Jamel Irief went from being a fan of Hip Hop and a Chess Boxing master, to spitting his debut verse on one of rap’s most revered releases. Since then he’s dropped solo albums, toured the world, and features on every classic Wu Tang Clan joint. Messy caught up with Masta Killa and discussed his beginnings and writing style, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, and which Clan members are coming to OZ.
You’re coming Down Under soon, can you describe for us the feeling of stepping out on stage with your brothers in front of thousands of diehard fans in a far flung country such as Australia?
Oh man I can’t wait to step on stage with the Wallaby Clarks and kick lyrics, make it feel like I’m stepping out the speakers to you (laughs). You know Australia always a beautiful place to visit and to see. I haven’t got to do too much there, but you know, it’s a blessing to come and embrace the fans that love hip hop all over the world man. Can’t wait to get there and make it do what it do.
I know you were down with GZA and his sparring partner on the Chessboard, how did you go from that top joining Wu?
Oh Man! You know I was actually in the process of in school and working, everyday life. Me and my brother GZA we would get together for our normal Chess sparring matches. He was always speaking about Hip Hop and what he was doing and things of that nature, but sometimes that so far fetched for you to actually grasp, you know what I mean. So one day he said “Why don’t you come to the studio and check us out”. I passed up on the opportunity. So the next day we got together, he played me a tape of what they had done in the studio the night before. That tape that he played was Protect Your Neck! When I heard that, I knew I was never going back to work again, I wasn’t going back to school again, it was over! You know what I’m saying? It was like “Ohh!” (laughs). So from that point on, from right there I decided to get serious and start writing something that would be worthy to one day maybe be a part of what I knew was getting ready to be great.
I first heard you on that track Mystery of Chessboxin, 20 plus years ago, but now you have fans that weren’t even born when you dropped that verse. Can you tell us how it feels to have your craft appeal to multiple generations of Hip Hop heads?
That’s truly humbling, my brother, and it’s truly a blessing. Because I mean for something I can say that at the time I hadn’t taken the creative side of being an artist serious at that time, I was just a fan of Hip Hop. When I heard Protect Your Neck and knew that this movement GZA had been telling me about for so long was actually so real, you know that was the first rhymes that I actually sat down and wrote okay? So for it to be recognised still to this day and fans can appreciate it? Hey man I’m humbled by it man, and its truly a blessing to me.
That Mystery of Chessboxin is, in my opinion, one of the best debut verses is hip hop. Do you ever feel any pressure to keep up to that level?
Oh I just continue to build on it man. You know for me anytime I sit down to write something or to give something to the musical universe, I think of everyone that might be listening. From my fans to other artists. I always just want to present something that someone can appreciate, you know. I feel when you have the power to reach, that’s heard by the masses, you should try to contribute something that can be appreciated. Something nourishing. Something more than just the normal, you know, that’s how I approach my art.
You know it shows man. Your first solo joint “No Said Date” was kind of unique because it featured every Wu member (along with Killah Priest, Prodigal Sun & Street Life). That’s kinda hard for a solo Clansman to do, how did you achieve that?
Well I think that I was blessed that I didn’t have to rush. I was able to take my time and perfect my craft, so I didn’t rush, you know. That’s why the title was No Said Date, because I didn’t even know when it was coming! (Big Laughs) That was a true blessing that I was able to capture. I didn’t rush, I took my time and got every member and you know, I was just able to be free with it.
You get referred to as the most mysterious member of WU. You’ve been on so many classic Wu joints, but when you release a Masta Killa solo album do you think it’s a way for listeners get to know your Chamber?
I think it was my time at that time, and that time is the time that you actually might select for yourself. I mean, I could of rushed and had a solo deal. But my family was releasing album after album after album, and like I said Mystery of Chessboxin was actually my first rhyme. So on every one of those albums you heard me appear on, the Liquid Swords, the Cuban Linx, The Ironman, The Return to The 36 Chambers, the Wu Tang Forever, I was actually sharpening my lyrical skills of even being an artist. On all of those albums. So by the time it came to the point that I felt comfortable enough to even present something to the musical universe, you know, it was my time at that time.
So man I gotta ask Who’s coming to Australia this time?
Oh Man! That’s always so hard to predict! Sometimes with careers and us as artists, not only musical artists but film artists and actors, sometimes it’s like so hard to say. Cause we’ve grown so much as artists and people, it’s just so hard to actually say sometimes what the next person has on his schedule. It’s nothing personal I definitely know that! But we’ve all just grown so much musically, like I said as individuals, as artists, we’re doing so many different things. We’re everywhere! Sometimes, you know, being on the same page is sometimes not even easy for two people! (laughs) When you talk about ten different individuals? That’s not easy. I’m blessed to say we’re still here doing this 20 something years later. Not too many groups can withstand even being together that long. But for the most part we’ve endured a little bit of everything, all kinds of storms man, and we’re still here. That’s hard to say who’ll actually be there. But I can guarantee when they say Wu Tang Clan, man, we won’t disappoint our fans as far as bringing classic Hip Hop and a dynamic performance you will appreciate. I can guarantee you that. Even if it was two of us. Even it was me by myself you know? (big laughs)
You speak about change and growth. And you might say Wu Tang Changes like a Chameleon. Do you think that growth has managed to keep you guys going this long?
You know we said Wu Tang Forever. And in our hearts each and every one of us, we really have that in our hearts. Wu Tang Forever. There’s love, I mean the love is actually what keeps us together. In no families, or no group, or no people that come together, nobody is always gonna agree on everything. You’re never gonna get that. But when the common foundation is love, you’ll always have a understanding that you can come to, you know. Sometime space and distance is healthy. Space and distance only equals time. So, we’ve definitely been growing as artists and as people, I think it’s all been beneficial to all of us. You know, because we’re still here and we still love doing what we do.
So the million dollar question is the million dollar album. I see good and bad points on that. What’s your opinion?
The million dollar album. Can’t really comment on it too much, because hey, even as being a participant I haven’t even heard it! (big laughs) Can’t really go too far into depth with that! But I would love for the fans to be able to hear it. I understand the idea, the concept of creating value once again within the musical universe because after you work so hard on bringing something or creating something you definitely want it to be recognised and appreciated. So from that aspect I do understand the idea of that, but I would love for our fans to be able to hear that album. I would love to be able to hear it!
What is the Masta Killa Chamber?
Oh man the Masta Killa Chamber is always bringing you the witty unpredictable right. Always wanting to say something that hasn’t been said before in the fashion that I might say it. I always wanna bring that uniqueness that can be appreciated. The originality of an MC that can be appreciated in the musical universe. That’s my Chamber that I always want to deliver.
Alright my man respect. Wu Tang Forever. We’ll catch you real soon in Australia.
Alright thankyou. Peace Brother.
You can catch Wu Tang Clan (or possibly a solo Masta Killa show?! haha) around the East Coast of Australia this February with local MC Ivan Ooze announced as support.
Tuesday 23rd February, Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
With Special Guest Ivan Ooze
Wednesday 24th February, Allphones Arena, Sydney
With Special Guest Ivan Ooze
Friday 26th February, River Stage, Brisbane
With Special Guest Ivan Ooze