Paz explains, “I met Stoupe a long time ago; it was like 1991 through a mutual friend and he was like, ‘My man got crazy beats, this and that’. Within a few weeks we were making demos and maybe a year after that, I met Jus Allah at this party and I heard he was dope – that was like 1992. At that point, we were all about getting a deal and trying to get signed. We had some deals on the table but I was pretty young so I didn’t know what was going on. By 1995 we’d put together a tape and scraped up some money and put the first record out independently – music-out-the-trunk basically!”
And music-out-the-trunk continues to be the modus operandi for JMT. Sure, while now you can buy their records digitally and in-store, they have never been about achieving massive commercial success. But their legions of loyal fans remain committed to their hard-hitting lyrics and bass heavy production regardless. And Vinnie is completely comfortable with it.
“For us as a group, I feel the evolution has come sort of organically. We’ve never been about being popular; we’ve never made a concerted effort to change anything about our process or the way we do things. Anything that you do, you grow as a person.
“If you’re conscious of what’s going on around you, what has worked and what hasn’t worked, what people like and what they don’t like, you think back to what has worked in your career. But you’re always growing as a person. Just to reiterate, there hasn’t ever been a conscious effort to do anything other than hardcore rap music. Maybe philosophically something has changed, but you wear your heart on your sleeve and it reflects where your head’s at.”
Indeed, their just-released album Violence Begets Violence is another masterstroke of the horror-core rap genre. Leading on from everything that has come before, it is the raw, gritty, street rap that fans have come to expect from the posse. “I can only give my perspective, but I think the reason we’ve been a success is because I never saw myself doing anything else. I never wanted to be a lawyer or doctor or accountant. I feel like that if there is a plan B you’ve admitted there is a chance of failure,” Paz mentions. “When failure isn’t an option, you conduct yourself differently and you sort of realise that you have tunnel vision. It’s an honour to do something for your friends or family that you couldn’t do in the past for whatever reason. You want to look after the people that looked after you. I’m cool with not being a superstar on MTV; I’ve never really wanted that. I’m just blessed to be hanging with my boys and doing things that I enjoy.”
That said, Paz also has had a successful career with his own solo project, titled surreptitiously enough, Vinnie Paz. His material maintains the saw raw edge and features the usual smattering of good friends making cameos. “It has always been something I’ve wanted to do. And regardless of what the music is, when you’re doing something with the same people you’ve worked with for your whole career, doing something fresh and different can revive you in every aspect.”
“Doing my solo project really has reinvigorated me to do better stuff inside Jedi as well. The science behind it wasn’t necessarily something that was calculated as much as it was something I just wanted to do. When we dropped Army Of The Pharaohs and we were touring a lot, I got really run down on the road. I needed an extended period off the road so I went back to making music and the solo record just filled the space that way.
“I think it worked for us because our shit was not from down south or West Coast or T-Pain you know? We never went with anything other than our own sound. It’s always consistent and there’s growth in it, but it’s pretty much the same. We’ve been through trends and stuff but we’ve never changed our shit; I think that is why we still carry respect and why we still remain relevant. It isn’t so good that it has taken us 15 years into our careers before we came to Australia for the first time, but hey at least we’re comin’!”
So while the non-stop debate on consistency versus evolution continues to rage in the world of hip hop, the lads from the east decided on a formula and are sticking to it. Inevitably, you’ll have certain heads complaining that they don’t change up enough; and they’re probably the same cats complaining that Wu-Tang Clan went commercial after Wu-Tang Forever and should have stuck to their raw roots.
“Man, everyone has an opinion on this. The fact is, we never sacrificed our integrity and there have been golden eras of music – and then there were times where everything was shit but we just stay the course. We just do what we do and the consistency has worked for us.”
Even his boy Celph Titled from the AOTP (Army of the Pharaohs) posse chimes in about the current state of the union in hip hop – a situation he accepts on face value. “Before – like back in the day – it used to be pop rap versus real rap. People are leaning one-way or the other. Nowadays there are so many generations involved in hip hop. I’ve got people in my age group that have kids and there are so many different styles, generations and all that.”
“You have Flo-rida and Kanye and Jay-Z; and then the underground raw stuff like us and then you got the throwback hip hop – kids wearing tight jeans. Basically, it just got accepted and it just exists and it has grown to this level. It’s based on the age group and what you feel. In the future, radio will see new and classic stations and blow again. It’s blowing out of control now. There’s all kinds of music out there; it’s grown outta control – it is a good thing.”
“Even if you look at the long-standing, successful artists in hip hop, even if they’re not critically acclaimed, guys like E-40 and Too Short never changed their formulas. That’s like us. They might have changed up their production to go with the times, but they’ve always given fans what they want.” Doubtless, Celph and the individual crewmembers have created their own brand and you can hear and see the passion in everything they do.
“It’s all about image. There ain’t no-one going to tell me I have to change my image to sell records,” Celph says. “That’s why I like being independent – it’s because we don’t have to worry so much about mainstream marketing. We can be ourselves and do the music we want. We represent ourselves how we want without the politics. Business-wise, we as Latinos are making a lot of money right now off of the whole reggae explosion and I’m happy to see that but I’d like to see more of us in the hip hop game like [Big] Pun was.”
Chiming in again, Vinnie takes a moment to sum up the current status quo for the group and their immediate plans. “Well yeah as I said the record just dropped and we’re real happy about that; we’re doing a bunch of US dates and then we’re heading over to Australia sometime in December and then over to Europe after that. So yeah, we’re going to be doing a fair bit of touring over the next little while. I’m not someone who is content not doing things if you get my drift and there is always something going on in my head. “
Reminiscing about his youth too, he admits that he was lucky enough to find music when he was young, somewhat flippantly suggesting that otherwise he probably would have ended up in jail. “That’s why I said what I said before about having no option but to succeed – there is no plan B for us, you know?”