A Conversation with Vinnie Paz

This Thursday Higher Ground will be hosting one of the most dynamic and original Hip Hop duos to come out in the last few years: Vinnie Paz, aka Icon the Verbal Hologram and Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind, also known as Jedi Mind Tricks. Their most recent album, Visions of Ghandi, is out on Baby Grand records. For anyone looking for f*** you up beats and nine-millimeter-to-your-dome-piece lyrics, these Philly cats will be bringing it hard. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Vinnie Paz.

Vermont Cynic: How did you and Stoupe meet up?

Vinnie Paz: I was in South Philly and he was in North Philly, and we had a mutual friend from high school. The three of us linked up and recorded music in the early nineties, but my boy got on some college s***, so then it was just me and Stoup from then on.

VC: How long have y’all been together?

VP: We been together since 92.

VC: Was it hard making a name for yourselves with hardcore hip-hop in Philly, which has recently been known mostly for neo-soul?

VP: We started in the early nineties, so neo-soul wasn’t really happening back then. We came up when people like Schooly D, Larry Laz, Fresco and Miz were popular. There were a lot of hardcore acts back then.

VC: Was it tough being a white MC when you and Stoupe started out?

VP: Well, most people who come up now expect racism. I was always around Spanish and black kids, and I’m Italian, so I had an affinity with Spanish kids, what with the strong family and overprotective mothers and all, so it wasn’t that difficult for me. In the early nineties hip hop wasn’t pop culture either, so back in the day their were never any other white kids at hip hop shows. If cats saw me at a Kool G. Rap concert, people had only two opinions: either he’s crazy, or he’s down, and either way they ain’t gonna f*** with me. So I really didn’t experience racism.

VC: How would you describe the direction that you and Stoupe have been taking with the new album, Visions of Ghandi, compared to your previous albums?

VP: Direction wise, it’s not something we consciously think about. The biggest change is that in the last 12 years we’ve been doing everything in our home studio. This is the first time we’ve really been with a great producer, Chris Conway. He won a Grammy with Eminem for the Marshall Mathers LP, and he’s worked with DITC, and Big Pun as well. This time we knew we could expand our sound, we had more opportunity.

VC: How do you feel about popular hip-hop today?

VP: I don’t even care. We’re just doing what were doing, and I’m listening to the s*** I like. Culturally it’s a bad thing, because Hip Hop has become pop culture, which is distorted. I choose not to place myself around that. I still listen to records from 84 to 94. I don’t listen to the radio, I listen to what I like.

VC: Who is your favorite artist of all time, and your favorite artist right now?

VP: Kool G Rap is the greatest artist of all time, and Ghostface just blew me the f*** away with his new album.

VC: How do you feel about the current political climate in the US right now?

VP: I feel like we’re in a bad state. It’s imperative we get Bush out, and people find out about certain issues, like Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is still locked up. It’s been proven Bush was aware of 911, there’s a movie called Unanswered Questions about that. My primary concern is to get Bush out. If he gets reelected I’m going to Italy or some s***. I don’t got no problems with nobody in Iraq or Iran, they ain’t do nothing to me.

VC: How do you think the hip-hop world can work to fight back against Bush?

VP: I think first off its something that can’t happen right now, because as much as the political climate has changed in the U.S., it’s changed in Hip Hop, you don’t have PE, Paris, or X-Clan anymore. All we got now is Dead Prez. Until people start realizing that its bigger than bitches hoes and money, Hip Hop wont help change things. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, everybody likes women. I drink 40’s all the time; we’re always out looking for girls. I don’t smoke herb, but all of my boys do. To contribute that to Hip Hop however is not really a contribution. I’m down with money and bitches, but it’s not my main objective. I want to make Hip Hop like I grew up with, I’m trying to emulate the Hip Hop that changed my life. People aren’t really doing that anymore.

VC: Have you and Stoupe started work on a new project?

VP: We just started a month ago. It’s gonna be called Legacy of Blood, out in the fall on baby grand.

VC: I heard Icon the Mic King opened for y’all in New Haven. In the past y’all had beef… what’s the likelihood of an Icon and Vinnie Paz song in the future?

VP: I didn’t do a show with him, but I bumped into him at a bar, and we had a mutual friend. We had some beef, and I was like “I run around with a bunch of goons on some thugged out s***, so we need to squash this”. We squashed the beef, and we’re gonna do a song together. That’s some s*** that’s gonna happen.