Billy’s Lounge is packed for Mona Lisa Productions’ The Come Up Hip-Hop showcase. Fans in attendance are completely engaged in the night’s musical entertainment with heightened anticipation of who and what’s yet to come. Headliner Killah Priest sits quietly in the venue’s basement. Seated at a single round table he makes final preparations for his performance like a professor going over the day’s lesson plan. The Bronx, New York native Wu-Tang affiliate stands for a moment and straightens his t-shirt over his camouflage shorts before looking at the elaborate piping run across the ceiling above him. “This is underground – literally,” he says, laughing. Priest momentarily visits a black bag placed just to his left before returning to the table. Again seated he looks up and says with a smile, “I’m putting something together for them.”
Since the release of his classic and heavily revered debut LP Heavy Mental, Killah Priest has been putting together a catalog of songs and albums leaving hip-hop purists and professional historians alike referring to his words. Writing on subjects related to religion, sociology, and history, the rhymer born Walter Reed poetically describes events and circumstances with the articulation of college course text books.
Soul Train: Killah Priest, as you may already know school systems are eliminating music programs as a cost-cutting measure. Give us your opinion on this.
Killah Priest: That’s bad; music is school. It’s a form of learning, it forms ability; it’s one of the greatest sources of communication. I don’t support that.
Soul Train: What happens for students when they hear music?
Killah Priest: When you hear music it captures time. It makes you think of that moment. Canceling music is like taking that moment and cutting its source; that’s like taking all of the flavor out of an apple! I don’t like that.
Soul Train: Explain what you have been able to learn through music, and why having it is so important to a person’s development.
Killah Priest: Music taught me a lot about life, it taught me about love, it taught me about rising; not just rap music, I’m talking about soul music. I’m taking it all the way back to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”–that was really conscious. It made you think about things in your surroundings. Like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire,” Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration”–these were songs that made you feel good. I’ve learned from music over the years by getting into deeper artists such as Lauryn Hill, artists like Sade who makes you think about these concepts about love. I grew up off of that. I love Sade! She’s one of my favorite artists! I learned a lot from that! Them taking music out of schools… I can’t believe they would try to do that! It just shows you we have a lot to learn.
Soul Train: You’ve been able to take words and make rhythmic techniques out of using those words – which is something you’re acclaimed for. But would you still be considered the great writer you are had you never learned about the technique of using words?
Killah Priest: I don’t know…(Laughs) Practice makes perfect. I really enjoy listening. I’m a fan of artists who came up in the early 80s and the 90s. But I can’t tell you that, man. What I can tell you is it didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been through my battles; knock on wood, I’ve had more victories than losses. It was just something in me. It was something that couldn’t be trained, it was just in me. I can’t tell you where the source came from.
Soul Train: You’ve been able to entice people intellectually through your music. What did that for you?
Killah Priest: The Tower! This cat rolled up on me one day and dropped the tower card on me – The Tower of Power. And it described me perfectly. Towers come up, then they come down, then they go up again. I would say that’s my style.
Soul Train: Since you mentioned the tower… You were in New York when The World Trade Center towers were knocked down, right?
Killah Priest: Yeah! I was actually on a plane on the 11th. I landed in New York that morning for my son’s birthday.
Soul Train: Is the memory of what happened that day something you’ll ever be able to let go?
Killah Priest: It’s catastrophic in the brain, man. Everything about that closes right in. You can’t ever forget it. It happened. It was a real event. I don’t talk about it every day, but when someone brings it up I’ll talk about where I was. I actually saw that second plane hit. Anyone that approaches me about the towers we can sit down and have a conversation. Not all day, but we can talk about it.
Soul Train: Like a conversation, how important is it for your music to have significance?
Killah Priest: Very important. Before making a song it’s thought of, there’s a conscience put into it, there’s a feeling and a soul put into it.
Soul Train: Once it’s finished do you ever go back and deconstruct the song just to see the meaning of what you were feeling at that time?
Killah Priest: I was thinking about that! I was thinking about doing a song, then taking it down, and then doing it again. Sometimes it comes out even better! But sometimes I get lazy in the studio; once I’m done I don’t want to do anything else to it. I have songs I’ve redone. “BIBLE” is one. A lot of people don’t know that. It was recorded the first time and I thought it was perfect. But it was lost, so I redid it.
Soul Train: How is building a song like constructing a building?
Killah Priest: Your bars are like bricks; you slide them in. The booth is like the window because you see through it. The doorway is like the mind; you’ve got to open that up so different emotions come out. Your pen and paper would be like your hammer and nail. The ceiling holds all your ideas in, and the foundation has to be hard just like cement – the vocal comes out moist, sound is the molecules hitting the air, when it gets to you it turns into something else.
Soul Train: With everything you’ve been through and learned in your career, how many times have you felt like you’ve gotten your building knocked down?
Killah Priest: A couple times! Definitely after Heavy Mental, when I was doing Priesthood, and every time I did an album it was something I had to conquer coming back out. And I just want to do this! With The Offering it took a lot for me to go back in the studio, but when I did I got that feeling. With The Psychic World I felt like there was not a lot of pressure on me, I just wanted to contribute to hip-hop. Nobody was forcing me. It was just what I wanted to do.
For more on Killah Priest visit his official website KillahPriest.com, follow him on Twitter @killahpriest.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.