August 18, 2009

Jeru The Damaja - Divine Design (September 23, 2003)

Jeru The Damaja is a rapper in denial.

Let me qualify that statement. Jeru The Damaja is a rapper who refuses to acknowledge that his producer and former friend DJ Premier played a huge role in the critical (if not outright commercial) success of his first two albums, The Sun Rises In The East (which is a HHID-approved classic) and Wrath Of The Math (less so, but still really good). I understand that no rapper really wants to hear that the beats that accompany his or her words are as much an integral part of the product they work their ass off to write, but I'm dead fucking serious: nobody, absolutely nobody, would have checked for Jeru had he not had the Gang Starr Foundation affiliation and, as such, Primo's masterful beats. I wouldn't want to live in a world where somebody else produced "Come Clean", "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels", or "You Can't Stop The Prophet". (I realize that Pete Rock actually remixed "You Can't Stop The Prophet", and while Peter Q. Rockefeller is one of the greatest producers in hip hop history, I hate his remix to that song and will only accept Primo's original beat.)

Jeru won't accept that fact, though, so he has continued to present his music to a steadily dwindling audience after his well-known-and-yet-completely-mysterious fallout with Primo. His third album, Heroz4Hire (credited to Jeru The Damaja and the Supahuman Klik, a "klik" that only consisted of one member), was pretty fucking terrible: his attempt at producing the album all by his lonesome were worrisome at best, aggravating at worst, and his insistence of providing a showcase for female rapper Miz Marvel (who promptly disappeared from the scene, never to be heard from again) instead of, say, Afu-Ra (who held that slot on the Primo-produced discs), led most of his fans to jump ship. Four years later, Jeru released his fourth album, Divine Design, and decided to handle the rapping duties all by himself while delegating the beats to Ed Dantez and Sabor (read: not anybody you've ever heard of).

Truth be told, I have no fucking idea why I own Divine Design. His third album was so awful and disappointing that I was one of those fans who jumped ship, so coming across this in my crates was surprising. Apparently, but not surprisingly, Divine Design was Jeru's worst performing album; it was neither critically acclaimed nor was it a hit on the blog circuit. It contained no singles that took off underground: in contrast, even Heroz4Hire had fucking "Billie Jean (Safe Sex)" and "Seinfeld", songs that I may not have been big fans of, but at least they had people talking.

You know, Jeru, it may be time to hang up the mic entirely. Or possibly form a duo with your former best buddy Afu-Ra. Just a thought.

Kind of offensive to Asians, to be honest. The presence of a sample from a kung-fu flick creates the argument that Jeru should get off of his high horse and form an alliance with a certain Wu-Tang Clan, although I'm not sure that he and Killah Priest would be able to stand in the same room together without the universe imploding. Hell, I'd take that relationship any day, since it's not like Jeru will ever work with DJ Premier again.

Jeru's lyrics and cadence don't mesh with the beat: the marriage of the two elements should be annulled, they're so fucking mismatched. That said, Jeru's rhymes are already leagues ahead of anything from Heroz4Hire. “You can talk all you want, but you're judges by your works”, he states at one point. Oh, if only Jeru saw fit to remix this shit into a much better song, we might be in business.

The intro seems to promise a hot beat, but once the rhymes kick in, you walk away seriously disappointed in Sabor's instrumental work. Jeru sounds as if he's spitting too slowly to keep up with the music. You'll probably be moving on, just as I did.

4. MURDA 1
The script from which Jeru recites at the beginning is borderline ridiculous. I've always pictures him as the type that would more likely waterboard alleged terrorists than simply murdering them. I wasn't expecting a Pootie Tang reference, but, sadly, the homophobia I was waiting for came in right on time. Once again, he samples his older work with Primo; what a fucking tease.


The flow Jeru presents on here is much slower than it should be, and it is awkward as shit (some of his bars sound much longer than others, almost as if you were comparing Ulysses to one of Shel Silverstein's poems). It's almost like spoken word poetry set to a weak-ass Dantez beat, and everyone knows how Max feels about that shit by now. Jeru's explanation in the third verse as to why multi-platinum artists are still broke is still a must-hear for up and coming artists, though.

7. WAR
The Michael Jackson reference is off-putting to hear today, but not entirely off center (Jeru did write a song called “Billie Jean (Safe Sex)” for his last album, after all). It was also interesting to hear that Jeru has beef with Ja Rule (but then again, my next door neighbor has beef with that guy). However, other than those two plot points, I found this song boring as fuck. Sigh.

Jeru's diatribe against materialism approaches “You Can't Stop The Prophet” territory, which is good, but Sabor's beat sounds like the theme song from a dramedy from the eary 1980's, which is very bad. Goddamn it! At least it's short.

Speaking of “You Can't Stop The Prophet”, Jeru positions his new Rasta Powers persona as one of the Prophet's resident Supafriendz, comrades in arms in the battle against Mr. Ignorance. This Ed Dantez Beat has much more energy than anything else on Divine Design thus far, and Jeru even manages to stay on beat (for the most part). This was actually not bad.

This was only an interlude, but I actually thought it was pretty fucking funny. On purpose, to boot!


Ed's beat sounds as if a broken drum machine were paired up with three (and only three) piano keys. The hook is also pretty embarrassing. I've officially given up hope on this project.

This shit is just weird, but not in a bad way. Jeru tweaks Public Enemy's “Public Enemy #1” just enough that you get the basic idea, but Public Enemy themselves will receive no royalty checks. Even though this sounds like a generic Kidz Bop version of a hip hop classic, Jeru rips this shit to pieces. The only complaint I have isn't a new one: the song fades out before Jeru completes his verse. Why, God, why?!?!

14. RIZE
If you rhyme to a beat that barely makes a dent in your subconscious, is your song really a “song”, or is it spoken word poetry? “Rize” falls in the latter category as far as I'm concerned, especially since he uses the phrase “Rise up, n----s!” no less than eight thousand times in the one-minute-and-forty-four second run time.

This was actually an interesting concept. Jeru presents three different scenarios to the listener, and the bastard forces you to actually think about how you would handle the situation. They all kind of end the same way, but Jeru gets bonus points for engaging the audience, and Ed's beat is low-key enough to humbly move things along.

Jeru makes some good points on here, but overall, this was truly a weak way to end things.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Divine Design is a marked improvement over Heroz4Hire, especially thanks to Jeru dropping Miz Marvel (without any sort of explanation, mind you) and going solo once again. That said, this album still isn't very good. Lyrically, Jeru is as thoughtful as ever, but he experiments with his flow too much,with bizarre results, almost coming across as a different artist on each song, albeit one who hasn't yet mastered how to combine the rhyme and the beat. The production work by Ed Dantez and Sabor is also mostly ineffective: with a few exceptions, Jeru may as well have released an acapella album, and the same number of fans (four) would have bought it anyway. Jeru The Damaja may never hook up with Primo again, but there are other producers out there who are just as hungry and perform much better at their jobs.

BUY OR BURN? Burn this is you must. A few of the songs were decent, but most of this project made me want to hack into Jeru's Wikipedia page and list The Sun Rises In The East and Wrath Of The Math as the lone two albums in his discography, and you'll feel the same way if you bother to listen to this one in its entirety.

BEST TRACKS: “Rasta Powers”; “Rap Wars”; “Whatyagonnado


The Damaja's other albums can be observed by clicking here.


  1. Interesting... I haven't listened to any of his albums other than the first two; it gives my brain the impression that Jeru never made crappy music.

    Actually, it'd be dope if you reviewed Afu-Ra's second album. It wasn't *that* bad, and there's actually some Primo on it.

  2. I never knew that this album existed! Was this album reviewed by any major magazines? After Jeru's first two albums, I stopped listening to him. Jeru without Primo is like a car without tires. Does anybody know as to what really happened between him and DJ Premier?

  3. i have to say that i kinda disagree with you on heroes for hire. i thought the album was cool man and i thought mz marvel was dope. but thats just me. dnt get me wrong i hear wat your sayin but wen i BOUGHT heroes for hire i dint have any pre concieved thoughts of how it was gonna sound. any ways man just my opinion. BIG UP!

  4. jeru needs pete rock

  5. I thought "Da Game" is wicked, actually.

  6. 'Rize' is a certified hip-hop classic, and I refuse to hear anything else. Jeru's rhymes are tight, and the beat is ferocious.