadowed by such standouts like "Mastered Craftsman," a track that contains one of the most nimble verses in the history of the craft.

Percee's detractors will claim his flow is monotonous, or even monotone, but that's only the surface of what's going on with his style. It requires incredible endurance and control to maintain the same tone and stylistic intensity for more than 30 seconds, and it also requires an unprecedented amount of lyrical dexterity to make it flow. Percee's verses stretch to twice that, a talent simply not equaled by any of today's MCs and hasn't been done properly since the days of Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap. In this context, it's easy to appreciate the level of dedication that has gone into Percee P's work. And with more than 19 years of perfecting a lyrical style that culminates in Perseverance, we should count ourselves lucky to hear a version of hip-hop's history delivered by such an experienced MC.

Most Read