Masta Killa: A Brooklyn State of Mind

From the moment the world heard Masta Killa’s clean-up verse on the Wu-Tang Clan classic “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,’” it was obvious that the quality of rap lyrics stepped up about three notches. Masta Killa was the silent horse, called upon for lethal injection as needed. While the rest of the Wu released groundbreaking LPs […]

From the moment the world heard Masta Killa’s clean-up verse on the Wu-Tang Clan classic “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,’” it was obvious that the quality of rap lyrics stepped up about three notches. Masta Killa was the silent horse, called upon for lethal injection as needed. While the rest of the Wu released groundbreaking LPs and devoured pieces of the industry pie, Masta Killa played his position as the underground lion waiting for his time to roar. 2004 saw the long-awaited release of his first LP No Said Date, where the lexicon rounded up every Wu affiliate for the first time in years. He’s done it again, two years later, with Made in Brooklyn, featuring everyone minus the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

In picking Masta Killa’s limitless brain, he discusses the keys to calling together the Wu, his mindset during Made in Brooklyn and his borough-based influences. A PETA activist and life-giver, and why beef on and off records, has never charged Masta Killa to live up to his moniker. Traditionally, the whole vibe of Wu-Tang was in honor of Shaolin [Staten Island], what made you decide to pay homage to your hometown of Brooklyn with this album?

Masta Killa: Well, I’ve been in a group of eight incredible MCs, which is like being on a team of all superstars basically. That’s incredible in itself. So to wait my time for my turn to represent what I always represented included understanding what had to happen as opposed to what I wanted to happen. My opportunity is here and damn, it’s been 13-14 years later, but I’m blessed to say I’ve been preserved to a degree and now I get to express where I come from. I’ve always given you a taste of that throughout the years, but now I can give you more of me. Your lyrics have such a complexity but an edge to them, unlike other Brooklyn natives. Coming up, who out of the Brooklyn MC’s did you listen to?

Masta Killa: When I was growing up, there were groups out of Brooklyn like Divine Soundz, and they lived right up the block from me. I lived in East New York to Bed-Stuy; all over Brooklyn basically. Hip-Hop has millions of MCs everywhere with their own experiences in Hip-Hop. As for my experiences growing up in Brooklyn, we had block parties, jams. There was so much talent from the staircases at school to the lunchroom…the back of the train coming home from school. You heard s**t that never made a record or never made it to the industry but that s**t was an anthem! But that’s where I come from. You are one of the few members that can actually round up the whole Wu-Tang Clan for your releases. How are you able to do that, since most of the other members haven’t been able to pull that off?

Masta Killa: I don’t think it was a situation where they couldn’t have pulled it off, but I think that maybe it was a situation where I didn’t have the pressure of maybe making a release date for a label. So I was able to be patient with Ghost[face] because I really wanted his verse. Instead of me having the pressure of making this release date, and be like, “Damn, I haven’t seen Ghost in sixty f**kin’ days because he’s touring the world,” I’m able to do me. Be patient and get what I actually need, because I knew that’s what I wanted. That’s just me; I want to make good music. Good music to me is having more than one instrument, and I look at voice as an instrument. Our [Wu-Tang] careers pull us in all different directions, but we all support each other. What should fans expect from Made in Brooklyn?

Masta Killa: I would say they can expect definitely good music. That’s only my opinion though, judging by what I see as good music from what I came up on. What makes me feel good or makes me dance, strike some emotion in me…that’s what I’m trying to project to the people. I’m just trying to provide that type of therapy. They can expect to put on the CD with 13 songs, and before you know it, it’ll be over like, “G#######, that s**t went quick!” And then I’d hope they’d wanna rewind…or fast-forward [laughs]. If I’m in that groove right there, then I’m doing something good. How did you go about picking the producers, like MF Doom and Pete Rock?

Masta Killa: Some of the producers I admire their work, and it was just a golden opportunity to finally have a chance to work with certain people. Some producers are people from my hood like people might not have heard of are on there [like PF Cuttin], they’re dope also in making good s**t too. I grew up with them and it gave me the opportunity to work with them also. It was a made in Brooklyn project. 75% of the album was made in Brooklyn basically. I put most of that s**t together at home. S**t came together pretty good. MF Doom has been in a couple of Wu-Tang projects. Will we see him as an honorary member?

Masta Killa: Um, I don’t know. I don’t make those decisions [laughs]. After your verse on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,” you were hailed as one of the illest MCs out. What is your thought process when writing your rhymes?

Masta Killa: I don’t really like to say anything if it doesn’t to make sense to some degree. I like to have some substance in anything that I’m on or dealing with. It’s the same as- I wanna have a good time, but I don’t wanna come to the party and just get carried out totally pissy drunk. I still wanna make it out on my own and conscious so I’m home safe [laughs]. It’s about having fun and enjoying what you do. Do you like what you do? Who me? Yes.

Masta Killa: See, that’s 70% of the battle right there [laughs]. Amen [laughs]. So since you’ve come out, how have you seen the Hip-Hop crew evolve?

Masta Killa: I guess you could say everybody gets their turn to burn. So it went from the East, to the West, to the Midwest, now the South. I’m waiting for the North again now. Hip-Hop is universal, just a beautiful thing. I’ve watched it spread globally over the past 15 years. I love it. The light definitely hit every part of the Earth at different times, but we definitely get stroked by the light sometimes [laughs]. That’s interesting how you’re one of the few New York MCs to give the South their credit in being the hot region right now.

Masta Killa: Well s**t, I love the South! My mother’s from the South [laughs]. It’s like, everybody has their own way of doing things. Hip-Hop was big in the South in the early 80’s when early Hip-Hop was out. And the South- that’s how they loved it. They loved it a certain way. Now when they were still partying like that…they never stopped partying. So we were jumping up doing all this f**kin’ other stuff – the happy feet and all this other s**t, but they were still doing their thing! So now after all of this s**t, it just happened to go back to what they never stopped f**kin’ doing. You can hear ten records that all sound alike, but that’s what the f**k they do. They’ve got their own movement with their own sound that’s early ‘80s Hip-Hop. That’s what they on. I know that era, so I can appreciate it. But the era for me, the Rakim-Kane era, that’s when it was getting crazy for New York. Everybody gets their time to shine though, and I love it from every angle. How would you respond to being considered more of an underground artist?

Masta Killa: I guess you can say I’m closer to the ground? More grounded? [laughs] I try to keep it there. My grandma used to tell me, “No matter how high a bird flies, it has to come down to the Earth to get its food.” I never forgot that, so when you get little jewels like that early in life, you carry them with you. And she dropped that s### on me early! Is that why you chose to play the back for a while with Wu-Tang Clan?

Masta Killa: Well Wu-Tang was already a movement and my brothers were doing it whether I decided to get my s**t together or not. My brothers are ill MCs; RZA’s an ill producer. They were already doing them when I said, “let me take this serious and write a verse for ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin.’” That’s when I decided to take it seriously, but my brothers had been taking it seriously. That’s why they were writing s**t like, “Hey, you! Get off my cloud/You don’t know me and you don’t know my style.” They were in the zone already. I’m looking at [Method Man] like, “Damn, that’s really how you feelin’?” [laughs] So I was like, “Damn, if I wanna take this serious and make a career out of it, I gotta buckle down and sharpen my s**t up.” Just the seriousness of even making a song back then was surreal. You’d come into the studio and everybody was there. There was only one beat though. Everybody can’t get on, because we can’t all make “Protect Ya Neck,” so that means your s**t has to be intriguing, witty, attractive enough to stay amongst everything else that’s here. Damn, sounds like a job interview…

Masta Killa: [Laughs] It was [like] Making the Band, forreal. So if your s**t ain’t sharp, then nah it ain’t makin’ it. That’s when you get a situation like “C.R.E.A.M.” It was just [Inspectah] Deck and Rae[kwon]. Why? Because they killed it! They didn’t need anybody else on there. So yeah you might be ill, nasty, but there’s no more room because it’s already been murdered. It’s dead already. Move on. You’re amongst a lot of talent. You can either give up or develop your talent to be able to hold your weight. Speaking of eating from the Earth, what made you decide to become active with PETA?

Masta Killa: I heard they were doing something for vegetarians, and that’s how I eat to live. It was a beautiful opportunity for me to speak about why I eat the way I eat. As a child, I never really liked meat anyway. I remember chewing the meat up, getting the juice, and spitting it out. I didn’t wanna eat the beef. Then they got me going to McDonald’s and I’m liking the meat. I liked the hot dogs and s**t. But in actuality, I never really liked meat. A lot of children probably don’t like meat. As parents, we force them to eat the meat. Why force them to eat something they don’t wanna eat? Who said that’s nutritious and you have to eat that to be a certain size? Elephants are diesel and they don’t eat meat! [laughs] They don’t eat meat; they eat trees…and a lot of them [laughs]. There’s so many ways to eat and the most natural way is the one people push the furthest from you. That’s because it could actually have you here for who knows how long. Think about a Thanksgiving dinner: rice, vegetables, stuffing, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, slice of pie, whatever. I haven’t even gotten to the turkey yet and I’m full already, so why am I still eating? So PETA was a good opportunity for me to speak on being a vegetarian and why it’s healthier for you. Lastly, if you weren’t making music, where would you be?

Masta Killa: Sis, I couldn’t even tell you [laughs]. That’s why everyday, I count my blessings.