Time to look at a criminally underrated album by a criminally underrated artist: Black August, by Killah Priest.
Those who are familiar with Killah Priest probably (no; definitely) know that he is a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate and has appeared on numerous Wu-Tang cuts. His rise to fame (well, not really, as, sadly, Priest still doesn't have much notoriety) began when his track "B.I.B.L.E." was featured as a bonus cut on GZA's classic Liquid Swords album. Priest would then release his debut, Heavy Mental, in '98. The album actually sold surprisingly well (then again, he is a Wu-Tang affiliate), reaching gold status.
Three albums later, KP put out Black August, a project that is, in my opinion, one of Killah Priest's best works to date. The production on the record is appropriately dark, and Priest is in top form lyrically.
Be forewarned, though: Killah Priest is not for everyone. His lyrics tend to be either very religious and spiritual or extremely violent in tone, and he sometimes intertwines both aspects. If you like rappers that will make you think (a la Canibus), then chances are you will like KP. If not (or if you're, um, not the sharpest tool in the shed), then you should probably avoid Priest.
Killah Priest certainly does not receive the respect he deserves, as his lyrical genius and massive intelligence is omnipresent on every one of his albums.
Let's use Black August as an example.
1. Black August (Daylight)
The album actually starts off with a light and soulful beat done by Anton Kallisto, and it's damn good, and Killah Priest displays his lyrical prowess immediately: "My man used to say that, 'This ain't rap, Priest, your lyrics, are too vivid, they more like pictures, you can feel it, yo, you gifted, it flows like liquid, mystic,' I never witnessed such things as beautiful, as unusual, like a musical." This track will put you in a zone. Terrific start.
2. Excalibur"Who gives a fuck if you're platinum, if you're lyin' in a wooden casket?" Spit that realness, Priest. Spit it. The beat on this cut, produced by Godie, is somewhat unusual, but it's very effective, and, as evidenced by the bar above, KP rips it.
3. When I'm Writing
Killah Priest raps about how he feels he is in another dimension when he writes his rhymes over a heavily piano-driven production here. The beat by Jahson is crazy, and Priest does his thing: "My pen's a crayon with coloring books displayin' chaos, the black seance, with ink that pores out, great art, age quasars explorin' where the mind caves are, a rich being dug from a key's graveyard, it's the inscription written on Egyptian clay jar."
4. Do The Damn Thing
This seems like Killah Priest's attempt at a commercial cut, and while many rappers of Priest's stature fail miserably at this kind of thing, this is actually pretty good. Mr. Khaliyl lays down a very generic sounding beat, and while KP doesn't really go in on this in true Killah Priest fashion, he still does an admirable job, especially with these lines: "Plus I'm not, 50, or Biggie, or Diddy, I'm witty, unpredictable, lyrical masterful mind, chapters of rhymes, irresistible lines, metaphors is clever than yours, sever your jaws, I'm ready for war." His rhyme scheme is a bit awkward on this, though.
Priest provides some nice storytelling on "Time," rapping about how he shoots and kills someone and is then judged at heaven's gates: "Was this my fate, to be judged in this place? Angels watchin' me, I step up to plead my case, I see His face in black space, okay let me back trace, somethin' went wrong between that gat and my waste." The beat by G 13 is pretty boring, though.
Jahson's beat on this is sick, consisting of horns and pianos backed by loud hats throughout. Once again, Priest engages in storytelling for the entirety of the cut, rapping about how he desperately needs money to take care of his family and, surprise surprise, robs a bank. I bet you never expected that, huh?
7. Come With Me
The booming horns that appear on the Jahson-produced "Come With Me" really make the track, and said track turns out to be one of the more graphic records on Black August: "Yo, enter with caution, it's the hood, dark and haunted, see those crackheads with dead eyes, their souls been torment, look at the old man throwing up his body organs, smell an odor in the air 'cause of dead corpses." Priest clearly has a message for his listeners on this cut, though, as he describes how Satan (whom he refers to as "the beast") is controlling the hood and is laughing at the tragic deaths of the many individuals who live within it.
This is the best track on the album. Anton Kallisto, the man behind "Black August (Daylight)," puts down another feel-good beat for Killah Priest, and KP puts together what is probably the best hook on Black August: "I just breathe, the breath of life in the mics, feel my notepads with sites, now, guide you like God did the Israelites, I just breathe." The production here is nothing short of phenomenal.
The title of this track is obviously a play on the word "crucifixion." It contains an extremely dark, yet fairly fast-paced, beat produced by Prose' Ipso, and Priest kills it: "I look down, people spittin' and cursin', everybody quiet listening to the sermon, record execs dress like Romans, pierce in my side, I'm going through convulsions, starin' straight to a jet black ocean."
10. Déjá Vu
Jahson's beat on this knocks, possessing a dark and simultaneously soulful quality, just like this song itself. Killah Priest pieces together an incredible story here that puts Raekwon and any other Wu member to shame. I'm not even going to ruin it for you by explaining it, but I guarantee you that by the end of the track, you will think, "Woah." Go ahead and listen. It's genius.
A female rapper by the name of Solstice accompanies Priest on this track, and while the production by Jahson leaves something to be desired, the lyrics on it are ill. It's painfully obvious that KP wrote Solstice's lines, but it's no matter, as Solstice comes through with a solid delivery, and her voice adds some variety. "Goodbye" contains multitudes of deep religious references, so this track may not be for everybody.
12. Black August (Dark)
First there was "Black August (Daylight)," and now there's "Black August (Dark)." While I like the "Daylight" version better, this track still bangs, having what is probably Black August's darkest production (once again by Jahson). Biblical references abound, as Killah Priest describes his birth and how a "king" was born. More outstanding storytelling from KP.
13. Robbery (Remix)
Elephant Man? Am I hearing this right? Killah Priest and Elephant Man? Well, somehow, on some twisted level, this collaboration works wonders. The beat on this is slightly different from the original version, but it's barely noticeable.
14. Do You Want It
Seriously Priest? What the hell?
Killah Priest demonstrates on Black August that he is one of the best storytelling emcees to ever do it. You might have to listen to some of these cuts a couple of times through before you truly understand the meaning of them, but it's well worth it, as this album is terrific on so many levels.
Although the production becomes dense at certain points, for the most part, it is very effective, suiting Priest's deep, dark style perfectly. Some of the beats on Black August are ridiculously good and greatly aid KP in setting the mood (like "Déjá Vu," for example).
Generally, Heavy Mental is considered to be Killah Priest's strongest effort, but Black August isn't too far behind. The production is a bit more versatile here, and Priest just seems more energized overall.
It seems a bit peculiar that KP is a Wu affiliate, because, although a solid portion of his records are violent, his style is quite a bit different from any of the Wu-Tang members. Lyrically, Priest is simply on another level, and not even Raekwon (as I stated earlier) can match him when it comes to storytelling ability. I'm not sure anyone can, to be honest (and I know that will rub a lot of Andre 3000 fans the wrong way). Plus, the core Wu members hardly ever touch on religion, a subject that KP is obviously very comfortable with.
Killah Priest fits in much better with The HRSMN, a group consisting of himself, Canibus, Ras Kass, and Kurupt. The fact that they have only put out one album together is a shame (although they are apparently working on another project now).
There really is no middle ground for Killah Priest. You either love him or you don't dig him at all. It's not like he's an acquired taste, either, because his subject matter never oscillates from its deep, religious focus.
You might as well try out Black August, as there is a good chance that you will bump this forever after hearing it for the first time. Just make sure you skip "Do You Want It"; I have no idea how that piece of garbage made it on to this fantastic album.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
2. Déjá Vu
3. Black August (Daylight)
4. When I'm Writing
Do You Want It