» Witchdoctor Wise: Album feature, interview & mp3

12.jpgTrapped in the Asylum is the debut full length album from Brighton’s Witchdoctor Wise, somnology the eco-friendly MC who made noise with the Lost Souls crew, for sale kept up the pace with the Skill Mega splinter project and has maintained a high level of heat with his live shows.

A handful of tracks that appeared on CDR release at last years Brighton Hip Hop Festival are combined with new material to make up a refreshing record of considerable quality. Basics like track order, skit placement, beat variety and subject matter fit together so well it gives the album a personality made of struggle, hedonism, fear for personal survival and for that of the human race. The fate of many a rap album being just a collection of songs is swerved for an altogether greater end result.

Through a clear, pronounced delivery braggadocio rhymes and apocalyptic prophecies are mixed with similes soaked in marine and wildlife imagery. Self reflective chorus lead dance floor bangers clash with sped up drum machine scattergun drug adventures. The mix is not something seen much in hip-hop or elsewhere.

Support comes from a fine crop of Brighton/London/Further A Field MCs and producers including Iris, 184, Tom Caruana, Naim, Rup, Dr. Syntax and Devise. The latter 3 of that group joining up with Skill Mega’s Reps for the posse cut “Mission Kings” which you can download at the end of the interview. Book ended by top notch verses from Wise and Rup, the track bounces at a head nodding pace, and with its nonsensical and visually bizarre chorus, its status as the best track on the album is cemented.

The topics of environmental apocalypse and omnipotent political systems touched on in Wise’s raps weave through the album amongst rhymes of everyday struggles and fears without ramming messages down the listeners’ throat. Through the liner notes and soon to be published Tales from the Asylum blogs, these areas are more fully explored, producing a multifaceted product combining straight up rap with socio-political commentary: stereotype-free conscious hip-hop.

Delarge caught up with Wise to talk about the subjects that underpin some of the albums main focus. Read on for the interview and grab the Mission Kings mp3

Interview with Witchdoctor Wise

DLRG: Do you vote?
WW: As a rule I make sure that I vote, although i didn’t in the recent council elections because I wasn’t registered. I voted for Labour in 1997, with no expectations that it would be a drastic move for the better, but any small remaining illusions that I had regarding the possibility of progressive change were thoroughly and swiftly shattered.

It says something about the false dichotomy of modern politics that a party that was once at least nominally socialist has presided over a massive rise in inequality between the tiny minority of super-rich and everybody else. And this coming after the Thatcher years, which were no great leveller in themselves. Some people may say that this is just a result of some people getting rich, and that doesnt mean that everybody else is any poorer just because the income gap is bigger – but of course an inequality of income does affect ones access to power and resources, so it is very important.

Societies with an extreme concentration of wealth tend to have an extreme concentration of power, especially in a climate of ‘deregulation’ – a euphemism for unrestricted corporate power – and this is an inherently undemocratic situation, resulting in the rollback of many of the gains of the last century’s battles for social justice. I still think its important to vote however, just not for the lesser of two evils. I have voted for the socialists or the greens since 1997, and although they have no hope of getting in at the moment, and indeed I do not agree with their entire platforms, but the more people who vote for them, the more credible they become, and the less a vote for them is seen as a ‘wasted vote’. Its like a snowball effect.

You simply have to vote for what you believe in, and not tactically, for instance to keep the tories out, because as we have seen that results in nothing but the consolidation of elite power.

DLRG: We noticed you give props to Noam Chomsky and Edward O. Wilson in your liner notes. The former is essentially a Marxist – believing that society’s economic relationships determine all other social facets. The latter’s hypothesis is that our genetics determine our society. Don’t these two theories make you feel powerless?
WW: Im not sure either would agree with your descriptions of them here to be honest. Chomsky certainly wouldnt describe himself as a Marxist. I think the important point about both of them is that both take a scientific approach to their research.

My interest in Edward O Wilson is in his groundbreaking work into the evolution of social behaviour in animals, for instance in the social insects. At no point in his work does he say that the social behaviour of humans is entirely genetically determined. In fact you would be hard-pressed to find a credible evolutionary biologist around these days that would suggest that. Of course, on the other hand, as Wilson and others have pointed out, our basic behaviour does have a fundamental genetic basis, as our brains and how they develop behaviours in reaction to their environment from birth onwards are the products of our genes, just like any other part of the body, but we have evolved such adaptable brains and therefore through our behaviour we transcend any simple genetic programming. For example we override our genetic impulse every time we use contraception.

Our ‘animal’ instincts arent necessarily bad, either – we are genetically disposed to in the main be altruistic and cooperative with our fellow humans, as this was evolutionarily favourable behaviour in the past, and made us the successful social species we are today. If anything, it is mainly unfavourable environmental factors that causes sociopathic human responses, as opposed to the genes.

Chomsky takes the scientific approach honed from his groundbreaking linguistic work, and applies it to analysis of mainstream media coverage of US foreign policy and the actual policies themselves. From this he comes to the conclusion that US foreign policy has taken a very consistent course over the last century (and indeed to some extent before) – one of support for local elites that are willing to sell out their countries in return for personal power, and virulent aggressiveness towards governments or social movements that wish to take their country in a path independent from the ‘Washington Consensus’ – in other words, opening up their country’s utilities, industry and natural resources to the rapaciousness of unregulated global capital.

Even the most ‘moderate’ of independent-minded governments that have simply attempted to introduce social reforms similar to those carried out in the US and Europe (reforms which are now also under attack in those countries too) have been crushed by the wide range of destabilisation techniques used by the US, from funding of reactionary civilian elements through sponsoring of armed groups all the way to full-scale war, as described in great detail in ex-state department official William Blum’s ‘Killing Hope’.

Neither Chomsky’s nor Wilson’s approaches are based on dogma or ideology, but are instead garnered from analysis of empirical evidence. I dont think you can let the truth bother you, I want to know facts about the world that are uncomfortable, Id rather feel uncomforatble rather than a warm comforting lie – I used to as a child think that US foreign policy was essentially benign and well-meaning, even if it sometimes went wrong. This was mainly though accepting mainstream media portrayals at face-avalue, and I now know them to be dramatically wrong. This doesnt make me feel helpless, I dont think either man would suggest that we cant make society a better place with the right will.

DLRG: If the revolution came what would Witchdoctor Wise do?
WW: It depends on the kind of revolution. Its hard to say at present because political movements of any kind are barely existent in a UK riven by apathy and social atomisation, and the idea of any kind of revolution is hard to imagine. If some sort of progressive social mass movement kicked off I would certainly like to believe that Id be trying to get as involved as possible. At the moment I’m afraid to say I’m more concerned with getting by and do very little to make anything happen, which is probably the case with a lot of people while they are still just about comfortable and have their basic mod-cons. I would like to visit Latin America were genuine social change is being forced through by mass movements, and get involved in that if I could.

wise2.jpg

DLRG: You share our concern about the impending environmental holocaust. What can we do to stop it?
WW: Unfortuantely the main thing that is causing both the massive human misery and the environmental collapse that is looming is the entrenched system of predatory fundamentalist capitalism that has taken hold over almost the entire Earth. It is by its very nature a consumer as it must continually expand as a system to survive. It is inherently unsustainable. One can only hope that sustainable models of development, which do not hold nearly so many opportunities to get extremely rich and are therefore not so favoured by those with power, start to take hold before it is too late. Unfortunately there is barely an ecosystem on Earth that is already at total tipping point, and already critical situation comes as countries like India and China start to explode economically (again usually to the benefit primarily of a tiny minority). The Earth’s biosphere is very tough and has recovered from much worse insults than the scourge of human capitalism in the past – 96% of life on Earth was wiped out by natural global warming just before the dinosaurs were around, for instance, but it will take a while to recover – longer than humanity is around, it seems likely. So at the end of the day, its a human aesthetic issue, and depends on what kind of planet we wish to bequeath to future generations. At present it seems distressingly likely that it will be a sadly diminished one from that we ourselves inherited, but I have some small faith in the resilience of ecosystems and human ingenuity, if it can just be brought to bear in time.

DLRG: The USA’s Director of Policy Planning of the State Department said “We should cease to talk about rasing living standards, human rights and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts”. That was George Kennan in 1948. Do we really stand closer to the edge of armageddon today than 50 years ago?
WW: When George Kennan said this nearly 60 years ago, it was already dishonest. Those in control of the rapidly expanding US Empire of the time, like their equivalents in the British Empire before it, were never interested in democracy or human rights per se, but instead, power and economic domination. Like all conquering nations through history, these aims were sold to the people of the home country as worthy projects that are in some way ’saving’ their unfortunate victims, whether from barbarism, communism, tyrannical governments or belonging to the wrong religion. If some sort of hyperbolic threat to the home country or its ‘interests’ (invariably the interests of the hyper-rich cabals) can be conjured up and thrown into the mix then all the better. Kennan was speaking just after the World War II, which through the force of endless film, TV and book rotation right up to the present day has become the ultimate legend of benevolent US military intervention, supposedly saving Europe from the Nazis out of the goodness of their hearts. As is well documented many sectors of the US elite did of course have good relations with the Nazi government up until, and in some cases after, the US joined the war, and sectors of the US elite saw WWII as a massive business opportunity. They certainly took the opportunity to economically dominate europe and its former empires after the war, emerging to become the new world empire. I think we stand closer to armageddon today in the sense that the world is much more unbalanced in terms of power relationships today, and the US has become a massively destabilising influence as it struggles to stay in its position of global hegemony like a wounded beast, and tears up international agreement and consensus along the way. Combine this attitude from some of the most powerful groups on Earth with the ecological meltdown we are facing, and you have a potent cocktail that threatens humanity as a whole like no crisis in history (except perhaps for whatever unknown catastrophe reduced the species to a few hundred in number some 80,00 years ago according to genetic research).

MP3: Witchdoctor Wise ft. Syntax, Rup, Reps and Devise – Mission Kings (6mb)
Taken from the album ‘Trapped in the Asylum’

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