Monday, May 13, 2013

Whatever Happened to Jeru the Damaja?

Jeru the Damaja (whose given name is Kendrick Jeru Davis) burst on to the music scene in the early 1990s, showcasing a distinctive flow and thought-provoking lyrics. His 1993 song "Come Clean" peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart:

"Come Clean" features Jeru's trademark free verse couplets, including these two gems:

I'm a true master you can check my credentials
'Cause I choose to use my infinite potential

My attack is purely mental and its nature's not hate
It's meant to wake ya up out of ya brainwashed state

Jeru's second album, "The Wrath of the Math," peaked at number three on the R&B chart. The single "Ya Playin' Yaself" urges listeners to focus on "knowledge, wisdom, understanding," words that are repeated throughout the song; here are some of the lyrics:

Knowledge, wisdom, understanding like King Solomon's wealth
You're a player but only because you be playin' yourself...

The race is on, but I won't compete
In this competition, because I have a greater mission
I hope that you listen
Knowledge, wisdom and understanding brings long life
And health, think anything else and ya playin' yaself

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew acronym Chabad--which is the name adopted by one of the Hasidic movements in Orthodox Judaism--refers to Chochmah, Binah and Da'at, meaning Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. Knowingly or not, Jeru delivered a quintessentially Jewish message--intellectual/spiritual development is more important than the accumulation of material wealth--that needs to be heard by all of humanity.

In an October 2009 interview, Jeru explained that he "wrote the whole treatment for 'Ya Playin' Yaself' and came up with the concept." Jeru has studied the martial arts, so the "Ya Playin' Yaself" video includes martial arts set pieces while presenting a message favoring the pursuit of long term enlightenment over the pursuit of short term frivolity:

"The Wrath of the Math" also included a brief track titled "Tha Bulls--t," a raw declaration of war against anyone who values commerce over art:

Jump up in my Rolls Royce, top choice
Make 'em holler, everything I do is for a dollar
F--k being civilized, I got dollar signs in my eyes
One day I'll fall but for now, I'll rise

The end of the song makes it clear that Jeru is not promoting such a decadent lifestyle but in fact considers such a world view to be a nightmare vision that he would not want his children to follow. With those lyrics, Jeru the Damaja rejects the assumption that the primary purpose of life is just to accumulate more and more toys and he seeks to reclaim Hip Hop as a poetic art form as opposed to a crass celebration of "gangsta" life. Visit any bookstore or music store or just glance at the bestseller lists in either genre and it is easy to find many examples of the shoddy work that Jeru the Damaja passionately decries--and not just in Hip Hop; works that display technical craftsmanship and that contain enduring artistic/intellectual worth are exceedingly rare.

Jeru's talents are not limited to music; he is also a photographer. Jeru the Damaja has not appeared on any U.S. Billboard charts since the 1990s but he is still producing music and he is still entertaining his fans worldwide. His November 20, 2012 post at explains his current activities (the quoted passage retains the original spelling and punctuation):

While other guys are Stressing getting their song played on hot whatever, or thinking they made it because they have a hundred thousand followers on twitter, I have millions of loyal fans worldwide and this number increases daily. Actually, I take that back...theses people are not fans, they're family! who have, and continue to support me in all musical endeavors. 

See, I'm like a stealth bomber flying under the radar. Dropping bombs on my targets whenever and wherever I please. It's the classic case of, if a tree falls in the forest. Just because you didn't see it or hear it doesn't mean that it didn't take place or had some type of huge effect on something you know nothing about. For example... I have records with dudes all over the world you never heard of, Those same records are platinum in those countries with millions of hits on youtube.

Disregard the few random typos and focus on the larger message: Jeru the Damaja is pursuing his artistic vision on his own terms, expressing himself creatively without paying attention to what the "mainstream" critics and charts say.

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