Sunz of Man
When they set out to record their self-titled debut for Red Ant Entertainment/Threat Records, the lyrical giants known collectively as Sunz of Man weren't looking to jump a ride on some already-existing sound wave. Each was passionately focused on creating something brand new, an all-out rhyme revolution.
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"With our album we wanted to challenge old ways, and we're comin' with our own interpretation of reality," says Prodigal Sunn, who shares the act with Hell Razah, Killah Priest and 60 Second Assassin, who is blood kin to Wu Tang Clan members RZA, GZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard. "We're honest, not copyin' nobody... Really just tryin' to bring about a difference."
"Yeah," adds Razah. "We're puttin' the rawness back into the culture, takin' it back to a time when lyrics really meant somethin'. These days, hip hop seems more like a fad, a fashion show with everybody dressin' up and talkin' 'bout their cars and all the money they got when that ain't really how things are where they're from."
Sunz of Man is not an ordinary group propelled by self-righteousness and conceit. They endorse and try to inspire unity through the enlightenment of themselves and others. The Sunz of Man equation -- "Man + Intelligence + Man With Knowledge of Self" -- sums it all up. The debut album, which features production by Wu Tang Clan producers RZA, Supreme, 4th Disciple and True Masta and guest appearances by Wu members Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Raekwon and U God, manifests that philosophy.
"We're intellectual men," says Razah - whose name represents his "raisin' hell on the mike" style. "We're here attempting to wake the mentally dead and inspire positive change in our (inner-city) communities. We're speaking the truth to our people and whomever else wants to listen. Basically, we feel everyone needs to open their minds more and look within themselves to recognize their talents. That way they can go forth with confidence and claim their God-given covenants."
Sunz Of Man consider themselves messengers to the youth and "lyrical revolutionaries." "Music is an instrument to send messages," observes Priest, whose name emanates from his desire to break down the walls of religious divisiveness. "All these lyrics that I'm dropping is from the mind and the soul."
Rap has become one of the cornerstones of our musical heritage, this crew believes, and should be used as a tool for change. "You will listen and maybe understand, maybe not. But you will take note and say, 'yeah, what's up with them, they got something to say," offers 60 Second Assassin, who further explains that his moniker represents the "assassination of negative thoughts, not people." "That is only part of our mission", Razah adds, "to make people think."
Instead of rapping about the fast life or spittin' black mack chat about Benjamins or Big Will, Sunz Of Man choose to rhyme about everyday life, love and pain. Like their associates in Wu Tang Clan -- Wu's ringleader, RZA, is the man responsible for facilitating their bond -- the group strongly emphasizes verbal sharpness while displaying a unified soul.
We please the Lord / Lyrics feed the poor / While the rich receive the sword - from "Can't You See My Love"
"We're of one mind when it comes to writing," explains Prodigal, whose pseudonym symbolizes the dichotomy of the Bible's story and man's imperfections. "We're comin' from a religious/political perspective, and what distinguishes us from the rest is our vocabulary, our styles and our personalities. We have originality."
Hailing from various parts of New York's Brooklyn boroughs - Bethlehem in Sunz speak - Sunz Of Man introduced itself to the public in 1992 as guest vocalists on Wu's landmark debut, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. 60 Second Assassin actually sang the hook on "C.R.E.A.M.," Wu's first major hit single and the Sunz members have also made subsequent appearances on albums by Gravediggaz and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But prior to meeting RZA, the loose parts had only "seen each other around," says Prodigal, adding, "We actually connected in the studio. And what brought us together was our styles, which perfectly complimented one another."
Shortly after appearing on the Wu Tang record, Sunz Of Man signed to RZA's indie label, Wu Tang Records, and released the double-sided single "Soldiers Of Darkness"/"No Love without Hate," which exposed ghoulish, apocalyptic visions atop tense tracks of trippy, blunted bounce.
An aural assault team of young-yet-knowing emcees, Sunz Of Man, like true vocal assassins, always create vivid verses. Prodigal says: "All the words I write have got to add up to a colorful picture, so that every listener can experience them mentally, not just physically." Taken as a whole, the new album is a life book chronicling both good and bad-time scenarios. "It's a journey that runs through some of our trials and tribulations," says Razah.
Songs include "Can't See My Love," a cut featuring Method Man and True Masta, which glorifies the hope for love on all levels of humanity; "Intellectuals," a hard-hitting tune which showcases the rapping prowess of Raekwon and U God; "Flaming Swords," a metaphor for the performers' razor-sharp tongues which labels their styles the forbidden fruit; and the furious "Inmates Of The Fire," a song based on the book of Daniel in the Bible. Here, the flames refer to the hellish pain one endures being black in America, not the inferno that burned Meshak, Shadrack and Abendigo. Another jam, "The Plan," reflects on the drama involved in securing their record deal and the Tony-Touch-produced "We Can't Be Touched" will have your head bobbin' for days.
Perhaps the record's tour de force, however, is a redone version of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic "Shining Star." The unprecedented collaboration between the legendary R&B group and Sunz Of Man, under the production aegis of multi-platinum, Grammy-winning Fugees maestro Wyclef Jean, symbolizes the light that guides the group into a brighter future.
While it might at first appear an unlikely pairing, each member of the Sunz crew acknowledges the impact EW&F has had on their lives and music. "When I was coming up my mother, was into oldies, and I used to go to sleep to this music. Earth, Wind & Fire was one of them that grabbed me," says 60 Second. "I've always seen royalty in them and it symbolized what Sunz of Man is about," comments Razah.
Comments Killah Priest, who first came to prominence with his guest rap on the Wu track "America" from the America Is Dying Slowly charitable AIDS compilation record: "Hip hop goes further back than Sugar Hill Gang."
Wyclef came aboard due to mutual respect. "We asked Wyclef (to produce) because he's a peer and he's really successful with the Fugees. We wanted some different production from the rest of the record, which is mostly Wu-produced," says Hell Razah.
Upon receiving the invitation to participate in this unusual project, Wyclef jumped. "Don't nobody don't know Sunz Of Man if you really into hip hop," he states. "I thought the combination of Sunz and Earth, Wind & Fire would be ridiculous. Two different worlds that talk about the exact same things meet. Earth, Wind & Fire and Sunz Of Man. The fusion is just magic."
"I think this thing with Sunz Of Man and Earth, Wind & Fire is symbolic to a certain degree because you're talking earth, wind and fire - you're dealing with the elements of the universe. And then you're dealing with Sunz of Man who makes up the elements of the universe," opines 60 Second.
The members of Earth, Wind & Fire were equally jazzed to re-work their classic song, which also features rapping from Wu Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard.
Comments EW&F co-founder/guitarist Verdeen White: "It's the merging of two different styles of music. We like it because it gives us an opportunity, after making records for a long time, to really show another side of us. 'Shining Star' was the first number one record we had so this is really significant for us that the young generation would get into a song that we got into twenty years ago. And its amazing to us that all this music came around again."
Concurs EW&F vocalist Philip Bailey: "It seems that a collaboration is happening. We're coming together and I hope that the music has the ability to bring a whole lot of other people together. Generations, people -- its a wonderful thing."
Nothing about Sunz Of Man was strategized for commercial mass appeal. Everything was created by the forces of nature and the strength of the truth as it pertains to the members and their daily lives. The songs draw inspiration from such sources as history books, the Bible, the Koran and daily newspapers. In the end though, the ideas all come from within. And these emcees have no time for some of their more disingenuous peers. "You lose focus when you constantly look to others for guidance," Prodigal suggests. "We don't get too caught up in those kind of gimmicks. We simply trust our intellects, and through our music we hope everybody else does, too."
Speaking to the rest, Sunz declare in "Illusions": You rappers don't amuse me with your Crystal and Uzis / You rappers love idols, there it is, I'm convinced / This rap game ain't what it seems / Artists get c.r.e.a.m., turn fiend, selling people a dream / This rap game ain't what it seems.
But Sunz Of Man are exactly as they seem: straight up rappers with a purpose.
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