In 1999, Jeru The Damaja returned to the music scene with his third solo album, "Heroz4Hire" on his own label Know Savage Productions. A lot of things had happened since The Damaja's last release, as he and his producer DJ Premier had a falling out, resulting in Jeru handling all of the production himself on the disc. Since Preemo is seen by pretty much every hip hop head as a top 3 producer, and his work with 'Ru is often held as some of his finest top-to-bottom work, there was no way that people would not be dissapointed. My personal first reaction was running through the album once or twice and putting it back on the shelf again for years. Yesterday I popped the disc into my stereo again and I must say I was pretty damn amazed at how slept this album truly is. Though there are a few wack selections here, the majority of the production is suprisingly solid and fits Jeru's style to a T... and it's like he just decided over a night that he was going to start producing because the disapperance of Preemo. Dating back to "The Sun Rises in the East", Jeru has been listed as a co-producer on all of his releases, meaning that he worked closely on the production with Preem for years, watching his process and helping to pick out samples and picking up studio tricks. And more importantly is that Jeru was planning to start producing more of his own shit even before the break from Gang Starr as revealed by this interview on a '96 Stretch & Bobbito show. One of the things about Premier that makes him a true master at his craft is his way to create a signature sound for his artists. So why many dismissed Jeru's production here as a bad imitation of DJ Premier. The fact is that On "Heroz 4 Hire" Jeru creates somewhat similiar beats to those heard on its predecessors - dark, sinister beats, stripped down to its bare minimalist essentials of broken piano chords, guitar stabs and thick, pounding drum programming that really compliments Jeru's commanding voice and raw flows in a major way.
Don't get it twisted though, "Heroz4Hire" is a far cry from a classic album, not only is it a big step down from his previous material - at times the LP is all over the place and a few tracks are truly bad. Without the perfection of Premier's production Jeru, with his preachy style and monotone voice, isn't the type of Nas / BIG lyricist that can hold a listener's attention over wack beats which is the case on songs like "Bitchez With Dickz" and "What A Day". However, the point is that the LP is a whole lot better than it's given credit for and I would imagine a lot of heads might even never have bothered to check it out at all.... which would be a shame! "I did the Heroz4hire joint for liberation purposes, and to show cats I can do this shit. The beats are three years old, nah mean? I did everything, all the studio work, the production, everything." Lyrically, the Damaja sounds every bit as ill here as he passionately runs through his main themes of the dangers of overly commercial hip hop, African pride, the horrors of the ghetto, Brooklyn as well as introducing the concept of fake friends on songs like "Bitches With Dick" and "99.9%", the finest song on the LP.
As far as guests go Afu-Ra is nowhere to be found - "Man, money and fame change shit up. I taught the nigga how to rhyme and all that, but now I don't see the nigga anymore. It's basically the same thing with Gang Starr. We still cool and all that, but brothas ain't on the same level right now, nah mean?" However at least Lil' Dap of The Group Home pop up for a guest verse on the otherwise forgettable "Bitchez Wit Dikz". The main guest is female emcee Miz Marvel who appears on no less than three songs, strangely enough all of them being solo songs. To my knowledge she never appeared on anything else either after or before but she's definitely got some skills, though the decision to give her three solo songs is really weird.
In conclusion, I would like to recommend any fan of Jeru The Damaja to give this album an honest chance, without any preconceived notion of comparing it to his work with Gang Starr. You might just be as suprised as I was by the dopeness of songs like "Great Solar Stance", "99.9%", "Seinfeld", "Renegade Slave", "Billie Jean (Safe Sex)", "Another Victim", and "Presha". I give The Damaja major props for showing heads that he was able to deliver a good album entirely created by himself and him alone. You can tell that he was on a mission to really prove his own worth here as he absolutely slays mics all over this LP. Just like Nas with "Illmatic", "The Sun Rises in the East" is the gift and the curse of Jeru's career and as a true bonafide classic he will always be faced with that comparision. But dismissing Jeru The Damaja's work post-Premier is definitely a mistake as there's plenty of heat rocks on all of his later albums. Hopefully his next album will see him reaching out to more established producers again as his excellent "The Hammer " EP saw him linking up with Large Professor, The Beatnuts and the still underrated PF Cuttin' (who in fact was Jeru's first producer) to great effect.