Last month, HipHopDX met up with Vinnie Paz in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to speak about his music and career. The leader of storied group Jedi Mind Tricks, which hailed from the Underground Hip Hop movement of the 1990s was asked about the term today, and how he feels. "You could be called and perceived as 'underground' on a major label, when I came up," Vinnie noted. "[A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul], Black Moon, that's underground Hip Hop. Now, it's underground 'cause these dudes are blowjobs and they suck, so they're relegated to the underground. I didn't come up in the era where a kid can buy a dope laptop, a $400 mic and now he's an emcee and a producer. I remember [Jedi Mind Tricks] grinding every way - legal, illegal, to get money to save up to get into Stoupe's bedroom, just to have shitty equipment." As one of its biggest success stories, Vinnie stated, "Underground Hip Hop, I don't even know what that means anymore." With his own independent label, Enemy Soil Records, Paz also claimed he denies the label in 2012. "Now if someone was to ask, 'What do you make?' [I make] hardcore Rap music."
Vinnie elaborated on what his peers different from today's so-called movement, and pointed to some active crews still touring and releasing music. "That renaissance that was started in the mid-to-late '90s and continued into the 2000s, they were all really talented people. A lot of them, I'm friends with still, and they still have careers. Arsonsists [with] Q-Unique, Ill Bill, [Company Flow], Dilated [Peoples]...I bump into Dilated more in other countries than I bump into them here. We always have this talk like I'm havin' with y'all." Pointing to specifics, Paz said, "It was quality over quantity, and it wasn't as accessible. It still cost money. If you wanted to do a 12 inch, that cost money. Now nobody's doing a 12 inch, they upload it onto a fucking blog or something, and it's free."
One fellow 1990s alum who was one of J.M.T.'s earliest supporters was Peanut Butter Wolf, founder of Stones Throw Records, which has since released heralded albums by Madlib, J Dilla and MF DOOM. "Peanut Butter Wolf was the first person to take our records on out West. He was running TRC Distribution. I was a fan of Peanut Butter Wolf & Charizma, they were signed to Hollywood [BASIC Records], and I liked the stuff they were doing. This was '95 or '96. Our first talk, I was like, 'I know you know Kool Keith, I want to do something with him.' He was like, 'Here's his number.' He just had a way about him that was very [good]."
Vinnie was asked if his own Philadelphia group ever considered inking with the Los Angeles, California label. "No, I don't think it would have ever happened. I think [Stones Throw Records] was very niche at that point. He's expanded and doing very well for himself, but I think he was doing [battle break records at that point]." Additionally, Vinnie admitted that J.M.T. was much closer to becoming label-mates with acts like Cypress Hill, The Fugees and Ja Rule. "At that point, we had a couple demos. At that point, we were probably coming close to signing with a major. Roseman from Ruffhouse Records called us up there, Blunt Records, who had Mic Geronimo and Ja Rule's first group: Cash Money Clique."
In revisiting the past, Vinnie also criticized his group's debut, perhaps for marginalizing the group from audiences. The 1997 album, The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness remains a collector's item, but Vinnie laughed 15 years later at his thinking. "I come out with a fucking concept record first, that's how dumb I am. The stuff earlier than that, we were called Soul Craft, just battle shit. It sounds like it coulda been Native Tongues. Stoupe did loop-oriented stuff and me with a higher voice." With J.M.T.'s sophomore, Violent By Design considered a breakthrough album, Vinnie joked about his teenage intentions, "Let me just alienate 95% of a fan-base by talking about weird shit. But I guess all's well that ends well."
Additional Reporting and Video by Sean Ryon