interview by Miguel D'Souza

MIGUEL: What brought the crew together?

POETIC: Prince Paul was going throuh a period in the business where he
was number one, not getting acknowledged for his talent and two not getting
his monetary situation... when he owned his own label, Dew-Doo Man through
RAL and Def Jam, they owed him a lot of money and he really got stuck into
a position as a producer where he wasn’t producing for a couple of years
because he was waiting on Russell (Simmons) waiting to do some things.
That left him frustrated, angry and kind of vexed. He’s very creative,
so naturally he wanted to translate that feeling back into his music, so
during that period he was making a certain type of music and he decided
that he wanted to get a crew together so he could vent against the music
industry. So he called on people that he was working with: myself,
Fruitkwan and RZA as vocalists who he felt had the same opinion of the
industry and how they were being treated unfairly... he put it together
for that express purpose. what was going to happen was that each of us
would collaborate then do solo things, but as the universe would have
it, the first time we got together we ended up making a song... it was
like the case that the underdogs got together and became the overlords.

M: When you look at the histories of the people involved, you could suspect
that this would be the case, you were all relatively successful, able to
command your own attention. was the idea of the Gravediggaz a more
useful metaphor for cloaking your commentary on the industry?

P: Somewhat. It stems from, first of all, looking at it from the standpoint
of musical depth. It’s funny how when you’re alive and well and this is
your livelihood you got people calling you for interviews, you’re doing
shows, you’ve got the interaction from your fans and it’s good. When
that situation is cut off, you feel some kind of musical death, like
‘damn... I’m not even alive anymore in music’. Critics turn on you now,
people try to influence you to doubt your own ability because they have
doubts about it. There’s a lot of things to contend with, so the first
grave we had to dig was our own. We had to dig ourselves out though and
we figured if we could be involved in a situation where we could dig
ourselves out, then we’d look at the situation on the streets where
people were mentally dead, cause we all were in our years that we were
cut off - from the same label by the way, we were all on the same label
at different times. But we all our little death sentence on that label
you know what I mean...

M: We’re talking about Tom Silverman’s Tommy Boy?

P: Correct.

M: What I’ve noticed from the first album to this one is that the metaphor
has been expanded, the decay, the death, the afterlife that you’re
talking about is the living death of inner city black communities. But
it seems that the metaphor has been expanded from the colonialism of
America and the enslavement to American authority, corporatism suffered
by black people. It seems that the metaphor has been extended to cover
the decay of black inner-cities.

P: That’s a very good analogy, that’s a good observation. Pretty accurate.
I put it this way. It’s the government versus the meek and the poor, the
poor people of this world far outnumber everyone else and we’ve had the
opportunity as Gravediggaz, to travel and meet some of those poor
people, all over the world, and see for ourselves how many similarities
we have. It goes beyond just black and white shit. It’s the powers that
be don’t care what you are. If you’re poor, they don’t care. If you’re
poor and you don’t have a solid voice in the government, or enough
finances to influence the voices in the government, then the world is
against you right now and that’s the honest truth. That’s not rhetoric,
that’s not metaphorical or allegorical, that’s real. And that’s all over
the world, not just America.

M: You’re able to couch some fairly subversive ideas within the metaphor
and scenarios that you create. Black music has a long tradition of doing
that. Back to George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, all of the
personae he created were metaphors based upon black social and political
life. There’s an amazing amount of success achieved by black artists,
particularly now that hip-hop has acquired a mainstream audience. But
has that conversion from being an underground music to being a
mainstream music affected the nature of the message being put out to

P: I believe so yes. Now that it’s mainstream, the companies have more
influence over the artistic integrity of what they’re going to let
flourish. The radio has a certain format now. Some DJs won’t play shit
unless you can dance to it. They don’t care about music or concept, or
consciousness... nothing! Strictly dance music, stuff they can dance to,
shake their butts to, whatever, whatever. If you know that the only way
you’re going to get your stuff played on the radio is to create
something like that, as a young, up and coming artist, you’re going to
see more and more that they lean towards that side. Once that process
begins, it filters out and dilutes the whole hip-hop forum, to the point
where on the radio over here, you only hear the same type of music. It’s
the same tracks and the same slangs, same clothing items, monetary and
material things to talk about - with different voices. Big deal. Same
shit, you know what I mean?

M: I guess when anything becomes commercialised there’s a homogenizing,
there’s a sameness that becomes typical of that style, of that sound,
that’s what happens to anything when it’s afflicted with this
mass-market medium. Through using metaphor in hip-hop, hip-hop artists
can get across a lot more of what they want to say, though it’s still
in that coded language

P: It maintains its raw form....

M: The worst thing that can happen to hip-hop is when it’s taken out of
context, when any element of the music is view using a set of values
that don’t come from the place where that music originated. By
maintaining that metaphor you’re still communicating to the audience you
want to, as well as others. I may be consuming the Gravediggaz, but
somebody closer to where you’re at, may be consuming something else. It
seems hip-hop metaphors are useful in that respect. More broadly, how
does a crew like the Gravediggaz progress from here?

P: Our ultimate goal is to build upon the culture of hip-hop. We’re all
veterans, we’re having our time now but we have all adopted our
‘students’ and the next step is to let our students flourish. I have
other artists that I have groomed and I can’t wait until they get out
there and do their thing. I have a group called the Ancients, another
group called the Three Heartbeats, another called Lord Omen the
Scientist, he’s the last person on Elimination Process, I have a few
singing groups, a little R&B, Eddie Goldfingers, Quiet Storm, you know
Shaqueen the Thug’s Dream, Bambi the Ghetto Child, a variety of things.
I’ve started my own label, Plasma records, ‘the life force of music’.

M: It always amazes me how much talent is out there, it seems though
there’s a limitless supply ...obviously people have got something to

P: You know why? Because they are fed up. They are speaking out of
frustration, they’re fed up with being bamboozled to the point where you
turn the radio on and in a two-hour span you hear the same songs eight
times. I can understand two times...the other six times could have been
some new music something different. The radio stations now don’t play a
variety of music, that’s why you have localised hits. Over here in New
York, they don’t play alot of West Coast stuff. In the West Coast they
play a little more East Coast stuff than we give them credit for. I go
over there and they play shit, they play old-school records, they play
old school East Coast stuff, you know what I mean? Keeping it real and
alive and all of that. There’s that lack of musical creativity on the
part of radio programmers out here, and it’s disgusting, to tell you the

M: I recall the pressures on black artists signed to major labels, are
there pressures that stem from knowing that the problems that are rife
in the music industry are simply that representation of the broader
forces at play?

P: The problem is that we’re involved in a system. Once you’re in the
system long enough you realise the confines and limits and boundaries of
that system. You can go against the system but you have to weigh up the
consequences, will it be your own demise? If I could speak to four or
five hundred thousand people on my records now, as opposed to a million,
shouldn’t I just be content to speak to those four hundred thousand who
are going to be there consistently for me, than by going so far against
the grain that I jeopardise being able to do that. It’s a consideration
that’s real and you have to have it. It’s going to take so much for me
to try to stand up in the middle of a tornado and try to push the wind
or try and stand in the middle of a tidal wave and try to push the wave.
If I can’t change the wind and I can’t change the sea, then I’ve got to
change the sail. Make sure it’s lucrative enough for me - I can still
make my money to do and finance whatever else I believe in. If I ruffle
too many feathers, lose that opportunity... I’m going to butter that
biscuit ‘til that butter roll off! Keep rollin’ ‘til I can’t roll no

M: The approach is a result of what you’ve experienced. There is so much
about your experience prior to the Gravediggaz that informs what you do

P: Sum total of everything you’ve experienced.

M: The album itself. Has it got the necessary power and effect you

P: Yes, I think we have achieved what we intended and it’s still only a
certain percentage of what I’m going to do on my solo endeavour.