HHC Classics

Wise Intelligent interview: Speaking upon a blackman

Poor Righteous Teachers press photo

Rounding off the series of unedited interviews with Trenton or New Jersey legends associated with the one Tony D, here’s a chat I had with Wise Intelligent for Hip-Hop Connection. Like Tony and YZ, Wise was generous with his time and his answers, and it was great to delve into the backstory. Yep, we also ran this on Fat Lace a few years back, but as that page is now riddled with missing media files, I thought it was time to re-up and link it with some of our other pieces, such as the Tony D and YZ chats.

Listening back to the Poor Righteous Teachers albums, it has to be said that there’s was a very strong four album run. There’s no duffers in their back catalogue, and the three solo Wise Intelligent albums are pretty good too – he’s one of those MC’s who oozes enough charisma to convince you even when the beat or production isn’t doing the heavy lifting it should be.

Andrew Emery: Starting from the very beginning, do you remember the first time you heard hip-hop?

Wise Intelligent: Yes, like it was yesterday. It was Sugarhill Gang ‘Rappers Delight’. I was about nine or ten years old!

AE: Where were you growing up at the time?

WI: Trenton, NJ.

AE: What were the record spots and live music spots that were important at the time?

WI: We would purchase records from Sound of Trenton (still open) and/or ACE Record Shop (recently closed), among others. But these were the two most frequented record parlors. As far as live spots, we’d catch live Hip Hop performances at the Capital Skating Rink, the YMCA, the Boy & Girls Club, or the War Memorial for large touring concerts like Fresh Fest, etc.

AE: Was there a local DJ who was always the first onto music and trends?

WI: Had to be between DJ Ramzee and DJ Red (of the original Ghetto Boys who moved to Houston and signed with Rap-A-Lot). DJ Juice came up in the midst of all this as well.

AE: As an MC, were you always called Wise Intelligent? If not, what were your previous MC names?

WI: I was always called Wise Intelligent, but my crew was not always Poor Righteous Teachers. I was in a crew called MBF (Magnetic Building Factors – damn, that’s a wack name. I didn’t think of that!) when I was in my early teens. My MC partner was GF (God Father). GF had his troubles like we all did, plus he and Culture Freedom (who at the time was the DJ and producer of MBF) did not get along too well. Culture always had a better judgement of individuals than I had.

“I was in a crew called Magnetic Building Factors. Damn, that’s a wack name. I didn’t think of that!”

AE: When you first started MC’ing, were you looking up to local cats, or NY artists?

WI: My influences early on were for the most part local. I had MC’s like Johnny C (of the original Ghetto Boys), Charlie Bean, Rajuan, Diamond D, Omar Super Star, General Lee, 38, 22, God Father, True Love, as well as my partner and brother at Intelligent Muzik Group; Gino G. In fact, Gino G was the first MC from my hood (North Trenton) that I knew that put out a record. I remember not letting my girlfriend accompany her cousins to get his autograph. I was hating, BIG TIME!

AE: Who were the local artists of the time that people don’t really know about?

WI: Apart from those I named above, there was The God Squad (Culture Freedom was a member of this crew), FORCE MC, Power Born, Mighty S, A.M.O. (Ammunition Posse), Almighty & KD Ranks, Outstanding, The Chiefs, etc. ad infinitum.

AE: What was your first time in the studio? Where was it?

WI: My first time in the studio was with Don Big City Beats, a local show promoter and concert sound guy. He wanted to produce a record on Culture and myself. That would have been the first PRT record. Problem is the production had our music sounding like a Public Service Announcement. We already had a sound, we did not need one. So, the session was our first and last with Don Big City Beats.

AE: Can you remember the first time you rocked a mic on stage in front of a crowd?

WI: Yes, this was at the Trenton Carnival at Father Rocko’s park. Chubb Rock was the feature. We were the opening act. The carnival was always held in North Trenton (across the street from the projects), MY HOOD; “Divine Land”. So, no one could perform before or after us. Chubb Rock – as ill of an MC he is, was booed. This was my first experience in front of about 1000 heads!

AE: How did PRT form?

WI: As stated above, I was rocking with another MC named GF (God Father). Culture was producing tracks and DJing. Culture Freedom and GF had issues, so I had to make a decision to either bounce with GF, or rock with Culture Freedom. The decision was a no brainer because Culture is my BROTHER, and we go back way before music. That said, Culture and I formed PRT!

AE: Your music seems to be very much influenced by Jamaican culture. How did that come about? Was it just a natural progression or did you consciously add those reggae sounds into the mix?

WI: Both! Just as I was influenced by many local Hip Hop crews in my area, as well as those on radio, I was also influenced by the lively reggae seen in my area like Jah Pop’s, Poplar, Ferocious (Leggo Man), Long Man, Rahzil Highpower, etc. as well as Yellow Man, Eek-A-Mouse, Josey Wales, Early B, Shine Head, Sister Nancy, Sister Carol, Pinchers, Tiger, Tenor Saw, Nitty Gritty, etc.

AE: What was the deal with YZ signing you to Diversity records?

WI: It was actually YZand his partner Tim Baylor. They wanted to put out the single ‘Time To Say Peace’/’ButtNakedBootyBless’. We conceded, and delivered them the completed, mixed, master quarter inch reel.

AE: Why did you sign to North Side instead? Who was behind that label?

WI: Diversity sat on it a little longer than our hunger could afford. So, North Side Records approached us and were ready to go. We got the reel back from Diversity and released the record on North Side. North Side was run by Eric I.Q. Gray and James Lee, both of whom were from “Divine Land” projects in Trenton.

AE: How well did the single do on North Side?

WI: It was actually the catalyst for everything that happened in our careers as Hip Hop artists. Viewing it from this perspective it did very well. It did what we intended for it to do.

AE: How did the jump to Profile happen?

WI: Red Alert was the first DJ on radio to play the record. He liked it and the rest was history. Red Alert introduced Profile Records to Poor Righteous Teachers. I remember someone from the label saying that Red Alert gave them the song personally. Red Alert was and still is HIP HOP!

Poor Righteous Teachers

AE: What caused the friction between yourselves and YZ?

WI: The fact that Diversity Records did not want to return the reel immediately and just break off the relationship that hadn’t even began.

AE: How did Tony D fit into that, as he was producing for both of you?

WI: He was playing both sides of the fence. Tony D was actually partner with YZ in Two-Tone Productions. So, I should have known he would later be a problem. He made the track on which I addressed the Diversity Records issue, then turned around and made the track on which YZ replied. I did not make a dis record about YZ, I made a brief statement on a track pertaining to something else. Nevertheless, Tony D was selling weapons to the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s regardless of if they killed one another! This is a part of the reason I did not do a specific record dissing YZ, even after his full dis record!

“Tony D was selling weapons to the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s regardless of if they killed one another!”

AE: How did you feel at the time about tracks like ‘Crocodile Dundee’?

WI: It was Hip Hop! I still like that song. I think it was one of the many good songs YZ has made over the years.

AE: I hear that you, YZ and Brother J (of X-Clan) did some shows. How did that go and will you and YZ do any other things together in the future?

WI: It went well. This was first encounter with YZ since our youth. I had never really gotten a chance to sit down and talk to YZ in the past. I really did not know him. The shows we did together allowed me some time to get to know YZ better than I did. He’s a good dude! He caught a ride back to Jersey from Boston with my crew. It was something that should have happened years ago. I guess things happen when they do for a reason.

AE: Back then, do you feel Trenton was a hotbed for hip-hop?

WI: Yes! I think that any place where poverty is concentrated and hope is elusive, you’ll find some of the most talented, creative and brilliant people in the world; and not just Hip Hop heads. Trenton had many crews, MC’s, DJ’s, etc. but Trenton has never had a WBLS, HOT 97, KISS, or POWER 105, WUSL, or 100.3 The Beat. Trenton has never had a major radio station, In fact, there isn’t one major Hip Hop station in the entire state of New Jersey. So NJ crews have to go elsewhere to get burn.

AE: Was it more important to be respected locally, or to get props from New York?

WI: I never looked at it in those terms. I just wanted to be good at what I did. I guess that was my own naivety. Trenton, as I remember it, desired not to be like any other place, and would let this be known wherever they went. So, I wouldn’t say we wanted respect from NY, we wanted nothing more than acceptance of the fact that we were HOT! We were FRESH! We were Hip Hop! I didn’t rock in a lot of local showcases, when we recorded our first serious tape of about four songs, Culture and I were more focused on getting signed than rocking the block party!

AE: What were the big Trenton anthems – either ones made in or about Trenton, or songs from other places that always rocked in Trenton?

WI: The God Squad ‘Rock the Audience’, Almighty & KD Ranks ‘Trenton is Where We Live’, BLVD Mosse ‘Can’t Escape the Hypeness’, KRS ‘The Bridge is Over’, Just-Ice ‘Licking Lyrics’, Public Enemy ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, Stetsasonic ‘Sally’.

AE: Did many NY artists perform in Trenton in the 80’s? Did any Trenton artists steal the shows from under them?

WI: Yes, quite a few. I remember when Rakim was challenged by The Chief MC’s at the War Memorial (Fresh Fest). They did a recording called ‘We Got Your Melody’. It was also next to impossible for other artists to perform on a ticket with PRT. It was what it was. Trenton is notorious for booing, and throwing pocket change at artists. You had to be really on point!

AE: How important was Tony D in the Trenton scene?

WI: Very! He was the dude with sampling drum machines! Most of us had records, but couldn’t get them looped. ‘Time to Say Peace’ was the perfect example. Culture brought this Drum Drop Break Beat Volume to Tony D and he looped it for us. Not to say that Tony didn’t have records and samples and beats. He was very efficient with his production and in the studio. Tony D also had an active connection to Hip Hop scenes in Philly and New York. The irony in this is that, we were signed only after we gave our record to Red Alert!

AE: Do you feel that Profile did all they could for PRT?

WI: ABSOLUTELY NOT!

“I gave someone my last copy of Holy Intellect. I made that record for the people so let them have it.”

AE: Did you and PRT split up? And if not will the group drop another album anytime soon?

WI: We did not split up! We are brothers! We talk about another record. I have a shit load of tracks I’ve laced from Father Shaheed. I just don’t know if our schedules will allow it to happen, as much as we all would like for it to. We have families and active individual mission statements.

AE: In what ways did you approach your solo career differently to your group career?

WI: I wanted to reveal a little more about me. My personal feelings about things and how all these could be translated into service to others. The youth, specifically. PRT was strictly about the music and its message. Whereas my solo is largely focused on activism, the movement and the INTELLIGENT brand.

AE: The Talented Timothy Taylor seems to take a more honest approach  – by which I mean you put a lot of yourself on the record – was that an intentional thing?

WI: Yes it was. As I said before, PRT never really talked about how they grew up. I wanted to sort of fill in the years that shaped PRT, we did not come out of a vacuum.

AE: What are some of the themes you’re dealing with on the LP?

WI: Tim Taylor touches on everything from growing up in poverty, public education, the beginning of the crack epidemic, issues concerning black families in ghettos, racism, police brutality, and how I relate to all these.

AE: What’s the hardest thing about running an independent label?

WI: Liars, thieves, and truce breakers! Also, those brilliant ass independent labels who want to do business like majors, but can’t really do shit for you!

AE: How important is activism to you personally and Hip Hop in general?

WI: I don’t believe that dependence on any man, no matter how great or small, to deliver to you and your people the necessary life-sustaining goods you need to survive is a good social theory. We can’t expect to vote for some guy, and when elected, he magically provides for us the things he promised he would when he don’t control the private corporations that control those things, i.e., jobs, health care, gas prices, etc. Voting alone will never cut it. We (black people) did not get the right to vote by voting. It was activism that secured this right. So why now have we abandoned activism and put all of our eggs in this one basket? Politicians are liars! The lie, they get elected, they never deliver on the promises. So, we must take responsibility for our futures ourselves. We must learn from the activism of Afrika Bambaataa who brought together the elements of urban subculture (Graffiti, Breaking, DJing, MCing), to move youth away from gang violence and motivate them towards more positive attitudes and life-styles.

AE: What’s the proudest moment of your career?

WI: When I gave someone my last and only copy of Holy Intellect! Today, I do not own that record on vinyl, cassette, or CD. I felt that I made it for the people, so let them have it. Give to the people what belongs to the people, and keep for myself what belongs to me!

Posted by drewhuge in HHC Classics, Interviews

YZ – Taggin’ It Up

YZ tape cover

So, I already published the interview with Tony D that was part of a big Trenton retrospective that I wrote for Hip-Hop Connection. I’d forgotten until I saw the cuttings the other day, but it was a spliced up piece containing quotes from Tony, Wise Intelligent and YZ, rather than separate interviews. Which makes me feel even better about disinterring this stuff and presenting it wholesale.

For me, YZ didn’t quite hit the heights on the albums that his talent deserved. Sons of the Father and The Ghetto’s Been Good to me were more than solid sets, but just slightly held back by a touch of filler, not uncommon for albums back then. However, the YZ EP, for me, deserves to be discussed in the same terms as Intoxicated Demons or All Souled Out.

Of the three Trenton interviewees, I think YZ was the trickiest to pin down, set a date with and then actually get on the phone. But it was worth the effort, even if we ran out of time with about 15 questions left. Still, that’s a sign that he wasn’t monosyllabic. Of course, I was the ideal person to interview YZ because, with the weight I’d put on at this time, clearly the gateaux had been good to me.

Stay tuned for that Wise Intelligent piece coming soon to round off the Trenton Trilogy of Terror.

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Posted by drewhuge in HHC Classics, Interviews

Trenton Where We Live: Tony D interview

Hip-hop heroes seem to be dropping like flies recently. I prefer them when they’re droppin’ funky verses. I spoke to Trenton, New Jersey producer and rapper Tony D not very long before he died, in an interview for Hip-Hop Connection. I spoke to YZ and Wise Intelligent in the same week and it was nice to join the dots between the three, even after a lot of not always smooth history.

Tony D reading a newspaper

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Posted by drewhuge in HHC Classics, Interviews

That’s what Connections is all about

hip-hop connection connection page

Many thanks to Leaders of the New School for the dodgy grammar of that post title.

Hip-Hop Connection, the world’s first rap monthly (take that, The Source) started out as a phoneline before taking shape as a magazine. Courtesy of first Chris Hunt at the Tower of Power, then Andy Cowan at the Tomb of Boom, HHC went through many iterations, shoved from publisher to publisher. We’ll dig into HHC history in due course, but a feature of its early days, inherited from the phoneline concept, was ‘Connections’ where you could make contact with like-minded readers. Continue reading →

Posted by drewhuge in HHC Classics