(Wise Intelligent served as the lead MC for the pioneering Hip Hop group Poor Righteous Teacher. He recently dropped a new album and has been consistently involved in community activism. I recently went one-on-one with him.)
Brother Jesse Muhammad (BJ): For the generation that may not know about you and the legendary group, Poor Righteous Teachers, please share a little background about yourself. How did you get started in music? How was the group Poor Righteous Teachers formed and what foundation did the group lay for those who are on the scene today?
Wise Intelligent (WI): My beginnings in music – Hip Hop music in particular, began when I sat down for a minute after being released from Mercer County Youth Detention Center, being pushed out of school by a principal that believed the Nation of God’s & Earth’s was a gang, and sobering up from all the weed we were smoking. This was from 13 to 17. I wrote my first professional rhyme when I was 15. I later titled it Shakiyla and it ended up on Poor Righteous Teachers 1990 debut album – Holy Intellect. I was first in a duo with a brother named God Father (GF for short). That didn’t go too well, he and Culture (who was making all the beats and DJing) had a couple irreconcilable differences if you will. Culture Freedom and I were like brothers since we were 11 and 12 and naturally, we moved on. Later we formed Poor Righteous Teachers.
We began recording songs, brought in a DJ named Divine, and later Father Shaheed. We made tapes at cultures spot on the 3rd floor of the 118 building in Donnelley Holmes low income housing projects in the North side of Trenton, New Jersey. I lived in the 132nd building, apt 3C. I don’t mean to be long winded but to answer the three questions in this one requires a little wind (lol). We were typical urban youth from the projects – talking “broken English and drug selling ” to quote KRS-ONE. However, we gave up much of that world, not necessarily to do music – but to try and be gods…really! Our brothers from other mothers, we would never give up – we were them and they were us and many of them made their lives in the world. When Culture felt we were ready he said “yo we need to go to the studio.” He arranged a battle between me and producer/rapper Tony D. Culture which was strategic…very!
BJ: What is your analysis of the state of Hip-Hop? Do you think the culture has been dismantled? Do you think it is fair to compare this era of artists with the time period when Poor Righteous Teachers was on the scene? How have you been able to protect your image despite the corporate machine that tears so many down?
WI: No, I would not say that “the culture has been dismantled.” However, I will say that the culture as presented in mainstream mediums has mangled public opinion of Hip Hop culture.
As far as comparing this era of artists with the era of PRT, I think it’s a fair comparison when we are fair. What I mean is, today we have many artists propagating culture, knowledge of self and consciousness just as in the era of X Clan and Brand Nubian. When we are not fair, we allow what’s playing on mainstream radio, video and internet networks to become our interpretation of what hip hop is or is not doing, and that’s an unfair assessment of the reality.
We cannot judge Hip Hop based on what Jimmy Lovine, Lyor Cohen or any other major label exec has decided to prop up as the representation of Hip Hop culture. In the event that the rosters and playlists at major record companies and radio/video stations were playing 50 Cent, Dead Prez, Lil Wayne, Immortal Technique, Nikki Minaj, Saroc, Jay Z and Djezuz Djonez then we can talk about what Hip Hop is in relationship to its mainstream propagation. As far as my image goes…I am who I am, Djezuz Djonez “…the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
BJ: Not only do you have a legacy of rocking the mic, but you've always been actively involved in social justice and community empowerment. Why have you always married activism with your music? What issues are you closely watching right now and involved in?
WI: Well, for me ACTIVISM is the most important element of the Hip Hop epistemology if you will. It was the activism of Afrika Bambaata that mobilized urban youth away from gangs and violent expressions of self-hatred into the elemental expressions of Hip Hop culture, love, peace, unity and having fun. He motivated them toward positive attitudes and lifestyles and away from death, destruction and mayhem. Therefore, activism is the source of power from which Hip Hop has been disconnected. Today, much of my focus is on efficiently building an arc sufficient enough to provide the proper spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional nourishment as well as psychosocial development for a larger family.
BJ: In December, you dropped a new album "The UnConkable Djezuz Djonez." Break down the title. Why did you decide to release this album at this time? What is this album bringing that you think is missing from Hip-Hop right now?
WI: Djezuz Djonez is like water in a rock so to speak. It’s like a rose growing out of the concrete in the middle of the projects. It’s godly healing power possessed by a poor ghetto kid that society has given up on, and in fact has condemned to a life of concentrated poverty, apartheid schooling and mediocrity – from which he emerges and ascends to redeem his people. You know, a black kid with power that can actually be used to help himself and his people unlike powerful black characters in the Green Mile, Bagger Vance, etc., who could only use their powers – it seemed – to help white folk, who hated them! (lol). With this album, I wanted to again show that being “CONSCIOUS” IS NOT a bad thing!
When, and how did “conscious” become a bad word? But, if someone calls you “gangster” or “hood” or “pimpin” that’s acceptable? I embrace my consciousness, I love it! This album demonstrates how black people in any ghetto America – contrary to popular belief - are not sex-crazed, drug addicted, gangbanging, or feeble-minded imbeciles! The work I do is to directly challenge mainstream perceptions of both the black and hip hop communities. I mean, we like tricking out an old Chevy, playing Hip Hop loud (no other way to play it), kickin it on the BLVD with our “homies”, and spittin rhymes as well as studying, going to school, taking our mothers and elders to the market, and raising our babies properly. Conveying that, in part, is my aim.
BJ: Over the last several years, we've watched the word "Illuminati" used in the same sentence with hip hop artists. Why do you think that is? Is it a publicity stunt by some artists?
WI: Well Hip Hop covers everything from politics, crime, sex, love, hate, religion, health the streets, race, etc. The Illuminati, can only be spoken of by a mainstream rapper if he is glorifying it in some way that demonizes himself, Hip Hop and the Black community. Other than that he can’t say nothing! Suppose a mainstream rapper in heavy rotation spoke of the Illuminati in terms of massive medical experiments being performed on predominantly non-white people in “Third World” countries without any regulations or watchdog groups to check such genocidal practices by major pharmaceutical companies? Suppose the quote on Jay Z’s shirt was not from the self-proclaimed devil, drug abuser, bisexual rich boy Aleister Crowley, but rather from Steve Cokely? Would he have been allowed to go that route with his message? I don’t think so. Publicity stunt or not, it has allowed us to open the conversation around the real causers of this world’s immiseration. I recently released another single from "The UnConKable Djezuz Djonez" entitled, "Illuminati" produced by Masada. My aim with the record is to help refocus the community to look at what's going on right in our daily lives and what we can do to move forward and upward. You can listen to the song and read the lyrics right here: http://inthehereafter.blogspot.com/2011/02/wise-intelligents-illuminati-lyrics.html
BJ: You will be releasing your first book this year, “3/5th An MC: The Manufacturing of A Dumb Down Rapper.” What inspired you to write it and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
WI: The inspiration for the book was my sons. Looking at them made me realize that they are the reason I was born. The book is for them and their peers and the peers of their children’s children. The book documents what created, and maintains ghettoes, gang, prison and drug culture in Black communities across the country with Hip Hop as the narrator. The book says, Hip Hop is not the root cause of the urban decadence and neither is the Black community. I felt a need to give them a point of reference for why I rhyme about what I rhyme about, what Hip Hop was, is and can be. My hope is that the book helps black youth find their courage and go forward.
BJ: Thank you brother!
(You can find out more information about Wise Intelligent’s new book, album, upcoming projects, and the entire Konscious world at www.wiseintelligent.com. Follow him on Twitter @WiseIntelligent)