By Paul Rodgers
CALGARY – Philadelphia in the early ‘90s was a hub for counterculture. Revolving around the thriving skateboarding scene were polar opposite scenes emerging from metal, hardcore, punk and hip-hop.
From that came a massively influential duo who are now releasing their ninth album, The Bridge and the Abyss. It comes 20 years after their first full-length record and more than two decades since their first EP, the infamous Amber Probe (1996). Jedi Mind Trick’s main spitter Vinnie Paz spoke with BeatRoute on the phone from Philly, apologizing for missing the first call. He was out for sushi with his mom.
“There’s some freedom in not knowing what the fuck you’re doing when you’re young and that’s kind of what it was,” Paz says of JMT’s origin story. He explains that in those early days, their influences still shined through too much, and that by taking the time to find out exactly who they were, they were better received in the long run.
“When you don’t know the rules, then they’re not there to be abided by,” he says. Their first full-length record came out in ’97, and is wordily dubbed The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness. Stuffed full of analytical, grand scheme lyrics, it features blazing rhymes over lo-fi, ponderous beats. Released when Paz was only 19-years-old and doing a lot of drugs, it set the standard musically and literally for JMT’s lengthy career. Consciously, Paz got sober just a year ago after being a “full-blown alcoholic” who drank two bottles of Grey Goose a day. He has now found clarity. In this sober year, he said he has probably written more than in the entire previous decade.
“There’s a method to the madness now that I’m not sure was there before. Which isn’t a bad thing, some cool things are born out of chaos… It’s a little bit less chaotic [now] and a little more regimented and thought out and there’s more respect for the craft than there was earlier.”
Paz reflected on making records in the pre-digital music industry and explained how Jedi’s “bugged-out, trippy, drug-induced psychosis type shit” painted the act into a corner they had to dig themselves out of.
“A thing [is] only really a mistake to me if you don’t correct something or learn from it,” offers Paz on the lessons learnt from musical growth.
He said their second album, 2000’s legendary Violent by Design, was partially made in response to their first album’s perceived strangeness. The album featured a more hardcore style both vocally and lyrically, and is infused with potent ferocity. It gained the group a huge following.
“This is the shit that we’re on, but I mean, I’m just one of those people that feels blessed that people were interested on any level, and appreciated what we did so I’ve never looked back on things.”
When talking about releasing their latest album The Bridge and the Abyss amidst the current musical climate for hip-hop where many are divided over what constitutes “real,” Paz weighed in. He discussed it from the perspective of growing up in Philly with two older metal-head brothers, and the multiple subcultures that were attracted to skateboarding.
“Let’s say you’re at the show, and then you and I are hanging out at the show in Calgary right, and some kid comes in and he’s like, ‘yo underground hip-hop all day man, yadayadayada.’ That would somehow imply to me that all other underground hip-hop is good and a lot of it sucks.”
He continues, “I mean in 1990 was MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice any better than Lil Yachty? Alright, Lil Yachty’s out now, so what I had to listen to [was] Vanilla Ice. There’s been whack shit and good since the beginning of the old shit [in] 1972.”
Paz has some pointed advice for aspiring rappers which is split between what he calls a “real answer” and a “politically correct, I don’t want to sound like a dick answer.”
“My real answer is get your degree and don’t rap. Because there’s not enough room and you’re not as good as you think you are. But that’s my real answer.”
Conversely, his politically correct answer is to essentially take his mother’s advice, who would “slap [him] upside the head if he was ever rude to fan.”
“That’s why I’ve been able to sustain this is. Because of what was instilled in me by my mother and that is to always treat people the way you want to be treated and be polite to everybody because they’ve seen it all.”
In interviews and in lyrics, Paz comfortably tackles politics, history, science, religion and more, but he says conventional school failed him and he never considered post secondary after leaving high school. Rather, he has always been independently driven to consume knowledge and is an avid reader. He also pointed to world travel, reiterating that witnessing how governments do things differently in countries around the globe has impacted him.
“Man, I think travelling changed me more than I ever thought that it would because I’m kind of like a South Philly, dago, grease ball, Italian kid and pretty stuck in my ways and didn’t really think that anything would change how I saw things.”
The wisdom he imparted over the phone was simply too vast to be contained to a limited word count, but with a new album recorded with more passion and clarity than ever, in addition to their already outstanding back catalog, there are nearly endless channels through which to tap into his psyche.
Don’t miss Jedi Mind Tricks when they perform August 26 at the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver) and August 28 at Marquee Beer Market & Stage (Calgary).Commodore Ballroom, Jedi Mind Tricks, Marquee Beer Market & Stage