“Rap needs a doctor. Which doctor? Bring back the Witchdoctor.”
It’s no coincidence that Killer Mike, one of my favorite artists, called for the return of another of my favorites, on the nostalgic “Dungeon Family Dedication” off the Purple Ribbon All-Stars’ album Big Boi Presents…Got Purp? Vol. II. The tumultuous state of the recording industry has fractured the once mighty Dungeon Family from the top on down. The relationship between Outkast’s Big Boi and André 3000 has been the subject of tabloid fodder for years. After Dré left Aquemini Records (now Purple Ribbon) a lull seems to have been bestowed on the Atlanta collective. Many of the lesser known personalities from the Dungeon Family’s first generation have seemingly faded into oblivion, being reduced to appearing sparsely in guest roles. Those that have put out albums have done so through avenues not named Purple Ribbon Records.
In the time between the release of 1998’s cult classic A S.W.A.T Healin’ Ritual and The Diary of an American Witchdoctor , Erin Johnson, a.k.a. EJ the Witchdoctor, appears to have figuratively slipped off to “Island Koneelalee.” Though he’s released a handful of albums and books through his label, Dez Only 1 Records, Witchdoctor has remained largely forgotten except by those that were impacted by his obscure Healin’ Ritual. The last time anyone heard from Witchdoctor was on the haunting collaboration “Creeks,” about Wayne Williams and the Atlanta child murders, from Big Gipp’s Mutant Mindframe. Close to a decade has passed since the release of A S.W.A.T Healin’ Ritual and only now, like a phoenix, has Witchdoctor risen from the dead to carry on his legacy of enlightenment.
“I got word that you wanted to see me. QUICKLY.”
Making EJ’s return possible was the unlikely backing he’s received from the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and their Williams Street Music Label. If it took some commercialization by means of glossy promotional videos and play on Cartoon Network’s late night adult-oriented shows to get Witchdoctor back to the masses then it was a fair price to pay. Amazingly, the Doctor has returned virtually unphased by the lack of success he has received to this point in his career. He’s as honest and original as ever, unchanged in his style and what he’s about– God, the drug game, smoking cess, and sex. The Diary of an American Witchdoctor shows Witchdoctor has matured over the years but hasn’t sold out a bit in this unforeseen chance he’s been given to shine. Diary is an uncompromising collection of, for the most part, the best songs from Ninth Wonder of the World, Gumbo Cookin’, The God iz Good Movement, and King of the Beasts, Witchdoctor’s independent releases.
With the same strain and pain in his voice by which he’s come to be known, Witchdoctor has amassed a polished group of songs that are representative of his ability as a rapper and his essence as a human being. His sound is unmistakably representative of Atlanta and his music free of the gimmicks most MCs are all too eager to rely on. The Witchdoctor is as holy as a man as there’s ever been; a fact that permeates from the speakers through his signature style of mystery and prayer.
Throughout the Diary, Witchdoctor performs an aural baptism, giving numerous respects to God. The album is prefaced by the track “God iz Good” and ends with “Wonderful God” and “Mercy.” The Doctor’s passion for the Kingdom of Heaven remains as strong as ever when he announces “God can turn a mess into a treasure chest/Whatever we touch becomes the very best/`Cause we is very blessed.”
Though the mystique that encompasses him can be overwhelming to those that are unfamiliar, deep down the Witchdoctor isn’t that far gone from the rest of us. On the soulful “Just Like You” he reveals that “I’m just like you/ Touch me and I will fight you/ Pull my gun, even though I might not like to/ I’m like you, I’m real too, stressed too, I’m late payin’ bills too/ Everybody tryin’ to build up they lumber/ Credit people callin’ from private numbers/ I just don’t answer that motherfucker/ You can’t cure cancer with that motherfucker.” The same gun that Witchdoctor is reluctant to pull in “Just Like You” is the subject of the infectious “Suicide Bomber,” as EJ sings “No body guard/ No body armor/ ‘Cause I sound like a suicide bomber.” The track “Put a Spell on Them Hoes” may be familiar to some; it appears on the CunninLynguists album Dirty Acres as “Yellow Lines” with it’s beat and vocals serving as the bulk of the song, paired with an alternative chorus.
The chilling “Cream of da Crop” is easily the standout track on Diary merging the mythical presence of the Witchdoctor with some of his best lyrics (“I hold the deck, pull the card/ Be standing in your front yard/ Or live in your iPod,” “You ain’t a man until somebody calls you mister“). Another notable is “Jake Got Ya Body,” which isn’t an ode to the fitness personality (Jake Steinfeld), but a commentary on the pitfalls of cocaine addiction. As the Doctor explains, “Jake puts some of you hoe ass niggas in a dress” and “Jake is protected by high powered fuckin’ rifles.”
The promotion Witchdoctor’s been given from Adult Swim as a sort of novelty act may not be the most well thought out strategy. The Witchdoctor is a niche artist and those that come about him through a mock infomercial they saw on the Cartoon Network may not be prepared to encompass all the intricacies of this incredibly talented musician. Witchdoctor is a truly seminal figure in Atlanta hip-hop, performing his vigilante voodoo, vehement in vilifying the vision of a God that is vicariously visible in him, vying to vacate various vices.
CunninLynguists – Dirty Acres
Big Gipp – Mutant Mindframe
Backbone – Concrete Law