Killah Priest: View From Masada

Killah Priest
View From Masada


THE WU-TANG EULOGY has become the hip-hop tastemaker's dis du jour: No lazy critic considers his or her CV complete without a half-page dismissal of the (admittedly overabundant) releases from the prolific Staten Island posse. But while many solo Wu stalwarts did indeed extrude discs of filler as the two-triple-oh drew nigh, a slew of associates unobtrusively came off the bench to pick up the slack. One such affiliated newcomer was Killah Priest, who marked 1998 with a debut from his crew Sunz of Man and his own solo joint, Heavy Mental.

Priest's followup finds the MC stewing his mush of Gnostic Christianity, Afrocentric Egyptology, and Five Percenter preachments into food for hours of late-night, smoked-out pondering. As with all "deep" Wu theoreticians, he leaves you wondering how much of this composite religion he means as a put-on. Priest is capable of ODB absurdity: When he asks a white woman for the time and she shrinks away, he nonsensically blurts, "What are you carrying anyway? Some of the Indians' turf?" He's also capable of aphoristic simplicity like "The hand that writes is as good as the hand that holds the plow." To Killah's credit, though, "What Part of the Game?" sees him denounce stereotyped thuggery as the cynical sales pitch it is.

But the main peril Wu joints have faced is musical monotony, and it's by overcoming this stumbling block that Masada flourishes. Rather than relying on the deliberately minimalist string arrangements of the RZA, Priest's team of producers expands upon a panoramic orchestral sweep that's unashamed to hint at a Brooklyn kid's idea of the exotic. At times the effect is almost like a fusion of underground hip hop and the lush, rhythmic whirl of Algerian rai, picking up on the trend Timbaland engineered for Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin.'" I always knew hip hop would eventually head back to the Mother Continent for sonic sustenance. But who would have thought they'd start up in North Africa?

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