Jedi Mind Tricks Talk ‘The Thief and the Fallen’ Album, Embracing Migos and Hating the Police [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
When Meek Mill raps, "Do it for the 'gram," on "The Get Back" freestyle, Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks just can't relate. Sure, the rapper, who's also from Philly, has an Instagram account on which he shares throwback photos of boxing champs like Mike Tyson (he's a boxing aficionado), a series of "now playing" musical moods (Kevin Gates' Luca Brasi 2 mixtape being one of them) and hilarious images like Grimace eating a kid (humor in hip-hop is necessary), but that doesn't mean he's seeking attention on the social network. There are even days when he wants to say to hell with the 'gram and never turn back. But for an artist repping an underground group in their 20th year of creating hip-hop, that doesn't bode well for the future.
As much as Vinnie wants to go "off the grid" when it comes to social media, he understands that isn't the best route to take when he and Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind have a new album, The Thief and the Fallen, in front of them. The pair have joined forces once again after parting ways on the 2011 LP, Violence Begets Violence. Now, minus former member Jus Allah, Jedi Mind Tricks return with hard-hitting, aggressive tracks that showcase Vinnie's thought-provoking lyrics and Stoupe's production savvy. They've even tapped Dilated Peoples ("The Kingdom That Worshipped the Dead") and R.A. the Rugged Man ("And God Said to Cain") to lend a lyrical hand.
While making music is his livelihood, Vinnie Paz has more than just spitting 16 bars on his mind. On a sunny afternoon in New York City, the rhymer, who's a dad to a 2-year-old son, spoke candidly with The Boombox about his "shoot first and ask questions later" attitude toward life. You can hear some of that addressed on the new LP with songs like the piano groove "Fraudulent Cloth." Vinnie knows that his penchant for reacting first and thinking second is something he has to work on, but at this point in life at 37, he's not changing for anyone.
Read on as the Clive Barker super fan opens up about how the horror writer inspired the new album, his love for trap music (Migos and Gucci Mane, to name a few) and his utter disdain for police. Even his mom and the Roots are part of the conversation.
The Boombox: How's life been recently? I can imagine pretty busy with the album being released.
Vinnie Paz: Yeah, and not sleeping.
Yeah, that's a big thing.
The s--- hits the fan when the record drops. From the day before until the day it drops, it's just like, a clusterf---. You become inundated with everything. It's overwhelming, really. Especially when people seem to like it. I've alway been awkward with compliments and stuff. It's a strange situation to be in, when your hand is forced to be in a spotlight when that's not your nature. It's been crazy. We rocked D.C. and finished the show and drove to New York. Hungover, and tired. I'm alive.
When you mention people complimenting you, in this day of Instagram and Twitter, is that where you're getting the bulk of those compliments or is it just from phone calls?
I think people that you know personally that tell you it's... you take it differently because you have a relationship with them. It could probably be s--- and they'd say the same thing. There's no like, I don't know how to gauge that. My mom tells me she loves it, it's my mom.
Unless you have that one person who keeps it real.
Yeah, there's a couple of them, a couple of d---head friends who are like, "Yo, this is honestly the best s--- you've done." But yeah, Instagram and Twitter but it's the Catch 22 of the information age because there are so many retards out there; it's hard man. It's hard to navigate because you have to do it if you want to.
We talk about going off the grid and whether or not you can succeed off the grid by being... I don't want to do anything. There's someone on the ride over, someone asked me if I was going to be at the Jedi Mind Tricks show in Boston. Should I just be a d---? Nah, it'll just be my DJ. It makes you dumber.
You have to pull yourself back.
Yeah, and it's hard. And my nature, East Coast Italian kid being a smart ass. I was going to write "No" and they're like, no wait, people are so dumb what if that gets around? You can't even project how dumb people are.
And how one thing can take off. They could think you canceled your show.
Exactly, we're dealing with a generation of kids where this is their world. It's their identity. When you're a little bit older, something on your phone it's cool. I can get something out there real quick, an idea pops up. It is really crazy that you can talk to a kid in South Africa in two seconds that bought your record. That's beautiful. You do have kids who are bright and who care, and say nice things. That's dope. But you also get inundated with so much bulls---. You want to see how people are reacting, but then don't. I didn't have that when I was first coming up. I don't need validation, so why am I doing it? That's the tug of war. I just want to throw my phone into the water.
But it's like you have to keep up with the times unfortunately.
It's like can we go off the grid? Can we do that? Can anyone do that?
I'd say no, not a good idea, but maybe a little bit to build anticipation for an album. So your last project was released four years ago. Why do you feel like now is the time to come back with a project in 2015?
It took a while. The process was a year-and-a-half. Once we decided two years ago that we're going to do it again, I don't think we thought about it that way, "Yo, it's time." It was just organic. We took our time and made it and then I think once the process started, then shit started kicking in.
So you had a timeline of what you wanted to do?
Yeah, I think as certain songs were being created it would shift like, "Oh s---, this might be a single" or "This might be the song that takes us out of this box that we've been placed in for 20 years" or something. I think the whole process was organic, so I don't think there was, oh it's been this amount of time, this is an album cycle. I think we never played by those rules. It's kind of why we've done it our way this whole time and never... it was never the status quo. Like, is this too long? Too short? Every song has to be this, radio-ready, nah f--- it. It doesn't matter. That's not how I or anyone I idolize work. That's what's going on? F--- that. Go here.
You mention creating songs that would take you out of the box that you've been put in for so long. What song do you feel like is representative of that on The Thief and the Fallen?
We did a song called "Fraudulent Cloth" and we did a video for. Again, it was organic so it's not... I think when you try or consciously say let's do something different then it's probably going to end up bad. When you hear someone who typically doesn't make pop music make that attempt, you're like, "Oh my god. Save yourself. This is wrong." I know I abuse the word but when s--- happens organically you just know. From the earliest stages, the beat and it's basically soul music. A friend of mine explained it that way, like "Yo, I heard soul music when I heard this song." '70s soul. When I say "out of the box" I don't mean in a commercial way. But maybe from left field. "This isn't something I'd expect from them." It's not always a good thing, but it's my favorite song on the record.
Watch Jedi Mind Tricks' "Fraudulent Cloth" Video Feat. Eamon
That song, when you were creating it, it's kind of like describing you not thinking but reacting first, right?
In that case, can you think of an instance where that's happened to you, where you felt like maybe you should have thought before you reacted?
Every day I feel like that.
So you have a talk with yourself?
I unfortunately don't have that.
You just react?
Right. The shoot first and ask questions later.
Everyone has positive and negative aspects about themselves. Do you feel like that's something you have to work on? Or you've just accepted it?
Yeah. Does it need to be worked on? Yeah. Will it be worked on? I'm just who I am at this point. What am I gonna do? Who am I doing it for? When it lands you in jail, then you're like, "F---."
The album is inspired by horror writer Clive Barker. Why is that?
I think I was 12 when I first read -- I don't know how old I was when Hellraiser came out, 11 or something -- his books. And then yeah, one of the [beats] Stoupe was giving me and what I was reading was coinciding. It's a loose theme. I didn't want to OD and come out and be like, this is the theme -- Clive Barker. Certain s--- was influenced by that, some of the titles and some of the s--- I say was influenced by some of his writing.
What made you think about that now years later?
I don't know. When Stoupe was giving me the music, it triggered something. I was like, oh, yeah, yeah. That's right. It just made sense. I'm sorry it's not a more articulate answer.
Sometimes that's all it takes, this is it and that's the idea.
The music triggered everything when he was giving me the beats. Like oh yeah, I thought of that.
What's your favorite Clive Barker book?
Probably Weaveworld. It f---ed my head up. I guess he's considered a horror writer, and he's not to me or his fans. It's not gore or anything. I don't know. I feel like I'm f---ing reading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or something.
Do you still live in Philly?
Always. Never leaving.
How is your neighborhood? Do people know you as this artist?
Yeah, I mean, it's mixed. All the heads my age, we came up together writing graffiti just running the city. Drinking like, the corner bar in the Italian hood. Younger kids I guess that either moved into the city or aren't used to seeing me around. If we're out, if I'm at the fights, people will recognize me.
So there's a disconnect in some places and some places not.
I took my mother to a super nice dinner for Mother's Day and the waiter was a fan. I was like, "Ahh. Now this is awkward."
How does mom react?
She's the worst.
She's taking out her camera.
Yeah. She's like, "Do you know who he is?" I'm like, "Ma, nah, nah." She's always got Jedi Mind Tricks stickers on her car, always wearing the gear. She's flying the flag when I'm like, "Ma, I'm trying to eat a $500 steak, allow me." The kid was cool, but now do I have to be on?
I feel like it's a comedian when someone's like, be funny. I feel like my life has become Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie. I'm always in these strange situations and I never know how to react to them. Like, ah this dude makes punch-you-in-the-face rap but like the sound man in D.C. [saying] "You guys are the biggest sweethearts and so easy to deal with. I'm shocked." So, do you expect me to be a d--- because of my music? It's strange.
It likely is to someone like the sound man because he's probably had experiences with artists in the past where they acted like an asshat.
My mom is like, "If you ever disrespect anybody I will slap you in the face. You're no different than them. Treat them the way you want to be treated, make sure you shake everybody's hand, say please and thank you to people. This is a gift, it's not a birthright." The dude who brings me towels and water, I'm like, "Thanks a lot man." You know how many people have been like, "No one has ever thanked me. Ever. Not once. You're the first person." I hear that all the time. I'm as proud of that as I am my music.
Watch Jedi Mind Tricks' "Deathless Light" Video
Since you're from Philly, it was announced recently that the Roots were being added to the Walk of Fame. Why do you feel like that's important for Philly, for hip-hop?
For 20-plus years they've sort of marched to the beat of their own drum. Tariq is one of my favorite MCs ever and they're all good dudes and so talented. They deserve everything that they have. The gig [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy] Fallon, I was so happy for them. I mean, we've always played second fiddle to New York. It's 90 miles, with hip-hop -- the little brother. There's so much history [in Philadelphia], so if that brings any attention to that, I'm cool with that. It's good. If people say, "Oh these guys?" And then look into Philly hip-hop history? It's rich.
And there's people that are from Philly that people don't know. You have Scott Storch, one of the biggest producers in the world. He's a Philly dude, used to be in the Roots when they were called the Square Roots, playing on the corner of South Street. EST from Three Times Dope. People think yeah they had those two records in the late '80s -- [“Acknickulous” and “The Giddy Up”] -- he wrote "Baby Boy" for Beyonce. It's a monster record. I guess people think he just disappeared. F--- it, I'm moving to Miami and writing songs [laughs].
Speaking of the Roots, you had them on "Get This Low" on your first album, right?
Oh the sample. Yeah, yeah.
How did that come about? Did you talk to Black Thought about it?
We've always known each other. I don't even think we told him. We were supposed to do something for my last record, him and I and the Fallon s--- started popping. In terms of him getting on "Get This Low," that record is 22 years old. I was about 16 then.
That was around 1997?
That's when it came out on CD, but the demo was 1992, 1993. I was like 15 or something. It was printed on CD about five years after or something. I was just paying an homage.
Let's talk about current events. I'd love to get your opinion on something that really irks you. Whether it's in the news, not in the news.
Police. I f---ing hate police.
It's just amazing to me that... it almost has become a parody. I can't believe these stories that come out every day are real after the s--- that happened with Mike Brown. It's mind-boggling. We're living in a police state now, they're just killing people. The side of those vehicles say, "To protect and serve." I've never been protected or served by a cop in my life. They're killing innocent people in the street and nobody is doing anything about it.
Then, when s--- happens in Baltimore, people are up in arms and use the word "animal" and "thug." How much can you push someone until they're going to react? How many young black males are you going to kill before people say we're not going to do this anymore. Then the reaction to that is seen as animalistic behavior. No, you're behaving like an animal.
Which is causing that reaction.
Yeah. Look man, people talk about revolution and s---. We were talking earlier about the internet and the information age. Well, yeah, it's cool to tweet about it but when are motherf---ers going to bum rush Washington? When they did that in Egypt, I was like that is some real s---. They just bum rushed a million motherf---ers. We ain't having it. It's only because you can only push people so far.
Is looting a store helping? No. It's like when you see a bullied kid wild out. He can only take so much of being punched in the head and being called this, that and that is what is happening. The jock bullying the nerd in school is basically what is happening on a global scale between police and civilians. Most of them were f---ing nerds in school and now they're bitter and they've been given a badge and a gun. They don't know how to use them. I'm willing to bet, I will go and put money on it and see who is nicer with guns. Me or a 25-year-old cop.
I think the average person is just like, yeah I just stay away from [cops] I don't like them. You have pro-police people obviously, I'm sure there are good cops. But I have a genuine disdain. When I see a cop car, something comes over me. I can't change it. It's inherent. They're going to go in the other direction. It's like the Chris Rock joke where he's like, them motherf---ers will have you think you stole your own car! When I get pulled over, I'm like, there's no immigrant in my trunk. I'm not like, part of a sex trade. I'm not moving coke. Everything is on point and I still think I might go to jail.
You just never know.
Is that what they want civilians to feel like? I don't know. I would think they'd tell you no, but maybe secretly you love that power that you're scared s---less of them. It's like a struggle. I want to tell my son, never go near them. I don't know. He's two. I want to be like, bad man. Bad, bad man. Then I'm a bad parent. But I believe that s---! But I can't put that on a 2-year-old.
Listen to Jedi Mind Tricks' "The Thief and the Fallen Intro"
On a lighter note, which artists are you listening to right now?
I love this kid named Westside Gunn. He's crazy. He's this young kid from Buffalo, he's nice. We've spoken, he's dope. I listen to a lot of metal and hardcore punk rock. I listen to trap music.
I love Migos, Gucci [Mane], that's primarily rap-wise what I listen to. Lil Herb, Chief Keef. Lil Bibby.
I love Lil Bibby. I'm so drawn to his voice because it's so crazy that he's like 20 and he sounds like a grown ass man.
I'm a fan of all that trap s---. I like ignorant s---.
What drives you to that?
Ignorant s---. Guns, killing people, drugs. You real ignorant? Yeah, I like you. Ignorant as f---? There you go. I listen to "Gucci Two Times" a lot, everything from Migos.
Migos especially, it's the way that the beats are. It's a flow, like a bounce.
That s--- is dope!
That's what attracts people to it. Sometimes people don't understand what the hell they're saying.
Of course not. There's a time when you have people that are purists with anything, I'm sort of like, "Yo man, you don't like fun though?" I'm like, "So you want intellectual s--- when you're in the club with a drink?" You're gonna shake your ass. I really never understood that, when people would hear my taste, huge fan of 50 Cent and down south stuff. But they're like, "You don't make that." What does one thing have to do with another. I think there's a time and a place for everything. I primarily immerse myself in depressing documentaries. But you gotta watch some popcorn s--- every now and then too. I look at music the same way. I'm not going to Gucci for lyrical shit. I know what it is.
It's also about being well-rounded and knowing just what's out there. Even if you're not a super fan, at least you can be well-versed, at least have heard of them and have an opinion. That's the worst when people have an opinion about music that they just don't know anything about.
If I put "now playing" and a picture of Migos on my Instagram, it's like, hate mail with 400 comments. [Fans writing], "I'm not listening to you again!" You're not listening to me because I listen to them? This is crazy, man. What are you talking about? That s--- is terrible! Alright man, it's terrible. Calm the f--- down. It's a generation gap. Am I going to sit there and argue with the kid?
And that's when you can go off the grid for a little bit.
See 50 Inspirational Quotes From Your Favorite Rappers