Underground Report: Killah Priest
Artists such as Talib Kweli, J-Live and Jay-Z possess the gift of being able to remain consistent with their craft, and this months Underground Report feature, does also. Priest (the Killah is officially dropped from his name) developed a reputation for thought-provoking lyrics that strike a subtle balance between preaching and teaching. Much of his rhymes allude to religious and spiritual directions, many of which are drawn from The Bible and incorporated with Priests experiences, perspectives and internal debates.
His latest release and sixth studio album, Behind the Stained Glass, incited many critics to agree on his consistency in lyrical depth, while at the same time criticizing his choice in beats, often calling them simple and not up to par with the type of production the Wu-Tang affiliate should be selecting at this level. Perhaps however, Priest purposefully pursued the particular sounds, beats which melodically set the stage for stories, lessons and questions the Iron Sheik was about to pose to both himself and his listeners. The beats then become a rough backdrop, a support rather, setting a perfect mood for the emcee to convey, which can be heard in tracks like For Tomorrow and A Crying Heart. Preparing for his US tour with GZA (taking place this August), and in the midst of recording Behind the Stained Glass Part Two, Priest sits down with HipHopDX to explain his choice in beats on the last joint, the hypocrisy in the Hip Hop community, and his views on exploitation (including Snoop and Jay-Z as Hip Hops perpetrators). Priest also clears the air on his absence from the 8 Diagrams, and the current stage of the long overdue HRSMN Project.
HipHopDX: Lets start with the album, Behind the Stained Glass [click to read]. Are you content with the sales?
Priest: Nah, not at all. Let me say this: it is what it is. Cats that support real Hip Hop just get out there. But you know, this album just came out right behind The Offering [click to read] real quick, and Im just gonna keep pushing out products so its not a mission with me with the sales. Im not gonna lie to you, Id love to have those Kanye West sales; but in reality, half of the people are just not getting it. And the people that are not supporting, [that are] downloading the music, are just helping this corporate type of Hip Hop win.
DX: So you think its because the album came out too close to The Offering?
P: Ummnah. Im just throwing out different reasons why. I really think that people are not checking for real Hip Hop anymore. I dont know what the problem is. Im thinking maybe promotion or whatever, but to be honest with you, you have to look for it. And theres gonna be a fewer amount of [those] who want it and thats the few that are gonna get it.
DX: I was reading some reviews and the critics are commenting on the beats, stating that theyre basic, not up to par with the lyrics, etc. What was the process for your beat selection?
P: I work with DJ Woool real close - and this is a more personal album, me getting a little deep on there. This is an album that you really cant youre not supposed to download, but just hear it over theits more about the lyrics and how the beat fits. The beats create a mood. I wasnt looking for extravagant beats; I was looking for different type of beats. I think the beats are dope; they fit the songs. Its kind of like evolutionary because when something comes out thats different, people dont take on to it. Maybe it takes them six months. Like if you listen to Behind the Stained Glass in your headphones, its over youre gonna love the music; if you listen to it in your car, youre gonna love it. But if youre just downloading and the phone is ringing and you gotta leave, its not an album you can leave. That album wasnt supposed to be a rah-rah in-your-face joint.
DX: Well-put. For Tomorrow [click to view] and I Believe [click to listen] for example have well-chosen beats that set the backdrop for the depth to the lyrics you blend in. So lets touch upon the lyrics quickly. Much intensity and emotion in the rhymes, especially toward religious and social issues. Under what circumstances did you write?
P: We got a lot of it on film; were gonna release some of it. It was just like me, DJ Woool, a couple of cats in the studiomy son Rudy was there. It was a dim light, incense. We were just in thereit was an ill vibe in the studio. We had the scripture in there; we were reading psalms. I was basically talking about my sister and her passing because I didnt get that off [my chest]. She passed at the end when The Offering came out. I started just recording what was going through my head; and we just were going through a lot of stuff. A lot of things happening in the news with the face of America changing, and it balled into one and became
DX: You write everything in the studio?
P: Yeah I write in the studio. Sometimes Ill take a track home. But songs like Redemption, that was just there. For Tomorrow
DX: Im curious about a couple bars from the track Vintage. Verse 29 says "We will be exploited on our long voyage/ unemployment for their enjoyment/No longer called the anointed/ But coons, niggas and spooks/ from Bojangles, Jigga to Snoop." Elaborate...
P: We went a long way from doing big things to being on unemployment for their enjoyment. Thats just like White America as far as the government as stuff like that theyve been calling us coons. And performing for them, acting like clowns and that goes from the smallest all the way to Jay-Z [click to read], all the way to Snoop [Dogg]. And if you look at [it], Bojangles had to perform and do all these things for their enjoyment. Cause before they used to paint our faces; and now its exploiting either blood diamonds or were just pimping out our own people for their enjoyment. Before we were kings and queens; we didnt start off as worlds biggest pimps. [Laughs]
DX:Are Snoop and Jay-Z are exploiting their own?
P: Exactly. Yeah. Snoop walked on the red carpet with chains around girls [necks] I remember seeing that and I was like Man, thats crazy. Its the whole pimp movement but if youre not giving back, cats are gonna start looking at that like, chains? And Jay-Zlook at the Roc now, its all divided. You got Damon Dash over here and Jay-Z doing his thing over here, thats called divide and conquer. They were a black power movement together and look what theyre doing theyre pushing themselves out there and exploiting and cursing out women. Its fine to be an entrepreneur but when youre just flashing it in front of people and you know they cant get that, youre not giving them a shot at doing that, then it becomes a problem; you were never cool.
DX: Then how supportive of exploitation is the Hip Hop community when it doesnt speak out against it? That includes the artists, the fans, the journalists, editors and media-owners.
P: Theyre being hypocrites also. Its up to some of the conscious rappers to come together, or brothers thatll make a change. Because that pattern is bafoonery, its coonery and its just stupid. You have some of the rappers thats speaking out and thats good. But the majority of these peopletheyre just going with the flow of this whole government corporation movement. They got them out there worshipping what they believe is true but they believe in a lie. Thats just a strong illusion that they believe in. When you go home, you dont go home to a mansion. Most of those rappers when they go home, they dont go home toexcept for some that we know, Jay-Z - but you still dont have it because someones writing your checks. Those are the people that are really getting paid, that really have the money; the ones who write checks for people like Jay-Z, like Michael Jackson, big stars like Madonna. They create the money and make you believe what a star is. A star used to be something up in the sky youre sky worshipping. You gotta be a star from the get-go, from the grain.
DX: You mentioned that the Hip Hop community should be backing quality Hip Hop and in another interview you stated that fans should support the Immortal Techniques, the dead prezs, the Priests. Why should those specific artists receive support?
P: Because they are kicking real, true, facts; and theyre about a strong movement. They aint no bafoonery, no clownery. Theyre real about it. If you come up in a cipher with these brothers, you might get hurt. This aint no punk church movement. This aint no singing along, lighting up candles. When we talking about peace, we talking about peace for the people cause we the peoples army just like they said. And building with stic.man and M1 and Immortal Technique [click to read], those brothers are all standing up at the front line; theyre making revolutionary music. I like to call it earlutionary music because you hear it. [Laughs] Also its good music; its not just preaching. These brothers can rap first. These brothers got skills.
DX: In terms of the Priests and the dead prezs and Immortal Techniques, where do they stand against the 50s and the Lil Waynes, Young Jeezys, the Kanyes and The Games?
P: Its like going back to the comic books. Its the battle of the stars now. My son put me on some tracks from Lil Wayne [click to read], hes actually spitting now. Hes actually emceeing.
DX: Did you hear Tha Carter III?
P: Nah. But Lil Weezys rhyming. I like that. Hes rhyming; hes spitting some lyrics. He even got Jay-Z on ["Mr. Carter"]. Hes out there doing his own thing thats what its about, flooding the market. Thats what Im gonna do. I got a lot of material in store.
DX: You had Nas on the track Gun for Gun on The Offering. He has recently changed the controversial album title from Nigger to Nothing due to public and private pressures. He continues to release controversial videos, visuals and lyrics, mainly powerful, colonial-depicting imagery. And when youre talking about the movement, Nas has been controversial with his previous album also, Hip Hop is Dead. In your opinion, is Nas just creating controversy or does he have a point?
P: I dont know man, I saw an interview with him where hes bigging up stic [click to read] I think he got dead prez on his album doing beats or whatever. But Nas has always been clever, like how he came out like with Hip Hop is Dead. I dont know, I think Nas should have never backed down or listened to Def Jam he should get off that label. He didnt even need that, he could have started his own thing, signed with anybody, but every man is a man, they do what they gotta do. Its just like Alicia Keys [click to read]: once you stand up against what theyre pushing, dont ever back down in what you want to do. I think hes putting out [The Nigger Tape] [click to listen]I didnt approve of him changing the title, he should have kept that. I wanted to see him justify that [laughing] or point it out - why he did it. If it was just pure ignorance, that would have been on him.
DX: In all fairness, it could be viewed as pure ignorance. The way hes been explaining it to the media, his justification doesnt really hold water.
P: Thats true. And I gotta get into it; really pay more attention to that. I saw the title, looked at it, but I was at the studio most of the time. I was like, Wow man, what was that about? But if that was about ignorance, he shouldnt have even named it that. Thats all I gotta say on that.
DX: 8 Diagrams [click to read]. You were expected on the album as it was reported that you would be on it. What happened?
P: Another incident of showing up to the studio and everybody saying, "Its time for change man." Ive been talking to RZA [click to read], he knows that. Change came. If you squeeze the hold so tight, the diamond is still gonna come out its gonna bust. So its like, things change. Everybody sees whats going on amongst the brothers, Raekwon [click to read] and all this movementall I wanted to do is just get up on there but I guess they locked it out Wu-Tang had to see one more time if it was like that. But now its grinding time, everybodys grinding now. I didnt get on the album; I dont know what RZA did with those tracks, but I know Im on that Chosen album. So if they put me off that album, then its something else then. [Laughs]
DX: How do you think Wu as a group is holding up today?
P: Things change. Its not the same; its not like the '90s. I think the strong will survive and the strong is surviving, and right now its just real. Its like you get out there, get in the studio, do your shows. Its the only way rappers are surviving right now. Shows come about by making good music. Soon its not even gonna be about a name, its just about making good music. Fans gotta support man, Im tired of the fans. They running around here supporting all this garbage. You gotta start support what youre really into, true artists.
DX: Thatd be good. The HRSMN project. You know Im gonna ask about that
P: Ive seen Canibus [click to read] at the show and hopefully were gonna get this thing started.
DX: Okay, lets be real. Why is it taking so long?
P: Because you got four major cats, one cat locked up here and there. Everyones in controversy [laughing]. Every four major cat is in controversy, doing their music. Everybodys majorly talented and so theyre always busy.
DX: But aside from people being incarcerated because that wasnt the case the entire time this project was in the works for years now, and not even half the album is completed.
P: We got songs done.
DX: How many?
P: Uh, I would say a good strong five. Everything else is just miscellaneous. Theres maybe seven or eight.
DX: Is there somebody leading the project?
P: Nah, it just happened man. We came up here, we knocked out a couple of joints [in] L.A. Some of the old stuff I remember leaked before.
DX: Maybe someone should take the initiative?
P: I might do that.
DX: You said that Behind the Stained Glass is your truth and we have to seek for the higher truth. What does that mean?
P: Its me being me and me being honest with myself and trying to find ah man, you just took me there! Theres this song, I dont even know what we named it but its gonna be on part two all the answers will be right on that song. I call it... Yoga. [Laughs]
DX: Is that what the song will be called?
P: Yeah, we gonna keep it just like that: Yoga.
DX: Do I have to wait for the song for the question to be answered?
P: [Laughs] My inner truth is seek yourself and be real as possible with every part. Thats how you start: you start inside-out not outside-in. Its just me being real about the things Ive been through in life. Just like I said in Profits of Man: "Were you real? Did you show love that people could feel? Or do you have jealousy and keep it concealed? Did you smile in your mans face but all the while wanted to take your mans place?" Those are real jewels in life; because kings die. When youre standing and its just you so its like when cats get locked up in the pen, you gotta be locked up in your pen. My pen is what I write, my writing pen and thats my truth. I took off everything and I put it down right there. So thats the main truth, just being real with you, who you are.