Get Familiar: Jeru The Damaja
Interview by Sara Vallis
East New York’s own, Jeru The Damaja has created something special with Patta. Leading the pack is a full-colour print photo T-Shirt featuring cover art from the 1994 debut LP “The Sun Rises in the East” on the front and the back of the top as well as sporting a Patta Script logo on the chest. DJ Premier solely produced a record alongside the vocalist at the spawning point for an illustrious career. Jeru took over the spotlight with his inimitable booming, commanding presence on the microphone. His crisp diction, paired with a flow that filled a gap within the contemporary works of the time was delivered on this first offering in the mid-90s. Part II of the collection is a Graphic T-Shirt featuring the text of Side B’s “Ain’t the Devil Happy”. The back reveals a Patta Script logo sporting a graphic of Jeru The Damaja. Although this song was written and produced almost two decades ago, Jeru’s lyrical genius is still as relevant to this day as ever before. Over a DJ Premier produced beat, Jeru states an important message and reminds us of a reality around us that is at times forgotten and overlooked. We caught up with Jeru to find out what's been on his mind lately.
What are you doing now in general and what projects are you focusing on?
I'm always working on music, but I'm focusing on my graphic novel and screenplay right now. I will also be releasing music from a new artist I'm working with.
I hear you have been living in Europe over the past few years- why did you decide to move?
I like to try new things. I lived in The United States my whole life. If you want to grow as a person, you have to do something that challenges you.
What are your fondest memories of growing up in east N.Y. and how has it changed?
My fondest memories of growing up in E.N.Y. is how we used to play games in the street in the summer. My favorites were "Kick The Can," "Hot Peas And Butter and Ringolevio AKA Cocolevio.
What were your favourite records back in the day?
"The Great Adventures of Slick Rick" and "Escape" by Whodini are two of my favourite albums.
What is the difference between the hip-hop scene in Europe versus the U.S.?
The difference is that Hip Hop comes from a different perspective in every country. Even in the U.S, depending on which state you live in, the way you see things will come from a different experience, but the essence is the same worldwide.
Considering it's the 27th anniversary of your iconic album sun rises in the east - how do you look back at your younger self and the messages you convey?
It's the same messages I covey today, but my younger self was just that, my younger self, so the way I expressed myself was through the lens of a young man, and I'm so grateful that I have grown.
Among that same line this album holds strong political commentary, I wanted to ask what your blackness means to you, and has the meaning to you changed in the U.S. vs Europe?
I have grown and expanded my consciousness and know no matter where I am on the planet, I am more than my blackness.
You have collaborated with various artists, and quite a lot with DJ Premier—What does collaboration mean to you?
Collaboration is life, so I suggest people choose wisely who they collaborate with.
What keeps you motivated to keep creating and collaborating?
I just love to create, it's the ultimate gift, and I'm blessed to do what I love.
How has the collaboration with Patta been regarding their new collection featuring your album 'Sun rises in the East'?
The collaboration was very dope. I consider Edson, a brother and it's always great to collaborate with brothers, and the quality of Patta is always exquisite!
What artist would you like to collaborate with - dead or alive?
Curtis Mayfield and Bob Marley.
Hip hop is constantly changing and innovating - building off the past pillars - what do you think of where hip hop is going now?
Hip Hop is music, and music is an infinite loop.
What music are you listening to now & is there any artist from the current hip-hop scene that inspires you?
I usually listen to old-school funk and soul!
What messages do you want to continue to spread in your various projects?
Peace, Love, and common sense.
And what advice would you give to new artists?
What is it if a man or woman gains the whole world and loses their own soul?
Pay attention and be alert