As archaeologists dig up the buried objects and sculptures of ancient cultures made of bronze, Detroit producer/MC Bronze Nazareth, who raps about being "The monolith prepared to wait beyond the common length," shines underground, rewarding those listeners who venture beneath the surface. After debuting on Rza's Birth of a Prince 10 years ago, Bronze has become an underground king.
While his fellow next-generation Wu-Tang affiliate (and likewise metal-named colleague) Cilvaringz grasps for widespread attention and notoriety with publicity stunts like the single copy Once Upon a Time in Shaolin album, Bronze simply goes about his business, continuing to pile onto a resumé that's earned him the respect and interest of the elite practitioners of his artform. Besides putting in work with the entire Wu-Tang Clan, Sunz of Man, Killarmy, and producing albums for Timbo King and 60 Second Assassin, he's already crafted bangers for the likes of Immortal Technique, Kool G Rap, Tragedy Khadafi, Jedi Mind Tricks, Roc Marciano, Copywrite, Tragic Allies, La the Darkman, did a full album with Willie the Kid, and produced an upcoming album for hip hop legend Canibus (on that note, get ready to hear Pete Rock rap over a Bronze beat).
And that's just his outside work. Spearheading his own movement, Bronze has led his Detroit crew, The Wisemen, for a whole slew of group and solo projects. In the midst of this staggering workload, Bronze also blesses fans with his own solo efforts. The latest is Thought for Food Volume 3. The first solo Bronze release in three years, it's a bundle of twisted wordplay and abstract metaphors packaged up in a style of hip hop that's rugged as Michigan winters and dirty as a Detroit storm drain. A recurring metaphor on the record is the diamond trapped in a rough block of coal, likewise this Bronze batch as a whole is as beautiful as it is harsh. Go listen to and purchase it here.
The Bronze Bomber was generous enough to answer some questions about his newest release, mostly focusing on his unique lyrical approach as well as a consideration of the turbulence of our moment in history.
[Please note: this interview was conducted in December 2014 shortly after Thought for Food Vol. 3 was released. A few weeks later his brother and fellow Wisemen member Kevlaar 7 passed away suddenly from complications related to a blood disorder. I chose to hold off on publishing this interview. Note that some of his answers reflect the current events during that late 2014 period.]
Q: I know you were doing some stuff with Man Bites Dog Records, is Thought for Food Vol. 3 being released through them?
A: No, this is Black Day in July, fully indie. Man Bites Dog is a great label, and we have been discussing future projects last I spoke to Ryan.
Q: You’ve always hinted that the Thought for Food series is largely meant to showcase your lyrical abilities and wordplay. So I want to ask a few questions related to your lyrics. You’ve got 5 solo projects, 2 group albums, plus dozens of guest appearances under your belt now, and your verses tend to be complex and abstract. I wonder how much of that catalogue of verses you have in your head at any one time, how much of it you could recite completely if prompted? And how many unrecorded full verses are in the cranium too?
A: Maybe about 60% of my writings I can shoot off top. Unrecorded? Maybe just a few...2-3. If I write something, I usually use it, 8 out of 10 times. Those I don't use get put in the pile somewhere and I don't memorize them.
Q: How long does it take on average for you to craft a verse? What is the process like? Do you hear the beat and immediately scribble out 16 bars of shit like “Radically invasive projectiles, you leaking/ life liquid, needle drop/ my scripture might lift ‘em” (from "Meals Blend")?
A: It differs. Could take 20 minutes, could take two weeks. Usually depends on the situation. If I'm out somewhere jumping on a track for a guest verse, I craft it right there. Other verses, like album joints, I might write a verse in a couple hours, or I might tap at it for a couple weeks. Shit like "radically invasive projectiles...." I saw those on a video or something somewhere, some new devastating ammo, and it came to mind when writing over that Lil' Fame production. It's all just a collage of everything I see and experience on the daily.
Q: I know that with beats, you may have some that were made 5 or 6 years ago that don’t actually get used until much later on. How about with verses? Have you written some years back that stayed in a notebook (or in your head) until years later?
A: Yeah definitely, I might have a few that I've just been holding for some time, and the right beat or situation comes along and it fits. In my head definitely, lines get stored for a long time until the perfect fit comes.
Q: One of my favorite tracks on Thought for Food Vol. 3 is “Plan B? Plan A”. The verse makes frequent reference to a girl (“She gave the test first/ the lesson later on”) while a promo note says the song is “focused on Nazareth's relentless pursuit and focus on his artistry.” So I wonder, who is the “she” mentioned here? Is it a metaphor?
A: Yeah 'She' is basically a metaphor for, in this instance LIFE. It's all a part of the grand scheme, as far as plans and planning and the results. The test being given before the lesson indicates learning from life... and it is life who is ultimately guide to your plans.
Q: From your earliest work as part of The Unknown on through your first Wu-Tang-related tracks like “Blowgun” and the early tracks you did with Cilvaringz, you had an extremely wordy lyrical style, like you were squeezing as many words as possible into each bar. From what I remember reading somewhere, it was a discussion with RZA that led to you adjusting your lyrical style to where you now seem to try and fit multiple meanings and images into short, often aphoristic bars. Tell me about that transition.
A: Well, when RZA put me on... I was a little taken aback because he said something to the effect of, being able to work as a producer. He said my rhymes were dope but nobody would catch what all I was saying. I took that in and looked at my shit, I was very scientific, and wordy. It made my flow unbalanced. My predicament is to not compromise what I want to say vs. what fits into the rhymes scheme smoothly. So even though I felt I was the illest MC on the planet (what MC wouldn't?) I took that opportunity to reflect on my rhymes and how others perceived them. Now, if you are really listening you can catch more double entendres.
Q: In the few times I’ve heard you do it, you seem to be very good at freestyling off the head (such as at the end of “Meals Blend/Fame Free” on TFF3). Why not showcase that more?
A: Ha! I'm known to be nice off the top. I'm all for showcasing that but there isn't a lot of times where I'm in place for it. Most of the times it happens backstage or at a show or something like that. I guess I don't record it much because it's more of a spur of the moment thing, in the car, or the greenroom, etc. I guess in the studio, I'm more about writing and recording, and I don't usually jump in the booth to freestyle. Maybe I should more. Maybe I'll get ten beats and go off top then put it out...we'll see.
Q: The album cover features a pretty striking image. Looks like you’re splayed out with a bullet wound through the jugular, a pool of blood attended to by rats, notebook fallen from left hand,
A: The seal is a city of Detroit sewer manhole… The cover came at a time when we see various violent endings of young life. I was very moved by Ferguson, I protested in Detroit, and stood with the people. So this cover is a bit influenced by the times, as are all my covers and music. It speaks to the importance of my and other young people's thoughts. Here on the cover the rats (which represent many things) are feeding on my blood, which represents my thoughts. In these times, my and my people's thoughts go unheard, unsupported, snuffed out. It's also obvious that less and less people buy music these days, so it's a warranted worry that maybe my message and talent is going to waste.
Q: Who’s the artist? Who came up with the idea behind it?
A: It was an idea I came up with, I have an overwhelming sense of having to make my cover connect with the title. This idea fit great for me, and connected with my feelings at the time. The artist is Shane Goudreau, a very talented artist from up north in Canada. I met him in Kingston, Ontario and he showed me some of his art, it was amazing so I asked him to articulate the idea for the TFF3 cover, he executed it perfectly.
Q: You’ve got the nickname "Jesus Feet" which feels like a pun on Bronze Nazareth (the Bible says Jesus had feet like polished Bronze). Am I imagining it when I see a possible hint at the crucifixion image on this album cover?
A: Nah, no hint at a crucifixion there....
Q: A key theme in your music is that it is supposed to be a tool for education, mental or personal elevation, spiritual uplift for the listener. This line of yours on “Chambers of Four” has always summed it up for me: "I'm richer my mental picture's worth a thousand freed slaves." The name for your group The Wisemen also carries this tone. How did this approach to music come about for you?
A: I don't know, it's innate I guess. Life seems like one huge puzzle to me. So while I'm putting the pieces together, it's been helpful for me to have someone say "hey that piece fits here!" Nobody makes it in this life without help from someone. So I have been observant, and came up learning not only from my experience but from the experience of those before me. What is the point of living if you don't take the time to better it for those people behind you? What good is a stripper song when my 7-year-old son is trying to figure out why Tamir Rice is dead? Don't get me wrong, we need those stripper songs for that industry, we also need fun radio songs. But for me personally, I don't feel like I'm contributing to the world or society if I don't leave something of substance for the next man to gain from.
Q: Your lyrics have always had an undertone dealing with the history of American racial atrocities from slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, lynchings, the Civil Rights movement, and the current continuing epidemic of police brutality and mass incarceration of black people. Obviously, schools don't teach the full truth behind all of this stuff, so how did you learn so much about it that it became such a big part of your writing?
A: I've always been interested in Black History because at a young age I realized it wasn't being told fully. I remember seeing schoolbooks with centuries of slavery whittled down to two pages while Thomas Jefferson's life was covered in detail. I knew Jefferson had slaves. It didn't add up. So I began to read on my own. I owe further instruction to a great professor, and friend - Dr. Pero Dagbovie, who is responsible for a wealth of things I've learned, and for propelling me into further studies on my own. He's also responsible for some of these beats you hear because he once blessed me with three crates full of records he had stashed in his crib. I've also been fortunate enough to know Yvonne Little, growing up. She was a close friend of my Grandfather, and father. She of course is Malcolm X's youngest sister. She spent a good deal of time with our family. I was intrigued by such a close link to Malcolm X that I of course had to find out more about brother Malcolm. This infused my whole interest in black history.
Q: Your brother Kevlaar 7 (RIP) released an EP in 2011, Who Got the Camera?, that was largely influenced by the tragic killings of Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, and others. The injustices have only continued since then with the likes of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and too many others. Do you maintain an optimistic outlook on the future for America and humanity as a whole?
A: I find it hard to be optimistic now, I have to be honest. Trayvon, Mike Brown, Akai Gurley, Kelly Thomas, Vonderrit Myers, Victor White, Darrien Hunt, Rumain Brisbon, Lennon Lacy, and especially after this Eric Garner decision. I've never for a second been naive about racism, but the fact that these things are ALLOWED to slide is extremely troubling. Things have only had the illusion of being better than the early 1900s...on some levels, nothing's changed. The only hope I do have is the protesters and movements that have continued for hundreds of days now. It's inspiring to see all people, all colors unite like in New York, Boston, Oakland, Berkeley, etc and it's fuel for hope to join the protests here at home. So you can say I'm in between hope and hopelessness.