Prince Po
w/RJD2, Hangar 18, Oldominion feat. Grayskul, Barfly, Azrael, Nyquil
Tues Oct 19, Neumo's, 8 pm, $13 adv., all ages.

What were you doing in 1997? Chances are, it was a helluva lot different from what you're doing now. That was the last year Prince Po had a major release (with Organized Konfusion's The Equinox). America had a huge budget surplus then. You were about 14 pounds lighter, too. You really should work out more and reduce your beer intake.

But, I digress. Seven years between major artistic statements is obviously a helluva long time in hiphop. Back then, Prince Po was amicably breaking up with fellow rapper/producer Pharoahe Monch. The Queens duo had established Organized Konfusion as one of underground hiphop's most formidable units, lighting up the subterranean scene with three scorching albums before splitting. Monch went on to release a wicked album on Rawkus, Internal Affairs, which spawned the monster 1999 club hit "Simon Says." Po kept a much lower profile, and many ingrates probably forgot all about him.

But, who could really blame them? All Po did during this fallow time was spit some boilerplate braggadocio over a strutting, string-laden production on "Copy Cats" off Danger Mouse & Jemini's 2003 gem Ghetto Pop Life and wax about personal evolution over blunted piano and bleepy electronics with Monch on DJ Spooky's 1998 album, Riddim Warfare. Oh, he also cameo'd on Monch's celestial headnodder "God Send" from Internal Affairs. These accomplishments won't exactly bring you prime-time shine on BET or invitations to P. Diddy parties in the Hamptons.

By all rights, Po should be working on his second career now, maybe going back to school for that coveted chiropractor's certificate. Hiphop fans are notoriously fickle, short-attention-spanned, and apathetic toward history and legacies. (Who's still waiting for Dream Warriors' and Jeru the Damaja's returns? Besides me, I mean.) All of which should leave Prince Po up crap creek without a metaphor.

But Po has unassumingly rolled back into the spotlight with The Slickness on the impeccable British indie Lex Records--for my dinero, the best hiphop label operating today. The album's racking up praise from the usual sources (Urb, XLR8R, Allhiphop.com) and from publications you rarely find in backpacks next to The Source and XXL (Q, NME, i-D). Playboy and the Wall Street Journal have yet to weigh in, but be patient.

Po has tapped some of hiphop's hottest and deftest producers and MCs to fill out the aural space on The Slickness. You'd think a cat who's been out of the spotlight since Monica Lewinsky was headline news would want to hog the mic. But no. Po gives quality studio time to fellow wordsmiths Raekwon (declining Wu-Tang Clan mensch), J-Zone (hilariously self-deprecating), and MF Doom (blows away everyone here). It's a choice that sometimes backfires on Po, who also was often overshadowed by Monch in Organized Konfusion. But it takes huge balls to step into the ring with MF Doom now, and few rappers are wittier than J-Zone, so respect to Po for going tongue-to-tongue with these masters. Po manages to get some words in edgewise, touching on important matters like NYC Mayor Bloomberg's callousness, the Iraq war, and his own superior verbal skills (there's a novel topic).

Even more impressive than the guest rappers are the studly beatmakers Po's roped in on The Slickness. On disc opener "Hello," Themselves mainstay Jel ladles tough, urgent violin, bass, and bongos over Po's name-dropping orgy of rock and rap artists. Madlib's three tracks are fire, including "Too Much" and "Bump Bump," which could be staples of college radio and strip joints, respectively.

Comic relief comes in "Meet Me at tha Bar," a J-Zone production wherein he, J-Ro, and Po relate the tragic tale of being too drunk to get their game on over strident, Shaft-style orchestral funk strings and a fibrillating old electric organ I swear English prog-rockers Soft Machine used in the early '70s.

But the album's biggest surprise is "Hold Dat." Produced by British mashup maestro Richard X, the track's an electro-grime club banger that lyrically and flow-wise recalls Her Freakiness Missy Elliott (courtesy of Rell and Jemini). "Hold Dat" refutes The Slickness' title, but it just may be Po's ticket to "Simon Says"-style notoriety. At the very least, it'll probably help him get laid on this tour.

segal@thestranger.com

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