Published Apr 01, 2000It's been ten years since Divine Styler's debut release and in that time he has only released two new records. But make no mistakes, the importance of Divine Styler goes way beyond those three albums. Like Kool Keith, Divine's music has always been ahead of its time and will often be misunderstood. In fact, the flack he's been getting for his latest record is no different from what he has been experiencing throughout his career. "I get flack, period," admits Divine. "I get it for just being Divine Styler because people, mainly black people, don't like to be reminded of what they're not doing. Since we've [been] freed from slavery we've been partying and the party's over. It's time to work and build yourself into something." Divine Styler has something to say. With his new album, Word Power 2: Directrix, he's saying it.
Brooklyn-born MC Divine Styler was into hip-hop since "before it was called hip-hop, when it was just a way of life." But, in 1984 Divine decides that it is time to get more serious with the beats and rhymes. "I didn't foresee myself being a famous MC. I just wanted to take it to another level." Divine Styler starts to make demo tapes and gives them out for friends to play.
Through friend Bilal Bashir (who would produce Divine's debut album), Divine Styler is introduced to Ice T. Within a year, he is a new member of T's L.A.-based Rhyme Syndicate, which includes Everlast, W.C. (through Low Profile), and of course, Ice T. "It was a golden age for L.A." according to Styler. However, it wasn't the fun-loving crew the outside world thought it was. "People think it was this big thing. It was nothing like that. We didn't associate with them. We had meetings or whatever, or there was a local club that the whole crew supposedly went to, but it wasn't any type of brotherhood, or any type of oneness amongst Rhyme Syndicate. I only knew Donald D and Everlast."
In February, his connections with Rhyme Syndicate earn him a record deal. The very next day, the criminally-minded Divine Styler is on his way to jail for a violation of probation. "Going to jail taught me to put things in perspective," he says now of his four-month stay. "What did I want? Did I want a career as an artist or did I want a career as a criminal?" During his stay, Divine begins to take his Islamic teachings a lot more seriously, and emerges a very different man from the one who went in. "When I came out of jail I made a completely different record from what I got signed to make." The result: he scraps the thugged-out lyrics of his past to create Word Power (Epic), which hip-hop magazine Source named album of the year.
Divine Styler makes an appearance alongside Rhyme Syndicate partner Ice T on the controversial Iceberg/Freedom of Speech album (Sire) for the track "What Ya Wanna Do?" Everyone is still waiting for more Divine product.
Three years later, Divine Styler prepares to drop his sophomore release, but in the time since Word Power was released, relations have soured between Divine Styler and his label. Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light (Epic) is a daringly creative record that is way ahead of its time. "I was the only fuckin' African-American ? so-called ? that had put an album together that had some fuckin' speed metal on it, that had some jazz on it, it had hip-hop on it, it had some folk on it. I had, like, five different areas of music I'm covering." Divine's experiments with speed metal long predated Ice T's Body Count. The album is released, but its experimental nature infuriates many. "That got me out of my contract with Rhyme Syndicate," he brags now. "It was more of a political move for me, and also me doing what the hell I wanted to do." Spiral Walls may not be his best-selling album but it is surely his most critically-acclaimed and timeless work. As well, Divine Styler takes some time to make a guest appearance on another groundbreaking group's sophomore release, De La Soul's De La Soul is Dead (Tommy Boy) for the track "The Doo-Doo Man."
Prompted by the sudden disappearance of Divine Styler after Spiral Walls, London, ON's infamous Fritz the Cat starts work on his new fanzine, In Search Of The Divine Styler; its debut issue hitting the stands in March. Explaining his disappearance, Divine says, "I [started] in 1984 saying I wanted to make a record and I wake up in 1990 and I'm all confused. I'm like, What am I chasing? Why am I doing this?'" When the mother of Divine's daughter unearths a copy of In Search Of in an Atlanta store, Divine is inspired to get back into making music. "That's a sign from God," he says proudly. "I mean, come on, what MC would have a magazine named after them?" Later that same year, Divine Styler litters House Of Pain's Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again (Tommy Boy) with some of the best verses on this crew's third album. "The great part about it," Divine explains of his return to hip-hop, "is I got to be refamiliarised with the music to date, the means of how you make and sell records. And I got to get my skills back up on the road, and that was the best part of it." Plus, he got more airtime than Danny Boy, Everlast's partner in the House.
Divine Styler introduces the world to his protégés, Styles Of Beyond, with a guest appearance on their Killer Instinct twelve-inch and spends his own money to travel to London and Toronto, ON to headline the In Search Of one-year anniversary. More importantly, he also takes a long-delayed trip to Mecca. "I went with a blank page and I did it as a blind servitude to my god. And because of that I got so much more than most of the people who went there cuz there was no preconceived confusion in my mind as to what I was doing and why I was doing it. Everything became so clear to me. When I came back to America, that's when I started to change." His experiences result in "Before Mecca," the autobiographical first single for his next album. The trip also inspires the song "Hajji," which sums up his life from his trip to Mecca to the time of writing. Although "Hajji" would not appear until the album is released two years later, the Before Mecca twelve-inch hits the streets with high anticipation for the album.
Styles Of Beyond release their debut album 2000 Fold on Bilal Bashir's Bilawn Records. Sadly, Divine Styler is only on one track, the previously released "Killer Instinct." Still, 2000 Fold is arguably the best hip-hop album of 1998.
Not only is Styles Of Beyond's 2000 Fold re-released on the Dust Brothers' Ideal imprint, but the first new Divine Styler album in seven years drops, only ten years after its Word Power namesake. Word Power 2: Directrix (DTX) is a fabulous return for the Divine emcee, but for him it is just an opportunity to prove to others that he still has the skills. And, like his previous two albums, there is plenty of meaning to Word Power 2. "Directrix means the median line in the trajectory of fire, which to me is the balance, and balance can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. But in this case, it's the balance between good and evil within myself." Sadly, its mission now accomplished, this year also sees the final issue of In Search Of Divine Styler.
"I promised myself I would never do another major record deal, and Mo' Wax is the only kind of company I would ever sign a contract with." Originally proclaiming his signing with Mo'Wax as "another act of God," before laughing, he later admits it was "DJ Shadow, yo." Recording "Divine Intervention" with Shadow for the Mo' Wax released Quannum Spectrum compilation in 1999 brought him to the attention of label head James Lavelle. "When he heard that and he knew my past, one thing led to another." The end result is the current re-release of Word Power 2: Directrix. As part of the record deal, Divine Styler is in the studio working on music for his next album. When asked which of his albums is his favourite, he replies, "The one I'm about to make." Word (power).
With research assistance from Fritz the Cat.