For those keeping order at home, this one should go after We’re In This Together. This one has been in my collection for a while but for some unforseen reason got left off my spreadsheet when I was chronicling my collection by release date. Proof that even hip-hop junkies make mistakes.
As the eighties came to an end and the nineties rolled in, hip-hop started to move away from its light-hearted party rhymes, as many new artists took on a more militant/black consciousness approach. Many from this new crop of artists followed, or at least took to some of the teachings, of the Five Percent Nation (which was founded by Clarence 13X, former member of the Nation of Islam and follower of Malcolm X). Which reminds me of an article in The Source back in the day about how the Five Percent Nation was influencing hip-hop artists. Pretty interesting read, but I digress.
Birthed out of this Five Percent hip-hop movement came a trio out of Trenton, NJ, which called themselves The Poor Righteous Teachers, which comes from the Nation of Islam teaching that 85% of the people are blind to the truth, while 10% know the truth but teach a lie for personal gain, and the remaining 5% know the truth and do not subscribe to the teaching of the 10%, thus the Five Percent Nation, andthe poor righteous teachers. While I don’t subscribe to that doctrine, it does make for bad ass name for a rap group. Made up of lead emcee Wise Intelligent, hypeman Culture Freedom, and the deejay Father Shaheed, the Poor Righteous Teachers hit the scene in 89′, releasing their first single “Time To Say Peace” before releasing their full length debut album Holy Intellect
Holy Intellect on Profile Records in early 1990.
Ironically the majority of Holy Intellect was produced by Tony D (RIP), who happens to be white. Contradiction, much. Holy Intellect did earn the trio a gold plaque and a ton of critical acclaim, which PRT was able to parlayed into an additional three albums before disbanding in 1996. Wise Intelligent is still recording and releasing albums (at least one which I’ll cover in the very far off future) even as recently as April of this year. The guy doesn’t look like he’s aged a bit since 1990; I have a sneaking suspicion he is the real life black Benjamin Button.
Can I Start This? – This one opens with Tony D asking Wise Intelligent if he can spit some of his rhymes, to which Wise hilariously gives the approval for Tony to “kick his rubbish” on the mic. Wise, being the gentleman that he is even lets Tony bat first over his funky instrumental, dropping non-sensical rhymes, while still managing to sound slightly entertaining in the process. Wise, is up second and makes rapping sound easy while simultaneously making Tony sound like a rookie. Oh yeah, Culture Freedom gets the final first just to remind the world why he’s Robin to Wise Intelligent’s Batman. Even with Culture’s sub par contribution, it was nice to see all parties involved having fun in the process (definitely a missing quality from a lot of hip hop today). This was a nice start to the evening.
Rock Dis Funky Joint – I’ll start this off by saying Tony D’s instrumental (which samples WAR’s “Slippin Into Darkness” and James Brown’s “Funky President”) is hands down one of the top 10 hip-hop instrumental of all time. Yes. It’s that good. Wise sprinkles his Five Percenter tinged doctrine over, what feels like, 5 verses (which is not a complaint), riding Tony D’s instrumental like a cowboy in a saddle. And Culture Freedom? He’s left to recite the song title during the hook and at random points during the song, which isn’t all bad since that’s the line most people will remember from this song. Even with the catchy hook and Wise’s solid performance, Tony D’s instrumental is the clear winner here. Classic.
Strictly Ghetto – And just like that, Holy Intellect looses all its momentum. Tony D’s instrumental sounds like what a bottle of coke would taste like after the top is left off for 2 weeks. Wise gives it the old college try, mixing boasts, his religious philosophies, and battle rhymes (even taking a shot at YZ), but still can’t manage to make this one sound good.
Holy Intellect – Okay, now this is more like it. Tony D provides a much better instrumental than the one on the previous song. Meanwhile, I think I just had an epiphany: if you were to mix and match any of Wise’s verses on the first four songs with any of the instrumentals on the first four songs you would get the same results. That’s not meant to be a compliment or a diss, just my assessment, so take it for what its worth. And just in case you didn’t know the name of the crew you were listen to, you will by the end of this song, as Wise references “Poor Righteous Teachers” or “PRT” way too many times during this song. I didn’t keep a running tally but it had to be somewhere in the thousands.
Shakiyla – A fly love song. You may remember the second coming of this song from PRT’s second release Pure Poverty (“Shakiyla (JRH”)), which has a much rougher and angrier sound than it’s predecessor. For the original Tony D samples the same Zapp sample (“Be Alright”) that many other rappers would go on to borrow, but probably most famously used for 2pac’s “Keep Your Head”. Wise is in complete lover mode, as he slows down his flow and drops some pretty nice love poetry, managing not to sound corny in the process. This was pretty nice.
Time To Say Peace – Oh, my comment about mixing and matching the verses and instrumentals? It applies to this one as well. The mix in of Soul II Soul “Back To Reality” towards the end was a nice touch.
Style Dropped/Lessons Taught – Culture Freedom must have had to work the night this one was recorded since Tony D fills in as resident hypeman, adding an occasional adlib here and there so the listener wouldn’t think Holy Intellect was a Wise Intelligent solo album. Over an average Tony D instrumental Wise delivers a pretty solid performance before completely obliterating the track with his final verse. Overall, this was a decent listen.
Speaking Upon A Blackman – Over a pretty fresh Tony D canvas, Wise gets on his soapbox to preach about the tricknology fed to the black man by the devil (in Five Percenter lingo devil translates to the white man ). Am I the only one that finds it interesting that such a pro-black group would have a
devil white man produce the bulk of their album, including one titled “Speaking Upon A Blackman”? Hmm…interesting.
So Many Teachers – Wise uses this one to call out all those he perceives as false teachers, and listed the qualities that define a solid teacher as well. Tony D’s instrumental while not great in itself works great with the content of the song (if that makes any sense). Kudos, to Wise for sticking with a theme on this one.
Word From The Wise – The only instrumental that Tony D did not produce on Holy Intellect uses a very popular (in hip-hop at least) James Brown sample, courtesy of some dude named Eric A “I.Q.” Gray. It was probably wise (no pun intended) to have Tony D sit out on this, so Wise’s declaration of having “no blue eyes or blonde hair”on his team could ring true, at least for the length of this song. Wise’s tongue sounds as nimble as Cassius Clay’s feet in his hey day over this instrumental, as he “builds”, dropping some pretty insightful lyrics. You will not catch everything Wise is relaying on the first listen (on any of the songs on Holy Intellect for that matter), as I ‘ve listened to this album several times over the years and always decode a new lyrical mystery.
Butt Naked Booty Bless – I don’t really know what they were going for on this one. It sounds like they may have been going for a dance hit that the listener would initially be drawn to by the beat, hoping the lesson in the song would sink in later. If that was the plan they definitely weren’t successful. That said, the song was decent.
Poor Righteous Teacher – Wise saves his best performance for last as he’s in complete battle mode and delivers 3 hungry verses over a sick Tony D instrumental. As the song fades out Culture Freedom sounds like a little brother whose big brother just knocked out the neighborhood bully on his behalf, teasing his fallen rival as he hovers over him. And cut.
Holy Intellect is a decent debut from the Trenton Trio. While only a few songs would
qualify as really good/great, the majority of the album falls in the decent to good scale, with a few outright mishaps. Wise proves that he is a more than capable emcee. My only issue with Wise is his content rarely strays away from his five percenter rhetoric, which over the length of 12 songs tends to become redundant and sometimes, depending on my mood, annoying. Man is full of contradictions, so I can look past the fact that the “gods” have a “devil” handling the majority of the production duties, bringing truth to the age-old adage that opposites attract. The fact that Holy Intellect includes one of the greatest hip-hop songs off all time should hold some weight too.