The venerable Philly MC on longevity, modern hip-hop and stealing music.
Despite a temporary split in the early aughts, Philadelphia’s Vinnie Paz and Camden’s Jus Allah have been the heart of indie hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks since 1993. Avoiding the major label system, JMT paved their own way by self-releasing and working with indie labels. Paz started Enemy Soil in 2010 and, in addition to releasing his solo material and an album by Philly’s Reef the Lost Cauze, the label dropped JMT’s Violence Begets Violence last year. On the eve of JMT’s first Philly gig in almost two years, we gave Paz a call.
How’s JMT been together so long?
It’s been a long time, man. It’s hard to imagine I was like 14 years old when we started. Music keeps us together, but it’s also the stuff outside of the music. We’re friends first. Musically, our approach to hip-hop’s the same—what we listen to and opinions about it culturally.
Did JMT know from the get-go it wanted to work with indie labels?
Yeah. There were offers from labels, majors and independents, but steering our own ship was important. So much red tape the average young artist doesn’t know about comes with majors. If it doesn’t like the record—no matter how good, no matter how much time was spent—the record gets shelved. Answering to anyone on any level like that was something we weren’t prepared to do, so the decision made itself. In food language, the major label game’s like McDonald’s—it’s fast food. They pump out the most shit they can, and there’s no nutrients. We may have sold less records doing it ourselves, but the purity was always there.
The Internet’s been abuzz following the recent crackdown on free album download websites like Megaupload and Filesonic. As the boss of an indie, what’s your take?
On paper it seems good because the years of people stealing music has certainly hurt many artists. You know, if someone right now wanted to find my shit for free, they could. These young kids ... do they even know how to go into a store and buy a CD anymore? I don’t think so, but only time will tell. There’s also an art to making an album that’s getting lost.
And this critique on today’s game is a big part of Violence Begets Violence, right?
We have a disdain toward artists who no one knows where they came from. I don’t want what happened to jazz, soul and rock ’n’ roll—subcultures that were whitewashed and destroyed by marketing schemes—to happen to hip-hop. We have a chip on our shoulder when it comes to how hip-hop’s made. But either I can be angry about it, or I can think about it logically, because no one’s even gonna know who these kids are next year. They just come and go. There’s no careers anymore like we got.
Jedi Mind Tricks perform Sat., Feb. 4, 8pm. $20. With Diabolic + B. Lynch. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com