LOS ANGELES (Top40 Charts/ PRIESTHOOD Official Website) - The second generation Samoan rap group PRIESTHOOD(www.myspace.com/phoodmusic) emerged, amid diverse cultures, from a tightly knit community in Los Angeles. Picking up years after BooYaa Tribe (the first Samoan rap group to go mainstream) left off, Priesthood continues to keep things gritty and real while offering hope via their profound spiritual purpose.
Quickly attracting hip-hop fans seeking a fresh, positive and inspiring outlet from life's daily struggles, P-HooD is embarking on a mission to touch the world with their music.
On Thug Worship, their first joint in seven years, Priesthood gets back to the hoods of L.A. where their journey began. The instantly infectious, ultra-provocative 17-track collection combines massively grooving beats by Mr. Swift-who hails from the rough and tumble SoCal town of Paramount-with the edgy, hard-hitting but ultimately hopeful rhymes and rapping of the current crew of J. Rizzo (Compton), Chico Breeze (Carson), Tapasu (Santa Ana) and Kartoon (Carson).
Swift is African-American, but the rest of the guys are big Samoan dudes who are often mistaken for the security guards at their shows. 'We show up, people go 'woah!' and wonder where the band is,' says J. Rizzo, who is 6'4' and 300 lbs. 'And we say, get us onstage and we'll show you where!'
To grasp the massive transition Priesthood has made in the years leading up to the release of this intensely personal and spiritual project, a little history is in order. Launched by J-Rizzo, Mr. Swift and a third original member, Papa Semm, the then-three piece unit became first a U.S., then a global sensation, touring the country and then throughout Japan, Mexico and the Virgin Islands on the massive popularity of their first three joints, Sprinkle Me Luv (1999), Keepin' It Real (2000) and Turn Up Your Radio (2002). At one point, they were on the road doing an incredible 300 live dates a year.
Because of their name, the positive nature of their hard hitting rhymes and being signed to Christian singer Crystal Lewis' label Metro 1, Priesthood's early fame was pretty much limited to the faith music market. 'Be Around' from their debut was nominated for a Dove Award (Christian version of The Grammys) for best dance song and Keepin' It Real was nominated for Best Hip-Hop Album.
While always giving God the glory for their success and continuing to perform-as they still do today-in churches, prisons and for youth groups throughout Southern California, the group has in recent years set its sights on the mainstream, in the hopes of sharing their thick beats and inspirational messages with a wider hip-hop and pop audience. By 2002, Priesthood took a hard look at their direction and sound. A truly West Coast rap group, they had a reputation for laid back grooves and tight vocal harmonies-and it was time to develop a more cutting edge approach.
In the years after Papa Semm departed, J-Rizzo and Mr. Swift sought a fresh creative vibe with new members Chico Breeze (a former solo artist who first hit the road with Priesthood in 2002), Tapasu (who had success both solo and with another Orange County based rap group) and Kartoon, who was one half of the underground rap group Brownzville. With the roster now complete, they embarked on a mission to reinvent themselves, expand beyond their old comfort zones and conquer the hip-hop world again.
Thug Worship, which has already leaked online but isn't due for formal release till June 2009, is Priesthood's first, high impact step towards these lofty aspirations. 'I love the group we have now, and the chemistry and friendship are truly the real deal for all of us,' says J-Rizzo. 'When Priesthood first emerged as a trio, we ran with all these opportunities we had in the Christian market, and they were exciting, but in some ways we lost our way and our edge creatively. During this interim period, our goal was to figure out a way to loop back to the streets, where we were before we were playing in churches.
'The pieces all fit now,' he adds, 'and anyone can hear on Thug Worship that our music matches who we are as people and artists. Despite our success, many folks in the Christian market didn't accept us as we wanted to be, and now going the independent route, we are free from the expectations of others and just doing what feels true to ourselves.'
Mr. Swift connects with his longtime partner: 'I love the energy the current lineup of Priesthood creates, and the mix of individual and shared history that brings so many powerful experiences and themes to our tracks. The big thing is, we each have a story to tell, and while we come from slightly different worlds and 'hoods, we're all into the same music-not just urban stuff, but hard rock and pop of the 80s, when we all grew up. I'm a child of 70s old school myself, and every chance I get, I'm sampling classics from the time Earth, Wind & Fire and the Bar-kays were topping the R&B charts.'
A couple of tracks on Thug Worship key the listener in on the multiple grooves and themes Priesthood is all about these days. They don't want anyone to forget they are of Samoan heritage and rep the West Coast, so 'In The West' has a seductive reggae tinged island vibe as the guys rap about 'floating when we ride,' 'palm trees swaying' and 'cool breeze in the sunshine.' Love and respect for family is huge in their culture, so 'Family Biz' gives shouts out to all the folks, blood related or not, who stuck by them over the years. Each member of Priesthood contributes a verse, so that no one is left out-including their brothers in prison and in the military who are sacrificing for all of us.
Priesthood's always gonna have that spiritual thing at their core, and the beat intensive, hypnotic 'Goin' Home' is, like so many of their joints, about the struggle to do what's right and trying to live life according to what you say you believe. But rather than the traditional chariot taking them to heaven, they're keeping this discussion grounded in the hood, where a low rider will be the vehicle to the afterlife! Amidst the deeper themes, Priesthood loves to just let loose and have fun, and that's what the club jam 'Make It Hot!' is all about. Each member gets 16 verses on that one.
'So many people these days focus on what people don't have in common, but the tracks on Thug Worship are all about what we do have in common, despite our big differences,' says J-Rizzo. 'Originally, Chico and Toon are from Blood neighborhoods, and Tapasu and I are from rival Crip neighborhoods. Members of the group have had countless run-ins with the Law through gang activities on the streets which eventually landed them occupancy in the State and County Correctional Facilities. It has been through our newfound spiritual purpose that we are able to transcend those cultural divides of the past in the spirit of music that offers hope for the struggle of life.
'After a long time of trying to figure out what Priesthood's future would be,' he adds, 'we're feeling like we're really doing what we are supposed to in order to make an impact in the life of people. Music is about enjoyment, but even more than that, the rhymes and the words we rap and sing are all about making an emotional and spiritual difference in their lives. Whether our fans are listening to Thug Worship or seeing us at a club or church, we want to leave a mark with music and tracks they'll listen to and remember.'