Jeru The Damaja By Melisa Tang
There are not many rappers out there, that can say they've been in the game for at least a decade. Jeru The Damaja, however, is one of them.
Born and raised in the Big Apple, Jeru The Damaja burst onto the hip-hop scene with his unique hardcore flow in 1992, when he was featured on 'I'm The Man' from Gangstarr's 'Daily Operations' album. The rapper born Jeru Davis followed the success of this collaboration with his 1993 debut solo single, 'Come Clean'. This was quickly hailed a classic, helping Jeru to firmly cement his place in the rap world. The hit singles 'Ya Playin' Yaself' and 'Me or the Papes' followed over the next three years, further establishing Jeru as a lyrical mastermind with his honest and straight-forward lyrics. Since the release of his last album, 'Heroz 4 Hire' in 2000, the Brooklyn-born emcee has been keeping himself busy touring extensively throughout South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, as well as putting together his latest LP, 'Divine Design'. TheSituation meets the hip-hop veteran.
What is the concept behind your latest album?
Raw, unadulterated hip-hop. Like today, there are a lot of gimmicks in music, and I wanted to take some of the gimmicks out and just do the hip-hop that I was brought up with. So it’s really just hip-hop; music without the executives, and without the market motion.
Why the name ‘Divine Design’?
I chose the name ‘Divine Design’ because so many times in life, we shy away from our spiritual calling, the supreme creator. But no matter what or who you think the creator is, I felt like this album was part of the plan of the creator, because I’ve been through a lot of different things in my life, especially as far as my career is concerned. Like I was on major labels before and I opted to go off and do my own thing, and I felt like that was all part of the divine design into making me a better person.
How has this album and your style differed and developed from your first album?
I think the style is different because I’m older, and when you’re older you see more things in life, so with age comes wisdom, hopefully! When my first album came out, I was pretty local. I had been on tour in America and in Europe, but I hadn’t truly experienced life like I have now, and I have a greater understanding of the way things work so I think the style is pretty much the same as the first one, it’s just a lot wiser.
What are your favourite tracks and why?
I really like the songs ‘Logical’ and ‘Rap Wars’. I also like the title track ‘Divine Design’… I like everything on the album really; all the tracks are my favourite! But if I had to pick one, I would choose ‘Logical’, because it’s smooth, it’s slow, and it has a lot of meaning.
Are you still in contact with Guru and DJ Premier of Gangstarr?
Not really, I don’t see those guys much. They live in different areas of New York; I live in Brooklyn, they live kinda on the outskirts of New York. They’re busy, and I’m busy touring a lot, so we rarely see each other.
On the subject of production, did you produce anything on this album?
No actually, I left all the production to two friends of mine called Edd Dantez and Sabor. I worked closely with them, showing them what I wanted to rhyme on and what I wanted to hear. What I wanted for this album was for it to be super minimalistic, with the production really stripped down.
As with your previous albums, you are signed to an independent label, why is this?
Well, I like to be in control of what I’m doing, so I set up my own label. This way I get to express exactly how I want to express myself, and I get to benefit more from the profits.
Would you say that you were a bigger and more established artist, in say the early 90s than in 2000+?
I wouldn’t say that I was, because I feel more established now that I have my own label and own all my masters, and I still do the same amount of touring, if not more, than I did at that time, so I think it’s just a bit less commercially recognised as far as all the mainstream shows in the States, which are all just marketing ploys. It’s not that the fans like me any less, it’s just that my marketing dollar is smaller than that of major labels, who can spend $10-20 million to get their product out there. What I’m gonna do is just create the music, do my shows, and let my fans pick up on it.
What is the highest you have reached in the national charts and could you ever see yourself getting a No.1 hit?
The highest position I’ve reached was No.2 in 1997 with ‘Me or the Papes’, but I can see myself getting a No.1 hit. I don’t know if it’ll be with this album, but I know that it’s in the works because I’m constantly gonna make records.
With the knowledge gained over the years as a non-commercial artist, what have you seen and learnt about the music industry?
I’ve learnt that nothing is what it seems. Even if you look now, all the major labels are firing people, closing down certain departments, and dropping artists, so if you spend a lot, they expect a big return. With myself however, if I don’t do as well I thought I would do, I can’t get dropped, and I can still make enough money to keep doing it, so I’ve learnt that being independent is the best way.
How are things for you as an artist?
Great. I love being an artist, and I think it’s who I was meant to be. Being an artist for me is natural, so what I’m trying to do now is be more of a businessman, and make more decisions.
What do you think of the ongoing beef between Eminem and Benzino? Especially since The Source plan to release the mixtapes which featured Eminem voicing his (then) opinions of black women?
That’s their beef. One thing that I’ve learned from life is to stay out of other people’s beef. Whatever it is, they’ll have to sort it out themselves.
Without meaning to dwell too much on the past, can we clarify for the record, if there has ever been a beef between yourself and The Fugees?
No, I don’t think there was ever a beef with The Fugees, it was more of a hip-hop type thing. I thought they said something about me on a record, so I replied, then they thought the same and replied. It was never ‘I hate you’ or ‘I wanna fight you’, it was just music.
What do you do to pass time when you’re not in the studio?
Read books, trying to learn more. Life as I live it is like a big university, as far as all the knowledge in the world is really at my fingertips, so I constantly use my resources to touch that knowledge.
Do you practice any form of martial arts?
Right now I’m studying the breathing martial arts, but I’ve taken Tae Kwon Do for several years, and other sorts like Tai Chi too.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan on getting into film, I’ve written a couple of scripts, and I wanna start production on my short film when the weather gets warmer. I’m actually working with some guys now on a comic book, and also on some Jeru The Damaja action figures. I wanna put out another album next year too, and just continue working to express myself artistically.
Album: Divine Design’ - Out Now!