Speaks to the Red Goddess by Megan Ivanyos
Killah Priest is a master swordsman with words. He slices and dissects, rearranges and rebuilds them. His skill is so stealth it takes another master to keep up.
Those other masters are Wu-Tang Clan, who hit the scene in the 1990s. Killah Priest, birth name Walter Reed, is an associate of the group of rappers who collaborate. The members overlap in style and topics. Killah attributes their success to them working together as a team. Member Gza had the idea of swinging a sword. "The Tang is when [the sword] hits. Tang! That’s what Wu Tang is," says Reed.
Reed grew up in 1970s Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, New York City. He was surrounded by Muslims, Jews and "corny church folk." He and his friends were kids “checking out everything else, questioning ourselves, thinking outside the box," says Reed.
Reed’s face is like a shining Buddha. His tattoos fade into his dark skin. He wears beads around his neck and on top of his head sits a crisp, red Wu-Tang Clan baseball cap. Reed’s Brooklyn accent doesn’t hit you immediately, but it emerges as a mix of NYC, hip hop, and light laughter. He was part of the Five-Percent nation, which held a belief in yourself as god, meaning we all are capable of the divine to be the best possible self.
During this time, young Reed would learn about ancient religions and world history. “It was like a computer on paper," says Reed, "New York has so much information because there’s lots of cultures there from everywhere.”
He and his friends read about pagan scriptures and foreign cultures and fantasy. “The stories are good. It takes us somewhere, takes our minds somewhere and we need that for the hood, for the ghettos and inner city, because it’s madness out there," Reed says.
Reed’s appetite to learn grew as his research intensified on ancient religions and the lifestyles of the early Israelite, Babylonian and Canaanite history.
When the music took off, Wu-Tang traveled internationally. Each artist had an individual music deal. Reed wanted to do more than just perform the shows. He wanted to go out and see the places he read about when he was young. The other Wu-Tang members weren't interested in joining him. “To actually go there and see that it was real, that is a beautiful place. It’s humbling," says Reed.
For his solo shows, Reed booked flights a couple days before them so he could explore different countries, including west and east Europe. Promoters connected him with a local who knew a lot about the area. Rome was the only destination where he used a tour guide. His arrival there opened up another world to him.
“I thought I’d seen it all, until I went there," says Reed, "And I was humbled like ‘oh shit, this is really big.’ Marbles in the street. It’s like statues in the street of a kingdom that’s waaay," Reed says beginning to laugh gesturing the deep past.
"‘Cause that was the old world, Europe. That’s where we (Americans) all were and then, until we moved over here became the New Hampshire, New York," says Reed laughing again.
Killah’s lyrics are riddled with metaphors using ancient and modern religions, empires, and concepts. Not the typical subject matters found in rap songs. “They didn’t know how to market me," says Killah.
His music has been described as conscious rap. "I think it’s just real rap.” Killah says. Music can “free slave minds from the bounds of religion," says Reed.