Wise Intelligent Interview
Poor Righteous Teachers – “Time To Say Peace (Original Mix)“
from Time To Say Peace 12″ (North Side, 1988)
Poor Righteous Teachers – “Rock Dis Funky Joint“
from Holy Intellect LP (Profile, 1990)
Poor Righteous Teachers – “Miss Ghetto“
from New World Order LP (Profile, 1996)
As the frontman for Poor Righteous Teachers, Wise Intelligent, spent nearly a decade preaching 5%er ideology with a reggae tinged flow and trailblazing what is now known as conscious rap. PRT are one of the few rap groups to ever drop four consecutively dope albums without falling off.
Although it’s been a decade since their final lp, New World Order, Wise has recently been making moves and preparing his long awaited sophomore solo album The Talented Timothy Taylor. I conducted this interview last October. I figure with the relaunch of the site and the release of Wise’s new mixtape Blessed Be The Poor it’d be a good time to dust it off.
Noz: To just start at the begining how did get into the rhyming thing?
Wise Intelligent: I was living on Hanover St. on the West side, North West Trenton New Jersey and hip hop was what we were, when we heard it on wax it was all we was doing. I like to say that “hip hop didn’t make us fresh, we made hip hop fresh” because it was what we were. When we heard Melle Mel, Sugar Hill Gang coming across the airwaves, late 70s, early 80s, we was like “yo… wow… that’s us on wax – that’s our lifestyle, that’s what we understand, they speaking in a language we can relate to on face value” so we all kinda gravitated to hip hop, it was magnetizing based on the culture of it and what we all were dealing with as youth. In my neighborhood there was a lot of MCs I looked up to as a youngin. You know, I’m like 9 years old and I’m spinning on cardboard boxes. Grafitti’in on walls and it’s like MCs Charlie Beans, General Lee, Omar Superstar, so many MCs from around State St., Spring St., that whole area – Sweets Ave., Fountain Ave. There was so many crews – Ammunition Posse, Almighty and KD, – that i looked up to, who’s tapes i used to listen to. It was more the local mcs that I was influenced by than it was the nationally known artists.
N: At what year was this all happening?
W: This was like from 1982, 83, 84.
N: So you guys had been doing it.
W: Oh yeah we’ve been doing it for a long time. We was real young dudes, sneaking up in the Capital Skating Rink.
N: When did you hook up with Culture Freedom and Father Shaheed [to form Poor Righteous Teachers]?
W: Well Culture was right there with me from the beginning, you know we kinda grew up together from [when we were] real young. And we used to just rhyme at each other, we’d make little tapes. With a little beatbox and a little radio. You know a little mic used to be on the radio, we used to rhyme into that and laugh about it. We wasn’t really serious about it, but we definitely felt that we could rhyme. So we kinda grew and the next thing you know we end up in the projects together and that’s when we really started forming the group and Shaheed came after that. We kinda brought Shaheed in as our DJ. When Sha heard the tapes he was like “Hell yeah, I’m ridin with that.” Sha was like one of the best DJs in the area, he was DJin’ at the local parties – Lawrence Center, Boys Club – killin’ dj. And that’s when I had already started entertaining the idea of signing to a label.
N: Was this before you got with North Side [Records]?
W: Yeah this was all before North Side, North Side came immediately after this. After we formed the group, we started put [the word out] that we wanted to make a record. So we went in the studio, we sold all our equipment. [Laughs] that might seem kinda counterproductive, but we sold it to pay for studio time. We were that serious about the music we had. We felt that good about it that we could sell all the equipment. We sold the equipment, went in the studio and we recorded a 12″, actually we recorded about seven songs, and took three of those songs and put ‘em on a 12″. We were gonna put it out on Diversity records which was owned by Tim Baylor and YZ. That fell through because they were playing around, they wanted to procrastinate and put all these other guys out before we got out and we didn’t have the patience for all that. We livin’ in the projects and they wanted to put out dudes that was living in the suburbs, out in West Windsor, who’s moms and dads is lawyers and shit. So we were like man, give us our reel back. He didn’t want to give us our reel, he wanted to make us pay for the reel so that’s when the projects come out of you. 12 dudes on his porch ripping the screen door off to get the damn reel, man.
N: And you and YZ weren’t exactly friendly after that. I remember you were throwing some jabs back and forth later on.
W: Definitely, that’s what really started it all. So after that we took the record back around our way, in the projects. Sittin on the bench in the projects with a quarter inch reel. What we gonna do with a quarter inch reel in the projects? That’s when IQ, Anthony “IQ” Gray, he lived in the building next door to us, right next door to Culture. And he said, “yo, I got a label, North Side Records, I’ll put the single out, no problem.” So he put the single out and it was on and poppin ever since then.
N: So how’d you make the jump from North Side to Profile.
W: We took the vinyl, we serviced the vinyl to Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, and the DJs that was hittin at the time, Mr. Magic. Red Alert understood what it was, I guess bein’ from the Bronx and the 5 Percenters being founded in Harlem, it was an uptown thing, so he could relate to it on face value. So he put the record on his show and after that it was on. From what I understand, from Profile, Red Alert actually gave them the record personally. So we got the phone call, they wanted to put out the 12″ and was like bet they gonna put out the 12″. And then after listening to the 12″, right after the meeting, they called us back like “do you want to do an album?” They asked us how soon we could have them an album and we was like “tomorrow morning”. We [had been] going in the studio and in one session, we would lay down like five or seven songs.So we were rolling then. We were Poor Righteous Teachers. We became a household name in the hip hop community.
N: Were you guys pleased with this success?
W: We were content with everything except for Profile’s handling of the promotion on the project. I felt like they were a little more personal about how they dealt with the marketing and promotion, as opposed to professional, you know? Poor Righteous Teachers, they didn’t saturate us the way they could’ve saturated us in the market place.
N: That seemed to be a problem that you guys had your whole stay there. Even up to the last record which had KRS & The Fugees on it and still got no marketing.
W: Exactly, we always like to say that Profile promoted us good enough for everybody, for other MCs to steal what we were doing. So that’s what happened.
N: And at this point is that you can’t even buy any of those albums in stores anymore.
W: Yeah, Profile sold the label to Arista and they’re just sitting on them. Right now I’m on the phones with them, like “yo can i please have the rights to sell this product on my website at least.” I’m gonna try to negotiate something with them because we still own 50% of everything they have.
N: So that’s was a pretty good deal to get into for the time, no?
W: I guess, it depends on how you look at it, you know, we were young. If we had any real music knowledge at that time we would’ve stayed independent a lot longer and just pushed our records and today we could be as big as profile was. But we just didn’t look at it that way. It was a lot that we didn’t know, we was young, we was teenagers.
N: But these days you’d have a lot more difficult time going to a Red Alert type and just giving him a 12″ off the street.
W: Without a doubt, we came at a good time. When hip hop was pure, when real djs were breaking records. Today DJs don’t break records and that’s the problem with hip hop right now. The DJs gotta understand that they are the keepers of the block parties, that they are the keepers of hip hop. The DJ has to understand that. The DJs allowed hip hop to be where it’s at today by not breaking records. When the DJs stopped breaking records that’s when hip hop went corporate.
N: What can we expect from the new album The Talented Timothy Taylor?
W: This record right here is probably the most personal record I’ve ever written. Because as Poor Righteous Teachers, we rarely allowed the audience who were listening to really delve into our personal lives. It was more of a God thing, we were more on the immortal side of thing, as oppossed to the mortal side. This record is more on the mortal side, I’m kinda revealing my wounds. I’m opening up a lot more. I’m not the type of MC who wears his heart on the sleeve. That’s why Wise Intelligent is The Talented Timothy Taylor because I’m taking it to that era before heads knew me as Wise Intelligent. Before I became commercial, before I came in the marketplace. Wise Intelligent is a nationally known name and associated with rap, where Timothy Taylor is who I am.
N: Killin’ U For Fun [Wise's solo debut from 1996] was a much darker record than anything you did with PRT. Is this a similar direction then?
W: Yeah I address a lot of issues from injustice in the community, in the world. I address the passing of my Mom, there’s a song dedicated to her. I touch a lot of issues on this record. I address a lot of things that people are probably thinking in their heads – ‘What happened to Culture & Sha, where they at?’ Like I said it’s a personal record. But I’m getting good responses from it.
N: You sound a little apprehensive…
W: [Laughs]. Well it’s something new for me, but at the same time it’s something I’ve been doing forever.
N: Who’s making beats?
W: I got a few kids on there. The Havknots, that’s this kid named Masada and his partner PJ. They’re based in Jersey and probably some of the illest coming out. I have Trackzilla from Central Jersey, he did some big records for me on this one. Also Ambush from San Francisco and the boy Oh No, Madlib’s little brother, he’s an animal. He did the “Still Black” track, he did this joint called “Go With Me.” It’s a tight record from front to back. But it got pushed back because once I started putting my feelers out heads started getting at me like ‘yo let me help you distribute the record.’ So now I got distributers calling me and changing [the release date]. It’s growing before it even touches the streets.
N: That’s great you got better distribution. The push backs had me a little concerned that it’d end up like Declaration of an Independent. [PRT's would be come back album from 2000]
W: Right, right, it never came out.
N: What happened to that?
W: Well, it was too many chefs trying to prepare the soup. I just didn’t like the idea of having other peoples opinions in what I’m creating, that’s not the way I cook. If I’m cooking something, know I’m cooking it, I don’t need you in the back telling me to put some garlic salt into it. People that put up money to help build a project, sometimes they think that their money makes them the god over the project. Man your position. Hold your office. All you’re doing is putting up money, if you don’t like what’s being produced or created, don’t put your money up. I needed somebody that was going to be behind the project that was gonna be like “I trust Wise Intelligent, I like him for what he makes.” That’s what I’m riding with, don’t try to turn me into something that I’m not.
And that’s what was so fun about making the Holy Intellect record. We made that record with no third party interests over our shoulder like “make this – make that – you’re not gonna make radio if you don’t make a song like this or if you don’t rhyme with an r&b beat or if you don’t get a singer on your chorus.” We didn’t have that early. With that record it was just fun, it was just talent. That’s why I titled this record The Talented Timothy Taylor. It goes back to that era when it was about the talent of the mc. About introducing, a new idea, a new thought, a new way of doing things, a new way of bringing things to the table.
I am the backer, it’s all out of pocket. I said fuck it, I’m not trying to spend their money, I don’t want these dudes anywhere around my project. I’m going back to that era where talent determined who the best mc was, not marketing dollars.
N: Well that’s the way to do it. I hear you’re doing a lot of things for the community as well.
W: I have a couple of little non profit jump starts that I’m working on right now. We’re actually going to flip Intelligent Muzik into a total non profit. All the positions at the company will be manned by the youth as enrollment to the music industry. Our goal is to give them an inside view of what it takes to be in this industry. Of the many things that take place in the industry behind the microphone. The things that they do not see. All of us are not mcs. One of the biggest problems with hip hop is that we have business lawyers who are rapping, managers who are rapping. You’re not a rapper, you’re a manager and that’s why you sound so horrible. You’re not an mc. Please, get a desk, get on a phone and make some moves. So that’s what we’re doing with the youth. It’ll be a crash course. They’re gonna produce the record, they’re gonna choose the talent, they’re gonna market, they’re gonna do the street promotion, the radio promotion, they’re gonna do everything. They’re basically gonna own and run the label. So that’s the way we’re planning on running Intelligent Muzik.
The other program that we have is a youth investment club for younger kids. It’s actually teaching them how to invest money. How to save, budget, invest in real estate. It’s basically an economic empowerment program, because we understand that a lot of programs that come to the hood are usually based on sports or something that doesn’t empower the youth economically. America is a capitalist based society where money is the blood life of the system. If you don’t have any money you’re nothing. We want to empower the youth emotionally and domestically, but most importantly economically in order for them to dictate their future on their own. That’s why a lot of youth are joining gangs right now, because the program is inadequate in dealing with their immediate necessities – food, clothing and shelter. You can make a poor man do anything, you can turn a poor man into a terrorist over night. So we’re just trying to empower the youth anyway that we can.
Intelligent Muzik is pretty much a vehicle to bring about those programs. We understand if we’re gonna change our community, we’re gonna have to get down and get dirty. Like John Brown. He didn’t think slavery was right. But he didn’t sit around and get picket signs. He went down there, he raised up a militia and he fought it out. He was killed in the process, but he laid his life down on the line for the freedom of the people. That’s the biggest sacrifice a man can make, to lay his life down for humanity. That’s where we’re at with it, and anybody that’s down with that fight to irradiate some of this poverty and ignorance about cultures, about religion, you’re down with us. We don’t care what you’re background is, what your race, nationality, religion, creed is, we’re cutting through all of that, we’re just trying to get straight to the heart of the person. We want to get straight to the human part. That intrinsic good that’s in every human being at birth. We want to cut through all the bibles, all the korans, all the torahs and just go straight to your heart. What’s in your heart. If you a good person and you wish good on other people, then you rolling with us. Whether you’re in Japan or Trenton. That’s our movement.