Jeru the Damaja

Hip Hop Icon Series

card_jeruthedamajaJeru first appearance came way of on “I’m the Man” track on Gangstarr’s 1992 Daily Operations album, but it was his first single “Come Clean” that truly let the world know he arrived. Backed by production from DJ Premier, Jeru made a name for himself spitting conscious lyrics with a hardcore edge chasing ignorance at every turn powered by knowledge of self.

Halftime: What up Jeru!?

Jeru: Ain’t nothing just always trying to keep my head above water without selling my soul to the devil.


Jeru: Where ya’ll at?

We’re in Baltimore right now.

Jeru: Oh aiight B-More that’s what’s up. The other night, well it wasn’t night it was like six o’clock in the morning I was watching this joint about a cop who shot this kid with a knife in Baltimore.

Yea it be happening like that sometimes.

Jeru: Yea, that sounds like some NYC type shit, but I know that Baltimore is like that though.

They scared of them kids. They kinda have a reason to be, but sometimes they don’t have to go the way they be going though.

Jeru: You know it’s like that everywhere especially in the inner city where there is a lot of black people.

What do you think of that situation where the 400 lb guy got killed?

Jeru: They definitely overdid it, but he was wilding out and he should have had a better hook and he could have probably escaped. He did a lot of that to himself because he fell. He’s a big dude if it was me and you we’d have probably beat the shit out of him too. Even if we wasn’t the police just regular dudes. Some big 400lb dude try to hook off on you…

That cop dropped when he hit him too.

Jeru: Listen the thing is as people we have to start being reasonable. The police are doing a certain type of job so if I’m a criminal I have to expect to get caught. I can’t expect the police to treat me nice. If we just killing and they just run up on us like the retarded kid in LA with his pops that was crazy foul. Even though money died if I’m committing crime what’s gonna happen is gonna happen. My man recently got killed by the police out here. He shot at the police. It’s foul because you don’t want to see nobody get killed whether the police do it or another criminal does it. It’s a game and you have to pick what team you play for. Don’t get me wrong the police are foul and they do all types of stuff; Rodney King, Abner Louima, all types of stuff so we know they do it. Me and Black Thought got arrested a couple years ago they took my car and the whole nine.

For what?

Jeru: My man was rolling a blunt in the car, back then it was Giuliani and I haven’t smoked since then. But this was a while ago and they was foul they stole my jacket. I had the gortex camouflage joint and they just decided they wanted it. They took my car had it impounded, took it to the investigator’s bureau. They took my license and all that. It was foul, but we got caught smoking a blunt. If we wouldn’t have gotten caught smoking a blunt they couldn’t have done it. So you gotta know where you stand. If you know this is a rule at your place and you go outside that rule look for something to happen. I grew up in the 80’s when crack first hit the streets and all that and my moms used to always tell me you are not supposed to deliver yourself into the enemy’s hands. We know that their foul, that they beat kids up and all of that, but don’t put yourself in that position though. If you just walking down the block and they scoop you up that’s something different, but if your doing something to put you in that position whatever happens after that is on you.

Speaking on that topic what do you feel we need to do in urban communities to buckle down as a people because yeah we do get harassed now and again, but a lot of times we bring things down on ourselves.

Jeru: No doubt. I think we have to stress education more. I don’t think we stress education enough.

I’m gonna put you onto what’s going on down here in Baltimore. I think this is something that’s been long planned. Baltimore city is a nice size but the educational system where all the minorities are is going into debt and they are laying off teachers. Not only that they holla that there is so much money missing and they have to lay all these people off but the school that my mother was working at had no computers, no basketball team, no football team, nothing. These kids don’t even know how to use the internet.

Jeru: They keeping us like that. It’s a conspiracy. Our schools are the worst schools. You can go to any inner city community from Brooklyn to the Delta in Mississippi and we are going to have the worst schools. It’s not that the kids in the suburbs are so much smarter than we are they are just afforded better educational opportunities. They have the best books and computers. They don’t have to stress if I go to school am I going to get shot today or if Ray Ray and them are going to be on the corner and try to take my jacket. Its different things to think about. Things are different now, it’s hard being a kid but I think that they got it a little easier than kids in the eighties. I remember when you couldn’t have nothing, when everybody didn’t have a color TV, a Playstation, a leather jacket, Roc-A-Wear and hundred dollar sneakers. Back then, you had to be gangsta just to come outside. I used to go to Baltimore/DC every once in a while and it used to be real wild, it was just like coming to New York. Now we kinda eased up dudes be wearing ice, it wasn’t like that before but we got tricked really bad. The 90’s up until now was a pretty good time for being black as far as finances are concerned. That was the best time for us. We had all these successful rich, young black sisters and brothers but we didn’t take advantage of that. What we did was buy new things to chase. Before we chased sneakers and leather jackets but then they said everybody can afford that even poor people so we not killing each other for that no more so now we had to step it up. Now its ice and Escalades. It’s like when they dangle the carrot on a stick in front of a donkey to keep him moving. If you catch the carrot, you’re not going to go anywhere anymore. So they keep flipping the carrot on us. We watch the videos and we see this and we see that and everybody is all about what they got. I love the movie Baby Boy when my man Ving Rhames was like ya’ll think you know everything but you don’t know the difference between guns and butter. Guns are assets like property, land, and houses, butter is things like cars and clothes which depreciate in value. So any little wealth we get we give away. Nobody owns all of them Escalades on the road that’s a bank note. The bank is getting that money. All these rappers with the Escalades in their video they are writing them off on their taxes. We never find ways to keep the money in our neighborhood. A black dollar only circulates in the neighborhood for maybe a week. In the Asian community the money stays there for years, it just keeps going back and forth from Chang to Wang.

That’s just like the verse you kicked on the Crooklyn Dodgers part 2. That’s real deep I put that verse in my book on secret societies with stuff on masonry and illuminati and all that.

Jeru: That’s real though because that’s what I really read, all different books on all that type of stuff because we are not smart. A brother like me has been holding it down for a minute but the people who are supposed to be down with me ain’t really down you know what I mean. They all on something else. Everybody saying you kicking that real and all that and saying this and that and the third but really they don’t care they on the next thing now. If it’s about ice then we on ice now. My thing is I just try to keep it moving, keep my mental open and observe what’s going on. We need to educate ourselves. We got the brothers Dead Prez and they be kicking a lot of revolutionary and all that, but the revolution is mental first. You can’t give no idiot a gun. That’s the problem now. We can’t give no idiots guns and expect to be liberated. We have to liberate our minds and knowing that our school systems are the worst and that there are no books we have to start encouraging each other at home to read and write. My mother taught for years also and she was really upset with the public school system. She was in one of the worst schools in the worst areas. One of her students, Gavin Cato, was the kid who got killed in the CrownHeights Riot. She used to always tell me how its messed up and how they treat the kids like animals and that they don’t care what’s going on. They just trying to get the funding in the school just to keep it moving and people are stealing money out of the system and they don’t care about the children. I learned to read at home before I went to school. We gotta stress education because if we don’t stress that, all the gun clapping and whatever ain’t gonna mean nothing.

What’s your view on the bible. Do you think we are Israelites, God’s chosen people?

Jeru: I say that we definitely apart of the supreme plan, but I don’t think God is that simple. I think God’s chosen people are the ones who do God’s work. I don’t think God just chooses according to skin color like alright you black you’re down. I think you gotta do the work because it says you will know them by the fruits they bare. There are a lot of devils out there that look the same. Every brother ain’t a brother and every other ain’t an other.

Between the Bible and the Koran, is there any one that you specifically follow or do you think both of the books are essential to go by?

Jeru: I think you have to look at everything, the Kabbalah, the Bible, I Ching, or whatever because God is the supreme author of everything. There are going to be different versions and man will have many different interpretations on what God is doing. I bet if you read the bible, a Daoist book, and a Buddhist book you will find the same thing. It’s just different regions. I found an ill book recently and it was talking about how they were practicing Christianity in China 600 years after Jesus died. They are Christian Daoists and had intermingled Christianity with Daoism and Buddhism. The book is called ‘The Jesus Sutra.’ Everything is a different interpretation and when you study all of those things you understand that you are God because you are the manifestation of God in the flesh. That’s what god says, you are my image. A five per center might say this and a Israelite might say this and its all true, but just because I know this don’t mean nothing. Am I doing the work? That’s what’s gonna really show who I am. You got dirty preachers, dirty Buddhist dudes, so its all on the individual and I think at the end of the day God is gonna show you whose who. When we see the world changing, we’ll know whose doing what because religion to me is the father of all wars.

Yea more people have died over religion than anything.

Jeru: For years and years already, people have been using Christianity, Islam, and all other religions to manipulate people. Look at Jim Jones, look at how Elijah Mohammed did.

I was reading this book on the history of the world told through catastrophes, atrocities and things of that nature and in one case it told a story of King Nero of Rome who burned down the city and then told the people that the Jews were responsible and persecuted them. It’s scary how in this world everything goes around in a circle and how we as humans are doing the same thing now all we need is a scapegoat and we will kill, persecute or whatever with no more info.

Jeru: Remember the dude who killed the kid and then they went and said some black dude did it. Same thing they always going to do that that’s human nature.

That’s true, but its wild that so much death is caused because someone goes “He did it.”

Jeru: Hussein is nutty. That’s why I like that dude Bill Maher he keeps it real. According to America’s definition of terrorism Hiroshima was terrorism. An act of war against civilians.

Or even what happened in Cambodia in the 60’s.

Jeru: The Killing Fields.

What my thing is, how do you fight terrorism with terrorism. If you walking around my hood with an AK 47 that shit is terrorism.

Jeru: Don’t get me wrong I love living in America the things we do here we can’t do anywhere else, but on the same note our problem is we don’t deal with equality. That’s the whole world. Hussein, Osama, Bush, Blair, whomever else we aren’t dealing with equality so of course there are all of these injustices in the world. If you tip the scale one-way whoever is on the low end is gonna want to rise up. It’s not just race because go to Ireland and they are the same race except one dude said I’m Protestant and the other said I’m Catholic so they blow each other up and that’s been going on for how long. They are blowing each other up because he wants to go to a different church. If it’s not race or religion, its gonna be class like they the paupers I’m the king. Human nature is just oppressive because we don’t truly deal with love. That’s why they were so scared of Martin Luther King because he dealt strictly with love. He was gonna get people to love each other in one race and they couldn’t have that. Same thing with Malcolm they didn’t like him because he dealt with violence and that’s not even when they killed him, they killed once he learned love.

I have an uncomfortable feeling why they got Bush in the White House because he up to things too. Remember the thing with getting duck tape to put it on your windows to protect from a bomb, what happen was I read Bush was boys with the dude from the duck tape company he stressed to buy. He stressed to buy a particular type of duck tape and that was kinda suspect right there.

Jeru: All the money they putting into building back up Iraq those are Dick Cheney’s contracting company. They selling oil to Iraq at enormous prices. Iraq got oil why we selling them oil. Isn’t it funny that George Bush’s family is in the oil business and we just happened to attack a country that was rich in oil and now we are in charge of restructuring the country.

There are so many issues out here and not to necessarily jump off the war topic, but just bringing it back to education I wanted to mention the voucher program. They give you a couple more dollars to try to go to another school instead of fixing the school that’s jacked up. I can’t believe people listen to these platforms and understand that this man is telling you I’ll give you $1500 to go to a private school in another area where school’s cost around $3,000 of more a year so if you don’t have the first $1500 or $2500 what good is that extra $1500 gonna do. It’s so much ignorance right now I just step back and say I can’t understand why people aren’t picking up on this.

Jeru: We’re blinded.

We’re victims of the media too so they are controlling our thoughts especially our youth that grow up to be naïve adults.

Jeru: I can tell you what every girl, every dude got on in Baltimore, and I’m sitting in Brooklyn. I bet you niggas got on baseball hats and doorags, some type of throwback jersey, air force ones and the girls got they asscrack or thongs hanging out, half shirts because that’s TV.

When I was in school I’d meet cats from another country and they will tell you I expected black people to be like this or like that and it’s the media wherever they at so when they come over here their family is like stay away from them.

Jeru: I’ll do you one even better. My lil cousin goes to school in New Jersey that’s not even a different country just one state away. Most of the school is all white there are only like six black kids in her school and she said they found out she was from Brooklyn and they started asking her was she in a gang. She was like I had to really stop myself from flipping. She said they said something like do you know your father.


Jeru: They have a perception that we are not that intelligent and we all come from beat up homes with no daddy, we all gang influenced, and if we go anywhere they are at its because we are breaking out of one of those.

Now check this out I’m from the Bronx and my friend and his wife drove up from Maryland to visit my mom. So we go into my neighborhood and she was like I didn’t know there were trees in the Bronx. I’m like what were you expecting just all projects or something.

Jeru: They think its just all burnt down buildings. Some parts of the Bronx are so nice and expensive to live in.

That’s just crazy to me that somebody would really think there are no trees in NYC.

Jeru: They think we live in one big project that stretch across all of New York.

You ever peep how you might talk to people from other countries and they might say their white when they come over here but we as Americans look at them and we know they are people of color. I met this chick she’s French but her dad is from Africa and I can look at her and tell she has some black in her. She speaks about herself like she is not black and white people accept that because she is pretty.

Jeru: Females always get that lil extra treatment and if they want to flip it like that to fit in white men will accept it. If it was any type of black dude they aren’t gonna let that happen.

They tried to get J-Lo and Alicia Keyes like that. Peep it I’m watching an interview with Alicia Keyes the other week and the lady tried to get Alicia Keyes to say she was white. Her mother is Italian and she asked her what she referred to herself as and she said black and the lady said you don’t think you’re white? I’m like why you sitting there stressing the girl trying to get her to say she white.

Jeru: We definitely ahead of the game.

You mentioned priests earlier and it just reminded me about Lauryn Hill flipping out in the Vatican.

Jeru: Lauryn Hill flipped out in the Vatican?! Was this recently?

Yea this was Saturday

Jeru: Nahhh you gotta tell me this story.

They had Lauryn Hill come to the Vatican to tape a Christmas special in Italy. It’s supposed to come on Wednesday. They had her come down and she was supposed to perform a song for them. So she is in the Vatican packed house Cardinal is there and all that being taped for next Weds and she steps up to the podium and is like I’m not gonna sing the song ya’ll think I’m gonna sing. Then she pulled out a speech and started ripping into the Catholic Church about how they aren’t handling the situation correctly by not prosecuting their priests and starts going into all of these issues she has with the Catholic church. Then instead of doing the song she was supposed to do she did a protest song yo! They edited it out but now its all over that it happened.

Jeru: They are gonna shut her down. She didn’t do anything but expose herself. If you creep in you supposed to creep. The only people who own more land than the Catholic Church is McDonald’s and that’s an actual fact.

Honestly that’s like coming to my birthday party and just slamming me like yo I hate you…

Jeru: Yea yea like you bitch ass nigga!

Yea haha

Jeru: Yea you do something like that you might get killed.

That’s not even bold anymore that’s just dumb.

Jeru: You gotta learn when to fight certain battles. Sun Tzu said there is certain land you don’t contend for. There are certain times you just don’t fight, but pride gets involved.

You know what this is one of our best interviews and we didn’t even ask one music question.

Jeru: It’s only so much you can say about music. Why I do my music? I could sum that all up. I love to create music, but I have something to say and music gives me the platform to say it. But my next album I come out with I ain’t gonna say shit!


Jeru: I ain’t gonna say shit. I tried to warn niggas but ya’ll go ahead with yourselves I’m gonna say ignorant shit. Give me your money now. They’ll learn one day. Tell everybody to buy my new shit and support the independent artist. They here independent and they get shook. I don’t want to be affiliated with someone taking all my money. I’m doing all the work they are taking the majority of the money does that make sense? I’d rather sell less and get more because mathematically it comes out to be the same thing. People don’t know I do my thing independently and I get just as much if not more than niggas who are platinum.

Have you achieved any other goals that you’ve had outside of monetary things now that you are in control of your own destiny?

Jeru: I’ve gotten to go to South Africa and perform for brothers out there. I’m getting into writing scripts and I’m directing my own videos. I’m getting into editing. I’m really just enjoying life and having a good time. This is my college education. This is my university in the truest sense of the word. We need money to live, but the freedom that’s what it is. Its like Maya Angelou said why does the caged bird sing, because that nigga want to get out. He ain’t singing because he is happy and I think I’m not a caged bird anymore. I’m singing because I’m happy. I’m exploring life how it was intended. I just enjoy that I could do not only for myself, but for others now. To try to take brothers who never been out the hood somewhere and give them an opportunity to learn something. Nothing in this world is ours its all God’s and God makes us the steward of these things and sees what you’re gonna do with it. A lot of people slam Oprah like she a sellout but Oprah straight up building schools in Africa. You can’t say nothing! She ain’t that much of a sellout she is being smart. She know that she needs these white people to make that money to build them schools in Africa because the black people ain’t looking at her. We are like crabs in a barrel and it’s a shame. A majority of my shows that I do now will be all white people.

It’s like that Rahzel show we went to.

Jeru: I did two shows with Rahzel recently One we were out in Europe and the other we were in Detroit but I didn’t perform with him I had performed two nights before but I got stuck out there in that big snow storm. I went to check him out and it was all white dudes, but after his show was over they opened the club up. Rahzel’s show was about 200-300 white kids and maybe one or two other kinds but when the regular club opened and they started playing the ignorant booty music the club was packed like 3,000 people.

When are you coming through to Baltimore?

Jeru: Whenever we get a show out there. I was recently in DC at Club 5. It was off the hook so hopefully we’ll hook it up because actually I sold the most records in the Baltimore/DC area when the Sun Rises in the East came out. They even got the Go Go version of Come Clean with Backyard.

They also did a club song with it.

Jeru: Yea I sold the most albums in those areas so I know there are mad people in the area looking for a brother but since I am independent and don’t have millions of dollars for my budget I have to get the bang for my buck. I’m about to get this new video out. We’re keeping it realistic, we are stressing independence, liberation, and upliftment. My ultimate goal is to build a youth center in all the ghettos of America and teach them audio, video, mathematics, things that amaze them now that they see on TV and show a brother how they put that together. That’s why they don’t want computers in our schools. I can do everything I see on TV on my computer in the lab with a program or two. So if a kid in the hood could do that it wouldn’t be so fascinating to them. Everybody wants to be famous and be on TV and be rappers, nobody wants to be a doctor or a lawyer. Back to the beginning for the black man, I think our liberation is through education. I was watching a show on Cinemax and it was about the national spelling bee and there was one little black girl in there, she got eliminated in the first round but she was one of the top 200 kids in the country. Me and my girl was like we’re proud of her because she made it even though she didn’t win. We make being intelligent dumb. Oh you smart you’re a nerd. Ask most black kids what’s the last book they read. They got the PS2 and the only thing they read is the booklet to the game and they don’t even read those anymore they just play and figure it out.

I had one question before you be out and it’s mad off topic but you mentioned Black Thought and it popped in my mind about how you guys were supposed to start a big group.

Jeru: Yea me, him and Common

What happened?

Jeru: I don’t know baby


Jeru: It might still happen though you never know. But before I go the last thing I want to say is it’s not even about buying my records but for everybody just be yourself. Know yourself and love yourself and at the end of the day you’ll probably make all the right decisions. If you can love brother like you love yourself then the world would be a better place.

Date: February 10, 2004