Battle stations, damage control

Jeru the Damaja aims to save rap from itself

"I decide to listen to things based on what I get from them--what is there for me. Do I learn anything? Do I come away with anything positive? And when I hear some of this bullshit, I think, if somebody found this record a hundred years from now, what would they think the world was like when it was made? And you and I both know the answer: They'd think the world was full of drug dealers and killers. See what I'm saying? So that's the reason I criticize--because I'm thinking about tomorrow. And I'm making my music for tomorrow, too. Because I'm forever--and in my next life, I want shit to be set up right for me. That's why I'm doing my part today. I'm not doing it to blow up. I'm not doing it because of envy, because I don't envy anything that any man has. I'm doing it for the love of hip-hop and the love of being a black man in America who can express myself to people all over the world. That's important. That's powerful. That's the voice of the child. And the child shall lead them--but lead them to what? To either victory or death."

Such declarations come naturally to Jeru: In conversation, he refers to himself alternately as "the prophet" or "the sun." ("And there ain't no heat hotter than that," he asserts.) But he doesn't always wear these mantles lightly. At one point, he goes off on a weird tangent in which he suggests that his albums have performed modestly because of a government conspiracy. "Anything that's positive for the black man, the government's got to destroy," he says. "And you think the boys at Warner Records or whatever don't know that? Shit, it's probably their cousins who own Warner Records. And they're going to make sure that the ignorant shit outsells the positive shit--because they wish to keep you in ignorance. So they let the gangsta shit go out, and they let positive shit like mine go under. Because it wakes the people up, and they don't want the people to wake up."

Jeru's logic also gets a bit muddled when he's put in the position of defending "Da Bitchez," from Sun. Had the track appeared on a platter by, say, Ghostface Killa, it wouldn't have raised a single eyebrow; in fact, it probably would have seemed considerably less misogynistic than many of the cuts around it. But coming from Jeru, a man who otherwise seems progressive, the tune came as a legitimate shock. After first pointing out that he wasn't talking about "queens," "sisters," or "young ladies," he mouthed such condemnatory lines as, "Most chicks want diamonds, minks, a Benz/And before you end, they will fuck your friends."

The resultant controversy over "Da Bitchez" so incensed Jeru that he recorded an answer song, "Me or the Papes," for Wrath. (It's the CD's next single.) However, "Papes" is not exactly apologetic--"A queen is a queen and a whore is a whore," he insists--and neither is Jeru himself. "'Da Bitchez' was just a description of what I thought a bitch was," he asserts. "I didn't say it was anybody at all. It was just a definition, like you'd find in a dictionary. And if it applies to you, fine, but if it doesn't, that's fine, too. Some people took it that I was saying all women are bitches, but to me, the only ones who felt like that were who? Da bitchez.

"The writers think I have a problem dealing with women. But they're idiots, because I grew up amidst women. My mom and my aunts--lots of women. I know women better than women know women."

For Jeru, this last revelation qualifies as a treasure trove of personal information--a chink in the armor of his warrior's code. On only one other occasion does he divulge so much about himself.

"One day my mom and my aunt and them were telling me not to tell my little cousin something because she wasn't old enough to deal with it," he says. "And I called them on it. I said, 'You can't do that, because she's the future--and if she's confused and blinded to reality, what kind of future is she going to have? What kind of an adult will she be?' That's why I believe that you should tell children everything--and believe it or not, when they're young, they have the pure mind and the pure heart to make the right decisions. And they're more honest than we are, too. They'll say, 'That's ugly. You stink. I don't like this.' They're not trying to front--and if you give them the chance, they'll make a good choice. But instead, we hide so much from them."

After a brief pause, he adds, "That's what everybody wants to do in hip-hop--hide. But I say no. The time for hiding is over.

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