Vinnie Paz talks touring, reuniting with Stoupe, and film (exclusive interview)
Vinnie Paz

Vincenzo Luvineri is more commonly known as Vinnie Paz, an undergound hip hop legend and founding member of the influential rap group Jedi Mind Tricks. Achieving widespread critical acclaim with Jedi Mind Tricks, hip hop supergroup Army of the Pharaohs, and solo, Vinnie is once again back with producer, friend, and fellow Jedi Mind Tricks founding member, Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind. We had the pleasure of speaking with Vinnie recently in ancicipation of the forthcoming record, dropping June 2, 2015:

AXS: This is your first album back with Stoupe since A History of Violence. So, what will fans notice has changed on The Thief and the Fallen, and what will be familiar for them?

Vinnie: One thing I did notice…we’re actually both weird in the sense that neither one of us listens to our own music. Which…I just think it’s such an ego-centric culture, hip hop. Everyone says they’re the best, “I’m the best DJ, I’m the best rapper, I’m the best producer.” And…I think we always, in terms of who we are as people, we’re sort of turned off by that. Of course you’re gonna say braggadocio shit in your rhymes, but you read some people’s Twitter feeds and it’s like there’s no way they could really be that delusional. It’s craziness.

The last time I had a lot of fun and felt like it was us like we were back when we first met in ’92 was probably Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell, and that was ’06. This is 2015, so you’re going on closer to 10 years, and I think we’ve just kinda hit the same stride. We did everything and anything we wanted to do, and the few years we hadn’t worked with each other musically, as soon as we started again it was like we picked up right where we left off back when we were having fun and loved it, so in that regard I think people will feel that.

As far as differences though, it’s like I guess we both just matured in the sense of he’s matured as a musician. There’s a kid Ish Quintero, a kid named Zack Gillespie, who helped with a lot of tracks on instrumentation so there’s a lot of chopped up live instrumentation on this record. But I’m not implying that it sounds like a live band, it’s just added a dimension to the production…The album was kind of lyrically, where my head was at, inspired by Clive Barker’s writings. It’s not something that’s blatant, it’s not super-mega-obvious if you’re just “oh, that’s that Hellraiser guy.” If you’re a Clive Barker nerd, you have references throughout the record that people will catch.

AXS: Really looking forward to the Clive Barker references, loved “Hellraiser.”

Vinnie: Ahh, yeah, it’s great man. I love Books of the Blood, “Hellraiser,” The Damnation Game.

AXS: And on Psycho-Social, Stoupe sampled “Lord of Illusions.”

Vinnie: Oh yeah, yeah…actually…a lot of the early albums, those samples I would find him [Stoupe], because he spends most of his time listening to baseball on the radio. I would bring samples from weird movies.

AXS: So by not listening to your past releases, that’s how you sound so evolved, just because it’s a natural progression?

Vinnie: Yeah, I think, until you just said it I don’t think I was conscious of it, but Stoupe’s the same way. When we were going back through this rehearsal, we were going through this set, I was like, we preformed this song live, and I was like I don’t think I’ve heard this instrumental since we made the bedroom of your crib…Like you said, it’s like why one doesn’t sound like another, it’s because there’s no point of reference, there really only is one for the fans…So maybe because of who we are inherently, there will be some remnants of who we are. One of our records isn’t just going to sound like a pop record because we just have never done that. It’s not that we hate anything or love anything specifically, but we are just still the same two dudes that met 23 years ago, so in aspect it’s always gonna triumph through. I’d like to think it’s sort of an evolution of that, rather than emulating something we already did.

AXS: It’s funny what you mentioned about the fans having a point of reference, because the irony is that they probably have all the lyrics memorized, because hip hop fans, especially underground devotees, are usually really passionate.

Vinnie: It’s funny, there have actually been times like mid-verse when I forgot my shit and they helped me finish it.

AXS: Really?

Vinnie: Yeah, I remember I had a song called “Cheesesteaks” from my last solo record, and it was doing really well, people really reacted to it. And midway through it in Toronto, I just fucking hit a blank, and a thousand kids just sung that shit and I picked it back up where I remembered. It was humbling obviously, and cool on so many different levels. A, that these kids care enough to learn the words, and B that they got me out of the jam that I got myself in.

AXS: Time to hold the mic out quick, right?

Vinnie: Yeah man, they saved my ass then.

AXS: That’s hilarious, glad they were able to help you finish that verse. You’ve worked with a smattering of artists and producers, Stoupe of course, RA the Rugged Man who’s on your new album, Sean Price, the whole Army of the Pharaohs crew. Are there any artists or producers you haven’t yet collaborated with but would like to?

Vinnie: I was talking about that with my business partner recently…I’ve worked with so many people that I respect and admire and when you ask me, I’m gonna answer realistically. I mean, I love Jay-Z, but I don’t think that’s happening any day. One person that I’ve just respected since KMD, it’s been 25 years, but [MF] Doom. I’d love to do something with Doom. I know for a fact he’s in London, and it’s my understanding he can’t get back to the US, some immigration shit. But I’m a huge Doom fan, that’s who jumps out at me I think.

AXS: That would be an amazing collab, if that ever happens that will be a straight classic.

Vinnie: I’d love to make it happen man.

AXS: You mentioned Slayer earlier, so who are some artists or albums that fans might not know significantly impacted you as an artist?

Vinnie: Slayer Reign in Blood, Agnostic Front Victim in Pain, everything by Minor Threat, everything by Black Flag, Operation Ivy, the Ramones. Stevie Wonder Talking Book, Stevie Wonder Music of My Mind, I’m all over the place. I guess music just affects people on different levels. There’s people who get in their car and throw the radio on, and that’s cool, they enjoy it just on a much different level that I do. I mean, I’m never without music.

AXS: You listed a very eclectic mix there, including the Ramones. Good choice, didn’t know you were a Ramones fan.

Vinnie: Yeah man, I was lucky enough to see them opening up with Debbie Harry, that was great.

AXS: Wow, was that in Philly?

Vinnie: Yes sir, at the Tower Theater, where David Bowie did his live album.

AXS: Oh, cool. A lot of your tracks inform while entertaining, like “End of Days,” “Shadow Business,” and “Is Happiness Just a Word?” so how do you balance the more educational fare with the party joints for lack of a better phrase?

Vinnie: I tell people this all the time, and the react the same way by just not believing me, but for some reason, those songs you named, all of them, the more heartfelt, or you used the word educational, whatever adjective we choose to use here, I can write the song in an hour. And then the verses that people think are just ignorant, gun talk, metaphors and punch lines, usually take me like two or three nights to write, which makes no fucking sense to me at all. If I did an entire album of just “End of Days,” and “Shadow Business,” and “Is Happiness Just a Word?” I could probably write it in two weeks, which again, like I said, I have no idea what it is about that part of my brain that allows it work that way.

Those are the songs that I get letters from kids in Bulgaria saying it helped them to not kill themselves. So I think that type of shit is real validation. Gold records, platinum records, those things are forms of validation. To me, having someone say my music got them through a rough time, or having kids send you Jedi Mind Tricks tattoos daily or weekly on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, I think that’s just a different type of validation…So I guess I’ve been lucky that hey, I talked about sweatshops or I talked about global conspiracies, and they happened to come out as ok songs.

AXS: What becomes popular with fans often differs from what the feels is their best work. Do you ever feel any of your albums or songs are underrated or underappreciated?

Vinnie: Absolutely. Well, in Scandinavia, “End of Days” is what fucking “Lean Back” was in the US...And when we would go there, the kids would be like “Vinnie, this is the number one song on the biggest Norway radio station.” And I’m like, this fucking song? It’s the most bizarre song we ever did. Like every fucking thing I’m saying on here is batshit crazy, and offensive, to the average person. It’s offensive to the status quo. But I guess it’s just a pocket of the world where it resonates with them…I think that song, if it showed anything, it’s that regardless of the topic, a good song’s a good song…I don’t think it’s underrated in terms of success, but I think Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell is probably our best work. I think stock answer to a longtime fan would be Violent by Design, and I’m super proud of that record, I always will be. We recorded it, mastered it, and mixed it out of a bedroom, so that was a great time in my life. It put us on the map. Again, I’m not super well-versed in my own music because I don’t listen to it but I just think there was a lot of really good stuff on there. So I think people should like that more.

I thought “End of Days” was a really good song, but say you go on Spotify, it has more streams than some big songs by bug pop artists. I think there’s 21 million streams of “End of Days” on Spotify. And there’s mammoth, huge, indie rock bands who have half that on their big song. I’m not a numbers dude. It’s just something my business partner said, we had a meeting over dinner, we were talking about record sales not being what they were when we were kids, because of torrents and illegal downloading. How do you quantify things now? Is it YouTube views, is it streams, is it x, is it y? You have to find other ways to figure out where you’re at. And that came up, this fucking weirdo song about crazy ideas has the amount of plays as the pop charts. I never expected that.

AXS: You mentioned how the music landscape has shifted with torrents, and streaming services like Spotify and YouTube. So what are the ways that you have to compensate for that as an artist?

Vinnie: Well, unfortunately for me, I think the average musician, metal, punk rock, hip hop, whatever, is like loves performing live, loves seeing the world, loves touring, and for me that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m like the dictionary definition of a homebody. When I say a homebody I don’t literally mean my home, but I mean I love being in Philly. Everything out here, I start getting out of my comfort zone, and it starts setting off my disorders, and I’m an Italian mama’s boy, so all those things I add to the fact that how do you make up for all that stuff? You make up for it by staying on the road because that’s where the money is, that’s the problem though, what happens when you hate it? So then you have to start figuring out now, what are we gonna do now because I’m not touring 150 days a year…And that’s the other thing, I guess you would call it ironic, it’s that nobody is asked to do shows and tour more than us…So…it really becomes “be careful what you wish for,” because when I was rapping in front of a mirror, in ’86 and ’87, everything that I ever wanted has come to fruition.

Now don’t get it twisted, once I’m at the venue, and the show’s about to start, I’m happy as shit…It’s the love, the love that these kids show is beautiful. The live shows are still amazing, I still give 120%, I’m still happy when I get to the venue backstage. You know, get something to eat, get a cold drink, then rock out for over an hour, I still feel like a teenager.

Yeah, but that’s what we were saying, now everybody’s feeling music so we have to tour and we have to make sure that we’re very professional, businesslike about merchandise…I want to make shit that kids would buy, so I start trying to figure out, would I buy this if I was 21, or would I think this guy was a whore? We made flasks, and I thought this was the funniest thing ever. For when you need to sneak some fucking hooch into a wedding, we got you. Our new album cover, on a flask…it’s just something I would think of like if Wu-Tang made a dope flask, I know that I would buy it.

AXS: You mentioned your mom a few times, speak about her in a few songs, and said earlier you’re an Italian mama’s boy. Any favorite dishes that she cooks?

Vinnie: Oh, everything she cooks is the greatest. We went out to dinner tonight for some sushi, but I take her out at least two nights a week for dinner, we have at least two nights where we always go out to eat. But no, everything she makes is amazing. Her meatballs are the best. I know it’s cliché to just say everything she makes, but she made homemade tortellini rose, homemade meatballs, homemade gravy. Everything man.

AXS: Oh man, you’re making us hungry.

Vinnie: She’s the best.

AXS: Mom’s cooking is always the best, no doubt.

Vinnie: Always, always.

AXS: Agreed. You mentioned movie samples, and Stoupe dropped this as well. You’re a big film buff. Any movie recommendations?

Vinnie: Ahh, what have I seen that I love lately? The fucking Robert Durst six part documentary was fucking batshit. That was brilliant. The documentary they did on Edward Snowden.

AXS: Citizen Four.

Vinnie: Yeah, Citizen Four, that was brilliant. The Bobby Liebling documentary. Bobby Liebling was and is the singer for an unheralded metal band called Pentagram. They were kinda like the US version of the band Zephyr that never got any recognition. And there’s a documentary about the lead singer, Bobby Liebling, that’s amazing. The newest documentary on Scientology. I can’t remember the name, HBO produced it, it was batshit crazy. It’s a mindfuck. You just sit there with your mouth wide open through the whole thing. Because the people in the film, it’s called “Going Clear,” everyone in it was in the Church [of Scientology] forever, so you have no reason to question them. Did you see “Room 237?”

AXS: No, but we’re big Kubrick fans.

Vinnie: Aww dude, “Room 237” is basically people who belong in mental institutions explaining what they think “The Shining” is really about over the course of two hours. And it’s just fucking disturbing that these people walk the streets as it is interesting. One person believes that it’s basically an admission from Kubrick that he faked the moon landing, other people think that it’s an homage to Nazi Germany, it’s batshit crazy and brilliant. So yeah, there’s a few.

AXS: “Room 237” is saved in out Netflix queue, we’ll have to check those documentaries out.

Vinnie: Did you see “Jodorowsky's Dune?”

AXS: No.

Vinnie: Yeah, it’s like Alejandro Jodorowsky basically explaining what his “Dune” would have been, how crazy, batshit crazy and brilliant it would have been. How Salvador Dali would have been in it, how he fucking had to like feed and get Orson Welles drunk to get him to agree to be in it, and how the studio just took his baby and ripped his heart out. And then he just shits on how bad David Lynch’s version was.

AXS: David Lynch’s iteration was heroically bad.

Vinnie: Heroically bad, and it’s a shame because I love David Lynch. And he’s a Philly guy.

AXS: Oh really? Did not recall that.

Vinnie: Yeah, “Eraserhead” was all shot here. And I think he’s brilliant, but that movie [“Dune”] is all shit.

AXS: And speaking of Philly…how do you feel about Chip Kelly’s moves this season?

Vinnie: Well, everyone here is like, as far as the retards on sports radio, they’re torn. But me and my brother, we have faith in Chip. Because for me, the first two seasons here he made chicken salad out of chicken shit. He’s got two winning seasons with, I mean Mark Sanchez is a fucking hobo, and he got fucking 10 wins out of that guy. He’s obviously light-years ahead of the way that other coaches think. Will it bite us in the ass? I don’t know. If Sam Bradford’s healthy, we got DeMarco Murray. He’s [Chip Kelly] just so fucking confident as a man that I’m just gonna ride with him, until he proves to me that he’s a crazy maniac who doesn’t know what he’s doing. But you know, I’m excited.

AXS: There’s the upcoming album and tour, plus you’ve been really busy recording, with two Army of the Pharaohs releases last year. Do you have any future projects planned?

Vinnie: I guess when we get back from our tour, it’s back to work on my next solo album. And Stoupe’s dropping his solo album, so 2016 each member of Jedi Mind Tricks is dropping a solo album. There’s gonna be singers, rappers on his album, so it’s not going to be that prototypical rap producer album. The joints we’ve done for his record, there hasn’t even been a rap yet. You know, it’s just going in a weird direction. And my solo album, once we get back from tour it’s back to the studio.

AXS: Nice, and fantastic to hear that you’re doing another solo so soon as well, so got two records to look forward to. Really excited to see how it sounds.

Vinnie: Thank you man.

AXS: Well I really appreciate all your time, because I know you’ve got a lot going on. Quite looking forward to the new album!

Vinnie: Thank you, thank you, I appreciate it man!