There’s something to be said about artists who evolve but never change, even if that process means that they remain relatively under the radar. Ask Vinnie Paz or Jus Allah—collectively known as Jedi Mind Tricks—and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that they’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.
Some of their material, like “Uncommon Valor” and “Razorblade Salvation,” has garnered a couple of million YouTube views, so the “below the radar” label may not necessarily apply for too long. But I suspect their complex, aggressive rhymes about Vietnam, suicidal thoughts and rough times are unlikely to attract listeners from the new generation of rap consumers. (Not many kids who fuck with Waka Flocka might really be able to masticate and digest Jedi Mind Tricks’ brand of hip-hop.) So be it. Jus and Vin ain’t tripping. They just released their seventh LP, Violence Begets Violence, and they claim it’s their favorite project thus far. Read on to hear what they think about their latest work, which MCs are hot nowadays and why they hate rappers who ride around playing their own music all the time.
First off, you guys have been making music for years and years. How did you guys meet?
Jus Allah: We had a mutual friend who was spinning at a club. I remember Paz was drunk. We were introduced to one another because of the music, we were both into music. We couldn’t have been older than 14 or 15. Long story short, within weeks we were recording music together.
Wow, that’s relatively young. So you guys always wanted to do the music thing?
Vinnie Paz: We always wanted to rap. No Plan B. Having a Plan B is setting yourself up to fail. This is all we know and frankly all we want to know. We’ve put ourselves in a position by choice for this music to be everything to us.
What does the new joint, Violence Begets Violence, sound like?
Jus: Well we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. It’s just a hardcore, aggressive, East Coast rap record.
Vin: No frills. We just came no frills. Like Jus said, we’re known for aggressive music. But you know, it’s still constant elevation so this is our most aggressive music. We’ve progressed but we know what’s expected from us.
What’s your favorite album of yours?
Vin: It’s hard for me to say, because I don’t like to judge our own stuff. But as far as the time in my life, Violent By Design is my favorite. I was 20 and the whole process of putting that album together was just fun. Just being young and wylin’.
Jus: I’d say Violent By Design is dope, Vin, but I like the newer stuff. We get sharper every time out and this is our seventh album so imagine. I don’t know how many heads are still ill on their seventh joint.
Vin: To be honest, I don’t really listen to our music once it’s done and out. I can’t explain it; it’s just been that way since we were kids making music. When we’re on tour I actually have to sit down and rememorize songs for our performances. Not Jus, though—he’s got photographic memory.
Jus: If I’m listening to my stuff, it’s more to critique it. I don’t get satisfaction from listening to it; I get satisfaction from how it’s perceived by intelligent people. Truthfully, I think that’s what keeps me sharp.
Vin: I guess it’s kind of like a chef who cooks a big ass meal but by the time he’s done cooking he’s not hungry for it anymore.
Wow. Actually that’s kind of refreshing for rappers. It gets a little annoying when my friends who rap pick me up and they’re bumping their own music all the time.
Vin: Me and Jus always clown people like that who always play their own music. That’s just ego.
Jus: Word. I’m not going to say any names but this rapper, I get in his whip and he’s playing his music and has the CD cover and artwork right on the dash. Like what kind of self-promotion bullshit is this? People who hear themselves and can’t tell they’re wack, they just want to be rappers just to say they’re rappers, just to rap. That’s why they play their shit always. Me and Paz just want to be the sharpest lyricists.
What’s the biggest difference between you and most rappers now?
Vin: We came up in an era where if you said some wack shit there’s a likelihood you might get punched in the face. Being able to record music and put on the internet with no real, tangible crowd is dope but it does a bit of a disservice to the culture. No risk of getting punched, so people talk reckless and are more contrived because there’s no one to really check you. Not like before, anyway.
Are you guys bitter about the way things are in the music business musically and financially?
Jus: I don’t worry about the industry. [The industry] always gave us more than I expected. The crowd’s response, the touring… People tell us they don’t even leave the crib unless it’s us. You can’t let what’s going on in the industry dictate what you do. I’d rather just make music. I think about the business later.
Vin: The game treats you how you treat it. We have a blue-collar work ethic, we’re respectful. We’ve made mistakes when we were young but we learned from them. And really, we’ve been a group so long so there are no other options for us. We don’t have Harvard degrees.
So tell me about Violence Begets Violence.
Vin: We got some family on there. Making music is an organic process for us so we don’t really chase people down. All that guest appearance flooding your album shit… Jus was always like, “This is our album.” If we got them on the album, like I said, they’re fam. But for the most part we fell back from guest appearances. But if it happens organically, we’re down.
And no more Stoupes, huh?
Vin: Like we’ve told everyone, Stoupes’ mind just isn’t in the same place as me and Jus. And like I said, we make music through an organic process so it’s not like we didn’t want any contributions from Stoupes. He submitted some tracks but they didnt make the final cut. He’s going in a different direction than us right now.
Jus: We just can’t wait anymore. We’re adults and we make our living of us this so we really can’t wait for someone to get into a creative zone.
So you’re not feeling any of the newer rappers?
Jus: As of now, no, none of them. Heads need to step it up. A lot of new cats out here, mainstream and in our genre, need to step their lyrics up, they really do.
So who have you been listening to?
Jus: I was listening to that Mobb Deep and Bounty Killa joint this morning.
Vin: I’ve been listening to Ransom a lot. He’s locked up, though. “Free Ransom!”
Jedi Mind Tricks play the Studio at Webster Hall on November 19.