Vinnie Paz (Jedi Mind Tricks) - conducted by Todd E. Jones
Searching For A Vision Of Hope In Hip Hop
Philly’s own, Jedi Mind Tricks, have been rocking crowds and making aggressive hip-hop since for more than a decade. Since the 80’s, Vinnie Paz (aka Ikon The Verbal Hologram), Jus Allah (aka Megatron) and Stoupe have had hip-hop pumping through their veins. Their last two albums “The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological, and Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness” and “Violent By Design” have been critically acclaimed and have become underground favorites by many.
In the past, Jedi Mind Tricks have collaborated with Esoteric, Bahamadia, Tragedy Khadafi, Louis Logic, Mr. Len, and many others. Vinnie Paz’s delivery, lyrics and flow show his ill mentality and all the hunger of artists like M.O.P. and Necro. The beats of JMT were always something that shined. Production-wise, Stoupe has the precision of Premier, the melody innovation of Kanye West, the thickness of Pete Rock, and the grit of Rza. Stoupe’s production work is so well respected that Canibus and him made an entire concept album where Canibus was the only one to rock the mic on the album and Stoupe was the only producer. “Rip The Jacker” is the best Canibus album to date and Stoupe’s production is one of the main reasons.
Jus Allah (aka Megatron) left the group on so-called amicable terms but the rest Jedi Mind Tricks claimed that Jus Allah was airing his dirty laundry in public and telling lies about the remaining members. Jedi Mind Tricks continued on as a duo.
In 2003, Jedi Mind Tricks released “Visions Of Gandhi” on Babygrande Records. “Visions Of Gandhi” is a hard-hitting album with an apocalyptic sound in the production, ill vocal samples, precise scratching, and raw, brain ripping rhymes. Guests include Ras Kass, Canibus, Non-Phixion, Kool G Rap, and others. On an autumn evening in 2003, I had a long and personal conversation with Vinnie Paz, the lone emcee of Jedi Mind Tricks. We discussed the record industry, Star Wars, Jus Allah, hip-hop, lyricism, emcees, and much more.
In these trying times of terrorism, war, recession, and anger, Jedi Mind Tricks tell us that we need a new vision of hope. Leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi are all gone. Through hip-hop, perhaps we could be connected by sound. Vinnie Paz and Stoupe of Jedi Mind Tricks are searching for a vision of hope through hip-hop.
MVRemix: The new album is called ‘Visions Of Gandhi’. Tell us about it.
Vinnie Paz: There are 17 cuts and 3 bonus cuts. We’ve been working on it for like 3 years. We got a lot of great guests on there like Canibus, Kool G Rap, Ras Kass, Non-Phixion. We just wanted to make another raw album.
MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the title ‘Visions Of Gandhi’?
Vinnie Paz: It just applies to the state of the world today. Between what is going on in Iraq and Mumia being locked up unjustly, things going on in Israel, Palestine, we don’t really have anyone right now like Gandhi. We don’t have anyone like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X anymore. It’s really a reference to a vision of hope, like someone like Gandhi.
MVRemix: How did you get involved with Babygrande?
Vinnie Paz: Chuck Wilson is the owner of Babygrande. He was working from Priority Records. We were going to sign to Priority. He flew out to one of our shows in L.A. We started a relationship. We were about to make a move over there. Priority merges with Capitol so, he left and started Babygrande. We stayed with him. We had a handshake deal.
MVRemix: When did you first begin rhyming?
Vinnie Paz: 88. I was 11 years old.
MVRemix: How did you meet Stoupe and form Jedi Mind Tricks?
Vinnie Paz: We met through a mutual friend. Stoupe is actually from North Philly and I’m from South Philly. We had a mutual high school friend who told us about each other. Before there were tons of white emcees, it was hard to get into the game back then in 1991. We just hooked up from there. We started doing demos 12 years ago.
MVRemix: What was the first hip-hop song you fell in love with?
Vinnie Paz: That’s a good question, man. Probably ‘This Cut’s Got Flavor’ by Latee. It was the first song that made me want to do this. I have been exposed to hip-hop before that but that was the first song that made think that this is what I wanted to do with my life.”
MVRemix: What happened to Jus Allah?
Vinnie Paz: I don’t know man. We had this talk back and forth. He didn’t know if he wanted to stay in the group or what to do with his career. I was trying to convince him otherwise. We were about to sign with Babygrande. We had a phone conversation where he basically said, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna do it’. I was like ‘If you can’t do it, you can’t do it, but we have to go on without you’. The conversation ended peacefully. Within a month or two later, he was talking sh*t about us. He just did his dirt. To answer the question, I really don’t know what happened to him?
MVRemix: Do you think Jus Allah and you will ever work together in the future again?
Vinnie Paz: I mean, me and Stoupe basically handled the whole situation as classy as we could. The thing is, he said a lot of f*cked up things and lied about a lot of things. Before I would ever work with him again, he would have to be a man and apologize for the sh*t that he did because it was wrong. That’s something he has to do and not me. We’re moving on regardless.
MVRemix: Jedi Mind Tricks and Canibus have formed a successful and potent relationship. Stoupe produced the entire ‘Rip The Jacker’ album, which is incredible. JMT were on the ‘Mic Club’ album. How did you guys hook up and what were those collaborations like?
Vinnie Paz: Well, obviously, I was always a huge fan of Canibus for his work on mix-tapes. He hollered at us to a joint with him for his ‘Mic Club’ album. Chuck Wilson and his manager. Louis Lombard too. The joint on the ‘Mic Club’ album went real well. He’s a real intelligent guy, a good guy. It was a pleasure to work with him. On the strength of that song, we decided to work together more. He did a joint ‘Tibetan Black Magicians’ on our ‘Visions Of Gandhi’ album. His manager and Chuck hooked up the whole ‘Rip The Jacker’ thing. Basically, the collaborations all came about because we dug each other’s work.
MVRemix: Out of all the collaborations you did, which one are you most proud of?
Vinnie Paz: From a personal standpoint, it has to be Kool G Rap with ‘Animal Rap’ because he’s my favorite emcee of all time. I happen to think that he is the best emcee of all time. It was just an honor to work with him because he had so much of an influence on who I am as an emcee and who I am as a person and who I am as an artist. Since 86, I have been listening to him. That’s 17 years ago. So, basically, I got a chance to work with someone who I have been a fan of for 17 years. He’s a living legend and that’s the collabo that I am most proud of.
MVRemix: Do you go into the studio with pre-written rhymes, lyrics and themes or do you hear the beat first and write then and there?
Vinnie Paz: Well, before we go into the studio, me and Stoupe have a lot of pre-production ideas. So, he’ll make beats at the crib and he’ll say ‘Yo, I got some hot sh*t! Come over!’ I will come over, peep the sh*t, sift through it. It’s all dope so we have to figure out what the best is. I usually take it home and write it. After that, we go into the studio with a pretty much laid out idea of what the song is. Most of the songs are put together in our head before we go into the studio.
MVRemix: What are some of your major influences?
Vinnie Paz: The biggest influence on me rhyme wise is Kool G Rap. I also loved Big Punisher. He was a legend. Big L, Nas. The old cats like Chuck D and X-Clan. That’s the sh*t I grew up with.
MVRemix: What emcee/group would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Vinnie Paz: Kool G Rap was the pinnacle. Now that we did that, it’s hard to say. It’s hard to top. Big L, one of my all time favorite emcees, past away. Now, I’m feeling M.O.P. A collabo with M.O.P. will be real violent.
MVRemix: What producer would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Vinnie Paz: Large Professor because he has so many classics under his belt. ‘Breaking Atoms’ and Akinyele's records. I loved his production with Nas.
MVRemix: Since you are a white emcee, do you encounter racism or prejudice often?
Vinnie Paz: There are a lot of white kids trying to rhyme now but being that I have been in the game and have been going to shows in Philly since the mid-80’s, no one f*cked with me. In those early shows in the 80’s, if you were the only white cat there, no one would f*ck with you because they knew that you had to be real if you were there. It was almost like a level of respect. I saw Big Daddy Kane in 88 when he was doing ‘Long Live The Kane’ and 3rd Base was doing the ‘Cactus Album’ and there were no white motherf*ckers there. It was all Black. There was a level of respect because if you had the balls to be there, heads respected that. Now, it’s not really something that comes up often because between Stoupe being Puerto Rican and all of my clique is Puerto Rican and Latin, I feel that a lot of times heads think that I’m Puerto Rican, especially when we are all out together. Either that, or they just know.
MVRemix: Abortion – pro-choice or pro-life?
Vinnie Paz: Pro-choice.
MVRemix: Death Penalty – For or against?
Vinnie Paz: I’m against it.
MVRemix: Where were you on Sept. 11th, 2001? How did you deal with it? How do you think it has affected or will affect hip-hop?
Vinnie Paz: The ironic thing about that is, I’m basically a night owl. So, I was watching TV all night and drinking beer the night before. I fell asleep at like 7 in the morning. I woke up at around 5 at night on September 11th, not knowing that sh*t had happened. I slept through all of 9-11!!! I didn’t know anything. I woke up with the phone ringing and my girl was like ‘Vinnie! Vinnie! Is the world going to end? Is this going to be World War III?’ I thought I was dreaming. I said, ‘What the f*ck are you talking about?’ She said, ‘You don’t know?’ I responded ‘What do you mean? I don’t know what?’ She told me to look at the TV. I put the TV on and I was still half asleep. It was all like a dream to me. It was really upsetting. I saw this documentary called ‘Telling Nicholas’ that was on HBO. It was a whole documentary based on this family trying to tell a 6 year old kid that his mother died in the World Trade Center. To tell you the truth, that’s when the sh*t really hit me because I actually saw how it affected people. For it to happen on a major scale is horrible, but to really know the people is heartbreaking. When I saw that sh*t with the little kids, it was horrible. When bad things like that happen, I start to think about all of the things that I have. I’m glad that my mother’s here. I have a good family. That sh*t makes me just not want to create problems with anyone. I don’t feel like hip-hop really responds to that. People still want to kill each other. I didn’t really see any hip-hop heads help the cause.
MVRemix: What is your favorite part of your live show?
Vinnie Paz: You know what, my favorite part of our live show is when we get these people to generally like our sh*t. They come up and tell us what their favorite songs are. Being able to get on stage and make money for rapping is an honor. Fans buy our sh*t.
MVRemix: What are you doing differently in the live shows now that you weren’t doing in the past?
Vinnie Paz: It hasn’t. We’re on some crazy sh*t. I’m on some heavy metal sh*t. I’m wilin’ out with motherf*ckers! Whenever we do live shows, we try to keep it that way. It’s a little more refined because we tried to step it up and make it more professional. The show is more refined.
MVRemix: What is the most left-field song you ever did? (released or not)?
Vinnie Paz: Musically, it’s not left-field but there is a song called ‘I Who Have Nothing’ from our first album. It’s was basically 3 verses about my pain. So, it wasn’t necessarily left-field but it was left-field for me because I gave more of my personal self to that song than I did on any other record. Traditionally, I’m a battle emcee.
MVRemix: Out of all the Jedi Mind Tricks albums, which one is your favorite?
Vinnie Paz: This new one, ‘Visions Of Gandhi’, is my favorite. I know it’s a cliché answer but it’s true. We got in a real studio with real engineers for the first time. We weren’t doing joints in the crib anymore. It was fun to bring back good memories. Records are like girlfriends. If someone was going to ask you, ‘Who’s your favorite girlfriend?’, it should be the girl you’re with now. Right now, ‘Visions Of Gandhi’ is like my new girlfriend.
MVRemix: Do you have a favorite song on ‘Visions Of Gandhi’?
Vinnie Paz: Yeah, my favorite song is ‘The Rage Of Angels’ I wrote it about my friend who is doing a stretch of 30 years. He was my best friend.
MVRemix: Word association time. I’m going to say a name of a group/emcee and you say the first word that pops in your head. So, if I say ‘Chuck D’, you may say ‘Revolution’. Okay?
Vinnie Paz: Okay, right.
Vinnie Paz: Ill.
Vinnie Paz: Dope beats.
MVRemix: Louis Logic
Vinnie Paz: Good friend.
Vinnie Paz: The dopest out there.
MVRemix: 50 Cent
Vinnie Paz: Ruler of the streets.
MVRemix: Phife Dawg
Vinnie Paz: Needs Q-tip back.
Vinnie Paz: Go back to your old style.
MVRemix: George Bush
Vinnie Paz: Anti-Christ.
MVRemix: What do you think hip-hop needs these days?
Vinnie Paz: I think it needs X-Clan back. I think it needs Public Enemy back. I think it needs EPMD back. I think it needs A Tribe Called Quest back. Someone has to start bringing the raw sh*t back now.
MVRemix: If you could remake any classic hip-hop song, what would it be?
Vinnie Paz: Probably ‘Smooth Momentum’ by Tuff Crew.
MVRemix: What is the worst hip-hop fad?
Vinnie Paz: The worst hip-hop fad, to me, is cats from the East coast doing down South bounce music. I can’t take that sh*t. When anyone who is not from down South does that, I can’t take that sh*t. New York and East Coast has always made real raw, strong rap music that has always represented the people. I ain’t with that sh*t.
MVRemix: How have you matured or evolved as an emcee and a lyricist?
Vinnie Paz: I matured because I realized that you cannot make everyone happy. If you make crazy complex sh*t, cats from the street ain’t gonna feel that. If you make strictly street sh*t, the white backpacker kids ain’t gonna feel that. So, you bang your head against the wall trying to make everyone happy and then you realize, it’s not about making everyone happy. It’s about making the sh*t you want to make. I’ve learned that and there are always going to be little nerds on the Internet talking sh*t and those are the same nerds who don’t have the balls to come up to you in your face.
MVRemix: Obviously, you are a huge Star Wars fan. What is it about Star Wars that you like?
Vinnie Paz: I was a crazy Star Wars fan. I have 2 nephews and it’s a great thing to take them to see the new ‘Star Wars’ movies.
MVRemix: Do you have a favorite Star Wars movie?
Vinnie Paz: I probably have to go with ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. It’s more dark.
MVRemix: What are some major misconceptions that people have of you?
Vinnie Paz: I don’t know if there are misconceptions. I don’t know about it. I do my best to not go on the Internet and read all of that sh*t because it’s counter-productive. So, I do not know. One misconception is that we don’t smile and laugh because we’re some thugged out motherf*ckers.
MVRemix: What is the biggest mistake you have made in your career?
Vinnie Paz: My mother always told me that if you made a mistake and you learn from it, it was never truly a mistake. It’s only a mistake if you do not learn from it. Any mistakes that we made, we definitely learned from them. I took something away from all of those mistakes.
MVRemix: How did you hook up with Kool G Rap and end up working with him on ‘Animal Rap’? What was that collaboration like?
Vinnie Paz: Chuck Wilson, CEO of Babygrande, is good friends with the kids over at Rawkus. They hooked it up. He came through with it, chilled out with us, cracked a bottle of Hennessey. He wasn’t just a nice guy as a legend, he was a nice guy as a person. He was mad humble, mad polite, mad articulate. He’s good to his wife, good to his kids. It was a good thing to see that somebody that legendary was that down to Earth.
MVRemix: What advice would you give to a young emcee or producer who wants to have a music career?
Vinnie Paz: I guess my advice would depend on how serious they are. Some people do this as a hobby where they work a nine to five and they do hip-hop for fun. Me and Stoupe have been doing this, in one form or another, for over 16 years. At this point, we don’t have a choice but to make sh*t hot. We’re dedicated. We live it, eat it, breathe it, because this is what we want to do for the rest of our lives.
MVRemix: Was there ever a point where you were going to give up?
Vinnie Paz: Never.
MVRemix: What do you do when you are incredibly stressed out?
Vinnie Paz: Damn, man. I probably wouldn’t be half as stressed out as I am if I knew a way to deal with it. That has always been one of my problems. I don’t know how to deal with stress. Some people do. I watch a lot of movies and independent films. I read a lot. I go to fights a lot in Atlantic City and New York. I’m just a really big boxing fan. Film, reading, boxing… whatever I can do to get my mind off of what pissed me off in the first place. It’s really the only way I can deal with it.
MVRemix: What are some of your favorite books?
Vinnie Paz: My favorite book of all time is ‘Catcher In The Rye’. Holden Caulfield is the best literary character ever.
MVRemix: What are some of your favorite films?
Vinnie Paz: I just saw this dope movie recently called ‘Roger Dodger’. Campbell Scott is in the movie. It’s a real dope flick. I watch a lot of independent sh*t.
MVRemix: What is next in the future for JMT?
Vinnie Paz: Actually, we’re ready to go on tour on Tuesday, 26th. We’ll be going on till late October. We’re back for the holidays to chill for a minute and then, we go to Europe. We’ll probably be touring for the next year and then, we’ll start working on the next album.
MVRemix: What are some of the future projects or collaborations you are or will be working on?
Vinnie Paz: Yeah, my whole crew, Army Of The Pharaohs, are going to do a record together. Us, Esoteric, Apathy, Celph Titled, Louis Logic, Outer space, my crew from Philly. There’s more. We’re going to do a compilation record.
MVRemix: What do you want on your epitaph (your gravestone)?
Vinnie Paz: That’s a deep question, man. I want ‘Here lies Vinnie Paz, a motherf*cker that never held back and never was afraid to tell you the truth to your face.’ That’s what I want. That’s what everyone says about me. They say that it’s a problem and ironically, I don’t see it as a problem. People say that I cut to the chase right away. I wouldn’t give it up.
MVRemix: Any final words for the people who are reading this?
Vinnie Paz: Thank you! Thank you for showing us love and giving the opportunity to talk and speak my mind. Peace.