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The Primal You 

Jedi Mind Tricks mix violence and conscience

Vinnie Paz, half of the Philadelphia underground hip-hop duo Jedi Mind Tricks, slings rhymes in which references to Tiananmen Square, Mark David Chapman, torture and terrorism become metaphors for his aggressive rap skills.

But on the fifth Jedi album, Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell, he also exercises his conscience, rapping about the futility of war, the inhumanity of sweat shops, the vulnerability of the psyche, dangers to the environment and the similarities shared by the Bible and Koran.

Paz embraces his contractions, he said in a late cell-phone interview a few nights ago, while strolling with his girlfriend to a nightclub in San Francisco.

"That's the whole thing behind what I do," said the 29-year-old rapper born Vincent Luviner.

"With every human being come contradictions. Without dealing with your own contradictions, you can't really ever learn or come to understand things in life. ... And if you show that part of yourself to the world, people can find solace in that."

Jedi Mind Tricks, in which Paz's brother-in-arms is producer-arranger Stoupe The Enemy of Mankind, are on a concert tour to promote Servants in Heaven and maybe bring some solace to listeners while they're at it. The tour stops at the Rialto Theatre on Monday, Oct. 16.

In addition to Jedi, the bill will feature solo artist R.A. The Rugged Man; Philly group Outerspace, who recently released their sophomore CD, Blood Brothers; and the Phoenix-based collective The Society of Invisibles. Jedi Mind Tricks, Outerspace and The Society of Invisibles all share the same label, the independent Babygrande Records.

The connections don't end there. Paz executive-produced Blood Brothers and appears on that album's "Silence." R.A. delivers a scorching guest rap on the Servants in Heaven track "Uncommon Valor," detailing his father's harrowing real-life experiences in the Vietnam War.

With Jedi Mind Tricks for the past 10 years, Paz has practiced an ultra-violent form of hip-hop that some critics have dubbed "horrorcore." The fact that he has chosen as a stage name the Spanish word for "peace" is more than simply ironic. It points to the complications inherent in being human.

On the track "Serenity in Murder," he boasts of killing bears with his raps, claims to have witnessed Christ's crucifixion, name-checks The Dillinger Escape Plan, celebrates various colorful forms of violence and hints that he may be alcoholic.

He also does some painfully honest soul-searching, proclaiming, "I wouldn't wish any of my mental conditions on you." Rarely do such hardcore rappers become as introspective as Paz does here.

I hate what I'm like, hate that I'm afraid of the light

Hate that everyone who love me always hate what I like

Hate that everywhere I go, I get engaged in a fight

Hate that everything I say is just evasive and trite.

Later on the CD, Paz performs "Razorblade Salvation," an open letter to his mother explaining his suicidal feelings, accompanied by the delicate alternative-folk vocals of Shara Worden, who has sung with Sufjan Stevens and leads her own group, My Brightest Diamond.

Proper praise also is due to Stoupe The Enemy of Mankind (Keith Baldwin), whose amazingly dense cut-and-paste compositions recall the pioneering work of The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan and Terminator X of Public Enemy. Augmented by the scratching and cutting by DJ Kwestion, Stoupe includes loops of everything from mandolin and harp to symphony orchestras and opera, as well as samples from Jay-Z and KRS-One.

Of Stoupe's anything-goes sound, Paz said, "What happens there goes back to trying not to be formulaic. Once you have a feeling for yourself, that's pretty much it. We're not afraid to try anything, even if it isn't normally used in rap.

"By no means would I compare myself to The Beatles, but I don't think The Beatles were very concerned with what was acceptable in music when they made Sgt. Pepper, and neither was Nirvana when they made Nevermind or In Utero."

Creativity demands "the ability to be outside the body, to be not thinking too much about what you're doing. Or to not think at all, to be absolutely the primal you," Paz said.

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