Large Professor cuts an outside figure in the New York hip-hop scene these days. As a producer who also happens to rap in an endearingly economical manner, he’s integral to any overview of hip-hop’s storied golden era—he tutored under Paul C, contributed production input to Eric B & Rakim songs, scored a classic with his own group Main Source’s Breaking Atoms, and helped kick-start the career of a [then] Nasty Nas when Queensbridge’s golden son was still rocking a band-aid over his cheek in promotional pics. But since his late-’80s emergence, Large Pro’s solo career has unfortunately faltered, with his intended solo debut The LP caught up in label politics and long-delayed, and his subsequent statement on Matador, First Class, resonating limply at best. As a producer, Large Pro has never caught a particularly pop break either—unlike, say, DJ Premier he’s never been handed an opportunity to gallivant with a feisty chanteuse. Instead, he’s maintained a dedication to working with grass-roots New York rap talent as if the very idea of cracking the mainstream is absurd.
Large Pro’s newest project, the album Still On The Hustle, reunites him with fellow Queens resident Neek The Exotic—a pairing last heard on 2003’s Exotic Is Raw set, for which Large Pro handled around half of the production duties. It’s a release unlikely to trouble those whose RSS feeds frolic above rap’s underground layer, but it’s a collaboration that allows Large Pro to continue to dwell in a hip-hop world of his own creation. When I interviewed him a couple of years ago, he was late because he was cycling around Flushing Meadows Park while listening to his iPod—the impression given was that he’d prefer to produce at his own leisurely pace and on his own terms rather than pucker up and play the major-label game. It’s a stance that should be applauded. With that in mind, here are ten commendable hometown anthems produced—as opposed to remixed, which would be a whole other lengthy listicle—by Flushing’s finest self-proclaimed “live guy with glasses.”
Nasty Nas, “Halftime”
The song that kept the otherwise unforgettable Michael Rapaport vehicle Zebrahead in the hip-hop lexicon, this performance put Nasty Nas on the rap map. The lyrics sound like the Queensbridge-raised rapper had finally been given clearance to unleash the battle rhyme he’d been walking around with his whole life, and Nas duly delivers his lines with a stinging viciousness, spitting uncouth venom like, “I rap in front of more niggas than in the slave ships/ I used to watch Chips, now I load glock clips.” But as powerful as Nas’s words are, it’s Large Pro’s understated beat—which keeps things bass-heavy and simple, embellishing proceedings only with the introduction of triumphant horns for the chorus bars—that allow the braggadocio to hog the spotlight.
Killa Sha, “Come On”
Having passed away in 2010 due to complications stemming from diabetes, Killa Sha’s 2007 effort God Walk On Water remains his grand legacy. Fellow Queens mainstay Large Pro contributed beats to two tracks on the too-often-overlooked project, “Unbroken” and “Come On”; the latter resembles a more boisterous update on the warped production style RZA toyed with on Method Man’s “Sub Crazy,” although only Large Pro’s production breaks funky for the final stretch.
Busta Rhymes feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & Roc Marciano, “The Heist”
A crime-rhyme stand-out from one of Busta’s (many) albums ostensibly based around predicting some form of imminent impending doom for the world as we know it, Large Pro’s beat cradles a swab of New York’s finest rappers plotting “the world’s greatest diamond heist.” It’s a jape that Rae decides to pull-off while wearing a very inconspicuous “velour white” get-up while Bussa Bus plumps for disguising himself as a Hasidic Jew, complete with leaving his “sideburns curly.” For a closing comment big Busta adds, “Job well done, fellas.”
Slick Rick, “I Sparkle”
Large Professor’s remix of Slick Rick’s “It’s A Boy” remains one of rap’s most beloved ever flips, and for a track on the Wild Wild West soundtrack the producer continues to pair the eye-patch-rocking rapper’s British brogue with a similarly wistful, bordering-on-melancholy beat. It’s a fusion that allows the story-teller-exemplar to coin phrases like “I out-glitter the chandelier” without coming off as arrogant.
Jaz-O, “It’s Your Nature”
Everything you want in a beat harvested from Large Pro’s ’91 vintage vault: tough drums, a monstrous bassline, and a scant snippet of horns for the hook. It’s an aptly stripped-down backdrop for Jay-Z’s onetime mentor turned long-running and embittered foe to drop accomplished vehicular-based rhymes that include a reference to Brooklyn’s Navy Yards long before realtors were trying to hawk out lofts there. (See also: “Hypocritters,” from the same project.)
Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, “Streets Of New York”
For the Kool Genius of Rap’s grisly and vivid vignette of the underbelly of New York street-level life, Large Pro takes inspiration from the Fat Back Band’s “Got To Learn How To Dance” and hooks up a backdrop that’s all the more poignant for its relative calm amble. G Rap returns the favor by effectively updating Melle Mel’s “The Message” for the golden-era generation, complete with hauntingly stark observations like, “Upstairs I cover my ears and tears/ The man downstairs must have drank too many beers/ ‘Cause every day of his life he beats his wife/ ‘Til one night she decides to pull a butcher’s knife.”
Cormega, “The Come Up”
Cormega has been cast as the rapper unceremoniously left behind in Nas’s quick rise—the two had a falling out after ‘Mega was dumped from Nas’s ill-conceived mafiosa supergroup The Firm—but his back catalog is testament to the wholesome endurance of thoroughly conservative New York hip-hop. His team-up with Large Pro for a track on 2002’s The True Meaning sticks to the rugged template, even if Large Pro does look like he bartered his portable CD player from some ropey Fulton Mall discount vendor. His verse, however, is a gem of non-arrogant one-upmanship. (See also: Cormega’s touching summation of his tribulations with Nas, “Love In, Love Out.”, complete with the revelation, “When I got signed to Def Jam I offered you ten grand.”)
Akinyele, “Ak Ha Ha! Ak Hoo Hoo!”
The Ak may have scored the world’s most prominent fellatio radio hit with 1996’s “Put It In Your Mouth,” but before that he persuaded fellow Queens resident Large Professor to produce the entirety of his debut album, Vagina Diner. It’s a creative collaboration that paid off critically, with the album being lauded as much for Large Pro’s beats as Ak’s entertainingly crude raps. “I love to rock that nasty home-cooked hip-hop,” spits Ak here, as if summing up the session’s entire mission statement.
The UN, “What They Want”
Roc Marciano (or Rock, as he decided to spell it out then) gained a rep as New York rap’s renaissance man thanks to last year’s sterling Marcberg album. But before that, he endured stints in Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and as one-quarter of hardened New York thug-rhymers The UN. When the latter put in a call to Large Pro for production, he offered up a hefty, eerie production over which the MCs—rocking “brass knuckles”—basically threaten the listener. It’s a sterling combination.
A Tribe Called Quest, “Keep It Rollin'”
Nestled deep in the midst of Tribe’s most beloved album, Large Pro both produces and raps on this snug song. After Q-Tip and Phife run through their verses, Extra P ends the song with the promise, “Queens represent, buy the album when I drop it.” It’s reference to his almost-mythical debut solo album, The LP—and a vow that quickly became a recurring rap in-joke as Geffen repeatedly shelved the project, leaving rap fiends forced to rely on hissy bootlegs. (Eventually, the (disappointing) album was given away as a promotional freebie by the online record store HipHopSite.com.)