His history in Hip-Hop dates back to his days as a member of Poor Righteous Teachers. Seventeen years after the group’s debut Wise Intelligent is still striving for the same goal; making the world a better place through intelligent music. With his latest effort, Wise Intelligent is the Talented Timothy Taylor, just hitting stores, RapReviews caught up with intellectually named MC to talk about the good and bad ways in which Hip-Hop is adapting to the business world, giving listeners more options, and being on his son’s friends’ MySpace pages.

Adam Bernard: You’ve been recording music for nearly twenty years. Over those years a lot has changed. In most interviews people focus on how things have changed negatively in Hip-Hop, but I want you to tell me, from your experience, what’s getting better?
Wise Intelligent: What’s been getting better is the knowledge aspect of the industry and how the business works. The artist has been gaining more control of their art. They’ve been gaining a lot more control in ownership. Now a lot of artists are going into strategic partnerships with labels as opposed to just being signed as artists. A lot of artists are actually have their own labels, or brands, that they’re developing in their community through their own marketing and promotion crews and teams. Once they establish their presence in the marketplace they have more leverage when they come to the table with the labels. That aspect is good. That’s a turn for the better in Hip-Hop. Now the artist is beginning to recognize his power and he’s developing himself in the market before he even attempts to entertain an offer by a major label to get himself more leverage at the bargaining table.

AB: That’s big. That’s almost like saying people are finally reading contracts.
WI: Right. They’re finally getting a grasp of what the business really is. They’re understanding the value and the power of marketing as opposed to how hot a record is. Heads are realizing now that this is business and industry, and business and industry and sometimes marketing are more valuable than the quality of the product for the initial launch, but the quality of the product is what facilitates repeat business. So once you’re established, you’ve established your brand, and you get the deals that you want to get, the issue then is what Hip-Hop always was, you have to have quality music that’s reason to facilitate repeat business and that’s what’s suffering.

“We get very good singles, whether it’s a song about a new dance or a song about somebody’s hood…”

AB: So what kind of value do you see in the majority of the music that’s coming out today?
WI: We get very good singles, whether it’s a song about a new dance or a song about somebody’s hood, or how tough they are, we’re getting some good singles, but albums are horrible. Albums are horrible because it’s become a marketing business, they’ve caught on to the marketing aspect of it and a lot of attention is going into that, that’s why labels are paying 50,000-100,000 dollars for a Kanye West track or a Jay-Z guest appearance, to facilitate the sales from the initial launch of a record. It’s all marketing. Their entire budget is going into the first two singles. It’s single development, not artist development. The value of the quality of the music has dropped and we have this mimicking things going on whereas Hip-Hop was established on a principle of not biting, but heads are biting now and it’s become the rule because biting is a business rule. These are businesses ethics being superimposed on top of Hip-Hop culture. When Coca-Cola comes out then you get Pepsi, then you get RC Cola. What’s hot at the time, what’s selling, you’re all gonna do it. That’s how business usually works in a capitalist society. Just like on the corner everybody was selling weed at one time, but then when crack hit the block and heads saw that they could make more money selling crack a lot of the weed sellers shifted to selling crack. It’s just what it is and that’s what’s going on with Hip-Hop, the way of business superimposed on top of the culture.

AB: First of all thank you for mentioning RC Cola, the former official cola of Shea Stadium, and with the crack analogy of moving to weed to crack, does that mean Juelz Santana is actually correct in his self-assessment that he is human crack in the flesh?
WI: Well, yeah. The metaphors are obvious. It’s not like they’re using these metaphors out of nowhere. The symbolism means a lot. When you really look at it the shift was obvious. KRS-ONE had the record “9 MM” and in that record he talks about how he’s selling weed and the heads come to kill him. That’s what heads were pretty much selling, but when crack hit the block everybody started rhyming about selling crack. Crack is the thing, and the modern rapper is from that generation.

AB: Are they, though? The crack epidemic was during my time and I’m 29. Most of the rappers coming up are nearly a decade younger than I am, so wouldn’t crack have been almost before their time?
WI: They’re the children, the babies from the 80’s. These were babies that were born in the late 80’s, but the point is still the kids that are following this culture, you’re talking about 17-24, when you talk about 17-24 most of the rappers that are out there right now are in this group and they are the babies from the “pussy is free but the crack cost money” era. It’s what it is, but Juelz Santana’s assessment had a lot of metaphorical relevance because heads will do whatever’s selling and when something new comes they’re gonna switch to that. When they find that they can’t make money off of selling crack no more they’re going to start trying to sell whatever is selling.

AB: What changes do you feel need to be made musically within Hip-Hop and how do you feel those changes will then be reflected in the culture and the community?
WI: Balance is what needs to take place in the industry. We need a balance of ideas and opinions. What made the so-called golden era of Hip-Hop the golden era was balance; it was diversity of subject matter. The subject matter today is one sided and it gets monotonous after a while because it’s the same thing over and over again. Every rapper is talking about how he flips the bird and how he packs a gun so big it makes his pants sag. Back in the golden era of Hip-Hop it was so diverse that Poor Righteous Teachers, we went on tour with Ice Cube, Too Short, X-Clan, Yo Yo, D Nice and when we were in Detroit Kid Rock was opening up with his first single.

AB: That’s a crazy lineup. I like that.
WI: Exactly, and that’s what heads need today, to see that Hip-Hop reflects a lot of attitudes and opinions because it’s supposed to be a form of expression and we’re only allowing one form of expression in the forum and that’s what’s killing the culture. Balance would help to facilitate and alternative for urban youth and suburban youth alike who are viewing the culture because they’ll be able to see they have a choice of MCs. I can either be Mos Def, 50 Cent, Andre Benjamin, David Banner or Paris, I have all these different ideas right in front of my face, which one subscribes more to me and reflects my attitudes and opinions on things? Sometimes every rapper in the forum might appeal to you in some kind of a way, you have a diverse palette to get food off and intake and decide what you want for yourself, what’s good for you and what’s not good for you.

“That’s what’s not happening right now, we’re being force-fed ideas that contradict the reality of who and what we are…”

That’s what’s not happening right now, we’re being force-fed ideas that contradict the reality of who and what we are and that’s the problem. If we could get a balanced playlist at BET, MTV, Clear Channel and Radio One, because sometimes it’s not even about making money, sometimes it’s about the preservation of culture, whether it’s Hip-Hop culture, American culture, African culture or whatever culture you subscribe to or identify with. Sometimes music is made for the preservation of culture and major record companies understand this and this is why they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars manufacturing, promoting, shipping and distributing records they know aren’t going to sell but they’re putting them out every year to facilitate the preservation of the European culture. That right there is indicative to the fact that music is not made exclusively for the purpose of making money. So knowing this we should take the same approach to preserve the culture and save some lives in the Hip-Hop community and the urban or black communities and prevent a lot of suburban kids from buying into something that is far from reality and will serve the stereoype of a certain demographic of the American population.

AB: I grew up in the 80’s so I had a nice balance, but I can’t imagine what a suburban kid is thinking right now when he sees any minority because he gets bombarded with violence and sexism. Even the white rappers that are pushed and promoted are all sexism and violence and that just reiterates if you’re doing the “urban” thing…
WI: You gotta do it this way. The balance will show you that there are kids that are going to college who lived in the projects. Everybody from Marcy Projects did not come out of it a crack dealer, or a rapper. There are kids who came from the projects who are doctors. Three black doctors just put out a book talking about how they were in the streets wilin out selling drugs and they decided hey, we have to change our lives. One of the kids said I’m going to school, I’m gonna become a doctor. He made his other two friends swear that they’d go with him and they did and now they’re all doctors and they’re writing books and going on national tours about it. But these guys never get any limelight. That’s my position. My position is that there’s more than one idea in black America, or in urban America. There is more than one idea. We’re not all gangbangers. We’re not all trying to get rich or die trying. Heads are not always what the media portrays them to be. In the golden area there was a number one song called “You Must Learn,” so it’s a drastic contrast from that era to this era.

AB: What are you doing outside of music?
WI: Our approach at this point is we’re activists, we’re in the community, we work with a lot of youth programs and started our own, Intelligent Kids Incorporated. Through that we get to reach our demographic in a real way, in a way that affects their lives beyond just saying yo your song got me through school or yo your song helped me when I was locked down. It helps them in a way that can elevate them and motivate them towards positives attitudes and lifestyles and we can affect change at the ground level. That’s where we’re going with our whole approach because we understand that it is still the ground level kids that influence the culture so by getting down in the streets and dealing with them in their home at their project dinner table that way we can really affect what happens in the mainstream from down here at the ground level. We understand that major labels use the ground level kids to launch new products. The urban kids are always used to market and promote the new products but to their own detriment, so we’re trying to use Hip-Hop influence and leverage it in a way that it will motivate the youth to excel to their full potential. The youth want more from a rapper. When you come and show there are people doing this that represent those ideas that you have in your head but are afraid to speak on because nobody in rap is speaking on it, here they are, they exist, they’re here in your community, you just have to know where to look.

“With my son […] we sit down and we discuss the music heavily.”

AB: As a parent which artists do you try to steer your children towards and which do you try to steer them away from?
WI: That’s a tough one. What happens with my son is that we sit down and we discuss the music heavily. He likes a lot of the stuff that’s out right now and I like a lot of it, too, so if you come around here you’ll hear everything, you’ll hear a wide variety of ideas. My son has a very strong understanding of who he is, he knows who he is and he knows what’s good and what’s bad. We talk about the music, we discuss it, and he knows what the music is used for. We go as far as looking at what influences a rapper to say what he says. We actually turn the music into a lesson, and it works.

AB: Have you ever tried to tell him all about Poor Righteous Teachers?
WI: His problem with my group is all of his friends are like “your dad is from Poor Righteous Teachers!” He doesn’t like the attention, he’s not an attention type of guy, and with the new record, all of his friends have the record and I’m their friend on their MySpace and their Facebook pages so I’m communicating with his friends and everything and he’s like oh this is not good. {*laughs*}