Metaphors, similes and a million techs thrown into prose, stanzas, bars and hooks. Billions of singles and thousands of albums for all these places we saw and planes we went through the last forty years. The majority that rhyme end up between the drums and samples. The ones that move on breaks end up between floors and sky and a great many left end dynamically upon walls of all measures. Too many that there are yet now more and more are intrigued and even more ready to deceive. They take these Arts—this Hip Hop—and hand them to compartmentalizing sociologists who situate spaces and disconnected preachers to cement their invented places to tell us the hell we’re going to and the heaven we’ll never see. Through all these sermons of bloodsucking doctors judging papers, ministers conjuring unseen capers, nurses sticking pins through utltra sounds and cremators deleting the presence of the very essence…
…Through all these dissertations of confusion this writer has had many things to kill. However, a far greater strength is the essential lifeblood of Hip Hop and its music as the legend to share. The legend of Hell Razah, the Red Hook, Brooklyn native MC. The highest forum of competition for this Art is against pure hell, the very real condition of debauchery, savagery and ignorance. Razah raises hell with the intensity of a perfect cadence of calm fury, precise wordplay and the prose that file as culture manifestos, general’s principles and a young soldier’s urban handbook. His deepest theme is composing the nature of heaven as a state of mind in beautiful works of retrospection, contemplations on the strength of humanity and the surahs of salvation via the children. His clearest origin was as the precocious star of the supreme debut LP The Last Shall Be First as part of the earliest of Wu-Tang affiliates, Sunz of Man, to then dominating the decade of the 00’s, leaving us with such works of excellence they continued a standard of skilled principle and talented integrity on wax we heard with Guru’s with Gang Starr the decade prior.
HEAVEN RAZAH: A lot of [my work is filled with] premonitions. I was having premonitions in Hell Razah music about Heaven Razah. Like on the Renaissance Child [LP] when I did “Buried Alive” that’s what Heaven Razah was going through. And Heaven Razah had premonitions of Raziel. With Sunz of Man when we did “No Love Without Hate” and that song I said, “I be the law breaker/the life and death maker/the Hell Razah/traitor eliminator/wicked disintegrator/ lyrical Earth quaker/Absorb me/ shining light is mandatory.” That was the early stages of my career. I was about 18 or 19. That was an early premonition of everything that’s happening today. When I did the Renaisaance Child that’s the rebirth. “Buried Alive” on that project. It’s not that I’m doing these things consciously but the superconscious …That’s always gonna be in tune because it’s born like that.
SUNEZ: From that early time your verses attack the industry, its hypocrisy, stating the problems and offering solutions for our people demanded immediately.
RAZAH: That’s because I’m not afraid to tell the truth. Most people are scared to tell the truth. They say, ‘I’m not doing that. Y’all buggin’ out talking all that shit right there.’ We introduced that whole Illuminati shit and then everybody ran with it on some rap shit. We’re trying to teach to save their life and they’re taking it as, ‘well I’m gonna write a rhyme about that.’ ‘Did you hear what they was talking about on this tape? The brother was talking about all the shit that’s happening today. He was telling this shit in like ‘94/’95. Y’all crazy about that conspiracy shit?!’
We was at that Source Awards when [Suge] Knight came out and he got upset. We were backstage showing RZA the tape and Mobb Deep was sitting there. I didn’t even know Mobb was in the room and they tapped me. I was like, ‘why them niggas so quiet over there?’ They told me they’re smoking dust. I said, ‘what the fuck they smoking that shit for?!! Don’t they know they gotta go perform?! They’re gonna fuck up their own show.’ The unexpected shit was when Suge Knight got on the stage and grabbed the mic. He surprised with the way he came—it was shock value. When we did The Last Shall Be First album, we were living in Cali[fornia] when it all happened. When they shot Biggie and all that. The funny shit was that the party he was at prior to being shot we had just left as well…Busta Rhymes was out there too. And everybody left after that. Wu was the only ones that stayed. They were coming to the radio in New York City and what they’re gonna do, how we gotta stick together. I’m getting calls asking me if I’m okay because they hear rappers on the radio saying they’re gonna hold it down for New York. I said, ‘Hold it down is getting on the plane and leaving?!’ They’re on the radio talking all this gangsta shit about how they’re gonna do this and that. Then records came out but they were the first ones to leave. The jewels in that shit is that Clive and Puffy had something where they had to sacrifice Biggie and Suge and Jimmy Iovine, I think, sacrificed Tupac. They knew his mother was a Black Panther. They already knew that and we’re the ones that had just found out. He came out with the Makaveli shit but before that they already knew all that. I see where all this is going. They tried to derail all of Tupac’s movement. They disagreed with what he wanted to do so they had to get rid of him. Tupac was in jail over them girls with the rape shit. And they came with Biggie. They set him up and Tupac was upset. He’s upset and Puffy signs with Bad Boy to go get this loot and was leaving him in Riker’s Island like they ain’t know him. He was upset about that. ‘If it wasn’t for me y’all wouldn’t even be able to go on.’ Real talk. They was rolling together. Somewhere down the line someone got into someone’s ears and perspectives changed with checks. Another interesting thing is that Jimmy Henchman is connected to the shooter and he managed The Game. And The Game signs with Jimmy Henchman management through Clive and he’s on G-Unit. Then he gets over there and is disrespectful to the whole crew. Then they talk that there was an undercover cop. This whole shit—I wouldn’t be surprised if dudes is signed to police, man.
SUNEZ: Alotta New York brothers found 2Pac disrespectful dissing New York and the MCs from here. Yet you’re pure Brooklyn. What are you seeing different?
RAZAH: They didn’t understand. If they understood they would know Tupac grew up in Marlyand. His mom is from North Carolina. They would know he was East Coast bred already. He went to the West Coast and was able to start a movement from there. When all that stuff happened out in LA he was their Marcus Garvey. The name for Thug Angelz—when I did that Thug means Those Humbled Under God. The Angel is humbled under God because that’s who they listen to.
SUNEZ: Are there records others refused to be on with you?
RAZAH: I don’t want to put them on the spot but there are MCs that didn’t want to get on certain songs because of what I’d say on them. They’d be like, ‘that’s your realm, God. You tear that shit up so you stay doing that.’ They have come up to me telling me, ‘you’re a dope artist. You should make more different kinds of music.’ I don’t listen to that because I know what that is. They can’t do what I’m doing so they try to pull me out of my world and then try to do it themselves. When I start making their kind of records they start trying to make my kind of records. The Gods always told me, ‘a wise man could play a fool but a fool can’t play a wise man.’ Then they hire lawyers. A lawyer is nothing but a paid liar. Somebody you pay to defend your lives or lie for you.
“All the reviews in magazines rated me wrong/Take America to court without supporting Saddam…” – “The Messengers”
The powerful classics the Wu-Tang Clan released during the years of 1993-1996 from their group debut through the supreme/classic solo debuts of Method Man, Ol Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, GZA and Ghostface Killah made them a movement. It is the beginning of a movement of diversity in character, insight and musical depth that was and has not been surpassed. However, it’s deepest worth is revealed the next year with their double LP Forever. This gives a blatant highlight of the knowledge of self theme that could no longer stay subtle in the groundbreaking mastery of abstract wordplay and slang/new language uses. Taking the movement of works to a mass movement comes with the release of the affiliates, the Wu family, the many Killabeez. The focused militancy of Killarmy’s debut was an urban fight score. Yet the depth of how far spiritual and metaphysical insight could go came with Killah Priest’s debut, Heavy Mental. Instead of Priest’s work being an anomaly—just one of the many Wu brothers that has defined his character focusing on a particular aspect or being seen through a select niche of content—the Sunz of Man, with Priest, dispel it with their debut later in the year.
It is this Sunz of Man debut album, The Last Shall Be First, possibly the one album that sees the entire Wu-Tang legacy as a mass movement that could produce the cult following that exists today. It is the unity of these four brothers—Killah Priest’s epic, mythical narrating brush vividly metaphorizing our reality today, Prodigal Sunn’s streetwise militancy with unwavering call for revolution of music and our peoples’ lost minds, 60 Second Assassin’s wise soul tempering of every bar and the uncompromisingly, articulate lyricism of Hell Razah that unites them all. As one hears on The First Testament album of 1999, a mixture of unreleased tracks mostly before and some during the making of their debut, Razah excels at the high energy, cut and chopped styles that prevailed out of Brooklyn and led by Ol’ Dirty Bastard. MCs of this era have few flaws but a rarity of them display advanced techniques with zero flaw. By The Last Shall LP, Razah’s clarity, diction and on-the-break pacing is without error without letting any of his slang execution and natural flow conveying the genuine embrace of his insights waver. The fluid delivery, the unique voice of strong calm fill song after song with memorable bars (“i.e. “What?! He sold his soul—life publishing,” “I could tell a fake/ from a handshake/ for man’s sake/the hidden truth I translate/ ‘til the land quake/I plan my escape/on the good fan base,” “Fugitives forever/ they choose to live together/Scheme to get cheddar/from anybody livin’ better/However, the money getters/follow trend setters/Wit black nine berettas/now they writin’ jail letters,” “Can it be this world loves simplicity/ negativity/ runs the city/Plus the slaves around me/ like lost in King’s County…”)
RAZAH: Wu was using karate dialog and gangster/Mafia stuff in their music. Sunz of Man came with the whole biblical/spiritual plane while Gravediggaz was on that horror-core. We was on the holy-core. When Priest dropped “B.I.B.L.E.” and the Heavy Mental album changed everything. It was like, ‘what the fuck! This dude got a name Killah Priest but a song named “B.I.B.L.E.” And that acronym is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. That’s crazy!’ We were a superstar weapon but hidden. We were always used to make other albums banging but don’t let them come out yet. They cloned the RZA with Master P to dumb down all that conscious shit coming out from that Wu era.
SUNEZ: No Limit Records.
RAZAH: Exactly. RZA introduced the whole group getting solo deals and coming out with albums. Then Master P jumped on the bandwagon with it on Priority [Records]. We both were on Priority then. Wu-Tang Records was distributed by Priority then. None of other Wu groups or subsidiary groups that ever came out on their own like Sunz of Man and that’s because I pulled off that deal with Red Ant Records. I got them signed to Red Ant, got RZA paid back with all he spent to build up Sunz of Man’s career. Then certain members got paid to be featured on that album. Wyclef came when we was at the When We Were Kings film. We went to the screening of that and I met Muhammad Ali and his wife. Wyclef was with Lauryn Hill there. Lauryn was supposed to be another feature on The Last Shall Be First. She was going to be a feature but she was busy with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album she was making. The original song was with her, me and Killah Priest on a RZA beat.
SUNEZ: There’s a dominance of the fakeness out there. As a writer, I’ve been very critical of Jay-Z, Kanye and others with weak, rugged individualist lyrics and themes. You’re one of the few who has been critical as an MC.
RAZAH: Don’t think dudes don’t know this stuff. They know it but just don’t wanna tell it. They rather just get money from it. They’re like puppeteers. They like milking the cow like that. Jay came in with Jaz-O. They was on that whole thing with the dude locked up that raped the girls—Malachi Z. York. They came in with the medallions and the beads. He came in with that so he know a lot about this. That’s why he did that song “Free Mason” with Rick Ross, who’s a former correction officer. People kept telling me I’ve been talking about this for a long time and now they are admitting it. I said you think what I’m talking about because I’m a so-called underground rapper making this shit up but these are facts. I see that Jay was upset that Biggie and Nas were tight and were gonna work together. That’s why he has that whole personal vendetta with Nas. Nas had a lot of respect for us. When he was building his music career to get on to Cuban Linx they were playing Sunz of Man songs. He ran with the song we had with the RZA, “It Was Written.” [Nas’ 1996 LP entitled It Was Written]
SUNEZ: You detailed this on “Audiobiography.” Your verse is a noting that you and Sunz of Man are directly taken from and others are sparked by you.
RAZAH: It’s a way of them paying homage without saying it.
SUNEZ: Does that bother or is that just the way it is?
RAZAH: It’s just the way it is because ego is involved. Once ego gets involved it ruins everything. And now I’ve been dealing with this understanding of the Kabbalah. Now I see what that whole thing of what the ego is. The Kabbalists wrote many books. The whole Bible was written by Kabbalists. People think that King David was at war with Goliath, that it was this Philistine giant. It wasn’t any man that he was at war with. Put an ‘E’ in front of Goliath. He was at war with his ego. When he defeated his ego it made Solomon wise. So wise that Queen Sheba came from Ethiopia just to meet him and talk with him. She wanted to know how his father was so wise. She brought gifts and introduced him to things he wasn’t aware of and they had a child together. And that was Menelik I. And Menelik I took over most of that area there. Menelik I ran most of Africa.
On the beat side, RZA’s family of producers were trained and expected to continue the thematic use of the sample and serving as an epic surround sound for the MC. To make Soul wails become a siren and beats that aggressively drive the MC into our ears, 4th Disciple became the master student. 4th Disciple was the only one to take this immediate discipleship and make supreme production and a group defining sound for an entire LP. After the classic production of Killarmy’s debut Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars and its supporting follow up, Dirty Weaponry, it would be the work with Hell Razah on his solo debut, Freedom of Speech, that he would do this again.
An MC of distinct themes and miles of commentary to walk regarding them, 4th Disciple’s production does not immediately overpower. Instead, he set Razah up with a collection of thudding breaks that challenged Razah to flow with distinction. After Sunz of Man’s 2nd album in 2002, Saviorz Day, with weaker soundscapes lacking the grittiness of their debut, Razah’s bars were lost. On Freedom, Razah defined his people he represented (“Article One”), the hell his music captures and works to diffuse (“Rebel Music”), the anatomy of the fake (“Angel Tears”), Hip Hop music’s life in him (“Way of Life”) and songs for the unspoken beautiful Black woman (“Same Ol’ Thugs,” “Baby Girl”) all through twenty tracks.
During this time, the music is diluted in its power. The basic skills of the MC are propelled in dilution by those outside the original cipher of its Black/Brown destitute (i.e. eminem). The best scores (i.e. Stoupe) support a glorious sounding militancy that only directs another purchase and the brothers learned to prepackage themselves without the master’s hand (i.e. Ludacris). The works of Thirstin Howl the 3rd resonates with rawness, Madlib reminds us of advanced crate-digging and (MF) DOOM is dominating the obsessive display of just bars upon bars. However, with Freedom, Razah begins his work in the decade that makes him the cornerstone MC model of exquisite technical craft and a sincere non-holy, non-preachy righteousness over soulful, hardcore tracks. This is the start of the ideal hardcore conscious MC in the decade of the music’s dilution.
SUNEZ: The 4th Disciple work on Freedom of Speech is different from his Killarmy work. Tell me about that process.
RAZAH: Freedom of Speech I lived with 4th Disciple for a while. He lived in PA [Pennsylvania] then so I drove there. He told me to stay the night. I said ‘cool.’ Just bring a bag cause you ain’t going home. He played me joints. I put it to the side to write to it. And also, a song is not complete to me until I have a concept and a hook to it. All my songs I do the choruses and everything.
I pick my beats alone when I go to the studio. I have no one else there, no rappers around. When they were doing their projects they were letting other people pick their beats. The A&R saying you gotta do this beat. We want you to do songs with this beat.’ We did the album away from everyone else. Now we got Article 2 coming out. The Write To Bear Arms. That’s what we do this music for. Now this is America and they’re telling us we can’t carry a weapon. Martial Law has been in effect but it hasn’t come out on TV so you don’t think they’re doing it.
SUNEZ: They slowly demilitarize the population.
SUNEZ: Freedom Of Speech album became a blueprint not only to other independent artists but a template for you to continue.RAZAH: When we did it we really were independent so I didn’t have those dreams of club records and all that stuff these labels tell you to do. If I was on a major I would never be able to create an album like that. They would have told me this can’t be played on the radio, this is too underground and all that. I don’t sit around thinking I have to get DJs to play my record at the club, strip club records I have to make then the street records. I don’t think like that. The making of it was often songs that just came along and others I just wasn’t afraid to go with it. Most people think if they do it no one is gonna fuck with them so they’re not doing it. Later for the fact that they would save the lives of children but they’re too worrying about selling, being on BET or the radio.
Knowledge the 2nd part of this interview feature on Hell Razah HERE.