If you're a fan of Gang Starr, chances are you at least know who Jeru The Damaja is, as he has collaborated with the group on several songs in their renowned catalog. Jeru is much more than just a Gang Starr affiliate, though, as he released one of the most impressive (and underrated) albums in hip-hop history back in 1994: his debut, The Sun Rises In The East.
Produced entirely by DJ Premier, The Sun Rises In The East obviously has a Gang Starr feel to it. However, the catch is that Jeru might actually be a better emcee than Guru (rest in peace), as he possesses a much more energetic and variable style than the self-proclaimed "king of monotone." He may also be a better lyricist.
Premo's production for Guru is critically acclaimed and is regarded as some of the most impressive beatmaking in rap history. However, I think that his production on Jeru The Damaja's debut may actually be better than anything he did as a part of Gang Starr, and that's saying a mouthful, as the beats on albums like Hard To Earn and Moment Of Truth are simply crazy (and this is coming from someone who has always considered DJ Premier to be a bit overrated).
The Sun Rises In The East is a short record, spanning 13 tracks, only 10 of which are actual songs (didn't I just write that for my Black Star review?). Still, sometimes shorter means better; just look at Illmatic.
1. D. Original
This is actually my least favorite song on the album, as Premo's beat is pretty meh (it sounds too busy). Looking past that, though, Jeru gives us some insight into the artist he is, and he proves that, much like Guru, he excels at braggadocio rap. Don't think that's what he's all about, however.
2. Brooklyn Took It
Is it just me, or did the sound quality take a pretty significant dip here? Anyway, that aside, this track is sick. DJ Premier's light yet upbeat piano hits remain consistently awesome throughout, and the beautiful kick drums complement them perfectly. As expected, Jeru pays homage to Brooklyn on this cut. It probably wasn't even necessary for me to say that, but what the heck; more text makes the blog look nicer.
3. Mental Stamina
This cut is pretty short, clocking in at two minutes and twenty-one seconds, and yet, it contains the only guest appearance on The Sun Rises In The East, as Afu-Ra aids Jeru on the track. Premo lays down a very effective fast-paced beat for the two, and upon listening, you'll realize that it was probably a good thing that "Mental Stamina" wasn't made to be that lengthy, as I can envision the constant beeping noise throughout the song becoming unbelievably annoying after a while. But, this record isn't long enough to allow that to happen, so I instead was able to focus on how great both Jeru and Afu-Ra sound over this.
4. Da Bichez
Honestly, what is it with rappers intentionally butchering the spelling of their song titles? I guess that's an issue for another day, though, because this cut bangs. Jeru The Damaja talks about all of the trouble girls with baggage can bring to men, so this should be pretty relatable for all listeners. Male listeners, anyway. DJ Premier's beat is very jazzy, and the drums are appropriately sparse.
5. You Can't Stop The Prophet
One word: ill. This is, easily, the best song on the album. The beat is sick and is certainly something you could tirelessly bump in your ride. The way Jeru writes this is genius, too, as he turns words like ignorance, anger, and despair into actual people and raps about how they're running rampant and are all trying to bring "the prophet" (himself) down. Phenomenal cut.
6. My Mind Spray
I think essentially every hip-hop producer, whether they be outstanding, mediocre, or absolutely garbage, has sampled Bob James' "Nautilus." That being said, I just don't get tired of it, as Premo utilizes the sample very well here. Lyrically, this is probably Jeru's best performance on the album: "I annihilate as I articulate, words of power, your rhymes are unconfounding, so death's your fate, ostentatious genius, of rappin', is mentally clappin' to take hip-hop back, that's what's happenin', proficiency and ingenuity, plus more styles, than a Shaolin monastery."
7. Ain't The Devil Happy
Premo's kick drums on this bang, and Jeru The Damaja delivers a good message, saying how the devil is the only one who benefits from all of the violence and corruption that abounds. Really nice cut.
8. Come Clean
The album's first (and only) single. DJ Premier's instrumental simply crawls, and I mean that in a good way a great way, actually). It was also at this point of The Sun Rises In The East that I came to the conclusion that Jeru's rap style is similar to that of Sean Price in that he appears to be spitting nonsense on the surface, but in the grand scheme of things, what he is saying makes perfect sense. This song is awesome.
9. Jungle Music
Premo's beat here is fantastic, and Jeru sounds great over it: "It's inevitable, you can't stop me, try to carbon copy, but it always comes out sloppy, you can't outrap me, you can't outrock me, like the dreads on my head, you try and lock me." Sick punchline there.
The beat sounds just like the title says it should; staticky. You would think that that would be irritating, but somehow, DJ Premier manages to make it work, as does Jeru. I wouldn't say this was The Sun Rises In The East's shining moment, but it wasn't its worst, either. Solid record, and a solid way to close out a classic album.
This album really is great. DJ Premier's production is steadily outstanding throughout, and Jeru The Damaja remains consistently effective for all 10 songs. Jeru is clearly a very good rapper, and he is also quite clearly suited for Premo's style of production. That's why The Sun Rises In The East sounds so good; it's a perfect match.
For some reason, The Sun Rises In The East never got the respect that any of the Gang Starr albums did, and it's a shame, because I think it is unquestionably better than No More Mr. Nice Guy and Step In The Arena and, at the very least, on par with Daily Operation, Hard To Earn, and Moment Of Truth. There are some hip-hop heads that will give Jeru's debut the love it deserves, but they are few and far between.
What I think is most impressive about this album is the consistency. Every track transitions seamlessly into the next, yet, at the same time, every track is unique. The main argument of Premo's critics is that most of his beats sound too much alike (I am guilty of making this argument myself). However, on The Sun Rises In The East, they sound similar enough where they are all relevant to one another, but different enough where they all have their own exclusive place on the project.
Unfortunately, because Jeru The Damaja never really had a big hit single like Guru (who had what seems like countless numbers of them), he never got the appreciation that he rightfully deserved. Also, the fact that the rest of his discography outside of The Sun Rises In The East and his sophomore release, Wrath Of The Math (also entirely produced by DJ Premier), was rather underwhelming probably had something to do with that, too, as Guru had more than just two noteworthy albums to his name.
Many will also point to the argument that Jeru fell off because, after Wrath Of The Math, he and Premo had a falling out, and as a result, Premo never produced another cut for Jeru again, and that assertion may hold some weight. Beats are a big part of successful albums, after all.
Still, Jeru The Damaja's recent slip-ups should not deter you from giving The Sun Rises In The East a spin (or more). It well be well worth your while.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Come Clean
2. You Can't Stop The Prophet
3. Brooklyn Took It
4. Jungle Music
5. Ain't The Devil Happy