Insider access: The workings of a Jedi Mind

A carefully selected “would you rather” question is a valuable thing to have in your arsenal when meeting someone for the first time. But if you can work multiple hilarious “would you rather” questions into a conversation and produce meaningful answers with them, you are sure to smoothly coast through nearly any interaction. Or at least you will be able to make Philadelphia-based hip-hop groups Jedi Mind Tricks (JMT) and OuterSpace spew their drinks in laughter.

There is something universally appealing in being asked to decide between two hypothetical options that have different consequences – both pros and cons. The appeal of such a question, is increased when these consequences are similarly desirable (or undesirable), inappropriate and humorous. To incorporate all three qualities into the first question is risky, but humor is always advisable.

When I sat down with Jus Allah, Vinnie Paz and DJ Kwestion from JMT along with Planetary and Crypt the Warchild from OuterSpace on Sunday night in Williams’ own Log, I knew humor was the way to go. It was only minutes before the two groups were set to open for the show’s headliner, The Roots, and I was curious as to what JMT and OuterSpace thought of the band for which they were opening. So I asked the gentlemen, “Would you rather go on an intergalactic quest with Yoda or Black Thought of The Roots?” Thinking that a group of rappers would be interested in having The Roots’ critically acclaimed and decently successful front man in their Millennium Falcon, I was surprised when Paz quickly responded, “Yoda, 100 percent positive!”

I pressed Paz on the issue, wondering why he was giving one of my favorite rappers so little respect. “Man, Black Thought and I grew up in the same ’hood,” Paz pointed out, “Yoda didn’t even grow up on the same planet! Plus, Yoda’s a G.” Apparently Yoda has an aggressive, street-wise “gangsta” demeanor to him. “Also, isn’t that dude like 100 years old or something?” Dan asked, referring to Yoda, “He’d be able to drop mad gems of knowledge on you.”

I should have known that the consensus would have been for Yoda and his “gems of knowledge” – JMT’s lyrics are largely message-driven. In terms of content, their rhymes about conspiracy theories, social criticisms and general discontent with the state of the world recall the hip-hop group Public Enemy, which is most famous for its song “Fight the Power.” JMT take their lyrics very seriously, which sets them apart from most mainstream hip-hop artists who sacrifice depth of meaning for highly accessible and catchy songs that achieve popularity on the radio.
I asked Paz, whose lyrics are consistently angry and sometimes frighteningly harsh, whether his music is cathartic. “Absolutely.” He answered, “if I didn’t make music, I’d be a serial killer.” I thanked him for making music. “Some people go to a shrink; some people make music,” Paz suggested. “Some people do drugs,” Dan added. “Some people do all three,” Jus said. Paz continued, “Anger and sadness have always driven the art world. Look at music, movies, whatever – you never see some happy idiot making anything great.” I told him that Will Smith’s smile came to mind, but we both agreed that the Fresh Prince has yet to achieve greatness.

The two options in my first question did not have comparable outcomes, so I decided to tweak the question. “Would you rather,” I proposed to Paz, who was clearly the point man for such a question, “go on the adventure with Han Solo or Questlove from The Roots?” Han Solo is talented, dreamy, spontaneous and knows his way through the Dagobah System, but The Roots’ drummer is a longstanding pioneer in the world of hip-hop. I assumed that this quandary would require some serious thought. Paz was not impressed. “Han, easy,” he immediately replied. “These questions are way too easy.”

I needed to step my game up, so I introduced an element of danger into the questions. “Okay,” I said to Paz, “Would you rather have a penis replace your eye or your ear?” Paz had been mixing Grey Goose vodka and pineapple juice in a red Solo cup, but he stopped upon hearing the question. I had the room’s attention. The five men began discussing the pros and cons of the two options, making jokes about the different possibilities that cranium-oriented phalli offer. Paz stood up, shook his head, began walking around the room and said, “I’d rather have a dick coming out of the side of my head instead of the eye.” Dan’s drink went flying from his mouth and the other three rappers rolled with laughter.

The moment of comedy provided an opportunity to segue into more meaningful conversation. I asked Paz if he would rather be prevented from using curse words or sound samples in his music. Dan, JMT’s DJ, had previously called the art of sampling – looping cuts of a song in a new song – “the essence of hip-hop.” Paz called it “the cornerstone of the culture,” noting that to create a song with bits and pieces of other songs was analogous to the way in which many hip-hop artists rise from poverty – “it started with making something out of nothing.” “Back in the day,” Dan explained, “[hip-hop artists] didn’t have the money to pay for piano lessons, or to have a band perform with instruments, so they had to use samples.”

It was no surprise that the foul-mouthed Paz quickly chose to hypothetically go without curse words. “Sometimes cursing is an easy way out,” he said. “Samples have been a part of my life since I can remember – I curse a lot but not because I have to.” He also did not have to answer my questions, but sometimes you simply do what is more fun.