For a rapper still so unsung (outside of certain circles, at least), Killah Priest has displayed astonishing longevity. Ever since his 90s appearances on Gravediggaz’ and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s debuts and, most notably, devouring the entire closing song of GZA’s Liquid Swords, the man has been devastating tracks. If you’re not familiar, do yourself a massive favor and listen to his 1998 debut Heavy Mental. Entirely produced by close RZA mentee – and absurdly underrated producer – 4th Disciple, it ranks among the most under-heard hip hop albums of the 90s; an absolute master class in dense mind-altering lyricism and intricate forward-thinking production.
He hasn’t truly slowed down since, working with Just Blaze (!) on its follow up, View from Masada, and has since been an ever reliable presence, returning with a new record just about every year. While the majority of the primary Wu-Tang members fell into repetition and self-mimicry, he’s remained defiantly fresh, with 2013’s The Psychic World of Walter Reed serving as a particularly strong latter-day statement, even in the face of its whopping 41 tracks. His music has kept its strongest quality: his high-minded sense of hip hop as psychedelic. Do all his alternate histories, conspiracies, and religious insights make sense? Perhaps not, but his presentation is so damn good, is so convincing while it’s playing, that it’s nothing is not supremely fascinating, for even the greatest skeptic.
Earlier this year he offered up the truly unusual – even by his standards – Rocket to Nebula, a journey into psychosis that melded his sound even further with neo-psychedelia, daring to verge on cloud rap despite his status as an OG. It was a daring statement, even too bold for some.
Now, to close out 2020, he’s linked up with Amsterdam-based producer and engineer Jordan River Banks for an album that instantly ranks among the very best of his work. When he snipes chart-seeking rappers with a “we’ll see who’s around in a few years” dismissal on the opening track, well, you can’t say the remark isn’t well-earned.
Considering Priest’s ‘hey guys, let’s trip to this’ appeal has never lost its spark, the only problem he’s run into in more recent years is his sonic backing’s inability to fully support. It’s hard, after all, for anyone to match a 98-era 4th Disciple firing on all cylinders, let alone the class of producers available to someone such as Killah Priest in his late career.
Banks, then, is a massive blessing for The Third in Eye in Technicolor, serving up some of the boldest experimental hip hop production that Killah Priest since, indeed, Heavy Mental. The beats are soaring and rough by turns, intimate and strange when they need to be, thumping and head-bobbing when necessary. This thing may not get heard by nearly enough folk, but it’s no less than one of the finest abstract hip hop releases of the year, challenging even the likes of Boldy James & Sterling Toles’ Manger on McNichols.
Despite being in his early 50s, Priest’s rhymes are as knotty and complex as ever, conjuring so many mental images in a single verse that it’s frankly astounding. Take “Red Mercury”, which sees him traversing all the way from the invention of tools to humans employing dinosaur fossils for fuel to guns, bullets, and humans on a molecular level to the day in the life of a crossing guard. To say that the least, his ever-searching lyricism hasn’t dulled one iota. Whether he’s musing on enlightenment, “sacred geometry”, or teasing the mysteries of Timbuktu, above all, Killah Priest is at all times the consummate showman.
The Third Eye in Technicolor is one that demands to be sought out. No matter whether you’re a fan of Ancient Aliens or the type that turns to The Oxford English Dictionary for a bit of light reading, you’ll be absolutely entertained, even absorbed, by the pure mental mastery on display.