|Photo by Jack Gould|
One of several remarkable things rapper would-bes Benyad and Mazik did after they first began calling themselves Blood of Abraham around ’92 was talking Compton gangster-rap icon Eazy-E into letting them perform during a gang-truce event he was hosting at Gazzarri’s on Sunset Strip (now the Key Club). Serious heavyweight Crips and Bloods stood side by side in full colors. Backstage, B of A were, in their own words, “shitting our pants” as they watched some tired electro-beat old-skoolers from the early ’80s getting pelted, but the duo hit the stage anyway and managed to prevail. Not only that, but afterward, Eazy persuaded them to ice another pending offer to sign with his Ruthless Records, home of N.W.A.
“Sometimes he talked like a mean son of a gun, but Eazy was really a mensch and a straight-shooting businessman with a vision and a heart of gold underneath,” says Benyad. “Enthusiasm was one of his best qualities, and he came through with promises to give us creative control when we signed. Eazy taught us Music Biz 101 — trust no one, and you never get what you deserve, only what you negotiate.”
Benyad (a.k.a. Ben Mor), who was raised in Nigeria from age 4 to 10 before his family immigrated to L.A. in ’82, was born in Israel of Moroccan-Jewish parentage. His partner, Mazik (David Saevitz), was born in Santa Monica to a part-Irish father and a Jewish mother. At the time of the Gazzarri’s show, Mazik had just returned to L.A. after growing up in Las Vegas. He was technically homeless at the time of the signing, so Eazy offered to let him stay in a huge house he hardly ever lived in down the street from Dre and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller in a gated part of Calabasas.
“After I moved in, cops discovered that various prominent Jews and blacks were on some white-power shit list,” recalls Mazik. “Chuck D from P.E. and Eazy also made that list, so I copped a 380 Glock for protection and had double locks put on the windows and doors. It was Eazy’s twisted sense of humor to have Halloween monster figurines all over his house — giant Chucky dolls, weird statuettes, clowns, sinister-looking wind-up toys with nodding heads and huge, slow-blinking eyes buggin’ out, and you always felt there was somebody in the house.
“One night I woke up parched, and was heading to the kitchen for water, when I heard something. I picked up my gat and tiptoed through the hallway, scared shitless, and then I nearly jumped outta my skin. It was like one of those creepy dolls suddenly came to life, and this voice was cackling, ‘What the fuck are you doin’ shakin’ like Jell-O, butt-naked with a gun and a glass of water in the middle of the night?’ Sure enough, it was Eazy. He grabbed the water, downed it and said in that surreal helium-high Joe Pesci voice of his, ‘You muddafucka, I coulda capped your white ass!’”
Inspired by Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Gang Starr, Slick Rick, the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and other Native Tongue crews — they call De La’s 3 Feet & Rising “the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop” — B of A recorded Future Profits for Ruthless in ’93. They even persuaded Eazy to cough up for a video clip they shot at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Released in ’94, the album contained the classic cut “Niggaz and Jewz,” a comically potent statement on persecution with a chorus containing the sampled voice of some sickfuck Klansman. The track also featured the first-ever recording of rookie rapper Will.I.Am, currently of Black Eyed Peas fame. Then Eazy fell terminally ill and everything went to pieces at Ruthless, and with no promotion behind it, Future Profits froze at the gate, though reviews were generally positive.
Bookish but street-sharp, the mirthful Benyad and Mazik came off as high-energy raconteurs when I recently interviewed them. The two self-managed, self-educated hip-hop heads segued effortlessly from a discussion of music-biz intricacies to an interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth as “social science applied to everyday life — patterns in all walks of life show people’s hopes, fears and desires are universal.”
“We’re self-taught, from DJ crates, cinema (Kubrick, Gilliam, lots of noir films), surreal art, Campbell and Eazy-E,” says Benyad. “Maybe it should be called ‘business music,’ not ‘music business.’ How else can we survive as artists if we don’t know the ins and outs of the biz and are unable to integrate it into our daily flow so that it becomes part of the expression of the work?”
The two rappers reeled off influences such as occult documentarian Manly P. Hall, C.G. Jung, pre-Christian world history, Egyptology, Gnosticism, the Masonic symbolist fine-art graffiti of Doze Greene, and architecture, all the while peppering the conversation with terms such as “collective thought,” “transcendence” and “polymorphic hip-hop culture.”
Benyad and Mazik say they’ve grown into the name Blood of Abraham even more deeply than they had originally intended eight years ago, when they chose it to bug on people as bone Jews with an aggressive ethno-cultural agenda, as many rappers had done with their African-Americanisms. But “Nowadays we’re more driven by the philosophy that the more you know the less you know, so there’s always something new to learn,” says Benyad. “We’ve opened up to universal themes ever since we discovered that Abe was a prophet to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.”
B of A’s second album, Eyedollartree, titled in reference to greedy, complacent overconsumerism (i-dol-atry . . . geddit?), was about to be released on Atomic Pop a couple of months ago, when Al Teller’s ambitious, Internet-only venture went belly up. “Atomic naively thought they were going to make it strictly as an online label,” says Benyad. “It was a fantastic, brave idea, but we told them our research showed only 1 percent of our potential audience would buy records online. Shocking but true — not every young person in this country is a computer geek with unlimited dough and time to spend on the Net. It’s another marketing-media myth.”
Benyad and Mazik told the company that its concept was several years away from viability, and that they’d still need to sell via old-fashioned retail, with online sales as a bonus. Atomic heeded their words, yet by the time it tried to implement retail sales, it was too little too late. So B of A jumped ship with their master recordings and ready-to-go artwork.
The new Blood of Abraham album is a mixture of trippy, band-oriented backpack hip-hop with a few guitar-rock tunes thrown in, and at least three or four solid singles. Production credit is split between Ben, Mazik and Will.I.Am for about 70 percent of the 13-track collection, which includes cameo raps by Divine Styler, Kool Keith and Will.I.Am. Producer/programmer Cyrus Melchor handles the other 30 percent, with Motiv8 (also from the Peas) creating one track. Ben and Mazik brought in lyrics and their record collections. Their current band, which played along to a few preprogrammed tracks on the album, also gigs as a live entity consisting of Dan Ubick (guitar/piano), Joe Karnes (bass), Steve Smart (drums) and DJ Rick One (beat programming, turntables).
Accompanying the record is a beautifully executed 10-minute experimental film, co-directed by Ben and Mazik with filmmaker Brian Beletic, which features noirish black-and-white photography combined with stock and new footage. It’s an impressive display of the duo’s multifaceted talents.
“We want to score and direct more commercials, videos and short films,” says Ben. “And although we know we can sell 20,000 of our record out the gate by ourselves and make 6 bucks apiece, we’re talking to a bunch of different labels right now to enable us to get over on a wider scale. We have a marketing plan and an entire concept ready to go. We’re looking for label subsidy, and we’re currently free and clear . . . and open for business . . .”