In the spring of 2020 emcee Vice Verses passed away unexpectedly. Born Jason Williams, Vice was known for being one of the co-founders of New York’s longest running weekly open mic “End of the Weak” and the subsequent End of the Weak MC Challenge. In addition, Vice was part of the group Idea Factory alongside Big Ox. The two also hosted a Hip-Hop showcase called DiverseCity TV.
Big Ox and Vice Verse’s long-time partner Kendra Goldhirsch put together an album of unreleased material from the late emcee titled “The Crown.” The Crown features appearances by Big Ox, Slaine, Prolific Wone, Agallah, Dinco D, Shorty Red, Rob Flow, Breez Evahflowin, Big Zoo, and Shabaam Sahdeeq. The album is produced by Mas Law, Zia Leonard, Dax Carson, Jess Jamez Music, DJ Rob Flow, and Agallah.
Kendra Goldhirsch spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about curating The Crown, the legacy of Vice Verses and the foundation in his name, The Verses Project.
TRHH: What role did you play in the creation of The Crown?
Kendra Goldhirsch: Jason was my longtime partner. We were together for 20 years. He was working with one of our best friends, Big Ox, doing a lot of music called the Idea Factory. Ox had partial songs. They had a lot of ideas and concepts for songs, so basically there was a lot of unfinished product. Ox and I sat down together when we realized we had all this material. We wanted to put out a special project for Jason. He had song ideas in mind and he had a project that he was working on, but most of the songs were not finished.
Ox and I came together and co-produced the album together in terms of deciding what artists would be on songs, which producers would do beats – some of the beats we had re-done. It was a labor of love and it came together really seamlessly. It was like Jason was overseeing the project. The end result is we feel like it’s really his project. His sound is coming through loud and clear. Conceptually the songs are his ideas. It’s his doing, he just did it though us.
TRHH: Who initiated this? Was it you or Ox who got the ball rolling on The Crown?
Kendra Goldhirsch: I don’t know the “genesis” genesis. We were talking about it for a while. It just flowed. It was a natural process. Everything seemed to work, so it didn’t take us that long to actually complete it. It was just one of those magic things that just works. Both of us were talking about all the different things that we’re doing to honor Jason’s legacy. I can’t place if Ox said it or what, but we knew we wanted to do it. I think it took four or five months to really finalize the songs. It was seamless. All of the artists that we asked to be on it wanted to be on it. It’s a beautiful thing for us that we could do this for Jason to honor him. I think he would be super-proud of it.
TRHH: The single “Count on Me” features Big Ox, Prolific Wone, and Slaine. What did those men mean to Vice Verses life?
Kendra Goldhirsch: You probably could hear it from the song, but these are people who have known him and are the closest friends he’s had over the years. More specifically, Jason’s first group was called I2I. Prolific Wone was in it. It probably came together back in ’98 or ’99. At that time Pro went to Hunter College in the city. Slaine is from Boston, but he was in the crew there. They ended up joining a group together. Jason was a mentor to Slaine. Slaine looked up to Jason as this lyricist. Obviously, Slaine is amazing today, but he considers Vice one of his mentors in terms of perfecting your rhymes, your performance, and that. That’s where they’re from originally. I2I ended up joining forces with Solid Ground, Zoo and Nunzio, and that’s how End of the Week started back in 2000.
They started a TV show together DiverseCity TV that was on Bric TV, which was kind of like a mix of Hip-Hop culture and art culture. It had live events, a skate boarding segment, interviews, they had a producer corner where they would showcase someone making beats. Ox and Jason had the music part of it which was called Idea Factory where all this music was created. In the studio Jason would help motivate and inspire a lot of artists. Whenever he worked with them he would be like a battery. He would be pushing people in the studio wanting them to be at their best. Through Idea Factory he worked with a ton of different artists and producers. Agallah did the first beat. Poison Pen, who has done a lot of stuff in the studio with us had a nickname for Jason, which was Joe Jack, for Joe Jackson. Jason in the studio would always come up with ideas and push everyone to get stuff done. He had a creative energy that really impacted so many people.
TRHH: What’s your favorite memory from End of the Weak?
Kendra Goldhirsch: Someone else asked that recently. So, End of the Weak started in New York in 2000. Jason, and the manager James created the MC Challenge. It’s basically like an Olympics of Hip-Hop. It was created almost as an anti-battle. It’s a competition, but there are five different rounds and essentially, you’re almost battling yourself to out-do yourself. There are five rounds; written, acapella, beat juggling with a DJ who is flipping the beat and changing the style, a grab bag where you pick things out of a bag and freestyle, but you don’t know what it’s going to be, and then the last round is a four-bar cypher where you’re paired up with other contestants in the challenge. At the end of all of these things all of the contestants are giving each other dap. They’re friends and they’re going to work on projects together. It kind of brings people together instead of trying to break everyone apart.
The MC Challenge was taken to Europe – first in France – now it’s in 15-plus countries. It’s done in all these different languages. Before COVID all these different places would have a season where you would have a winner, and at the end of the year there would be a World Finals, which is a multi-lingual MC Challenge done in a different country every year. Probably my best recollection is going to those because it’s like a pilgrimage. It’s like a week in that country. It’s not just that one event. It culminates in that big event where it’s a competition, but it’s a week where you’re networking, you’re going to the studio together, you’re going to radio stations, you’re filming stuff, and more important you’re meeting like-minded people.
It’s a shared culture because it’s Hip-Hop. Literally there are chapters in China. There can be a language barrier, but people are coming together and understand where one another is coming from. You’re coming back and you’re still on a high from it. It stays with you. It’s a really special experience. There have been a lot of single events that were crazy events that we’ve had, but for me this is very meaningful and a special thing. All of the emcees are so ridiculously nice, and everyone recognizes how nice everyone else is. It builds relationships, people do songs together, and tour in other countries with the help of the people that are there. It’s a beautiful thing.
TRHH: Explain what the Verses Project is and how artists can get involved.
Kendra Goldhirsch: Awesome. Jason passed away in early COVID, so we couldn’t really get together. We were supposed to have a virtual open mic two days after he passed away. Instead we basically had an online memorial. Because Jason was in the group I2I, they also used the number 121, so we had a memorial online for 121 hours straight where everyone from all different countries would be coming in from all different times and sharing from the heart. It was really special. I had friends from school that didn’t really know Jason, but they were on and were hitting me later that they got something out of it. They understood the special light that he had and shared with people. Taking from that, I was trying to think of what we could do to kind of perpetuate this in his honor.
We realized we wanted to start a foundation. We recently put in the paper work to make it a non-profit. It’s called Verses Foundation and one arm of it is Verses Project. Verses Project is a grant program. It’s an artist grant program and we’ve had two rounds so far. We’ve given seven artist grants to a mix of artists. Some of them are Hip-Hop artists, some of them needed help to launch a book that they were doing. Basically, they are project-based grants. People submit an interview where they interview themselves and give us a little background on who they are. They submit music, a budget, and explain what their project is about. We’ve had two rounds of the Verses Project artist grants. We’re actually going to launch a third round pretty soon and with this one I think we’re going to do visual artists. Jason and I had a great love of mural artists and street artists. We have a lot of people in our circle who are heavily involved in that. Hopefully the next one we’re going to do visual artists in the same way we did Hip-Hop artists.
It’s been pretty exciting. So far each of the grants has been $1000 to help their projects. That’s one part of what we want to do. We have ideas to open up a recording studio lab at a school. We’re not only going to be limited to the grants, but that’s what we’ve gotten off the ground and we’re going to continue it. We can go beyond that and find other ways to help aspiring artists on a granular level reach the places that they want to reach in a small way. We know we’re not changing the course of an artists career, but we want to be that boost and that support that people sometimes need. It’s been a special experience. A lot of the artist have been to EODUB and a lot of the artists we’ve never met before, ever. They found it through Facebook or other means.
TRHH: What’s your favorite song on The Crown?
Kendra Goldhirsch: I have a couple. I really like the intro. I was there when Agallah did the beat and he is really like an amazing talent. He really is amazing. That’s one that’s really special to me and it just has such a vibe. I think it’s perfect for an opener. It’s Jason’s style because it has a darkness to it and intricacy in terms of the writing style. Count on Me is special. The other favorite on the album is the song with Breez Evahflowin, “Darkness.”
TRHH: What do you want people to know about Vice Verses the man that the average fan would not know?
Kendra Goldhirsch: Jason was a really special light. All kids would love him. One thing Ox was saying recently in an interview was that he could relate to everyone. What people gave us back and taught us about him, even though we were together for 20 years and were involved in everything each other did, just hearing all the small ways that he would just listen. People aren’t always completely authentic and really just giving back your energy and saying, “Wait, this is how you can do it better.”
Basically, caring about the direction you’re going in and basically boosting you and helping you out a little. Not even like trying to, but that’s his natural creative inclination to do what he can to help make you better. That’s what we’re trying to carry on with his legacy. I would say another interesting small aspect of it is we’ve met a lot of people who have never got the chance to meet him and still take energy from him and are still inspired and get what he was about. He’s still doing his magic and affecting people and it’s all for positive reasons, creative reasons, out of love, and just a sense of humanity.
Purchase: Vice Verses – The Crown