As a huge 90’s rap fan, it was a real honor to have a conversation with Wise Intelligent, the front-man of the group The Poor Righteous Teachers. On tracks like “Rock Dis Funky Joint,” Wise had a crazy wicked (or should I say ‘righteous’) flow backed by his boys Father Shaheed (RIP) and Culture Freedom. PRT were artists with a message and believe it or not but at one time groups like that were part of the mainstream of rap. Then something happened. It seemed like anybody with a meaningful message was pushed out of the industry or at least lower on the totem pole and groups and artists like PRT, X-Clan, King Sun, and Public Enemy were no longer given radio or TV spotlight. In 2007, right here on Raptalk, I caught up with Wise Intelligent to pick his brain and get his thoughts on the industry and to explain what the 5 Percenters are all about. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with his views, it’s something that should be respected, so check out this special Raptalk re-premiere with Wise Intelligent of The Poor Righteous Teachers.
Interview by Tim Sanchez
TS: I always love to get a good history lesson from the artists. Please hit the re-wind button and take us back to your roots. Let’s go back before the deal.
WI: That’s some history right there. Before the deal, huh? We grew up in Trenton New Jersey, The Poor Righteous Teachers: Wise Intelligent, Culture Freedom and Father Shaheed. Growing up in Trenton, everybody was kind of influenced by hip hop and reggae, so we kind of grew in the culture and the culture grew in us.
TS: Did you guys grow up together?
WI: Yeah, we grew up together. Trenton is a very small neighborhood. The city is about 7.5 square miles if that. Everybody knows everybody.
TS: What age did you start?
WI: We were playing around with rhymes early, like 11 or 12 years old. We got serious at about 15/16 years old. We got serious about it and started recording demos.
TS: At that age were you spitting those furious fast rhymes? Had you already developed that style?
WI: Yeah definitely. I was always rhyming a lot of different ways. There wasn’t ever a moment where I’ve seen myself as rhyming just one particular way with one particular flow. I would rhyme different ways all of the time. I was always changing my flow. That might be one of my flaws, never really giving a fan a chance to get used to me one way. It’s hard to really gauge what I am going to come with, people say the fast style or the ragga style, but I come with a lot of different things.
But… growing up in Trenton, we decided to put a record out. We went in to the studio and recorded the record and put the record out on Northside Records, a record label that was started by Eric “IQ” Gray, he was from our Projects. He put the record out and pressed it up on vinyl and took it to DJ Red Alert. Red Alert burned it and that was it. The rest is history.
TS: Tell us about the name Poor Righteous Teachers. What made you choose that name?
WI: The name comes from The Nation of God’s and Earths, 16th degree.
TS: Red Alert got the record and blew it up. Who did you guys end up signing to?
WI: Profile Records.
TS: You guys had the “Holy Intellect” album and jammin’ songs like “Rock Dis Funky Joint” that were both entertaining and educational at the same time.
WI: That was our thing right there and it still is to this very day. Our thing is always to merge substance with style and style with substance. It had to be like a perfect wedding of the two, between the style and the substance, because a lot of MC’s we found in that era and even today would sacrifice style for substance and vice versa.
TS: You guys really rocked that War sample of “Slipping in to Darkness.” I can’t recall anybody before you guys using that song. You guys were on TV and radio. Tell us about that experience of being out there nationally.
WI: It happened so fast! We were young. We went from the projects to Europe (laughs). We were in the projects and the ghetto in America and the next day we are on a plane leaving the country. It happened fast and it was a bit overwhelming at first. The stress… because we were expanding as human beings at the same time we had to expand in our knowledge in the music industry. It was like a crash course for us.
TS: By entertaining you also had the opportunity to teach, not only African Americans but other races as well. What was the response that you were getting from your messages?
WI: The response was overwhelmingly positive. Poor Righteous Teachers, our whole kind of mission was to make black people aware of the psychology that was imposed on us by Europeans. We were trying to tell them that we need to get back to our African psychology and get back to the African social theory, and until we accomplish that we will always be in a subordinate state to the European power structure.
People overwhelming accepted the message and white kids in particular, those who were true to themselves understood exactly where we were coming from and they agreed. Poor Righteous Teachers had a very strong fan base. We were one of the few groups that could perform at Princeton University one night and then the next night we will be at The Black Hole Celebrity Hall in Washington DC, in the hood. We startled the spectrum. We were everywhere all of the time. We went to U-Mass and the next day we would be in the Bronx, New York somewhere. We were all things to all men, so the response was exceptionally good.
TS: I remember reading when you guys first came out that you were all from the 5 Percent Nation of Islam. Can you tell us about that?
WI: The Nation of God’s and Earth’s understand that the black man is the original man, the first man on the planet ….and in effect he is God. The black man brought mathematics, science, astrology, numerology, religion and the concept of God to the world. It was the black man who built the first civilization on Earth. The Sumerians and the Egyptians, those were all black people. The Olmec’s, all of those were black men. These were the first men and they are responsible for bringing the science and the concept of God to humanity. Therefore, the black man being the first man and made in the likeness of God, is therefore God.
TS: And you brought up before about the Europeans enslaving the mentality of the black man?
WI: Exactly. The psychology behind white supremacy and racism in to the consciousness of Africans keeps them in a subordinate state. Any type of actions and theories that contradicts or challenges that European psychology is classified as unacceptable behavior by the power structure. That’s what we are dealing with here. That’s what we’ve been dealing with for a long time! That’s why the golden era of hip hop was “edutainment,” an era where KRS-One was the number one MC in rotation, where Public Enemy had the number one video being played, where Poor Righteous Teachers were constantly on the road and you could see us everywhere and our music was in heavy rotation on MTV, BET, Clear Channel radio all over the country.
That era was dealt with in a way that demonstrates or a way that is vindictive of the power structure and how it deals with any type of ideology of philosophy that contradicts the power structure! They pulled the marketing of it and took it off of mainstream radio. It challenged the status quo. It challenged racism. It challenged inequality in the school systems. It challenged everything that the racist power structure stands for therefore it was deemed unacceptable, so the MC was coerced monetarily in to dummying his music down, and that’s why we have what we have today.
TS: It’s crazy that you say that because I grew up in that era. I saw the King Sun’s on TV, you guys, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Paris, guys that were being a positive force in Hip Hop and then one day it all just went away! You didn’t see it anymore and didn’t hear it anymore on the radio and video channels! It didn’t happen overnight but it seemed like overnight, that it was just gone!
WI: That’s just been the way that this power structure deals with anything that is African centered. On the Mix CD “Blessed Be the Poor” that I put out, the “Globe-Holders” song addresses this subject in detail. It’s what it is when you are not European in a European society, based on European domination and imperialism. That particular era represented black men in a way that contradicts the status quo. So the black man cannot be allowed to come across as an intellectual. He cannot be an intellectual. He is regulated in this society to be a dumb athletic jock, or a gangsta, or a pimp.
TS: So they will let you talk about killing black people or selling dope but they won’t let you talk about anything that uplifts?
WI: Exactly!! They won’t let you discuss the condition that creates the drug dealer. They won’t let you discuss the condition that creates the gang banger, the pimp, the stripper or the whore. They won’t let you address the causes of the symptoms that everybody spends so much time talking about.
TS: That’s heavy. How do you think this happened? Do you think that the music industry got together and just decided not to allow this anymore? Or did it just start with one company doing it and everybody else following along? What’s your take on that?
WI: I believe that they are of one mind. I don’t believe that it’s an isolated incident and everybody started following suit. It’s the same thing that happened with the mass media. With the mass media, you had the White House executives sending letters to FOX, and FOX sending letters to these other networks what stories to air and what not to air or cover. They cover the stories that they are allowed to cover. That is a problem! It’s like in the documentary “Manufacturing Consent” by Noam Chomsky, he details the entire situation of how the media is in consort to block certain information to reach the American public, and that’s a problem, and the record companies are no different. They are no different. They play what maintains the status quo.
TS: How do we overcome this? If we have such big forces trying to bring those of minority status down, how do we rise above it?
WI: What we have to do is support intelligent music. We have to buy more intelligent music, support more intelligent music and listen to more intelligent music. We talk all of the time about positive change in rap but what we need people to do is spend some change on positive rap. Nobody wants to really put their money where their mouth is. That’s what needs to happen because when you support intelligent music, infrastructures develop and that’s what’s most important, we need an infrastructure that is capable of maintaining, propagating and preserving intelligent music. When people support this type of music, this type of infrastructure is possible. We need booking agents who book solely positive artists. We need venues and promoters that want to push and facilitate such music. What we have to prove to the world is that the highest value of life shouldn’t be given to money. The highest value of life should be given to humanity, knowledge of self, knowledge of the individual as a human being. That’s what we need to focus more on! We need a structure that is set up to show this, that music is not made solely for the purpose of making money. Music can be used for a greater good and that is what intelligent music is about. Anybody who believes that music can be used for the greater good should align themselves with that idea and support intelligent music.
TS: Do you think a big name artist will one day take a stand, go against the grain and start making more positive music?
WI: It’s going to happen. You have Master P right now with Take a Stand Records. He says that he’s not pushing anymore any negative or destructive music. So he’s started a label with the sole purpose of propagating more positive images in the music. The thing is it’s not to put an end to the “not-so-positive” message, it’s about a matter of balance! It’s a matter of balance! I want to see 50 Cent on tour with Wise Intelligent! I want to see 50 Cent and Wise Intelligent on the same show! I want to see KRS-One and Dipset on the same show! This is what I want to see happen. I don’t want to see so much the “positive rapper” over here and the “not-so-positive” rapper over there. It’s about merging! It’s about balancing it out, because these ideas do exist and they are both necessary to all of our development. So we have to understand that point, because the drug dealer is a reality in my community! When I walk out of my door, my homies slapping hands with a lot of drug dealers.
The thing is by us dialoging and going on tour together and having music conferences together, they start to understand the political aspects to the culture in which they are forced to live, the culture of drug dealing that is imposed upon them. We can exchange platforms because the brother with the drug-dealing rap, he has a strong economic platform. I believe that the more current mainstream rapper needs more political orientation and the conscience rapper of the golden era needs more economic savvy and a little more economic knowledge. It’s about balance.
If you go back to what is called the golden era of hip hop, The Poor Righteous Teachers were on tour with Too $hort and Ice Cube. It was Too $hort, Ice Cube, Poor Righteous Teachers and X-Clan on some of those tours. So you had a balance of positive and gangsta MC’s.
TS: You could party and have a good time and still get something out of it….
WI: Right! That was the era where De La Soul co-existed with Kool G Rap! Kool G Rap was a gangsta rapper. That’s what needs to happen, that way the audience, the fan, the consumer, the lover of hip hop can get an alternative and their alternatives are not the evil and the lesser evil. All views need to be given a fair opportunity to manifest their point. I believe that in a free society (laughs)…. In a “free” society, equality is necessary. Equality is balance and one view is never good. It’s like eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At some point you are going to have to put a plate of meat and vegetables out there. You are going to have to have the full course or it’s not going to make for a healthy meal and that is what I am saying. We can’t just be one-sided. We need to bring that balance back and that is what made Hip Hop so much fun, because at the same time you had the gangsta rapper, the conscious rapper, the MC that was all about the girls, and those that just wanted to dance and teach you how to do a new dance. You had all types, all at the same time, co-existing! We are in an anti-intelligent environment now that doesn’t understand the power of balance. Everybody thinks that it’s smart to be dumb.
TS: Tell us about the new album, The Talented Timothy Taylor Iz Wise Intelligent….
WI: The album is going to be dropping on July 17th. It’s the first of a 7 box set called “Back to School”. This is first period. What separates this record from my past works with Poor Righteous Teachers and my solo stuff is that this is the first record that I have ever done that is personal and intimate. I have never really allowed the Poor Righteous Teacher fan to delve in to my personal life and how I feel, my emotions, my ups and downs, what makes me tick, what makes me upset, what makes me happy. This is a first for me. Poor Righteous Teachers dealt with more of the immortal concepts and the higher self. People were looking at us like, “Damn! Poor Righteous Teachers have never even smoked weed before!” …. but on this record I clear all of that up. I take you through the journey and what it took for Poor Righteous Teachers to become Poor Righteous Teachers. I take you back to who I was before I was Wise Intelligent.
TS: I think if people see that vulnerability they will be less likely to think that you are being a so-called “holier-than-thou self-righteous” person. I think that is one of the criticisms about conscious rap is that the public feels that those rappers are too good for everybody.
WI: Right! They think that the conscious rapper has no balance, like “What did this guy ever do wrong?” That is what this record is all about though with songs like “Go with Me” where I take you through my whole life coming up as a kid, stealing candy from the store, going to school and coming out under-educated. I also touch on political subjects, the origin of the crack epidemic that is in our communities, love and healthy monogamous relationships, everything is there. It’s street and scholastic. It’s going to burn on the streets, the universities and the bedrooms (laughs). You can make a baby to this record, you can overthrow the government to this record, you can clean up your neighborhood to this record, you can get a friend off of drugs to this record and turn some prison convicts around with this record.
TS: Any more Poor Righteous Teachers stuff or are you just gonna fly solo?
WI: We are talking. Nothing has been set yet, but we are all talking. We will see…
TS: Any last words sir?
WI: Yes, sir. Hip Hop will be a much better genre and the world will be a much better place if people will listen to more intelligent music. Support and buy more intelligent music.
TS: It’s not going to bite you, right? (laughs)…
WI: Exactly. We need to support more intelligent music because it’s no longer smart to be dumb! Log on to Intelligentmuzik.com or myspace.com/wiseintelligent and support the music. You can cop the single “I’m Him” at iTunes right now for .99 cents. That’s not a lot! At 99 cents, I should be a millionaire! You wouldn’t pass by the homeless kid with the cup, you would put at least 99 cents in. You spend more than that on coffee! So spend the 99 cents! I am challenging everybody in the intelligent music community to put your money where your mouth is! Buy the “I’m Him” single and then buy the “Talented Timothy Taylor” CD. We have to prove to the world that intelligent music does sell. By saying that people won’t buy intelligent music is the Industry’s way of saying that the hip hop audience is “TOO DUMB” to listen to anything intelligent. My goal is to prove them wrong. I am challenging the intelligent hip hop fan to prove them wrong. I want to prove to the world that we are not the dumb people that they think we are, because I know that you are all not!