Sean Price’s Wife Bernadette Discusses Her Husband & Completing His Last Album
Sean Price stated on Heltah Skeltah’s debut about his longtime rhyme partner Rockness Monsta, “behind every great Ruck there’s a Rock.” But throughout the late great Price’s career stood a great woman named Bernadette Price. She has become one of Rap’s most famous widows who paralleled “Edith Bunker” to Sean’s “Archie Bunker”-like persona on record as Hip-Hop’s answer to 1970s sitcom All In The Family.
During Sean’s rise to fame, Bernadette stayed home in Brooklyn to raise their children, supported him through his career struggles, and provided input during the creative process of his music. Price made countless references to his queen in his songs (often in a lovingly critical way) as he held court being a king in New York’s Underground Rap scene.
Bernadette spoke to Ambrosia For Heads about overcoming her inexperience in the recording studio to take the reins and complete her husband’s final and posthumous album Imperius Rex. She recalls how the couple met, Sean’s original plans to be a mortician, and the emotional support of the Duck Down family.
Ambrosia For Heads: How long did it take to complete Imperius Rex on your own after Sean passed?
Bernadette Price: I started working on it about eight or nine months after he passed. I took the initiative because that’s what he was working on. He started it, and I finished it.
AFH: Did you work closely with him on any of his other projects?
Bernadette Price: No. Never.
AFH: Sean made plenty of dedication songs and references to you in his music. He must have asked for some feedback from you during the creative stages of his other projects.
Bernadette Price: Yes, he did that all the time. From the beginning, before his career started all the way to until his last one.
AFH: How many years were you and Sean together?
Bernadette Price: 23 years.
AFH: How did you both meet each other?
Bernadette Price: We met through mutual friends who lived in my building. He would come by and see them, and through them, we met and hooked up with each other.
AFH: Was he a funny guy back then, with charm away from his Rap persona?
Bernadette Price: He was a charmer, of course. He was a comedian. That drew me to him. He was always that way, and that helped him come into his own as far as being an artist. That’s how he came up so well doing all these skits that he had [on his albums].
AFH: So you dated Ruck when he made records with Heltah Skeltah and O.G.C. as “The Fab 5” in 1995?
Bernadette Price: No, but we were broken up at that time but were always in touch because we had children together back then. I wasn’t with him for the album Magnum Force [in 1998]. I was working, being a mother, taking care of that while he was doing his business as a rapper.
AFH: Sean’s rhymes had a lot of obscure 1980s pop culture, R&B, sports, science, and TV show references that went over many people’s heads and some that resonated strongly with fans. Was he a closet nerd?
Bernadette Price: Yes, he was a nerd. Very much more of that than anything else. [Laughs] It surprised me when he said he wanted to rap, and I was like, “You’re so smart. Why do you want to do that?” He went to school to be a mortician, and he dropped out to rap around 1992, 1993, or 1994.
AFH: It’s interesting that you mention that he initially wanted to be a mortician because much of his lyrical content was really dark, violent with a keen sense of black comedy like a noir novelist.
Bernadette Price: Well, I think all of us have very dark moments in our life. Some hide them, and some let it out. Sean let his out in his music.
AFH: Did his upbringing in the notoriously rough neighborhood of Brownsville contribute to that as well?
Bernadette Price: There’s a lot of peer pressure growing up there. A lot of different things going on where we lived because all of the projects surrounding each other. You pick up things, or you’re peer pressured into things sometimes.
AFH: Such as him becoming a member of the [Brooklyn street gang] Decepticons and developing into his “Decep P” persona?
Bernadette Price: Yeah, that started in high school. [Laughs]
AFH: You were supportive as his wife, and rapping was Sean’s main income. With his touring schedule that required him to be on the road often, how difficult was to balance your support with him living the “Rap life” away from home?
Bernadette Price: It was hard. You know, we broke up a few times and got back together [which he stated in his music] as well. It was hard trying to balance him, me working, taking care of the kids and things like that. But my strength is magical so I was able to juggle it all. In doing all that, you get tired and want to give up. But that wasn’t me. I did what I had to do and [what I believe every woman should do for her family].
AFH: In a 2005 Source interview, after Sean’s Monkey Barz album dropped, Sean admitted that he received a three-dollar royalty check for his featured Heltah Skeltah verse on “The Points” from the Panther soundtrack in 1995. When he brought the check home, Sean mentioned how you were disgusted by the fact that he wasn’t really doing much else to help his home life, and he joked that you supposedly said to him, “Go sell some crack or something.” Was that true?
Bernadette Price: I recall that. [Laughs] But that’s how it goes when it comes to providing for your family, you gotta hold them down. You can’t sit around and be lazy about what you want to do because he was sure that he wanted to rap. He couldn’t see himself doing anything but that because that was the only way he could be free. Yeah, I got on him and told him, “Do what you gotta do,” and I pushed him basically. “You’re the man of the house, so the man of the house is supposed to provide for the woman.” Sean knew it, and eventually, he got it because all of us are a work in progress. It’s a learning experience. When he started in the Rap game, he was young, and I was young. So you got a lot of things that come at you, you try to keep your mind focused, and sometimes you lose the focus. You gotta snap back to reality for what it is and go for it.
AFH: You stood by him throughout his career struggles and peaks. Was there ever a moment in which you tried to convince him to change his career choice during any dry patch?
Bernadette Price: I felt that he should’ve changed careers when it got too hard. Because you know this game will wear you down. He loved it, so [the] only thing I could do was be there for him and push him to do more. When a person has their career set, there’s no way you can change their mind. [If he would have still been here, Imperius Rex] was going to be his last album anyway because he was going to move over into the record label business and run his own label [Ruck Down Records]. That would’ve calmed him down a little bit and got him some rest. Just being a regular person, period. That’s why he didn’t look for too much. He just wanted people to acknowledge him, “Yes, I can rap.” Like I said, in the beginning when he was younger it was party over here, party over there, this place, that place, this or that club, up all night, doing shows, and all of that. After so many years in the game, you get tired, and it’s time to sit down. I wanted him to take a break, but not quit. Just take a break. Sometimes you need that for yourself.
AFH: You looked comfortable performing Sean’s verses on stage with your daughter and Rockness for Heltah Skeltah’s “Operation Lockdown” at the 2016 Duck Down BBQ. And your featured spots rapping on Imperius Rex were just as impressionable. Was there ever a moment that you and your husband rapped together at home?
Bernadette Price: I never rapped or was trying to be a rapper, but I’ve been with him so long that you catch up to things and pick up stuff. He would talk to me about it, but I did what I did for the record to hold him down. The pain that came in making before and after, it came from just being a mother and a wife. You stick it out. He held me down while he was here, and I have to do the same for him, which is what I’ve always done for him. Just because a person passed doesn’t mean you stop representing them.
AFH: Have your kids picked up on his rap skills at all?
Bernadette Price: Our seven-year-old daughter Shaun, he always took [her] onstage with him, so it’s in her naturally. She was five when he passed. The boys, they’re not into it. [Laughs] They’re older and into other things but have different people coming up to them, but they just want to be regular children.
AFH: When Heltah Skeltah emerged in the mid-90s, Rockness was the breakout star of the duo while Sean was somewhat of the foil character who held his own to complement him. Then Sean emerged as the flagship star of Duck Down later in his career and saved the label according to Buckshot. How supportive was Rockness during that time when his rhyme partner emerged the most in the mid-to-late 2000s?
Bernadette Price: Rock is very supportive. As artists, you venture out and try new things. That’s how that went down. Sean opted to do some solo work, but they were always supportive of each other even when they weren’t Heltah Skeltah. Everything worked out for the greatness. It’s deeper than wax with us, we’re a family.
AFH: Even during the rough times.
Bernadette Price: That’s with every family. You know, we got into it and wouldn’t talk for a couple of days, sometimes even weeks. But it doesn’t mean that you’re not family no more. The love doesn’t change. It shouldn’t. And if it does change, that means that you wasn’t down to begin with.
AFH: One of the most alluring things that I witnessed at Sean’s wake in Brooklyn was amid so many sad and inconsolable people mourning his loss, you looked the strongest among them and smiled with a look of gratitude at his body in the casket. Take me back to that moment.
Bernadette Price: What the world doesn’t know is that me and my husband had some of the most touching conversations the week of his passing. I understood what transpired, and I understand that everybody is not going to live forever. One thing we’re all promised is to die. Once you have that understanding, you can cope with it better. Those conversations we had granted me that comfortability to be the way that I am. Not to say that I hadn’t cried or hadn’t went through the normal feelings that a person goes through after losing someone like that close to them. Everybody doesn’t deserve to see that for one, and for two, I know he’s good now. This business can be very stressful. You lose a lot of individuals while touring and taking care of yourself, all that stuff breaks you down. But he completed a lot of things that he wanted to do in life. He did his music, got married, had his children, traveled the world, he made friends everywhere he went, and overall he was a good individual. I could look at him and smile because he’s at peace.
Imperius Rex, released last month, features Raekwon, Method Man, Prodigy, Boot Camp Clik, and Bernadette Price.