Killah Priest of Wu-Tang to perform at 1982 Monday
By SHEM FLEENOR
I was 17 years old the first time I heard Killah Priest's prophetic, razor-sharp lyrics. His words reflected a man struggling to be "royal and wise" in a world where he was surrounded by darkness, drugs and crime.
The first time I heard his commanding, acutely structured words was on a lazy summer day in Melbourne (not Australia). It was one of those days when you take a road trip by losing your mind and driving in circles for 12 hours straight, periodically stopping off at hotel pools, the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River for a swim.
In those 12 hours, we listened to Killah Priest's anachronistic song "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" 12 times.
Needless to say, my interview with Priest meant a lot to me.
To Priest it was hardly a footnote. I lost my voice screaming into the phone, trying to make him hear the questions I had so carefully planned to ask him in the days leading up to the dangling conversation. He was at a New York nightclub where he'd performed earlier in the evening.
Luckily, the depth of my knowledge of him and the fine articulation of my questions seemed to gradually win him over.
The now-iconic gem, "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth," was tacked at the end of GZA the Genius' classic solo debut, "Liquid Swords." The track was so witty and unpredictable that it convinced Geffen Records to sign Priest.
"That track was just me writing down my life," Priest said. "It was just one of those things that had to happen."
GZA helped bring his young friend Walter Reed, later known as Killah Priest, into the industry.
"Where we grew up it was like a kung fu movie," Priest said. "We would just roam around neighborhoods battling. There's so many styles. You have to constantly sharpen your skills."
He was able to stay ahead of his game by letting his flow come naturally.
Like a master chess player, he's always had a knack for seeing several moves ahead of opponents.
"I'm able to picture things in my head," he said.
Lyrically, his biggest artistic influences are Rakim and Big Daddy Kane.
With Rakim and KRS-One on hiatus, Priest might inherit the mantle of the most socially conscious emcee in the business.
"I'm definitely ready to hold that torch," he said.
His first album, 1998's "Heavy Mental," caught fire. It debuted at No. 24 on pop charts. It's the antithesis of modern day hip-hop, which reeks of self-indulgent greed and ignorance.
His debut was such a success that the bar was raised higher than the Tower of Babel. His follow-up projects also were critically acclaimed.
He sees his new album "The Offering," due out in November, as the natural evolution of "Heavy Mental."
"That's why I said, 'Stop the tape ... Stop it!'" He was referring to the end of the title track to "Heavy Mental," a stripped-down, eerie, esoteric song, naked of a beat. The track sounds like a finely woven, Ecclesiastes-like testimonial prophecy.
"I just had so much to give on 'Heavy Mental,'" he said.
He promises the new album is more of the same.
"I know how to treat a listener," he said. "I emcee for people who sit down, close their eyes and focus. Hip-hop is hypnosis. I can take you to outer space. I can take you to inner space."
Priest's new project benefited greatly from Nas' lyricism. "The Saints" features 16 luminescent bars set to a dark beat. Perhaps Nas' most recognizable bar is where he idiomatically proclaims, "I'm hotter than the bullet that went into Abe Lincoln. The page is the inkoholic attic for drinking."
"Nas loved it," Priest explained. "He heard the track, jumped on it and just spit. He's one of the greatest emcees ever."
I asked Priest to compare and contrast himself and Nas, another of Brooklyn's fabled battle rappers. He paused for a moment, searching for words.
"We're cut from the same cloth, let's put it that way," he said.
He feels the new album, "The Offering," is universal - particularly the sorrowful track dedicated to his grandmother, who died recently and was integral in helping the emcee spiritually develop. He feels that anyone who's ever loved and lost can relate to it.
Gainesville residents can relate to him Monday at 1982 Bar. The show is the last of Priest's tour promoting "The Offering." He's scheduled to choke the mic at 11 p.m.