CARVING THROUGH IRON GRISTLE: ZAGNIF NORI

By SUNEZ

Iron fingers clench the pen of an inquisitive understanding scripting with subtle intensity and bombing with overt confrontation.  Composing out of Utica, New York, Zagnif Nori (once known as Iron Fingaz)is forged in the chiseled integrity of an MC and molded by the highest responsibilities one can undertake on the mic.  To expose the mettle in the metal that makes this young and ever developing versifier is to see deeper in the gristle of the beat marrow, the drum endosteum and the hook cartilage.  These are its hardcore components but the iron that bends in the joints are the lyrics versed and their viciously righteous intentions.  This iron that makes up Zagnif Nori is as an acceptor of Hip Hop’s greats influencing him and as a donor sharing a militant path that captivates the listener to awareness.  With paragraphs voiced in sinister urgency, a layered wordplay that can create verbal dexterity in the slowest of tempos and an idealistic sincerity to save the babies, The Meridian Gem LP, is more than Zagnif’s incredible debut, but an introduction to his entire multi-talented Noble Scity Crew.  The Noble Scity Crew that includes Zagnif, Crucial the Guillotine, Illy Vas, Danamic, Sleeps and Kaotny.

Knowledge some of the gems once embedded in the iron from this Noble Scity member…

SUNEZ:  The album is not just one of the strongest debuts of this year but the entire decade.  However, you released the Grandeur EP soon after Meridian Gem.

ZAGNIF: It was just tracks that I had that I was holding on to. The EP was originally supposed to be put out before the album. Crucial was working on his project and there was a lot of things going on. Like I said, Crucial’s the only one that really knows how to do a professional mix. I didn’t have anyone to mix it for me or the bread to have anyone to do it for me. I held on to the EP a long time and just decided to –The day I dropped it was on my bornday.  So I just put it out then cause I originally dropped my album on my father’s birthday.  So just having everything on the birthday.  I really just wanted to get all the old tracks out there and start working on the fresh stuff instead of holding on to these tracks so long.

SUNEZ:  All your work and Noble Scity Crew’s work is done in house.

ZAGNIF:  I’ve never been in a professional studio before. I do everything on my own, pretty much.  To have Crucial to be able to mix everything is a blessing.

SUNEZ:  Tell me about some of that process of making an album on your own with no professional studio.

ZAGNIF:   First, having the recording program on your computer. Try to get professional equipment as best as you can but we’re still recording in an open room and stuff like that.  There’s a lot of things that have to be done with the vocals. I know Crucial be getting heated cause vocals you have to do so much with them. We put hard work in it to make it sound as best as we can. That’s what we’re trying to do. Being real, us.  We’re not trying to get on a record and say we’re at this studio or over here.  We do it how we do it.  The way it comes out is the way it comes out.

SUNEZ:  Tell me about the origins of Zagnif Nori and the Noble Scity Crew.

ZAGNIF:   Ever since I was young I always listened to Hip Hop.  I hung out with a lot of older cats so I was always hearing all this stuff. When I heard Wu-Tang that was when I first actually started writing rhymes.  I would write rhymes on my own. Sometimes I would take other peoples’ songs and just flip the words around.  Eventually I just started writing my own lyrics more consistently.  And there were times I would write lyrics for my whole crew.  Just write songs for us and you do this part, you do this part. But eventually everyone wasn’t into it as much as I was.  Back then everyone didn’t want to become an MC. Today everybody wants to MC no matter how garbage they are.  Everybody sees fame and glory in it. When I was young nobody was trying to do that.  There were a couple of us doing it, couple of people around Utica doing it.  For the most part I was by myself writing rhymes.  Then when I got to high school, Danamic moved up here from the Bronx. So when he moved up here me and him clicked.  Somebody told him I rhymed and I was one of the best or whatever.  He saw me in the hallway and was like, ‘you rhyme?’ Yeah.  I spit something for him. He spit something for me.  And me and him been down ever since. Then I moved out to New York City to go to school and that’s when I met Illy so me and him was building.  I brought Danamic to him. Eventually Crucial and Kaotny had a group called Poor Man Militia.  Crucial was hitting me up constantly on how much he loved our music.  Eventually Crucial and Kaotny their crew kind of split up.  And the crew that me and Illy we sort of split up too. Then Crucial and Kao they joined us to be a part of Noble Scity. Then Danamic I eventually put down with us. Everybody was like just put him in.  So we put him in and Illy brought Sleeps along. That was the six that came together.

I’ve always been working with Kevlaar 7 [of the Wisemen]  since I was in high school too so he’s always held me down.

SUNEZ: How’d you work with Kevlaar all the way in Detroit?

ZAGNIF: When I was in high school the internet was first popping with message boards and internet battles, Kev was trying to sell beats. I didn’t know who he was.  At the time I didn’t make beats and I didn’t know anyone around me making beats.  So he was selling beats and I actually paid him for a beat that to this day I’ve never used.  It was supposed to be like 8 of us on the track and only me and Danamic paid for the beat. I’ve never used the beat but ‘til this day me and Kevlaar always have been talking and building and now it’s like family.  That’s my brother right there.   It goes to show you.  Like a lot of times people will ask me for a verse.  And I be like, ‘I charge.’ And I’m not like that with everybody but I still gotta get paid. I do it for the love but at the same time I got bills to pay.  It’s like some people don’t realize that the little investment you make can be a lifetime thing. And I put in an investment to buy a beat from Kev and over ten years later me and him are still cool.  He put me on his EP, his mixtape, on his album.  And he’s the one that hooked up the Hell Razah link for my album.   So it’s that investment that put me forth.

SUNEZ: As the God, one of the Nation of God and Earth also known as the Five Percent Nation, I knowledge our dialect in your verses and its peace to me.  I hear that among a large range of ideas, insights and spiritual thoughts that challenge the listener to something beyond the oppressive religiosity imposed on us.

ZAGNIF:  That’s just my upbringing.  The music I was listening to.  Wu-Tang and plus Rakim is in my top three. I chill with a lot of older cats–they’re Godbody and all that.  On top of that Illy is a full blown Muslim.  So it’s all around me. The music I listen to, the people I grew up with, the people I’m rhyming with. So it’s just that influence. I mean I don’t consider myself a Five Percenter. I’m more of a spiritual person.  That influence is around me everyday.

SUNEZ:  Understood, now the Gods and Earths aren’t religious but we have a principle of taking the best part from all things.  Your verses have that spirit and that’s why I had to ask.  Now with all the oppression you righteously go against violently, what is the relevance of these ancient heights reached prior in trying to get a sense of today? Why is it important?

ZAGNIF: Just looking at what they did.  I have the pyramids on my album cover and they’ve been standing there for years.  These people back then in ancient civilizations, they didn’t need technology to help them build and succeed in life. They used their mind for things and nowadays people don’t do that.  They rely on technology, they’re stuck on the TV, brainwashed and everything else. So it’s just understanding you don’t need all that. You can prosper and succeed without all that.  It’s about going out of that darkness and reaching that light.

SUNEZ:  Tell me about sequencing The Meridian Gem?

ZAGNIF: The album had a sequence to it sort of.  In the beginning I let you know everything then the grimy darkness then into the light part. Then we get to the end where we’re standing for ourselves.  It sort of had a theme to it whereas the EP was just songs put together.  With that we sequenced them in a way that they still sounded good together but they were just put together.  The album had actual themes to it.

SUNEZ:  As J-Live once told me, the debut album is the one album that took your whole life up to that point.  So what’s the oldest song here?

ZAGNIF: “Element 26.”  Crucial made it sound real good but the vocals on that were real dusty.  That was about 3 or 4 years ago.  Before there were promotions for the Element 26 EP and that was the reason why but eventually I dropped that idea and held “Element 26” for the album.

SUNEZ:  What’s the writing process like when you have 2 great beatmakers and yourself? I know you don’t care for your own productions but so far with what we’ve heard that just makes you crazy.

ZAGNIF: [laughs]

SUNEZ: [laughs] Word.  What was your order in song making? Where you looking for tracks for specific verses or writing to this great array of tracks you and your brothers made?

ZAGNIF: Some of the songs were like that where I needed a certain type of beat.  But a lot of them was just going through beats. With Illy, I got about a thousand of his beats on a folder so sometimes I just go through the beats that I got.  The ones that haven’t been used. If I hear one that I want to use I check with them to see if it’s been used yet or given it to anybody.  As far as Crucial, he’s a little more selective with his beats. He’ll send you beats here and there or one that he feels is especially for you.  So if I tell him I need a couple of beats he’ll send them to me.  Whatever beat is ill to me I’ll work around it.  Sometimes I’ll write lyrics without a beat then put them to it once I get it.

SUNEZ: Then there is altering that takes place to make it fit?

ZAGNIF: Yeah, sometimes I might have to eliminate a word or add a word because it might not fit in the bar.  There’s always changing to verse here and there but for the most part we’re able to make it flow if I haven’t written to that actual beat.

SUNEZ:  Hip Hop is a young music—young people doing it but since the Insignia EP you sound like a veteran.  You have a sinister voice on a mid-tempo track but the breath control surprises BIG PUNning it.  What’s the practice you go through as an MC?

ZAGNIF: Just keep spitting the verse over and over until I feel that I got it.  When I go to record—you could ask anybody that I record with they’ll tell you I usually do things in one or two takes.  That’s because of the fact that I keep rhyming it and rhyming it over and over and over until I know that I got it perfect.  As you said, “BIGPUNning it,” BIG PUN is one of my top five MCs of all time.  Kool G Rap is my number one so them two right there, they always have that crazy multi-syllabic rhymes and just hitting it.  Listening to them and trying to practice it over and over so that I’m not stumbling when I try to record it.

SUNEZ:  Tell me about “Pyramid Builders” with Kevlaar 7 and Hell Razah.

ZAGNIF: That was just about building on our own, trying to get out of where we’re out whether it’s the struggle or whatever.  That name actually came from a Razah’s song the “Buried Alive” joint (“We be Pyramid builders, we be dealin’ wit boulders”). Razah was the only artist I wanted on my album that wasn’t family already. At that time he was just killing everything.  He dropped the Renaissance Child, Thug Angelz project. That was my favorite MC of that time.  Kevlaar hooked it up and I had him get on it too. Once Razah sent me the verse a week later he went through his medical issue. It was crazy then he goes through it all.  I hope everything goes good for him.  I want him to hear this track we did. The experience was crazy with that track.

SUNEZ: That was about the time I had his number and I would build with him but lost contact with him.

ZAGNIF: When he started getting healthier he contacted me and was like, ‘what’s good with the track? You finished it yet?’  Oh shit, you still remember this!  He loved it and ‘til this day we still build all the time.  There’s a possibility, I’m hoping, I spoke to him recently there’s a track I did with him that might make one of his next album.

SUNEZ:  Razah’s comeback is the greatest comeback ever in Hip Hop to me.  Tell me about “Lost Children.”

ZAGNIF:  That I pretty much got on my Kool G Rap with that one [laughs].  It was talking about things that go on in the street, things that we’ve been around and stuff. It was also saying that there’s children in the street dying, struggling. Sometimes it seems like the only way out of that struggle is to sell drugs, to do this, to do that and it’s more to that. People don’t see that you can get out of that for me but the media and everyone just tells us you can’t do anything.  This is the bottom of the barrel. That’s why I was saying, “lost children in the streets trying to stay alive/sometimes it seems like the only way out is to die.”  When you’re in that struggle that’s how you feel.  What the hell am I here for?  That’s what was basically going on in that song. I didn’t want to make it cliché so I tried to make it as lyrical as I can.  I was inspired by G Rap on that one.  The first verse I just rhymed everything straight through.

SUNEZ:   You had a strong tempo and those horns vibe ill on the Kevlaar produced “Zubair.

ZAGNIF:  Illy actually made that [song title].  He was like call it “Zubair.”  He told me it meant supreme in Arabic. That one we was just getting on some deep knowledge with it, being supreme with it.  That was like I said, the beginning of the album it sort of like a Quentin Tarantino flick, where he begins in the middle goes to the end and goes back to the beginning.  The beginning of the album was so deep that “Zubair”-was the ending of that deepness before we went to the grimy part.  With “Zubair” we’re supreme now and now we’re gonna take you back to where we began at.

SUNEZ:  Tell me about the development of “Old Gold”

ZAGNIF:  That one was straight butter, that old golden era type.  When I first heard it from Illy I thought it was an Mobb Deep track. Eventually I wrote a verse and wanted Crucial on it to be on some ‘ol Rae and Ghost or something.  But then I was trying to get Danamic on something else.  I had a lot of tracks done before I could actually get him on something. So I thought I’m gonna throw him on here with me.  So he went first and he killed it. Then Crucial got on it.  The funny thing was Kaotny edited it and he wanted to get on it too.  Kaotny had to work so he recorded a lot of ad libs in the background–those were his.  Kaotny works like crazy so he didn’t have enough time to come back and do a verse for it so we left it the way it was.

SUNEZ:  You talked about the progression and sequencing and I wondered why “Gem Star” ends the album.

ZAGNIF: I was going at the government on that one.  With a Gem Star razor with the stuff I was saying.  At the end of that we put the JFK (John F. Kennedy) speech at the end where he says we oppose secret societies which a lot of people say got him murdered.  Then you also hear the gunshots coming in and the helicopters going around.  That war came—government versus us.  And not just government, the unseen hand.  The helicopter going off is like you make the decision of who escaped.  We ended it on a cliffhanger after I went in on the government.

SUNEZ: We talk about oppression, who’s evil, there’s bloodsuckers of the poor.  Then you make a great piece of work highlighting and exposing this all.   A young brother hears your record, what is he expected to do?  As a creative artist, you fulfilled your job in making people aware that this isn’t a civilization and the best it could be.  What should that listener sparked up should do?

ZAGNIF:  Definitely do your research.  Study the 99 percent and the 1 percent.  That 1 percent controls the world so just do your research and understand and pass that on to someone else who’s willing to listen.  Unfortunately in this day and age nobody wants to listen. If you talk about some of the stuff that I spoke about people would think you’re crazy or you watch too many movies.  They don’t believe it cause it’s not CNN or Fox News, not this establishment of media corporations telling you what’s going on. So that one person feeling it, don’t believe me.  Do your own research cause if you do your own research you’ll learn more than with me just telling you.  When you actually understand and done your research you could share it with someone else, have them research or point them in a direction.

The Meridian Gem, Zagnif’s debut LP

SUNEZ:  The content sparks them. Is this the deeper purpose of MCing?

ZAGNIF: It’s an outlet for my voice. You can get on the mic and say anything and practice your lyricism. But at the end of the day, you’re not really saying anything—how long can you do that?  You eventually have to be saying something. Even if you’re not positive or spreading knowledge or any of that.  Still, maybe tell stories but to get on the mic and just rap every single song that’s more like battle rappers.  They always say battle rappers can’t make songs. Well that’s part of the reason.  Maybe your first album it’s ill but then your 2nd, 3rd and 4th album you’re just putting words together.

SUNEZ:Egalitarian” is another favorite.

ZAGNIF:Egalitarian” is just basically every man being equal. That’s how we feel about our group, our family.  We don’t feel like there’s any leader amongst us and we all equal and we all combine to help each other to make the music we make.  At the same time going with that theme, this 1 percent is trying to oppress us.  And if you listen to our verses they are on different things, it could be the government, the police, that 1 percent or the record labels.  We all equal so if we gotta go to war with you to show that we’re all equal then we’ll go to war with you.  That was basically on some Public Enemy stuff.  My last verse Illy didn’t want me to put it on there.  But I just put it on there.

SUNEZ:  That’s tough.  And “Poor Kings” goes with that wordplay even in the titles.

ZAGNIF: We’re all kings regardless to how we are struggling.  You look at the disciples, they weren’t rich and people look at them as righteous.  You don’t have to be materialistically rich to be a king.  At the same time we’re kings killing each other so it’s devils killing kings and we’re killing each other.  That’s how that hook came out.  And it came from a line I said in “Gem Star” because “Poor Kings” is one of the last tracks I wrote. “Gem Star” I said, “poor man murders poor man/rich man murders poor man/how we gonna survive when the war is preying..”  So I slipped that line and mad it a whole hook on “Poor Kings” with “poor man murders poor man/rich man murders poor man/arms loaded, take a stand.” Take a stand for the life of this.  Why are we killing each other and letting them kill us?!  It goes back to that line I had on “Faridat” where I said, “Your gun pointed at me/my gun pointed at police/their guns point at both of us.”  So it’s like you want to beef with me but this unseen hand, the police, or whatever you want to call it is beefing with both of us.  So neither one of us is going to win.

Zagnif Nori – Grandeur EP

SUNEZ: Why “Faridat” as the lead single?

ZAGNIF: I had no crazy reason why it would be the single.  When I heard it I just thought it had that potential. It was on the grimy side while I was saying something and being lyrical. It had all the elements intertwined into one.

SUNEZ:  Is there a Noble Scity album in the works now?

ZAGNIF: The way we’ve been doing albums now is by sending verses and tracks.  When we do a whole Noble Scity album we want to do it as one.  That’s a little hard but one day we’ll make it work.  You got me and Danamic down here in Utica.  You got Crucial and Kaotny in Toronto. You got Illy and Sleeps in New Jersey. We’re all spread out now but definitely working towards getting that together as one.  Me and Danamic are sort of in the middle so if they come here or we go there to Toronto where Crucial would do the mix, we’re going to make that happen.

SUNEZ: It’s rare to assemble a crew that has such a great family strength in presenting themselves. You got the beats and the rhymes.  What the fuck else you need?

ZAGNIF: We’re not some group that was put together on the internet. There’s a lot of groups that do stuff on the internet and that’s ok.  But we actually build together. There’s times we talk every day on the phone just building.  And it’s not always about music, sometimes just cracking jokes, just having fun. and there’s been plenty of times I’ve been out to Toronto with Kaotny and Crucial.  I’ve chilled with Illy so we see each other all the time.  But it’s a matter of all of us being together at the same time.

SUNEZ: That’s peace my man.  Look forward to the next works from all of you Noble Scity brothers.

NOBLE SCITY site: http://www.noblescity.com/index/

Knowledge the review for Zagnif’s The Meridian Gem HERE