A Spiritual Verse from the Witchdoctor
Confession: It’s All About the Pen Game
By Martin Halo
Albany, New York
Urban music has all but dominated the American musical landscape, inundating culture like a surging tidal wave of ethnic deliverance. With a brand of expression stemming from raw sparks of creativity, urban poets are channeling the struggles of a generation whose trials and tribulations belong to the street.
As the East Coast and West Coast drew their crosshairs down upon each other, with the 90s drawing to a close, a legion of artists were brewing in a place where lyrical confessions began over 100 years ago; the South. From the same Georgian countryside that brought us Otis Redding, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gladys Knight came a unification of hip-hop artists that manifested itself in lyrical verse on the streets of Atlanta.
Born Erin Johnson and part of the Dungeon Family collective, which most notably spawned the career of Outkast, the artistic endeavors have yielded a published book of politically charge poetic verse in 2004 and soon to be released LP under the same name, Diary of an American Witchdoctor; which is set for release on October 23rd.
While on a tour stop in Albany, New York as part of his college leg of the Adult Swim Tour supporting Ghostface Killah, the Doctor took the time to write out a spiritual prescription of divine healing as he dove into the influential power of hip-hip, why Southern Rappers need to work extra hard, and how God influenced the backbone of music.
INTERVIEW Can you tell me what is it about music that drives you?
Survival and love drives me. I do music for no money, even though I do it to make money too at the same time. You got to have both of them in there [laughter]. We were making music before we were making money so I do music for the love. I make music for healing. Music is a corridor to heaven and it is a connection to God. Sometimes with music and God there are some songs that need to come down from heaven. God uses certain human beings to put them on earth.
Can I ask you to describe the music scene that was going on in Atlanta when you were up and coming in the later part of the 1990s?
We were just breaking ground in Atlanta, and we were reaching a point where we were not just rappers that laid down booty music or shake dance music. We were becoming very intelligent and felt we could match up with some of the best MCs from New York and California. That is my outlook and I felt like my whole thing as far as music was that I couldn’t sell records under the Witchdoctor name unless New York and California thought I was a credible artist. I can rap better than fifty percent of the cats walking around the East and the West Coast right now. Being from the East or West Coast I felt like it was easier for an MC to get out there then if they were from the South because that is where all the record companies were. Do you see what I am saying?
So I felt like we had to work extra harder to try and break into the business. I felt like being from the South I had to write more and spend more time writing then the average New Yorker. That was back in the 90s when there weren’t too many artists in Atlanta getting deals. I was the first artist to get a major deal through Interscope.
Why do you feel hip-hop music has struck such a chord in terms of longevity in American music? It has basically taken over all forms of culture.
People might not like it but we always incorporated God. I call him the “X” factor. We are in the year 2007 and this is God’s planet and when we move into the future it is God that is going to fix this planet, as he wants it. Music is his one of his biggest weapons that he can use to clean up the planet. One thing that I noticed about God is that he loves people with courage. He loves strength, and the people that are making music; God is using them to do it. Rap music is a sign from God. The presence of God is here. We can’t see music, nor can we touch it, but yet it has so much power in it. It is God in an invisible form, just like water. God puts himself in another form and water is one of his other forms. We have to drink it to survive and no human life can survive without water. Don’t nobody get water the whole planet dies, so water in God in another form. Music is just God in another form, one that you can’t see, or touch, or lock it up, or put it in jail.
You are releasing a record in October correct?
Yes, I am releasing am album called Diary of an American Witchdoctor on October 23rd.
Can you describe for me what was going on creatively and personally leading up to the recording of session for that record?
Actually I was on my Myspace page and I got three or four new albums up there as well as a book called “Diary of an American Witchdoctor.” So I was on the Internet sending our some friend requests letting people know I got some new music out, but that I was unsigned. I felt like my music can compete with the best of them. I knew it was just a matter of time before somebody scooped me up and that is how I got found for this new project, was through the Internet. What they did was went through all of the albums I got floating around on the Internet and picked out some of the best songs and here we are set to release a record on October 23rd.
You actually wrote a book under the same name correct?
That is right. Seven chapters. One chapter is called “Spirituality”, another one is call the “Crucifixion”, I got another chapter called the “Holy Spirit”, and I got a chapter called the “Struggle”. Not struggle (s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e), but S-k-r-u-g-l-e, it is mispronounced that is how bad the struggle is [laughter]. All the writings and the poetry are all based on politics. You might see the words George Bush in there, or Al Sharpton and it is a really exciting book, it is really intelligent.
Can you describe the current state of hip-hop as you see it now revolving around you?
I think it is in a transition. I think the MCs are getting ready to spend a little bit more time on the pen and paper. I think rap is going to take on a new form as far as MC’in goes. A lot of these MCs are in need of stepping up their pen game up a little.
When you are up on stage and music is flowing through you, what does that feel like to have a connection with people right in front of your face?
There is no feeling like that; it is the greatest high in the world. For all the people that ever did drugs, or whatever it is that you do to get that high, there is no high like getting onstage and performing for the people. When I am onstage I am looking at spirits. Imagine not just one spirit looking back at you but a thousand; there is no feeling like that. The high is exhilarating. I can keep naming words to describe it but it is almost like a release as far as all of the work that we put in between writing and the studio. Once you get done with all of the work and you bring the work to the people and you get a response there is no feeling like that. It is like a baseball player hitting a home run [laughter].