Jeru Tha Damaja conducted by Hugo Lunny  

Jeru Tha Damaja Interview

October 2004

Hip Hop has few legends. Or at least, few that are still active. Jeru The Damaja is one of them that still is. Emerging alongside DJ Premier and Nas in the early 90's, and hanging with Biggie as he was blowing up, Jeru lived the Hip Hop tales we only hear of. After over a decade rapping, Jeru has his own record label and a strong desire to continue what he's doing as well as diversifying his music.

These are the transcripts of an interview conducted with Jeru The Damaja by Hugo Lunny on October 6th, 2004.

MVRemix: Describe a day in your life around the "Come Clean" era. I heard you were around Nas and Premier during the recording of "Illmatic" and also pretty close to Biggie. Tell me a bit about those days.

Jeru Tha Damaja: Basically it was just about doing what you love. Gettin' up in the morning, happy you'd made it through the [past] day. Happy you'd even got up. Just being grateful. Knowing you could go and touch a mic, hang out with people you liked. At the time I was smokin' weed, I was gettin' high and just living a care-free life in a way.

MVRemix: What do you think about Guerilla Black? Because whenever I do something creatively, I try to be as unique as possible. However, if you listen to his stuff, he sounds exactly Jeru Tha Damaja Interviewthe same as Biggie and looks pretty damn similar. What are your thoughts on that?

Jeru Tha Damaja: I mean I don't even really have a comment. I think I've heard one of something, I didn't know everything he did sounded like him. Maybe he wants to pay homage or something like that. I'm from the school where everybody should sound like themselves.

MVRemix: Back in the day, what inspired you to actually write "You Can't Stop The Prophet"?

Jeru Tha Damaja: Basically just living. I'd come from a very hostile environment and you were just happy to make it through the day. So in getting through that, in getting past that - growing, learning and seeing the youth out there... Not wanting them to go through what I went through because I had a lot of near death experiences. It just made me want to take some sort of responsibility and just write responsible rhymes.

MVRemix: How did the concept for the video arise?

Jeru Tha Damaja: Me and my boy Daniel Hastings and my boy Chris sat down and came up with the idea. We listened to the record and said it's a comic book, lets make it a comic book.

MVRemix: Your vocabulary has always been a lot more diverse than a lot of rappers you traditionally hear. How or where were you educated?

Jeru Tha Damaja: I was taught to read at a young age by my grandmother. My mother was a teacher in the New York City school system for a while, but even before she was a teacher we were very big on reading in my house. I had Aunts and Uncles that were so many years older than me. Some ten, some fifteen, some just five. So I had a lot of accessible literature around the house that was really for older children, but since they were around, I read them anyway. Little novels and comic books and things of that nature. It was basically reading and learning the words. If you didn't know what the words meant you had to go look it up and be able to use it.

MVRemix: I remember back in the day introducing friends who weren't fans of Hip Hop to it through music like yours and the Wu's. To show that Hip Hop was about more than just bitches and guns. With the success of G-Unit and Chingy though, the mainstream has little to offer "real Hip Hop" fans. If you were to introduce people to Hip Hop through today's mainstream, who would you use?

Jeru Tha Damaja: Whoa... you're trying to stump me right there. KRS-One maybe? I say that because no matter what, I think he's still mainstream. To me at least. I don't know, I couldn't say. [pause] Like I say, KRS-One, but I guess he's considered underground nowadays.

MVRemix: Which is shocking...

Jeru Tha Damaja: [chuckles] I don't know. That's a really hard question right there. I don't particularly Jeru Tha Damaja Interviewthink anyone is talking too much consciousness. Even the people who are supposed to be, underlined is still a lot of negative crap.

MVRemix: Yeah, you always get the commercial single with a little integrity upon the album. But rarely that much.

Jeru Tha Damaja: I guess then you'd have to go with Jeru Tha Damaja. Haha. Just wait for me to come out with records every year and that's it.

MVRemix: Could you envision a 2004/2005 version of "Ya Playin' Yaself" being made?

Jeru Tha Damaja: I envision a lot of different things. I'm currently working on an album with myself and [Lil'] Dap. Definitely be a lot of reality. It'll be conscious. It'll be street conciousness. Like Public Enemy, like KRS-One. And, it'll be something that everybody can enjoy, so... I'm sure a 2005/2006 "Playin' Yaself" will be on there.

MVRemix: In comparing Jeru from ten years ago to today, what would you say is the greatest change you've noticed in your life?

Jeru Tha Damaja: Maturity. I was so immature then and I'm still immature now. But compared to back then, my level of knowing who I am - because I always knew who I was as a young man coming from the inner-city, still making some good choices but still making some wrong choices. I had a really big mouth. But when you're young, that's how you are. You want to fight for a cause and you just go all out and gun-ho. You don't know sometimes you've got to be covert.

MVRemix: Now if you could alter something in your career thus far, what would you change, if anything?

Jeru Tha Damaja: Really nothing, because everything is a learning experience and it's making me a better emcee. I think I'm a better emcee today than I was ten or fifteen years ago. I get to travel the world, I get to see life on a different level. Maybe if my career would have gone a different way or something like that, I may not be experiencing the world the way that I am today. So I'm glad things are the way they are and I wouldn't change a thing.

MVRemix: Although how you got started has been widely discussed. It seems its kind of been strayed away from - how did the fall out between yourself and Gang Starr occur?

Jeru Tha Damaja: I mean there was really never a fall out. It was all a rumour. Basically people just wanted to do different things. "You don't fall in the same hole twice, you always change." Me, I just wanted to expand what I was doing. Change my sound style, experiment. That's what music is all about. I got into music because I love doing music and I love doing different things. That's how you're always fresh. I can come out in 2003 and 2004 and then Jeru Tha Damaja Interviewcome out in 2006, always having something fresh. People won't say that they've heard it before or it sounds the same. Like I said, there was never any fall out. That's why me and [Lil'] Dap still rockin' together. It's just that as you get older things change, you go different ways.

MVRemix: Could you see any sort of a reconciliation or are you just...

Jeru Tha Damaja: There's nothing to reconcile. If there's no problem, there's nothing to reconcile. Even nowadays Guru doesn't work with Premier. It's not that it's bad blood or anything like that, it's just you start. As an adult you just change. I'm not sure how old you are, but I'm sure you're not hangin' out with the same people you were with growing up, or ten years ago.

MVRemix: Of course...

Jeru Tha Damaja: You know what I mean? It's just sometimes things change. Maybe us guys will work together again, maybe not. It's not because of any problems. I just saw Premier last week. It's just differences in musical taste and trying to do new things. Everybody has to find themselves. Everyone wants to be defined, so you have to do that.


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