Jeru the Damaja - The Sun Rises In The East - Review
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critics' view

A revolution dawned in hip-hop in 1994 that had been years in the making. It had started with GangStarr, the well known and much beloved underground rap group known for mixing rough and tumble scratches and beats (courtesy DJ Premier) with street smarts and lyrical intelligence (courtesy Guru). GangStarr was happy with their relative level of success in hip-hop, but felt compelled to bring along the next generation of MC's both as a show of support and a recognition of the natural evolution of newer rappers surpassing and surplanting their elders. With appearances on their "I'm the Man" in 1992 and the follow-up "Speak Ya Clout" two years later, Jeru the Damaja seemed poised to fill that role. To those who caught their first glimpse of him on the former track, he may have seemed only to be a braggadocious rapper gassed off his own ego.

Even as a braggadocious rapper, Jeru got notice for his booming, commanding vocal tone on the mic, and the incredibly crisp diction of his flow matched with his impeccable breath control. As the word spread that Jeru was preparing a solo album from the GangStarr Foundation to be produced by DJ Premier, heads started buzzing. What would a Jeru the Damaja solo album be like? When "Come Clean" first hit the scene in 1993, those who formerly dismissed him as just a braggart got a rude awakening. On first listen, many were mystified by the mix, which has been widely compared to dripping water and hammers banging on pipes. That, and a scratch of Onyx screaming "Uh-oh! HEADS UP cause we're dropping some shit" for the chorus were the sole musical elements. Was it bizarre? Different? Totally unique? Hell yes, and what better way to set off a song literally designed to wash away fraud in rap. Jeru didn't just come clean, he scoured away the grime of rap like a brillo pad gone mad.

Instantly the most quotable song in rap the moment it was dropped, it was almost a badge of pride for true rap heads to be able to recite the song word for word. His line "unplug it on chumps, with the gangster babble/leave your nines at home and bring your skills to the battle" was the mantra of rap fans who then as now were fed up with too much fraudulence in rap and not enough lyrical verbal skill. If his debut single was the wind of fresh air in hip-hop "The Sun Rises in the East" was a hurricane force gale by comparison. Clocking in at 13 tracks long and just under 40 minutes in length, this short album still stands tall as a titan compared to it's peers. Building on the first single's success, the follow-up release "D. Original" was just as hell bent on going 180 degrees in the opposite direction of rap's mainstream. Premier crafted a beat comprised solely of an piano striking an off-key chord, and as unbelievable as it sounds it turned out to be pure musical perfection. Jeru rode those keys like a surfer coming under the crest of a huge wave, and the pounding sound crashed eardrums coast to coast:

Two classic singles alone would qualify most rap albums for the hall of fame, but Jeru and Premier were far from done. The third was in fact the best of all, an epic superhero-esque struggle between good and evil dubbed "You Can't Stop the Prophet" - and Jeru of course was the Prophet. Who were the arch-villains for our superhero? Hatred, Jealousy, and Envy - all lead by Mr. Ignorance. The song is a metaphorical joy to behold, and personifies the highest form of rap excellence. The beat dips low, soars high, and repeats endlessly under Jeru's narrative; only to be occasionally broken by skits between verses featuring set-up moves to bring our rhyming superhero down. But you know what the title of the song says: "Ignorance hates when I drop it, But no matter, what he do.. he can't stop the Prophet"

The funny thing about "The Sun Rises in the East" is that you can randomly start and stop this album at any point and not find a track any less compelling than the three singles spun off from it. In fact, one of the album's best tracks was probably so brash that radio spins or MTV airplay would've been near impossible. The title? "Ain't the Devil Happy." And if you haven't brushed up on your X-Clan vernacular since the 1990's, here's a refresher course - WHITEY is the Devil. The simple-minded (or Klan members) might be offended, when in fact it's a powerful way to express the concept that for struggling inner city youth, Hell is not a far away place, it's right here on Earth. And when you live in that struggle daily, in ghettoes that grew up out of the racism and oppression of wealthy upper class, that upper class is (at least then, and perhaps still largely so now) white. Jeru's determined to rise above hatred and racism to a higher plane of existance, figuratively AND literally:

On every song, Jeru emphasizes the power of the most dangerous tool any man has; or as Ice-T once quipped, "My lethal weapon's my MIND." On song after song, from the lush and eerie "My Mind Spray" to his "Mental Stamina" duet with a newcomer named Afu-Ra, it's all about springing the trap of sharp raps, so powerful "they slam harder than Shaq." After getting used to this dangerous verbal artillery, seeing a song titled "Da Bichez" might seem oddly out of place on an album with more intelligence than a MENSA convention. Not to fear though, Jeru's hidden some jewels in this track too.

Ouch. Some female rappers should probably think twice about bragging on their baguettes and their Prada bags after hearing this song. Then again, everybody should re-examine their own lives more closely after hearing this album, from the "Life" intro all the way to the greasy dirty vinyl soul of the "Statik" closer at the end; with the appropriate Positive K quip "And I could rock a rhyme to just static" as the hook. Indeed, so could Jeru. After listening to "The Sun Rises in the East" and letting it set in the West, most rap afficianadoes would be spent by an exercise in pure oratorical and musical joy; or put simply, hip-hop this good comes too few and too far between. Sadly, neither does Jeru - while his rap career lingers on, it sounds increasingly more impotent and futile compared to his debut. If you have to check one entry in his entire catalogue start with this - his first and his best - and you won't regret it.

Steve 'Flash' Juon
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