Q&A: Jeru The Damaja – A Crusade Against Whackness


Jeru-the-damaja-smallViewed as one the best hip-hop albums of all-time Jeru The Damaja’s 1994 debut, The Sun Rises in the East, remains a force to this date and acts as the 41-year-old’s primary calling card. That said, Damaja hasn’t rested on his past and continues to make his presence known within a genre that is now arguably more about the bling-blowe than substance.

To start the year off right, Damaja is back with a new EP, The Hammer. Ahead of his appearance at Hamilton’s Club Absinthe on Saturday, January 11, Riffyou.com caught up with Damaja about his new offering, as well as his views on hip-hop and his place within it.

RY: Congratulations on your new album! How are you feeling about it?

Jeru: “It’s wonderful. It’s a great record that has production by The Beatnuts, Large Professor, and PF Cuttin. It’s going to be something really refreshing.”

RY: With being in the hip-hop game as long as you have, how important is it for you to change things up when you enter the studio?

Jeru: “I don’t make an effort to do anything, I just do. If you try too hard, then something isn’t right. You know what I mean? I just do, I just flow. If you constantly try to change what you’re doing, it’s not going to be heartfelt. I just let my heart guide it and what happens, happens.”

RY: Do you write your rhymes down, or do you record them right off the top of your head?

Jeru: “Oh, I always write my rhymes. I’m not a prodigy or a savant, or anything like that. I know some guys claim that they don’t write theirs, but I write my shit down. I need to organize my flow. There’s this saying: ‘the strongest mind is weaker than the weakest ink.’ That’s a saying that I live by.”

RY: I read that you view this album as “classic hip-hop for the future.” What does that mean to you?

Jeru: “It means that it’s classic because it’s going to stand the test of time, but it’s futuristic because it’s beyond the era now and it’s not sounding like the past. I think a lot of people – especially guys who debuted their records when I debuted my first record – try to stick to that same formula that they were doing back then. I think that everything has to evolve.”

Jeru-The-Damaja_2RY: Do you listen to modern hip-hop and does any of it influence you?

Jeru: “Not at all. I actually don’t listen to a lot of hip-hop nowadays because I’m afraid to be influenced by it. I’d rather listen to some Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield…but don’t get me wrong, I hear some of the stuff. When I’m out I hear it, but I’m not [intently] listening to it and saying, ‘oh, this is my thing!’ I hear it accidently, but I’m not a fan of too much of that shit.”

RY: There’s been an argument for a long time that modern rappers are kind of missing the point of their position and not touching on important issues. Instead, they’re talking a lot about vanity and do a lot of chest pumping.

Jeru: “[They’re speaking] a lot of nothing. I mean, this is what happened. They took the power away from hip-hop…these new rappers who are just all about getting money. That was the power we had that scared the establishment; scared society; as far as a society that was trying to oppress people. That was the scariest part of hip-hop – we had a platform and people would listen to us. But now, they bought it out. They bought it and are now just using it for what they want to use it for: basically to sell things – to turn people into consumers.”

RY: Has some of the hip-hop guys today joined the mainstream movement that people in your generation were rallying against?

Jeru: “We weren’t rallying against the mainstream – we were part of the mainstream, but were underground. When people use the word ‘underground’ today, they use it as not being [popular]. My records were on MTV and all the radio stations. There were a bunch of guys who were underground and part of the movement – the movement of rebellion against the system. It wasn’t about the commercialization, no. If my message was on a commercial level, I’ll get capital so that I could continue doing what I’m doing – that’s a good thing. What’s happening now is that all of the message has been taken out. Everything that numbs your mind: that’s the [new] message.”

RY: Well, you have Jay-Z that brags about going from rags to riches – how do you feel about that?

Jeru: “If you do go from rags to riches, of course you’re going to be proud of yourself, but there’s only so much you can brag. You can make $500, $600, $700 million – you can’t really get any richer. I mean, you can, but it’s like nothing. You’re already super rich, so what are you going to start doing? Eating at restaurants that serve exotic, or almost extinct animals and shit? But, you can’t tell somebody what to do and you can’t expect them to do something. That’s the difference between me now and before: I know this now. Before, I was expecting of people. But, everyone has to follow their own path. If that’s Jay-Z’s business, then that’s his business. He did it – no one else did it for him. I could say that I feel it’s a shame that brothers with more power aren’t doing more, but you don’t know what people do behind the scenes. My position in life is not to judge – I need to look after myself.”

jeru-the-damaja-3RY: I know you don’t want to judge, but what’s your opinion on Kanye West?

Jeru: “I don’t think about Kanye West at all. Kanye West is Kanye West, I don’t know. Let’s put it this way – he baffles me, he’s an enigma to me. I am truly baffled.”

RY: Back to your music, what are you trying to say to people who are listening to it nowadays?

Jeru: “Now, I’m on a crusade against whackness. That’s my new crusade, because I think people are being sold so much whackness that it’s destroying the very fiber of society. Every way you look, it’s just whack.”

RY: What do you consider ‘whack?’

Jeru: “Everything that’s out now…rap wise and music wise in general. I mean, you know whack when you see it. So I’m on a crusade against whackness, and I hope no whackness comes my way. That’s my move, my mission for this record: to combat whackness on all fronts – to make sure that people know what quality music is. It’s not so much about message, but have something to say.”

-Adam Grant

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