The flier for Priest Da Nomad’s CD release party today at the Bayou is split in half. Up top, Priest bows his head and clasps his hands in prayer. It’s unclear what he’s praying foruntil you glance at the flier’s bottom half, where the silhouette of an MC raises a microphone to the sky with one hand while his other hand raises a clenched fist in victory. All around him is destruction, possibly the remnants of a stage, a sound set, or both. Even if you’ve never seen Priest perform, a short study of the flier reveals his primary purpose in life: to wreck the mike.
Perhaps the most recognizable name on D.C.’s hiphop scene, Priest has made his rep primarily through his wicked freestyling skills. But today’s record industry moves on product, and the livest of MCs are only word of mouth without a CD or tape. With the underground scorned by major labels, MCs across the countryfrom California’s Souls of Mischief to Virginia’s SupaFriendzare releasing material independently.
Priest first tried the do-it-yourself approach by releasing the single “Janeane” on the local Blak Horse label. Now he’s issuing his seven-song EP, Travels. “It’s a journey through energy levels,” says Priest. “I wrote songs according to the mood I was in, and everybody’s got their favorites. You see all my sideseven the straight-up ‘hand-a-brother-his-lungs’-type thing.” Travels is a diverse effort, moving from the philosophic “Dr. Life” to the traditional battle rhymes “We Got” and “Quote Me Verbatim.”
This Friday’s release show features Priest alongside fellow underground favorites Unspoken Heard and Opus Akoben. None of the groups have received a record deal here in the U.S. Opus has managed to land a deal with BMG-France, while Unspoken Heard has also self-released an EP.
Opus Akoben members Sub-Z and Kokayi are featured on Priest’s EP, and while there are no collaborations with Unspoken, the rapport between all three groups is evident. “I’ve rocked with Unspoken and seen them perform, and they just moved me,” says Priest. “Not only their feel for the art, but they’re just some cool brothers. They don’t have nothing to prove; they’re chilling like me. But they know, when it’s time to rhyme, it’s time to rhyme.”Ta-Nehisi Coates