Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jeru The Damaja (Kendrick Jeru Davis)

Speaking out against what he saw as a decline in rap during the mid-'90s, Jeru the Damaja came to the fore as a self-proclaimed prophet and the savior of hip-hop, much as KRS-One had done almost ten years before. Jeru first appeared as a guest on Gang Starr's Daily Operations album, and his own deal with Payday/ffrr appeared soon after, resulting in 1994's The Sun Rises in the East. Though he made few friends in the rap world — given his outspoken criticism of such popular figures as the Fugees and Sean "Puffy" Combs — he proved a vital force in the emergence of the new rap consciousness of the late '90s.Raised Kendrick Jeru Davis in Brooklyn, the Damaja began writing rhymes at the age of ten. At high school, he met Guru and DJ Premier of Gang Starr, and first guested on Gang Starr's "I'm the Man," from the 1992 album Daily Operation. Jeru toured with the group during 1993 and released his solo debut, Come Clean, for Gang Starr's Illkids label. The single became an underground sensation and led to his contract with Payday Records. He recorded The Sun Rises in the East with DJ Premier producing, and released the album in 1994. Though the album was well-received, Jeru got some flak for the song "Da Bichez" — though he explicitly stated that most girls did not fit into the category. During 1994, he appeared on Digable Planets' second album (Blowout Comb) and recorded his follow-up, Wrath of the Math, with DJ Premier and Guru once again helping out with production. The independent record Heroz4hire followed in early 2000, and his protégé, Afu-Ra, debuted in 2000 with Body of the Life Force. Jeru kept a surprisingly low profile thereafter, though he did appear on a stellar track from Groove Armada's Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub).
DJ Premier's first album-length production outside of Gang Starr was his best by far. Where Premier's productions hadn't shone underneath the cracking, over-earnest vocals of Guru, with a superior stylist like Jeru these tracks became brilliant musical investigations with odd hooks (often detuned bells, keys, or vibes), perfectly scratched upchoruses, and the grittiest, funkiest Brooklynese beats pounding away in the background. Of course, the star of the show was Jeru, a cocksure young rapper who brought the dozens from the streets to a metaphysical battleground where he did battle with all manner of foe — the guy around the corner on "D. Original" or an allegorical parade of hip-hop evils on "You Can't Stop the Prophet." The commentary about inner-city plagues arising from spiritual ignorance only continued on "Ain't the Devil Happy," with Jeru preaching knowledge of self as the only rescue from greed and violence. Jeru also courted some controversy with "Da Bichez," at first explaining, "I'm not talkin' 'bout the queens...not the sisters...not the young ladies," but later admitting his thoughts ("most chicks want minks, diamonds, or Benz"). His flow and delivery were natural, his themes were impressive, and he was able to make funky rhymes out of intellectual hyperbole like: "Written on these pages is the ageless, wisdom of the sages/Ignorance is contagious." It lacks a landmark track, but The Sun Rises in the East stands alongside Nas' Illmatic (released the same year, and also boasting the work of Premier) as one of the quintessential East Coast records.

Jeru reunited with DJ Premier for this slightly sprawling second record, though fans must have been delirious with joy to find it was similar to — and usually just as strong as — his debut. Though it's clear Jeru isn't as hungry a rapper as he was two years earlier, he has just as much to say, and he's just as angry with the state of hip-hop and black life in general. Jeru goes into metaphysical drama once again with "One Day," wherein commercial rappers (including Puff Daddy and Foxy Brown) kidnap hip-hop, and continues his comic-book battles with the evils of rap amidst the backdrop of the Big Apple on "Revenge of the Prophet (Part 5)." Jeru also spends plenty of time directly addressing real-life issues, dissecting the crass, money-hungry hip-hop scene on "Scientifical Madness," running a sequel to "Da Bichez" called "Me or the Papes," and preaching more knowledge on "Ya Playin' Yaself." His version of the classic braggadocio track comes with "Not the Average" and "Whatever," where he uses knowledge as well as immense skills to foil anyone who's testing him. Though Wrath of the Math did sound similar to Jeru's debut, Premier was even more wide-ranging for his backing tracks, ranging from the comparatively atmospheric ("Invasion") to a succession of momentary samples from out of nowhere ("Physical Stamina"). Unfortunately, it was their last time together; perhaps a bit jealous of Premier's sizable profile, Jeru began producing himself with his next record, Heroz4hire.

Jeru the Damaja returned from a three-year absence with Heroz4hire, an independent album released on his own Knowsavage label, featuring both production and mixing by Jeru himself. His rapping style, as dense and inventive as ever, entails listening to the album at least three or four times to understand the tongue-twisting rhymes. From his last album, Jeru continues his interrogation of women with more than love on their mind on "Bitchez Wit Dikz," and contributes an apocalyptic production to the historical saga "Renagade Slave." Jeru is surprisingly good as a producer, weaving scratchy, repetitious samples around tough, lo-fi beats — similar to DJ Premier's work on the first two Jeru LPs. Though the hooks here aren't quite as catchy as Premier's, the incredibly raw production suits the independent status of Heroz4hire. Jeru also shares the mic and the credits on several tracks; female rapper Mizmarvel appears on "Verbal Battle" and "Anotha Victim." Highlights include the hilarious New York exposé "Seinfeld" and the paternity case "Blue Jean (Safe Sex)."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

imo, the landmark Jeru track was Come Clean.
people knew every word to that shit in Brooklyn in 94

The Audioterrorist said...

Jeru Is One Of The Greatest Hip Hop Artists Of All Times. Keep Fighting The Commercial Crap That They Call Rap Nowadays. I Gotcha Back. Never Sell Out.

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