Jedi Mind Tricks Interview: A History Of Violence

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by Alex Shtaerman

With the release of their sixth studio album, A History Of Violence, indie Hip-Hop powerhouse Jedi Mind Tricks continues to forge ahead amid turbulent times, delivering their signature brand of hardcore socio-political rhymes and eerie soundscapes that aims to recapture the formula established on their landmark opus Violent By Design. Originally released in 2000, Violent By Design would catapult the trio of Vinnie Paz, Stoupe and Jus Allah from the relative obscurity of Philly’s underground onto Hip-Hop’s international stage where the group has remained a fixture ever since, maintaining an extremely loyal and dedicated following.

While Jus Allah would leave JMT in 2001 for reasons that have still not been fully explained, the MC returns on A History Of Violence, reestablishing the original Jedi Mind Tricks cast. As JMT frontman Vinnie Paz puts it “Jus and I have always had good chemistry on the mic. Hopefully that’s reflected on this record. For me, it’s been nice to have him back as a friend, first and foremost”. Recently we had a chance to catch up with the MC who takes his name from a hardnosed Italian boxer who began his career as a lightweight in Rhode Island and recovered from a life threatening car accident to return to the ring against doctors’ orders and fight against the likes of Roberto Duran and Roy Jones Jr. Check out our the RiotSound.com chat with Vinnie Paz.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When you first started making music in the ‘90’s, hardcore Hip-Hop still had a strong foothold at the forefront of rap. Today, with rap becoming so commercialized, has the shift in trends had any effect on how you make your music or get your message out to the fans?

VINNIE PAZ: We’ve always marched to the beat of our drum, so not much has changed for us. We’ve been lucky enough to find a fan base over the years that supports everything we do. The biggest change has been transforming ourselves into a live act. We’ve made our living on the road for the past five years, which isn’t the typical situation for a Hip-Hop group.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Probably your most acclaimed album to date is Violent By Design; can you take us back through the making of that record?

VINNIE PAZ: We were just young and determined. You can’t replace that hunger. We had nothing. We invested a few grand in equipment, set it up in Stoupe’s bedroom and made the record there. All of that is reflected in that record. That’s why it sounds as raw as it does, nothing was calculated. We didn’t know enough back then to calculate anything. We just set out to make a great record.

“We had nothing. We invested a few grand
in equipment, set it up in Stoupe’s bedroom
and made the record there. All of that is
reflected in that record. That’s why it sounds
as raw as it does, nothing was calculated”

RIOTSOUND.COM: The new Jedi Mind Tricks LP, A History Of Violence, features the return of Jus Allah, who was part of the group during the making of Violent By Design. How is Jus Allah’s return reflected on the new album?

VINNIE PAZ: Jus and I have always had good chemistry on the mic. Hopefully that’s reflected on this record. For me, it’s been nice to have him back as a friend, first and foremost. We just had him out on tour with us for the first time since 2001.

RIOTSOUND.COM: For any fans who may not know the full story, how did Jedi Mind Tricks originally come together?

VINNIE PAZ: Stoupe and I met in high school through a mutual friend. After years of doing demos and getting turned down by labels, we dropped our first EP, Amber Probe, and our first album, Psycho-Social, with our own loot. After Psycho, we linked with Jus and made Violent By Design, which became the turning point of our career.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You were also instrumental in assembling a collective of MCs called Army of the Pharaohs, which includes yourself as well as artists such as Apathy, Celph Titled, Outerspace and many others. What was the vision behind putting together such a large collective of MCs to work together?

VINNIE PAZ: We had all been fans of each other’s work and wanted to find a way to work together. I came up with the Army of the Pharaohs concept back in ’98 to make that happen. The cast has changed some over the years but the idea has remained the same. We’re about to get in the studio to work on [the third installment of] AOTP.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as Hip-Hop goes, who inspired you?

VINNIE PAZ: Kool G Rap is the best of all time.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Being from Philadelphia, and coming up through the indie scene to establish yourself as one of Hip-Hop’s premier underground acts, what kind of challenges did you have to face? A lot of times when people think of Philly, they tend to think of a more soulful, organic sound, as opposed to gritty hardcore Hip-Hop. Did that dynamic pose any additional challenges for you creatively?

VINNIE PAZ: To me, Philly is a blue collar town and we’re a blue collar group. In that way, Philly is reflected in our music. Outside of Visions Of Gandhi, we’ve made every record here [in Philadelphia]. Philly has always supported what we do. Nah, I never suffered from a creative identity crisis. I’ve always been into raw music, whether you’re talking about Hip-Hop, metal, punk or hardcore. That’s the music that inspired me as a fan, so I brought that into what we do as JMT.

The obstacles are the same for any group trying to reach a national audience, it’s a grind man. We first dropped in ’96 as the internet was really taking off, so I think that helped get our music around the world. It’s hurt us in terms of sales, but it’s also the reason we can play to 2,000 kids in Bucharest, Romania.

“We first dropped in ’96 as the internet was
really taking off, so I think that helped get
our of music around the world. It’s hurt us in
terms sales, but it’s also the reason we can
play to 2,000 kids in Bucharest, Romania”

RIOTSOUND.COM: You’re also going to have a DVD dropping called Divine Fire: The Story of Jedi Mind Tricks; what can fans expect to see when they check that out?

VINNIE PAZ: It’s a chance for our fans to go behind the scenes of our career. There’s a bunch of surprises. Dope footage and pics from the archives that go back to the early 90’s.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Jedi Mind Tricks just wrapped a tour to promote A History of Violence, what was that like?

VINNIE PAZ: The tour was great. This is the first time we’ve had Jus with us since 2001. We try to bring the raw energy to our stage show. It’s a chance for our fans to come out and vent, start a moshpit. We’ve been touring off and on for five years now. Getting the type of support we’ve gotten from our fans never gets old.

RIOTSOUND.COM: The state of indie Hip-Hop has changed a lot over the last five years. Being an underground Hip-Hop fixture for so long, how have you had to adjust in order to continue reaching out to your fans and staying on top of your game during these turbulent times in the music industry?

VINNIE PAZ: We try to stay consistent and we always try to look out for our fans. The music business in general has kinda shot itself in the foot by taking advantage of its fans for so long. We focus on our relationship with our fans. For the most part, fans don’t care about record labels, distributors and all the other bullshit that goes on behind the scenes in the business. At the end of the day, our music is a relationship between us and our fans. We’re fortunate to have a fan base that supports what we do.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Since your music touches on a lot of political as well as social issues – I want to ask you – how do you feel about Barack Obama being elected the next president of the United States? Do you think there will be change?

VINNIE PAZ: I’m excited man. I hope this brings the change we need. It may take him a while to dig us out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves over the past eight years.

For more news and info on Jedi Mind Tricks stay tuned to JMTHipHop.com