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Still Rising

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Album Review

Though both Jeru the Damaja and Nas released their debut LPs in 1994, the former hasn't had the same kind of success and name recognition that his fellow New Yorker enjoys. A big part of this is because Jeru has been nowhere near as prolific. While Nas continued to make albums throughout the '90s and 2000s, some of them with poppy enough hooks that he was able to cross over into new territory, Jeru ditched beatmaker-extraordinaire DJ Premier (which Nas didn't do until much later) after his second album, The Wrath of the Math, came out; he kept on criticizing commercial hip-hip (a move that generally doesn't help radio play), and completed only two albums between 1995 and 2005, neither of which were particularly impressive. Now, with the issuing of Still Rising, a clear allusion to his debut, The Sun Rises in the East, on his own Ashenafi Records, Jeru is trying to re-stake his claim as an East Coast force. With a couple of unknown but generally capable, producers, the MC presents a compelling enough case regarding his verbal authority, both directly ("How Ill," where he spits "Bring peace to the Gaza Strip 'cause I got so much clout/Mario owe me dope for knocking Donkey Kong out/Wolfgang Puck gave me paper to teach him to cook/J.K. Rowling asked me to write the next Harry Potter book") and indirectly, like in the provocative "Airplay," which takes a close, thoughtful look at society, commenting both on the way blacks have been treated and how they treat themselves, in a way that's not often heard in hip-hop ("Like the days of step-and-fetch-it we still acting like fools/We have the most expensive cars but oldest books in school"). There are some weak points on the record — the boring closer "Streets," or "Quantum Leap," which is a little too close to Nas' mainstream breakout, "If I Ruled the World" — and there's no real "standout" track, but, as the title implies, this is a process that isn't over, and Still Rising puts Jeru back on the path to MC venerability.


Born: 14 February 1972 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Speaking out against what he saw as a decline in rap during the mid-'90s, Jeru the Damaja came to the fore as a self-proclaimed prophet and the savior of hip-hop, much as KRS-One had done almost ten years before. Jeru first appeared as a guest on Gang Starr's Daily Operation album, and his own deal with Payday/ffrr appeared soon after, resulting in 1994's The Sun Rises in the East. Though he made few friends in the rap world -- given his outspoken criticism of such popular figures as the Fugees and...
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