Vinnie Paz, the unofficial leader of underground supergroup Army of the Pharaohs, has never been one to mince words. Thus, when he tells you that your bitch-like characteristics make you one of Solomon’s 700 wives and that you should start digging your own grave, well, you’re probably better off not questioning it, because questioning the chaos that rises and rises until it overflows, only to repeat the cycle again in the next 30 seconds, would just be a waste of effort.
When Army of the Pharaohs first announced they were coming together, fans salivated, and rightfully so, at the prospect of hearing Vinnie Paz and Celph Titled and Apathy and Esoteric and Jus Allah and Reef the Lost Cauze, Lil’ Kevin and Chief Kamachi and the rest of the JMT extended fam. Their debut album, 2006’s The Torture Papers, gave fans everything they wanted. Dome-splitting lyrics with the absence of corny hooks. The gang stayed with their tried and true formula on their follow-up, 2007’s Ritual of Battle. After a three year layoff, Vinnie Paz fired his Israeli Galil throughout Philly to let the members from Boston to Tampa know that it was time to get it in again.
To say the group came through would be an understatement. Even if it wasn’t, after hearing about Vinnie’s gun collection, we’d think twice before saying it sucks. Luckily for us and them, their third album, The Unholy Terror, contains the same violent, misogynistic lyrics their fans love and expect from them.
Vinnie Paz sat down with us to expound on his gun collection, not destroying studios and why he gets his salad dressing on the side.
The new Army of the Pharoahs album Unholy Terror is finally out. Are you happy with the fans’ initial reaction to it?
Yeah. It seems like the kids are digging it. I’m on the road so I’m not really able to check it on blogs and whatnot but everyone I’ve met on the road is really feeling it. It seems like the heads are liking it.
How do you balance having so many MCs involved on the album?
We try to meet up as much as we can, but it’s not that easy with people being in three, four, five different states. You know, it’s difficult in that regard but we’ve all known each other for a long time and we have the same type of understanding of an approach on how to make an AOTP record. We might be a little distanced in terms of actual miles but there’s not really a distance in terms of the actual approach or the way that we make records together.
If the entire group was in a studio together, what do you think the security deposit would look like?
(laughs) We’re lucky that we’ve been working with the same dudes for the long time! It gets hectic. Motherfuckers are drinking and smoking but at the end of the day, this is what we do for a living and we have to handle our business accordingly. It’s always fun to have a good time with it but it’s also business as well and we know that at the end of the game.
You’re killing my image of AOTP by insinuating that you’re all responsible.
(laughs) Well, I am probably the least responsible of everyone. There’s some knuckleheads in there and some responsible ones. There’s a mis-mash of all different types of personalities.
You and Celph Titled have mastered the art of rhyming about guns. Who’s ahead of the game right now in terms of referencing guns and collecting guns?
(laughs) I think Celph’s a little more inventive with what they can do! I don’t know who has the better gun collection in real life. I might one up him there, but I’m not sure. I haven’t been down to Tampa in awhile to see his gun collection.
When you guys go to the range, what do you bring?
It depends. I like shooting assault rifles at the range, like AR-15’s, AK-47’s and Israeli Galil. I like shooting a .45 and a .38 Smith and Wesson snub nose. But assault rifles are fun at the range, man.
I feel sorry for the dude who tries to rob your tour bus.
Yeah. That wouldn’t be a good idea.
Do you stay updated on the new guns coming out?
Definitely. I actually have all the mags and stuff and I’m on the computer and all the websites and whatnot. Actually a big fan of ours in Arizona is a licensed federal arms dealer so he can legally ship anything to Philadelphia so I’m always on his site seeing what he’s got and what he’s got his hands on because he goes to all the gun shows on the West Coast.
What’s the coolest gun that you’ve found so far?
Probably the Israeli Galil. They’re hard to come by. In the States, they’re usually knock-offs. I don’t even know if they’re legal! (laughs)
How can you tell when you listen to other MCs rhymes who’s an actual gun aficionado and who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?
That’s funny you brought that up. You can tell Bumpy Knuckles is a gun aficionado. He’s made some references that only a gun aficionado would know. He stands out to me as someone who has legitimate knowledge of guns.
How can you tell the ones who don’t know what they’re talking about?
It’s kind of comparable to anything in life. The more generic the references are, the more you know they just heard that shit in the street.
So when I tell you about my glock 9, you’re just not buying it?
I don’t know if I’m not buying it, but there’s a lot of dope guns from Walther PPKs to G-36. You might want to say something more creative than that.
I’ll go on Google before I step to you again.
You’re violent as ever on The Unholy Terror. What’s your writing process like to get so violent?
Ever since I was a kid, I was driven by the beats. I have a really hard time writing if I’m not in love with the beat. That’s why you don’t see me doing a lot of guest appearances, because even if I agree to do it and someone gives me a beat that I don’t like, then it ends up in me not doing it. My process is simple. It’s always at night. It’s always really late at night. I’m always drinking something. I’m not really as influenced or moved by rap or what moves other rappers. It’s lots of heavy metal and hardcore stuff. That gets me inspired to write. That’s some more hardbody shit.
You don’t have a Lil’ Wayne Rebirth-type album though, right?
(laughs) I don’t think so, man! Me and Ill Bill are working on the Heavy Metal Kings album. We got some tricks up our sleeves with that, but I don’t think you’ll hear me singing and doing a metal album. I wish I could, but that’s not my forte.
When you’re listening to beats, what do you listen for?
If I could explain it then I would probably never hear some wack shit for the rest of my life. It’s something organic. Obviously everything that we’ve done has always been some aggressive shit with hard drums and just really aggressive, basically. That’s typically what will make me sort of gravitate towards a certain producer or production style. And with Stoupe, we’ve been doing it for so long, he knows what to give me and what not to.
You’re doing a solo album without Stoupe. What kind of sound are you looking for?
It’s not going to sound like a Jedi record. I don’t know that it’s going to be aesthetically different. I’m always going to be the same person that I am, but I’m working with Lord Finesse, DJ Muggs, Lil’ Fame from M.O.P, Madlib, Bronze Nazareth, 4th Disciple from Wu Tang. I got Beanie Sigel on there and Freeway, Paul Wall, the Clipse, Ill Bill, R.A. the Rugged Man...It’s really just a continuation of what we do. Aesthetically, we’ll always do what we do but sonically it’s not Stoupe behind the boards on this record.
Was Stoupe cool with you looking for other producers?
Yeah. It’s not even something we really discussed. We have such a long-standing relationship. After the last Jedi record, he worked with Liz Fullerton while I was doing the solo shit. We were both doing our own shit but it’s still all an extension of Jedi and Enemy Soil, this movement.
How far along are you on the solo album?
I’m done, man. It’s turned in. The artwork’s done, the album is done. June 22 it’s coming out.
Does that mean a new JMT album is in the works?
Yeah. It looks like it’s going to be early 2011 when I get off tour and we can all link up with Stoupe and we can start mapping out ideas. We’ll work on that in the summer and the early fall and hopefully have it finished by then and then go out on the road and drop the record early next year. But we have so much projects up until then. June 8 the Dutch record comes out and Reef the Lost Cauze vs. Guns N Butter comes out. That’s on our label. Outerspace is working on their new album My Brother’s Keeper. We’re working with Mr. Lif now and Jus Allah’s Meanest Man Alive (MMA) is coming out. We’re working. All these projects are in the pipeline right now. WE’re trying to start out next year properly with the new Jedi record. It’s called Violence Begets Violence.
You guys have already covered so much ground as Jedi Mind Tricks. Where do you want to go on Violence Begets Violence?
I think musically we’re just going to do what we’re going to do, man. We’re cut from the asme cloth and we don’t really change. What we’re trying to do now that we’re not on someone else’s label, we have our own label and our own distribution deal and our own ideas, we’re actually doing a lot of exciting things as far as how we get our music to the fans and how we interact with them and doing different ideas in terms of how we produce our music. I think that with Jedi, we’re the kind of group where when someone hears us who has never heard us before, they love us. Based on the different people in different markets we’ve seen, like we were in Kentucky last night and we had never been there. The objective is to sort of replicate the success we’ve had in Philly, New York, Boston, California, Chicago, Canada, overseas and everywhere else. There are still places that have never heard of us and we have to catch them up with what we’ve been working on for the last 15-17 years.
Last year Chief Kamachi said he wasn’t happy with you and not being able to tour with AOTP. Did you guys reconcile?
I don’t know. Sorry, man, my food just came. I don’t know, man. People have different reasons for doing things and saying things. I think people get mad if they don’t come out on tour with us. They get mad if they don’t do this or don’t do that. I’m not really getting involved in that.
Is deciding who goes out on tour and who features on what song a democratic process or do you quarterback that?
I don’t know how to answer that because I let things happen organically. If I hear a beat and I hear people in my head, as an artist I’m going to quarterback that.
What kind of a role do you want in up-and-coming acts like Doap Nixon and Demoz?
They’re all friends of mine so it’s a different dynamic, really. I’m more hands-on with Outserspace and Demoz and Doap than I am with artists I don’t know. I’m with them all the time.
You called Diabolic “the foulest motherfucker around” on his single “Not Again.” Considering all the people you roll with, that’s a huge statement. Does Diabolic realize the magnitude of that compliment?
(laughs) I’m not sure. I didn’t ask him that, but that’s my buddy though. I never really thought about that, brother.
I’m sure he’s thrilled.
I hope so.
On “Not Again,” you also said, “I scream Allah U Akbar, murder murder, kill kill/In the same line that’s why I’m incredibly ill.” Does that line epitomize you as an MC?
It probably captures me more as a person than a rapper. That’s just the dichotomy of man.
Are you a fan of the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
Oh yeah. I love it, man.
What character do you most identify with?
I don’t know, man. Probably the Danny Devito character.
Do you have a favorite episode?
Actually, my business partner Yan is an actress and she was in The Blair Witch Project. She was in an episode in the first season. That was probably my favorite episode.
I would never want to come between Vinnie Paz and hot food. What did you guys order?
We’re in Ann Arbor, Michigan, right outside of Detroit. I’ve been trying to stay more healthy. I dropped, like, 30 pounds. I just got a chicken caesar salad.
Dressing on the side?
On the side, brother. On the side.
You’re not playing around.
I’m not playing. I’ve boxed my whole life. Once I get down to my fighting weight, it’s a problem.