Consisting of Wise Intelligent, Culture Freedom, and Father Shaheed, the Poor Righteous Teachers played an integral role in shaping Hip Hop’s black militancy and Islamic oriented message in the early 90′s. The Trenton, New Jersey, based group released two critically acclaimed albums, Holy Intellect (’90), and Pure Poverty (’91), both of which stressed for the eradication of poverty and ignorance in Hip Hop and society as a whole. The trio went on to release three more albums, however, as the Hip Hop scene started to embrace gangsta rap, the Poor Righteous Teachers soon fell out of the spotlight. Now after four years off, the group has decided to make another comeback. Wise Intelligent, the group’s most recognizable and critically acclaimed member is set to drop his solo release The Talented Timothy Taylor this summer. HipHopSite tracked down Wise to give us the rundown about his new album, as well as Poor Righteous Teachers impact on the Hip Hop game.
HipHopSite: I just want to go back and talk about your history in this game, especially for people reading this interview who may be too young to remember Poor Righteous Teachers. I know you have repped Trenton, New Jersey, to the death over the years. So what was it like growing up in that environment?
Wise: Have you ever seen that movie City Of God? Well, Trenton is like that. Its like a little box, and poverty is at an all time high out here. Fifty percent of the youth around here are living below the poverty line. The government has been cutting the programs, so there is no social assistance down here for the youth. There is really nothing for them to do, so they are joining gangs now. Bloods and Crips are real big over here now. So the youth is wildin’ out now, but it used to be aight. It’s a typical ghetto, the same story across America. It’s a bunch of poor kids trying to find a way out, and that frustration and hopeless is internalized. So it spills out in the form of black on black crime.
HipHopSite: So when you were growing up there it was a little better than what its like now?
Wise: No doubt. It was all good until crack came. Once that came it destroyed everything. But I remember before that, things were good. I was young at the time, like 11 years old, and I was able to walk all over Trenton without encountering any beef or violence of any sort. I didn’t risk my life walking from one side of the street to the other. But now you can’t even walk to the corner store to get some ice cream its so bad. But when I was growing up there wasn’t a lot of crack or guns in the streets. You could have a fair fight with somebody, knuckle it up, and get it over with. But nowadays, you will loose your life because you looked at somebody wrong, or you wore the wrong outfit in the wrong neighborhood.
HipHopSite: What is your first memory of Hip Hop?
Wise: Wow! I wanna say the Sugar Hill Gang with “Rappers Delight”. That whole movement was it. That was the first rap record I heard on so called “mainstream radio”.
HipHopSite: How did you first get into rhyming?
Wise: I was always into Hip Hop, because Hip Hop is who I was. I was into break dancing and graffiti. I was tagging, burning walls up, dancing, the whole nine. So going into rhyme was inevitable for me, because I wanted to learn all the elements of Hip Hop. The only thing I didn’t get into was DJing, because it seemed a little too complicated. Plus, turntables were a little too expensive for me. (Laughter).
HipHopSite: How did Poor Righteous Teachers form?
Wise: I knew Culture all my life, and he was DJing and producing at the time. So we just started to make songs and the chemistry was there. But I knew Culture long before we started the group, so we were real tight, and our families were close. And Shaheed, he lived on the other side of town. So he just fell into place when things started to materialize.
HipHopSite: How did you guys start to make a name for yourself, and get your foot in the Hip Hop door?
Wise: It all started in our neighborhood. We started on the street level and were making tapes out of Culture’s apartment in the projects. We all lived in the same project buildings – Divine Land, Red Brick City. We were just bangin’ out tapes and heads started to take notice. So we became the hottest group in Trenton, which lead us to hook up with this kid, Eric “I.Q.” Gray. He has his own record company, North Side Records, and he lived in the projects as well. So we put out a 12 inch on his label and it popped off. DJ Red Alert eventually heard it and he spinned it relentlessly. So Red Alert helped us get that break into the mainstream of Hip Hop. But it all started on the street level. You need to have that foundation, because that is where your story is at. And every rapper without a story eventually falls off. You will never be in the people’s memory if you don’t have a story or solid foundation.
HipHopSite: For those younger fans reading this, can you explain what Poor Righteous Teachers stood for and your message.
Wise: Our message was to combat poverty and ignorance! We figured that all of the problems facing our people was based upon poverty and ignorance. So once we could accommodate the people’s immediate necessitates – food, clothing, shelter, and things of that nature – then that will erase the poverty aspects of their lives and in turn give them some type of political orientation. Then that would dissolve the ignorance. Our whole thing was to disseminate as much positive information as we could, in order to build our people up on an economical and spiritual level. And we are still about that to this day. Its about killing poverty and ignorance because that is what’s killing the people right now.
HipHopSite: What was the personal meaning or significance behind the name Poor Righteous Teachers.
Wise: Poor Righteous Teachers represent that small percentage of the population who don’t believe in the teachings of the ten percent. That ten percent are those who control the mainstream and the large majority of the people, and in turn, enslave them. We don’t follow the teachings of the ten percent. We don’t follow the Bush administration. They who represent the ten percent desire to spread propaganda to control the public mind and enslave the poor people of the planet. And that’s what’s happening, we see this. The Poor Righteous Teachers are those who see this going down, and they exhaust their man power, wealth, and resources to try and combat it.
HipHopSite: Do you feel Poor Righteous Teachers were overlooked by other political artists such as Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and Brand Nubian?
Wise: I don’t think we were overlooked, because I feel we were definitely recognized by other rappers. Our peers took notice, because you can hear some of our jargon in their manifestations. But as far the industry goes and things of that nature, you have to understand how it was back then. New York and LA were very big and powerful cities with large bases to launch from. Trenton, for example, we have to go to someone else’s turf just to get radio play. We had to go to a whole different market, because there is no mainstream radio in New Jersey. So the Jersey artist is forced to deal with other heads and markets all the time. And all the artists you named were from very big markets that had radio, and could develop artists to that degree and extent.
HipHopSite: Do you feel you guys set the blueprint or foundation for other Jersey groups, such as the Fugees?
Wise: Wow! I don’t know if Wyclef is Jersey or Brooklyn, because he says Brooklyn a little more than Jersey. So I don’t know where he is from yet. But we definitely contributed to what a lot of those artists became, which is a good thing. But the point is, whether I believe it or not doesn’t matter. Its when they get on BET and act like they have created some type of original bean pie. (Laughter) And they know they got the receipt from a Poor Righteous Teachers cook book.
HipHopSite: What is the status of Poor Righteous Teachers right now?
Wise: We build everyday! Right now Shaheed is in Brooklyn, and he has his own production crew called The Fugitives. Its Father Sheed, Peter Panic, and a bunch of other heads. They are doing some big things over there. Culture, he is in Tennessee right now running a youth group. He is trying to recruit the youth out of the streets and teach them something different. But we are about to get together and work on a new record, so its all good with Poor Righteous Teachers.
HipHopSite: I remember Ice Cube saying as Hip Hop progressed in the mid 90′s, fans really did not want to hear political Hip Hop anymore. Did you see that?
Wise: I don’t know if they didn’t want to hear political Hip Hop, but I saw the mainstream media, record labels, and radio stations pushing in the direction of the gangsta rhyme. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to hear it, because think about it, the Fugees sold some 10 million records in the same era, when the gangsta rap was starting to pop off. And Lauryn Hill sold some seven million records. Even today, Kanye West sold a couple of million. So its not that they don’t want to hear it, its that their opinion is being controlled by the propaganda matrix. You have to pay attention to that! Opinions are being bought, and souls are being sold. That is what is controlling the market, in terms of where its going. I was there, I was on Profile when the gangsta rappers started to come into play. I was there when the companies attention, drive, and focus was being shifted from the conscious emcee to the gangsta emcee. DJ Quik was signed, and a lot of money was put into him. So I saw this gangsta rap thing coming. So what you have to understand is, the ten percent who control the masses and get rich off of their enslavement, they need the masses to be as ignorant as possible. They need them to be out here gun clapping and gang banging. And just as you see all the kids mobilizing into gangs today, back then you saw all the kids mobilizing into revolutionary groups based on Black Nationalism, or whatever it was. You had A LOT of kids out here wearing African medallions, who were politically conscious. That is something that they didn’t want to happen, so they had to change the game. It happens all the time!
HipHopSite: Music wise, what is the biggest difference between Hip Hop now, and the Hip Hop you were involved in during the early 90′s.
Wise: It was more balanced! You would get a larger variety of music and ideas as a consumer or fan. With today, you are getting one message all the time – clap a nigga, shoot a nigga, get rich or die trying. That is all you get over the radio! “Dammit girl, get down and get your eagle on. Shake your ass, move that thing”. That’s all you get! All day, one message. But back then, you had a variety of songs. You had your songs about getting some ass, but you also had ones about being radical, being a Black revolutionary, or being a member of Islam. There was a wide variety and balance, as you had rappers representing the entire spectrum of opinions. But now there is only one opinion on the radio. So that is a big problem.
HipHopSite: I read a quote of yours and you said “Our basic premise is, you don’t have to sin to be successful”. Do you think that is all but gone nowadays, considering artists are using beef, marketing ploys, and gimmicks to sell records.
Wise: Oh, definitely! But its not really the artist’s fault. The artists has some responsibility, but you have to understand who the artist is. They represent that fifty-percent of the American Black youth who come from nothing! The same youth who markets himself in a derogatory way, or in a violent way to sell records, is the same youth who was selling crack a minute ago because he has nothing! So to what degree can you blame a victim? So it’s a catch 22 for a young black man coming from Trenton, or any other ghetto in America. If you are coming from a situation where you have nothing, its hard to turn down two hundred and fifty thousand dollars because you don’t want to market yourself as a gangsta. Give me a break! Anybody will act like a gangsta in a minute for that money. So if these labels would put as much money and backing behind a conscious idea, then you would see all these rappers doing something positive, like in the era we grew up in. You had labels actually putting money and support behind conscious ideas. So you had more artists writing in that framework. But since the labels shifted their focus to gang bangin’, now all the emcees coming up think they have to be gang bangers to sell records. That is what’s dominating the large majority of the airwaves. So the poor kid is controlled by the wealthy land owner, lets put it that way. The slave is always controlled by the land owner, so he is always going to do whatever he wants him to do to sell records.
HipHopSite: Ok, lets move onto your new album. Tell us about The Talented Timothy Taylor.
Wise: The title speaks for itself! This album is going back to the days when the best artists were determined by their level of talent, as opposed to your marketing value. These days you have a lot of artists who are heavily marketed, but lightly talented. If we were basing who the best rapper was on sales, then MC Hammer would be the greatest of all time.
HipHopSite: And Vanilla Ice.
Wise: Exactly! They would be in the top 5 emcees of all time if it was based on how many records you sell. So we have to be very mindful of that. Its not about records sales, its about talent. Now you have DJ’s getting on the tables doing things nobody thought could ever be done. Everybody can’t be a DJ, it takes talent. The same thing with being an emcee, not everyone can do it.
HipHopSite: Why types of concepts, issues and topics are you going to be dealing with on this album?
Wise: I’m touching on a lot of stuff. But message wise, I wanted to put myself in the shoes of the young black male in America’s ghetto, who has a sense of hopelessness. And that hopelessness being internalized and spilling out in the form of self destruction. So what I did was, I kind of became that 19 year old kid, Hip Hop fan, or emcee. And being that individual, their only option out the hood is this Hip Hop game. So fuck everything else! And I broke it down through that perspective so people can understand where he is coming from. Because that 19 year old kid has to overcome insurmountable odds to make it. So this album shows both sides of the story. It’s a real clever album, and its well crafted. I’m touching on a lot of issues from poverty, ignorance, monogamous relationships, Bush’s administration, population control, to all types of things.
HipHopSite: When is the release date for the album?
Wise: It will be out this summer. Right now we are trying for a June release, but worst case scenario it will be out in August.
HipHopSite: What label is it coming out on?
Wise: Intelligent Music, which is through independent distribution. Right now are we talking with a couple distributors. We are talking to Mega Media, Navarre, and some other big ones.
HipHopSite: Who is doing the production?
Wise: We have everybody! We got Madlib’s brother Oh No, from out in Cali, he is a beast! Also, Jamal Pierre, Trackzilla, Daddy Ice, and P.J., who gave me some big records. And besides Oh No, everyone else represents the Have Nots Crew, which is a production team that works closely with us.
HipHopSite: Any guest appearances?
Wise: There will be absolutely no guest appearances from Puffy Combs, MC Hammer, or anybody else. That is another thing I wanted to get back to, I didn’t want to make a compilation record. I’m not having any guest appearances on this album. I want to take this album back to when it was about the artist. How are you going to find out who the Talented Timothy Taylor is if you have a million other dudes on the records. So this album is a journey through my life, and a walk in my shoes only. Besides, I can’t afford to pay them fifty g’s to spit 16 bars on my shit. I can’t afford to pay the Neptune’s. (Laughter) But if they let a nigga hold something, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m from the hood man, I can’t afford to pay Snoop Dogg to get on my album. I’m in a situation where I have to sell crack in order to make records. Because I have to pay the DJ, program director, street team, everybody. All of that just so my record will get noticed. I can’t afford to pay all of that, plus the drum machines, studio time, and all of that. Man, I barely got enough to pay for ink and loose leaf paper.
HipHopSite: What do you think about the current state of New Jersey Hip Hop?
Wise: Jersey is the same as its always been. Jersey is the dirty orphan of Hip Hop, the red headed step child who always has to force the issue. Us in Jersey, we have to get out and force the issue. We can’t expect things to come to us. We have to got to your party forty deep, raising hell, starting fights, and kicking over turntables for niggas to recognize that we exist. We have to do things that like sometimes. When Poor Righteous Teachers first started, we came with forty heads on our way to Brooklyn. We were Dirty Jersey! Cats were telling us all the time that they wanted to book us for a show, but could we please leave our crew home because we were tearing up shit.
HipHopSite: Are there any artists out there right now that you feel carry the touch or represent what Poor Righteous Teachers stood for?
Wise: There are a lot of cats, but they aren’t getting no burn. Cats like Immortal Technique, Saigon, and Quan, who runs with Nas. Of course, Talib Kweli and Common, they are still doing their thing. I just think that there is nobody out there that is saying, ‘Look, this ain’t no flower movement. This is a movement we are willing to die for and kill for at the same time’. Because it is bigger than just a rap song. There is more at stake than a nigga moving outside of the ghetto. Its about collective responsibility, cooperative economics, and things of that nature. And if that is not being projected in your message, than eradication is inevitable for you. That is why the conscious emcee or the ghetto political rapper, they have to be a unit. I’m from the same ghetto that everybody else is from. Everybody is yelling their projects out, like ‘Marcy this, Watts that’, but we are all from the same ghetto. Just because I am on something positive doesn’t mean you should take me lightly. So sometimes you have to crack a nigga over his head to make him understand that the penalty for your actions is swift. Sometimes you have to get like that, and roll out like a gang. It has to be a movement, like the Black Panthers. They were a movement! They weren’t running around putting roses in a nigga’s lapels. Black Panthers were running with 12 gauge shotguns like what! Do not cross this line, you do not want it with us! And that is what I’m saying, because there are no conscious or political rappers out there drawing their line in the sand. That is why a lot of these conscious emcees are not respected, and they need to be. Ain’t nobody respecting a soft ass movement. Even Jesus Christ told his disciples, ‘Any of you guys who have valuable merchandise that are rolling with me, sell it and get yourself a sword’. That was a revolutionary movement going on right there. Their whole goal was to overthrow Roman imperialism in Judea. They weren’t flower boys running around throwing petals on the ground. And if you have a whole nation of niggas running around today ready to die for what’s wrong, than where are the positive cats willing to die for what’s right? That’s the problem, dudes be looking soft!
HipHopSite: What else do you have going on in the future?
Wise: I’m working on a couple of community programs right now. One of them is called Intelligent Kids, which I’m trying to get off the ground as we speak. Basically, we are going to try and take youth from the hood and bring them into the music industry as owners of their copyrights, masters, and give them a full enrollment into the music industry from an owners perspective. We wanna help them avoid the traps that a lot of us fell into during our early years in this music industry. So that movement is going to be really strong. I’m also trying to start this society of young black leaders, sort of like the boy scouts, and teach them how to survive. Teach them how to shoot a rifle, how to raise their families, and how to do real things. A lot of these kids out here have never even been fishing. Some have never taken a step outside of Trenton, so we want to change that. I really wanna take a group of kids and take them to Africa, let them see something different. Take them to South America, and let them sit down with some kids in an orphanage down there. So they can get some political orientation instead of all this gang bangin’. And that’s real!
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