In being the true school Hip Hop fan that I am, I’m always looking to discover and support newer acts that have a certain “it” factor. One artist who definitely has that rare quality is the Motor City’s own Priest. Unknown to most, Priest has been making waves on the underground scene for a few years now and has parlayed his knack for storytelling and raw in-your-face reality into over sixty songs to date. He has recorded two albums, one of which was a collaboration project with French jazz-hip Hop producer Jaze Baqti called This Thing of Ours, and now he’s back with his third full length album Art of Urban Warfare.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to chop it up with Priest about his music, his transition from Motown to NY, and his growth as an artist. Check it out.
WJ: For those that don’t know Priest or your music, can you tell us a little about yourself/background?
Priest: Well, I’m from Detroit, and in one way or another been an active musician since I was 13 or 14; competing in cyphers, freestyle tournaments, battle rapping. I left home to move to New York to really and honestly pursue music. Lived in the South Bronx first, moved to Queens, performed all over this fucking city from every armpit and tuna-fish smelling hole-in-the-wall to Times Square, the infamous Blue Note, etc..,
WJ: And how many years have you been in NY now?
Priest: Going on 5 years, man, it’s been interesting. In the most unbelievable ways I’ve used this city as a platform for larger opportunities.
WJ: Word, so have you found it to be more conducive to what you want to accomplish in your career?
Priest: If the first half of my life was “learning”, the New York segment would definitely be “growing.” I went from being a burn-out, a low-level hoodlum, college dropout to being a kid that performed in Paris and a NYC underground artist. Feels strange in my new skin sometimes.
WJ: You ever miss it (Detroit)?
Priest: Of course. I just miss Detroit for what it was – What it meant to me growing up. I had amazing experiences back home and even when the circumstances were unfortunate there were moments to draw from. I miss old faces, I miss my favorite haunts, but I don’t miss living back home. That part of my life is over but it’s good to visit.
WJ: Yeah, it’s always important to have some type of ties to where it all started. Tell us what made you want to do a concept album this time out?
Priest: I came up in the storytelling era and I wanted to test my skills and create my version of a masterpiece. Something that spoke beyond speaking, something that could really crystallize the spirit of what I set out to do. Any nigga and they momma can babble nonsense to fill up the blank space of a 3-4 minute loop. Me, I can’t fathom speaking for the sake of words and rapping for the sake of creating. Plus, I don’t like small talk.
WJ: Was it also driven by this lack of creativity we see now with mainstream, well the majority of Hip Hop?
Priest: That too. It is an over saturation of bullshit floating around but it was really to challenge myself. I’ve always wanted to do one.
WJ: Gotcha. Speak a bit about how the “chapters”, as you described them, play out. Did you simply chronicle your life and decide on the theme for each or was it more of how you felt the story should move? I guess I’m asking is it 100% reality or did you have to embellish a bit to bond it all together?
Priest: It’s definitely 100% truth. The chapters represent our largest internal obstacles in being the emotional struggles we have to overcome to get to that true revelation to progress to our greatest version of self. Each of these things can and will kill you along the way: How many niggas have succumbed to their “environment” before 18 or 21? How many people have become so “helpless” that they’ve resigned to their fate? How many use overtly harmful indulgences like sex & drugs as a method of “escapism” to run further away from and into themselves? Or let that “aggression” sharpen them as warriors to take another person’s life? Does a person truly acknowledge their poor choices and can be honest enough with themselves to say they “regret” their decisions so it doesn’t happen again? In my case, this is a chronological schematic of the steps I went through to re-organize my life for the better. In an obvious light, the album is about me leaving Michigan for good to chase everything I’ve always ever wanted against all of the bullshit I stepped over to get this far. And honestly, against everything I fooled myself into thinking was true.
WJ: That’s good stuff right there man. I like how your mind works…Impressive. Now, I know you also play guitar. So does that help when you’re constructing hooks and rhyme schemes? You seem to be very rhythmic in your approach when you rhyme?
Priest: Sometimes. You pick it up over time and hear how the notes collide with one another plus you can hit a certain register with your voice just by recognizing what the music is doing in the song. Rhyming though, I rap double-time in a lot of cases, I just pay attention to what the drum section is doing and I plant my syllables in those spaces to develop what people know to be the “flow.”
WJ: Interesting. I like the part about planting your syllables. I’m sure most don’t think about trying that. Ok, so on to a very serious topic. With the recent situations involving the killing of black males that have been in the news and even more recently the Walter Scott incident, did you feel an obligation as an artist to speak on that topic like you did on War?
Priest: Abso-fucking-lutely! That is my responsibility as an artist. My issue with a lot of artists, immediately, is that there such a self-centered disconnection with their audience. A nigga will jump out of his own skin once his signature is popularized just to say ‘hey! I did that. That’s all me!’ but can’t speak on issues to actually uplift people and bring awareness to an issue. Artists have a specific platform that is almost Christ-like because people truly and literally consume music and culture to the point of adapting it as a lifestyle. They’ll sell you sneakers, bullshit and twerk videos, but a motherfucker can’t use their influence to speak on something that doesn’t benefit them in some way? Fuck out of here with that flawed logic. It is our obligation as artists to speak life into these issues. Artists are the closest thing, unfortunately in a lot of cases, to being representatives and leaders for any respective generation and it’s a little fucking sickening that there hasn’t been a larger and more vocal presence of this topic in music.
WJ: I like that. I also feel that artists are charged with taking some responsibility and use their platform to inform and possibly offer solutions that plague the fans, as well as themselves. Now, you also speak a little about relationships on songs like Just Listen. Is that something that you did in order to remain as transparent as possible? That’s not something that too many artists do nowadays considering the majority choose to portray women in a negative light.
Priest: Well, I almost didn’t do the goddamn song because I felt it was too vulnerable. In a way the song is me as a man wondering why we will not give ourselves permission to express ourselves emotionally. Why do we deny this emotion? Sometimes we put on a front to be larger and stronger than we are and we destroy ourselves for it in the end. As far as the portrayal of women, that’s not my interaction with females. I don’t objectify women in real-life, I don’t disrespect them in real-life so it makes no sense how it would permeate into my music. I think women can be full of shit and they’re psychos, but it’s the balance they represent and their quirks that even it all out and that’s what truly draws my interest.
WJ: How do you feel the album will be received? Is that something that you even consider or is it more for you?
Priest: It’s picking up steam right now and getting some positive feedback so I’m satisfied as hell on that end. I definitely want this project to exceed my expectations. I dumped a lot of time and energy and money making the fucking thing so it’d be nice to see it be received on a larger level. The album is literally my life until the age of 24.
WJ: That’s great. I’m pulling for you man. Do you have any other projects or endeavors in the works? Let everyone know how they can check out more of your work.
Priest: Yeah actually, my next album is going to be entirely a soul and rhythm & blues arrangement. Beyond that, just collaborations with Ryler Smith & INDIGOD, Phoniks, Awon, etc.., I’m featured on the new Pragmatic Theory compilation entitled “Life,” also.
For a catalog of music and you want to hear me scream at you over music, I’m on Soundcloud at www.soundcloud.com/priestmusic
Reach me on Facebook and hear my fucked up thoughts on www.facebook.com/motownpriest
Hit me on IG @motownpriest
And grab every album I’ve created up to this point on Bandcamp directly at www.motownpriest.bandcamp.com
Bon Voyage, fuckos, Sincerely, the Northcoast homie, Priest