Time has generally not been kind to aging rappers. Many of the heroes Jedi Mind Tricks emcee Vinnie Paz looked up to during rap’s golden age from the mid-’80s to early ’90s — Marley Marl, Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane — have all but disappeared, nearly forgotten by the generations of hip-hop fans to follow.
“We’re one of the few `musical` cultures that doesn’t respect its predecessors,” Paz says in a telephone interview, recovering from a Las Vegas hangover. “It seems like we sort of spit in the face of the people that got us where we’re at. I don’t necessarily know why.”
Perhaps rap’s early role as “the black CNN,” as Public Enemy’s Chuck D described it, tied it too much to the time and place of its creation, like an old newspaper, an idea Paz acknowledges: “You can’t go back to a record from ’86 or ’88 now as a 15-year-old kid, because you had to be there to understand why it was relevant.”
But time’s been much more clement for Paz and co. It’s afforded them a remarkably resilient grassroots following, the patience and resolve to shape their durable, idiosyncratic sound, and, most recently the return of friend and one-time foil, Jus Allah.
Paz’s dark, often violent settings are informed by social commentary and hard-acquired knowledge, from the fearfully venomous attitudes of the soldiers in “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story,” to the gothic homicidal crusade of “Heavenly Divine” — from 2000 breakthrough Violent by Design, which combines spooky cello, medieval chill, and Paz’s uniquely Islamic perspective.
He calls the lyrical mix of the profane and profound “the dichotomy of man,” describing the tension between violence and consciousness as a reflection of the world outside. The music reflects this with a haunted, horror-movie creep leavened by intermittent soul samples and bursts of melodic grace.
“`JMT’s DJ` Stoupe has the ability to make things that are really dark be pretty at the same time,” says Paz. “That’s why I think we have a signature sound — it’s really hard and aggressive and maybe even violent, but at the same time you can find beauty in it.”
Their second album, Violent By Design, sounds like the Wu Tang Clan waging war with Kool Keith in an apocalyptic universe painted in gory Technicolor and dotted with pop-culture references. On the track “Sacrafice,” Paz raps of storming “Allah’s battlefield with suede Timbs/The Raven who made men eyeless/Blinds evil like a needle through eyes of Osiris/My vibrance will span to Negril/With the violence of Hamburger Hill.”
But the unexpected success shook the young trio, whose newest recruit, Jus Allah, left after just that one album. For Paz the loss was at least as personal as it was creative, as much about losing a good friend as a collaborator.
“It wasn’t necessarily creative differences so much as it was the idea of how we were going to handle the whole business side of it. We didn’t understand there was a business side. We were like, ‘What the fuck, we’re getting money now,’” he recalls.
Jedi Mind Tricks output after Jus Allah’s departure was highlighted by 2006’s Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell, their most critically-lauded and best-selling release to date. Their latest, History of Violence, marks the return of Jus Allah, and the payoff is considerable.
“The foundation of everything was our friendship in the first place,” Paz says. “So once we got on the phone and talked, it was like old times and from there on `his return` was unspoken.”
The album’s title is both a reference to their debut and a critique of America’s blood-stained legacy, and it’s further proof that as he ages, Paz just keeps growing and maturing, becoming increasingly secure in his own skin and uninterested in compromise, unwilling to fade away gracefully.
“In any creative medium, it just sort of evolves naturally,” he says. “If it’s not evolving naturally then it’s time to quit. “I make hardcore boom-bap shit. That’s pretty much how I look at it. I don’t give a fuck anymore. I make records for me and my people, and I’m lucky enough a lot of other people seem to enjoy them.”