In 1997, I wrote a small piece analyzing how these three had progressed. Seven years later, I thought I’d look at how things have changed since then, and do a quick update
“Time’s Up”, “Half Time” and “Come Clean”. These three tracks defined street-level hip hop in the first half of the 90’s. They also share a common link – they were the debut singles from three very promising emcees. But the lyricists and producers behind these masterpieces all followed very different paths in the years that followed. Previously unknown beat conductor Buckwild made a name for himself with Biggie and Black Rob, Large Professor maintained his top-notch status but then took an extended “vacation”, and DJ Premier finally went from under-rated to “New York’s most wanted” status as a producer.
But it is the fate of these rappers that provides the most insight. In the years following their killer singles, O.C. delivered the lyrically incredible but commercially ignored Word…Life LP, Nas was hailed as the “Second Coming” and dropped a top album which didn’t sell nearly as well as expected, and Jeru The Damaja reminded us that The Sun Rises in the East on his rock-solid (but far too brief) Premier-produced debut. An analysis of these three artists, each skilled in their own right, reveals some interesting points. You be the judge.
SINGLES: “If I Ruled the World” – closely follows the “Juicy” blueprint, employing a Trackmasters beat which combined Whodini‘s “Friends” beat with Lauren Hill singing the Kurtis Blow borrowed chorus and some “wish-list” lyrics. The addition of a corny Hype Williams filmclip proved to be the winning formula, as he attained the cross-over success that he was after. “Street Dreams” sinks even lower, and is later remixed into a pure R&B version with R Kelly on the hook.
ALBUM: It Was Written… still shines lyrically but totally awful musically. “I Gave You Power” could be seen as a bite of Organized Konfusion‘s “Stray Bullet”. Strongest track is “Live Nigga Rap” with Mobb Deep. Doesn’t hold-up well when compared to his first LP.
CLOTHING: Often seen wearing a suit and tie.
CURRENTLY: On the verge of replacing Biggie as the trendy R&B Rent-a-Rapper of the moment, after guesting with Allure and performing on Letterman with Mary J. Blige. Wrote Will Smith‘s lyrics for a track on Men In Black…
VERDICT: Game over?
SINGLES: “My World” is not what I hoped for, but isn’t bad. It isn’t really that good either. Oh well, he must want a hot radio tune first because the album will be a lyrical assault over some hard drums….Then “Far From Yourz” comes out. It’s garbage. Over a played-out loop and girly singing, we hear about how smooth O.C. is now. This is worrying, but since he’d “rather be broke and have a whole lotta respect” I figure his label is forcing this move.
ALBUM: With a simplified flow and dumbed-down lyrics, Jewelz does have it’s moments, but with a dream-team production team behind him, the words “wasted potential” keep haunting me.
CLOTHING: Initally rocks camo gear, but pops-up in The Source wearing a silk suit and tie….
CURRENTLY: Making excuses for the corny elements of his new album in the press, talking about “the first album was personal, this one is business.” Still able to rock the mic on outside projects (“Return Of The Crooklyn Dodgers” in particular).
VERDICT: Fair enough O, you have bills to pay and want to score some broads, but until you can make a track as good as “O-Zone” again, I’m not trying to check for your shit.
JERU THE DAMAJA 1996-97
SINGLES: “One Day” starts popping up on mix-tapes. It’s a story about hip hop being kidnapped by the “big players” in the industry but Jeru and Premier save it in under two minutes. It’s dope. “Ya Playin’ Yaself” is the official single, and finds Junior M.A.F.I.A. and other big-shot types getting called-out over a rearranged “Players Anthem” beat. The filmclip is outstanding – a mini kung-fu flick combined with The Damaja walking around Hong Kong.
ALBUM: A true continuation of the first LP, Wrath of the Math isn’t as hot beat-wise, but twice as strong vocally. Disses the Fu-Gees. Drops science all over the place.
CLOTHING:Continues sporting no-name T-shirt, shorts and Nikes, sometimes adding that red, black and green cape that On The Go mag gave him.
CURRENTLY: Continues his righteous mission to educate the ignorant with no apparent regard for sales. Signed endorsement deal with Squeezer Orange Juice (ironically, the beat for Jeru’s orange juice ads was eventually used for B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments”).
VERDICT: The winner by a knock out.
After releasing some horrible music, Nas finally got his shit together on Stillmatic and God’s Son (arguable thanks to Jay-Z calling him out), as well as releasing the incredible “Ether” and “Made You Look”, and has certainly proved his staying power in the game. Despite the fact that his ego has grown to enormous proportions, as demonstrated in a couple of bizarre XXL interviews, Nas is still holding it down as one of the masters of the game, and is now able to deliver albums that please hardcore fans while still keeping Columbia Records happy with the requisite amount of corny material. Streets Desciple is looking very promising.
VERDICT: It’s amazing what a little “hip hop beef” can do for your credibility. Who knew?
After an aborted attempt to form a group with his “Fudge Pudge” partners, O.C. is about to drop a new album which is generating a positive buzz. After his awful Bon Appetit left a bad taste in the mouths of his long time supporters, a lot is riding on this release. With the recent reissue of Word…Life (hey John Cena, you owe this guy some royalities) to remind us how dope he can be, the time is ripe.
VERDICT: I’m not holding my breath on this one. D.I.T.C. has struggled to stay relevent in today’s rap game, and attempts at updating their classic sound haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but anything’s possible.
JERU THE DAMAJA 2004
After parting ways with the Gangstarr Foundation due to “financial disagreements”, Jeru has since released two self-produced albums (Heroes For Hire and Divine Design), which, to put it politely, can only be described as “unlistenable”.
VERDICT: While I’m sure he still kicks some nice shit, no one cares if the beats are wack. Go write a book or something.
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