Jedi Mind Tricks is a ten-year — and counting — collaboration between lyricist Vinnie Paz and producer Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind. Vinnie Paz (previously known as Ikon the Verbal Hologram and occasionally known as Louie Dogs) proudly represents Philadelphia and has been a major force in brining attention to Philly’s indie hip-hop scene. In addition to his work with Jedi Mind Tricks, Vinnie recently took up arms with Army of the Pharaohs and serves as both executive producer and a guest emcee on Blood Brothers, the new album by Outerspace. Vinnie Paz took a break on the road between Chicago and Colorado to talk about the new album, Sufjan Stevens and fostering a sense of escapism at his shows. Stream or download the interview here.
Jedi Mind Tricks just released a new album, Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell, and now you guys are out on the road with RA the Rugged Man and Outerspace. How are audiences responding to the new material?
It’s been good, man, the record is selling real well. We’ve done eight shows, they’ve all been sold out, so it’s good.
Your previous [proper] album, Legacy of Blood , was non-stop aggression, start to finish. The tracks were designed to step up and hit you in the mouth, one after the other. On the new album, it seems to me that there’s still a lot of solid battle-rap stuff, but there’s also a lot of thoughtful and personal tracks on there, and also some politically oriented stuff. Did you set out to make this a more balanced album?
Yeah, you know, I think that’s something that comes with growth and just trying to be a more mature artist. I agree with what you said, it was just a really aggressive record.
You gave everyone a warning before that record came out that that’s exactly what we should expect, and that’s what you delivered. But you tried to do something a little bit different on the new album?
Yeah, I don’t really like to deviate from what we do. Because that’s usually when groups or bands fall off, you know, when they try to go too far left or too far right. So I wanted a majority of the record to be what people expect from us, but throw a couple of curveballs in there.
Even going back to some of the early releases, there have always been political references in your lyrics, but they have never been as prominent as they are on this new album — particularly on tracks like “Shadow Business” or “Uncommon Valor,” the Vietnam track. Can you talk about these tracks and generally about the political content of this new album?
Yeah, well, “Shadow Business” … a lot of times a beat dictates what I’m doing. Stoupe gives me something and I can almost see a visual from it.
So Stoupe gave you the beat to “Shadow Business” and that’s what inspired the lyrics?
Well, I just knew that I wanted to take it somewhere crazy conceptually. I know a little bit more than the average person knows about that topic, but I wasn’t by any means an expert. So I really did a lot of research for that record.
Is there anything going on in the world right now that made you want to bring more political content that you had in some of your previous releases?
Well, I think a real artist is really inspired by what’s going on around them. We’re really at a point now where it feels like Armageddon to me, you know? So, that type of environment dictates that kind of music. At least for me — I guess in pop music it’s not really dictated by reality or what’s going on. And that’s not always a bad thing… a lot of times people use film and art and music for escapism, they don’t always want that shit jammed down their throat. But someone’s got to do it.
Let’s talk about two of the new tracks: “Razorblade Salvation” and “When All Light Dies.” Stoupe’s production has always had an intricate and musical quality to it, but the way that vocalists were used on these tracks really amazed me, particularly the collaboration with Shara Worden … . How did these tracks come together?
They were both ninety-five percent done, but me and Stoupe both felt they needed something extra — we didn’t know what it was. And we happened to be using a Sufjan Stevens loop on [“Razorblade Salvation”], so we hollered at him to make sure he was cool with it. And in that process we knew that he worked closely with Shara. We were in Philly and she was in Brooklyn, so we just threw the idea out
there and it turns out she’s a big hip-hop fan. So she came in and really brought life to those tracks that wasn’t necessarily there before.
“Razorblade Salvation” is a sequel to “Before the Great Collapse,” which was a track on your last album. Why did you decide to follow that up? Did you not want to leave it like that, because it was a basically a suicide letter, or did you just wanted to expand what you started on that track from Legacy of Blood.
It’s real dope that you brought that up, because you’re pretty much the first person to catch on that I was feeling that way. I didn’t know how I felt about leaving it that way, and I sort of felt responsible for giving out the wrong message, implying that that’s the only way to fix things.
And the thing about “Razorblade Salvation” is, it’s not like the track pretends that there’s a solution to every single problem out there, but it’s about dealing with it.
No, exactly. See that’s the thing, it’s the ability to have an understanding that things can still be shitty or fucked up but you can fight your way out of things. No, everything’s not great, and no, it’s not like a one-eighty where everything’s perfect now as opposed to being fucked up before. But it takes more courage to fight your way out of it.
You guys are headed to Colorado next, right?
Yeah, we just pulled over right now to get some dinner.
What can people expect to see at a Jedi Mind Tricks show?
We’re just high energy, man. We grew up watching [Boogie Down Productions] perform live and Public Enemy. We know that people work for their money and they come to see a show. And we were talking about escapism a minute ago … we’re going to give you a whole show, from Outer Space to R.A. the Rugged Man to Jedi Mind Tricks. We’re going to give you two and a half, three hours of escapism to let out all the negative energy and create something positive out of it.