Killah Priest :: Black August Revisited :: Think Differently
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Admittedly it's hard to speak about an album titled "Revisited" when the original "Black August" has yet to even be covered on Just because it's difficult though doesn't mean the attempt shouldn't be made. That sentence sums up Killah Priest's career in a nutshell. Originally brought to the limelight as a prodigy of Wu-Tang Clan's own GZA/Genius, he found little support within the Clan itself after the release of "Heavy Mental" and forged a seperate path forward. It probably wasn't meant to be anyway, given that Priest lives up to his name with verses and concepts influenced by the Bible, while the Clan's influences (sans Ol' Dirty) seem more in tune with Allah and the Qu'ran. The two can exist side by side in harmony (or in an ideal world SHOULD) but that doesn't mean they necessarily mix well together. On his own Priest has released albums like "Priesthood" that increased his cult following, thanks to a mix of effective beats and intelligent rhymes that mix spirituality with street knowledge. He is also an integral member of the "Four Horsemen" rap click that includes big hip-hop names like Ras Kass and Kurupt, and their guest appearances on each other's albums tend to raise the aura of the posse as a whole.

Far too often in hip-hop circles music, underground credibility doesn't translate into pushing mass units of your album or garnering larger exposure. Perhaps that's why Priest decided to revisit "Black August," an album that got national distribution Priest hadn't seen since "Heavy Mental" thanks to Artemis Records, perhaps best known in hip-hop for Khia's "Thug Misses" album. Unlike Khia, Priest got little support and almost no promotion, and you can't even find his name mentioned anywhere on their website. Killah Priest's "Revisited" version is a little stripped down in appearance from the original - it comes in a slim line case as opposed to the full gem, with a one sheet liner insert with the album's cover on the front and production notes on the back.

The oft-quoted maxim "great things come in small packages" applies well to this new version of the album. The Kallisto produced "Intro" encapsulates a 70's blaxploitation vibe and a smooth harmony into a song that has only a brief Priest verse, but it's one that still causes instant "Illmatic" flashbacks to rap heads:

"It's Priest the ghetto novelist, thugs and hollow tips
Slugs and mac-10's, drugs when I'm rappin
I craft pen, near the streets of New York
Basketball courts, gats could go off, crack a pro sport
My rap of all thoughts, my tongue's a paintbrush, ya brain's a canvas
I draw in gangstas with their shootin hand bandaged"

"Big World" draws strength from that hot start and keeps things flowing with an up-tempo attack on two fronts by Javon with music and Priest with words. Sounding like a Killah indeed, Priest pulls no punches: "Nah, I dried my tears for the last five years/y'all been usin me, stealin my ideas/then lied to the world like y'all pioneers." His seething rage bubbles up to the surface and flows all over the place, achieving menace strictly through the command of word delivered like a fire and brimstone without resorting to snarling or adding extra grime to his voice. It's that carefully controlled exercise of his vocal chords that makes him dominant even when speaking softly, as found on the deeply confessional "Greatest Lesson":

"You judge me, but what would you do if you was me?
If you saw through my eyes
If you felt the pain that I've felt inside
What would you do? Would you cry?
Ah, I thought so, I do sometimes
See you have a home and a swimming pool, a big backyard
Large living room, fed with a silver spoon
You probably sinnin too but don't know
Pardon me if I'm offendin you, but I won't go
I question my faith, been in a depressional state
Self-hate, one day blessings will wait
Stared death in his fate, plannin my 'scape
I've seen D's stretching out tape
I've 'visioned prison dates, injected with the venom of snakes
Women with grapes, slept in rooms pyramid-shaped
Walls covered with hieroglyphics, I'm far from religious
It was said in my first introduction
which was Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth
For me it went deeper than just readin a verse
Seein it first, I needed work"

It can't be overstated how raw and honest Priest's words are on this song, and how Jahson's soft beat compliment this outpouring perfectly. The Just Blaze produced "Last Supper" suffers by comparison just by following it, and that's saying something. Christians who are quick to criticize rap should peep this track. Although Priest tells the tale in his own way and colored with his own four-letter words, it's essentially the same tale of Judas betraying Jesus that can be found in the New Testament. "Time" is a remix of a song originally appearing on "Black August," while "Revisited" is an all new presentation done by Francis which serves as a "title track" of sorts for this album. It's followed by two more original cuts, including the 4th Disciple produced "Mind as a Weapon" featuring Hellrazah from Sunz of Man. His verse is type nice, but still can't steal the show from Priest:

"When I design poems, each line shines like a rhinestone
Will leave ya mind blown, lost in a timezone
Politicians follow traditions, they got Clinton spittin
Some are superstitious, a group of witches
Reduced to bitches, everyday they shoot switches
I'm on the loose takin pictures
at all the devils, I drop science like metal
Black as Othello, heat up a mic like a kettle"

The "Street Opera" that follows is a revisited track indeed, although not from the original "Black August" - it's original origins are from a rarely heard B-Side to the "One Step" single off the "Heavy Mental" album. "Do the Damn Thing" is from "Black August" though, and on this remix the tangential Wu member managed to score a guest appearance and verse from Ol' Dirty Bastard - although these days he's something of a Wu-Tang Clan rebel himself. It's typically nonsensical from Big Baby Jesus, with lines like "Eazy-E lingo, you doin the tango, the vet don't wear Kangol/ I dare pump my shit out the club, actin strange, yo." He hardly needs to ACT strange, but it's still nice to hear him and Priest together over a Mr. Khaliyl beat. The Full Moon produced "Turn Around" was probably cut from the original due to an inability to license the Bonnie Tyler sample, but Priest's lyrics always deserve a second chance to shine:

"My verse runs deeps like smack through a veteran's vein
See cats on the train beggin for change
Needin medicine for they pain
I'm in heavy rain, sweatin, testin my aim
Carvin my bullets with the President's name
Destined to reign, still guns bust while cats discuss
about the gats they bust, and loyalty amongst employers
The more weed, the more they mind seems free
The more the knowledge gets squeezed
The more the crimies are more than grimy
Push that life far behind me
Sometimes I spaz out, pull my pad out
Then I pass routes to a crackhouse filled with drug dealers
Some thugs, some killers
My picture paintbrush tellin ya old school cats and gangsters
For every word that I print on paper
It's like a proverb from a prince in Asia"

Priest exudes a natural confidence in his delivery and in the power of his written word that puts him second almost to none among writers in rap. Whether using his abilities to illustrate the darkness of his surroundings, to enlighten the listeners and the youths, or to tell biblical tales, he shines as bright as the sun. Only a rare occasional mis-step like "Vengeance" featuring Ras Kass mars the album, where Priest tries to do a quick-stepping rap that goes against the grain of his natural slow and often appropriately off-tempo style. The variety of producers within keep things interesting, with cats like John Shapiro lacing haunting melodies like "Militant" and Tiny handling the pounding soundscape of "The Rain" featuring Main Flow. Closed with the self-produced bonus track "Genesis," Priest dips into an old school form that sounds like Sugarhill Gang days, and here a faster tempo works much more effectively as he reminisces about the old times when "the Bishops and the Lords used to rumble" and "Michael Jackson and leather jackets, bicycle fashion." While this reviewer humbly admits to not being able to compare "Revisited" to the original "Black August" due to a lack of coverage of the original, this new version should in all likelihood satisfy anyone who bought the other, let alone Killah Priest fans looking for another fix. He's in fine form here, holding down his cult status nicely and making sure his legend in hip-hop will continue to grow.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10

Originally posted: December 30, 2003