Hip-Hop Jedis

Just minutes after the end of the recent Democratic presidential debate, Vinnie Paz is nonplussed. As the frontman of the rugged Philadelphia trio Jedi Mind Tricks, he's always been a rabble-rousing MC. On the 2006 track "Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story," he spits verses from the point of view of an American G.I. scared shitless in a foxhole. On "Silence & I," a track for his side project, Army of the Pharaohs, Paz gets more direct: "I got a bomb in hand, and it's for George Walker/Meet your maker motherfucker, meet your lost father."

Still, Paz doesn't relate well to mainstream political noise, he says by phone from a recording studio in Philly. "I'm not really as motivated by a lot of the issues brought up by the average candidate," Paz says. "I'm more concerned with things like Mumia Abu-Jamal being in jail and getting these kids out of Iraq and things like that."

Jedi Mind Tricks originally formed in 1996 as a trio with Paz and Jus Allah on the mic and Stoupe as the group's DJ/producer. They then downsized to a duo, with Jus Allah pursuing a surprisingly lackluster solo career. Now he's back (no surprise there), joining the group for a few Rock the Bells dates — unfortunately, Miami's not among them.

As for the group's songs, thematically they're full of concrete imagery but anchored in abstract narrative. Their oeuvre is drenched in an in-your-face attitude that is downright... punk rock. The group's songs are full of spiritual references, and the Italian-American Paz is a devoted student of Islam. He's a master of extended metaphors that sometimes last an entire verse and a purveyor of imagery that is often frighteningly violent but impressively erudite. His violence isn't of the mundane block/trap variety but of one taking place on a different cosmic plane.

Paz cites numerous early hardcore acts like Hatebreed, H20, and Judge as influences.

"I was always drawn to anything that was sort of aggressive and antipop, you know? Or anti-pop-culture," he says. "I was drawn to Public Enemy but also to a lot of bands like Bad Brains... I still try to emulate some of that in what we do."

The DIY ethos propels the group, which keeps a constant tour schedule and also girds Paz against stressing about Rock the Bells.

"[Performing] is what I do; it's what I've done for so many years," he says. "I don't think people get nervous every day when they get up to go to their job."

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo