After making a few impactful cameos on a couple of Gang Starr records, The Gang Starr Foundation member, Jeru The Damaja would sign a solo deal with Payday Records and in 1994 released his debut album, The Sun Rises In The East. Fueled by its monster first single that paired Jeru’s articulately conscious battle rhymes with Premo’s abstract banger (which is absolutely one of the greatest hip-hop beats of all-time), The Sun Rises received pounds of praise, and many considered the Jeru/DJ Premier collab effort to be a classic album, and I’m not mad at that sentiment. After a two-year break, Jeru would return with his sophomore effort, Wrath Of The Math.
In Wrath’s liner notes, Jeru makes his vision for the album clear, as it reads: “This album was created to SAVE hip-hop and the minds of people who listen to it.” And Mr. Damaja obviously subscribes to the old adage of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” as he once again tasks the legendary DJ Premier to exclusively sculpt the sound of the album. When you’re an emcee releasing an album with such a righteous motive during a time when gangsta/thug rap was dominating the genre and charts, the chances for commercial success were slim to none. Wrath would fall on the none side of the spectrum, but it did receive mostly positive reviews upon its release.
It’s been a hot minute since I last listened to Wrath but come on guys. Can you really make a bad album when arguably the greatest hip-hop producer of all-time is the maestro and your album cover is sky blue?
Wrath Of The Math – Jeru kicks things off with a lecture on the “mental attitude,” delivered in his Earl Ray Jonesish voice over an ominously dark loop and mid-tempo drums. I don’t agree with his philosophy on “mental attitude,” as it completely neglects the emotional aspect of things, but that’s a discussion for another day. Whether you agree with his theory or not, I think we all can agree that Jeru would make a great professor at somebody’s university. Preferably an HBCU.
Tha Frustrated Nigga – This was originally released on the Pump Ya Fist compilation album (the project that was “inspired by The Black Panthers,” but not to be confused with the Panther Soundtrack, which “coincidentally” was a movie about the Black Panthers that came out around the same time as the Pump Ya Fist project). Premo slices up and places what sounds like a weeping string (maybe a fiddle?) loop over a bouncy bass line and choppy drums and adds well-placed vocal snippets on the hook (I love the Richard Pryor one) to form the perfect soundscape for Jeru to share his perspective on America through the eyes of a frustrated nigga. Powerful and meaty way to start the evening.
Black Cowboys – Jeru follows up the conscious message from the previous song by firing back at the Fugees (who seemed to fire the first shot when Pras spat “No matter who you damage, you’re still a false prophet” on “Zealots” from The Score) and spits one of the illest opening lines of any battle record (“I heard some emcees wanna bring it, but a female is one of their strongest men, when I step to you don’t seek refuge, make it happen, fuck the rappin’”) and later gets off a hilarious rhyme aimed at Wyclef: “Once I met up with this Bandolero, why’d he make me bust him in his head with his banjo?” Premo’s slightly animated backdrop decorated with clever soundbites and a zany cartoonish gun sample, leads you to believe that whatever beef Jeru had with the Fugees wasn’t too serious.
Tha Bullshit – Jeru takes a jab at all the gangsta/mafioso/materialistic bullshit that started flooding hip-hop in the mid-nineties. Over Premo’s bright good-spirited piano loop driven instrumental, J shares his dream of being a drug dealing kingpin, selling death to his community, but living prosperous off his uncivilized lifestyle with glistening diamonds, bad hookers in bikinis, a million-dollar jet, a million-dollar yacht, a squad of killer bitches that all carry Uzis and a Rolls Royce to show for it. It all sounds amazing until rivals come after him with gunfire, abruptly awakening him from his dream…or should I call it a nightmare?
Whatever – I’ve always wondered who Jeru was talking about during the song’s intro where he says, “There’s a lotta muthafuckas out here with a style similar to mine, nowadays.” The first person to come to mind was Outloud from Blahzay Blahzay, but being they sampled Jeru’s voice on their biggest hit, “Danger” and J even appeared in the video, I’d assume the two Brooklyn emcees were cool and the biting accusation wasn’t aimed at the Blah’s front man. Then again, “Danger” did come out almost a full year before Wrath, so J and Outloud could have fell out in the in between time. For shits and giggles, we’ll assume Jeru was talking about Outloud and we’ll add Pras to give us two of the “a lotta’s” referenced in the song’s intro, but who were the rest accused of infiltrating the camp and claiming our host’s style? Anyhoo…Jeru uses Premo’s smoothly subdued slightly blunted track (built around the same Esther Phillips sample Q-Tip used for Mobb Deep’s “Give Up The Goods” from The Infamous album -Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) to flaunt his “strategically mathematical” style and verbally damage his imitators and rivals, and he sounds elegantly convincing in the process. I love the enthusiastic Onyx vocal sample on the hook and the “fuck ya mind up like Joe Jackson kids” line was superb.
Physical Stamina – In ‘94, Jeru and his apprentice, Afu-Ra displayed their “Mental Stamina.” This time around they’re bringing it to you physically. Premo mixes futuristic computerized sounds with rock-tinged-guitars to back the duo’s refined verbal assault. I’ll admit, back in the day I didn’t care for Premo’s instrumental, as it sounded like a bunch of clunky noise, but today the unorthodox groove sounds amazing. I still prefer Mental Stamina, though.
One Day – Prem builds this instrumental around an eerie classical violin loop that serves as the accomplice for Jeru’s “Who dunnit?” mystery. Reminiscent of Common’s classic, “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” Jeru paints hip-hop as a man who’s been kidnapped and he, Afu-Ra and Premo are on the case to bring him back home safely. The fellas do complete the mission, but Puffy, Suge Knight, Jay Black (who was Bad Boy’s head of Marketing & Promotions at the time) and Foxy Brown and her fake alligator boots, all catch shots along the way.
Revenge Of The Prophet (Part 5) – On The Sun Rises, Jeru introduced us to The Prophet, a superhero whose mission was to rid the world of his arch nemesis, Ignorance and his ignorant band of henchmen. Premo scores this episode with a pompous string loop over boom bap drums, as Jeru, I mean, The Prophet, is focused on bringing down Ignorance’s right-hand man, Tricknology and his flunky, Greedy Lou. Other than Greedy Lou dying early in the story and later randomly resurrecting, only for The Prophet to kill him again, Jeru’s storyline was pretty decent. I am curious when and where The Prophet episodes two through four were released, though.
Scientifical Madness – This one starts with a cool jazzy break that sounds like the perfect theme music for a nice evening pimp stroll. Then Premo drops an urgent sounding instrumental, while Jeru stands firmly on his soapbox, mainly addressing man intentionally and unintentionally tinkering with the natural scientifical order of things (i.e., the hole in the ozone layer, bioengineered mutated chickens, man-made diseases, chemical warfare/population control and artificial insemination), but he also touches on conspiracy theories and throws a few more jabs at all these superficial rappers running rampant. This is definitely one of my least favorite records on Wrath, but it’s still decent.
Not Tha Average – This is one of my personal favorite Jeru records. Our host, who can’t help but sound serious with a voice like his, gets as playful as you’ll hear him get, spinning three humorous stories about three different women (Yolanda, Tamika and Sabrina) who didn’t realize who they were fuckin’ with, literally and figuratively. Premo’s grimy instrumental is just as entertaining as Jeru’s rhymes. I’ve never heard a jazz piano loop sound so thuggish.
Me Or The Papes – This one kind of picks up where “Da Bichez” left off. Premo flips a beautiful twinkling jazz piano loop and Jeru comes off like a man in search of love, but his paranoia and frugalness are barriers that keep him from finding his true Queen. Honestly, calling Jeru frugal is being nice, this dude sounds like a certified cheapskate. He doesn’t even want to buy a drink at the bar for a woman he just had a nice conversation with; and just because a woman likes nice things and asks you what you do for a living doesn’t necessarily make her a gold digger. Oh, and Puffy catches another arbitrary shot on this one. I enjoyed hearing from jaded Jeru and seeing the usually guarded emcee show a little vulnerability was nice.
How I’m Livin’ – Premo pairs a seductive piano loop with a grumpy bass line that sounds like it was abruptly awaken from a deep sleep, as Jeru makes outlandish but entertaining boasts, like: being conceived in the center of an inferno, out running a jaguar, sleeping in a lion’s den and escaping without a scar, and having the uncanny ability to “Stroke all night and not bust a nut,” and honestly, I’m not sure if that last one’s a gift or a curse.
Too Perverted – Jeru must be one of the smartest and most articulate emcees to ever grace the mic. I mean, what other rapper do you know that would rhyme “Curse Caligula, but graceful like calligraphy”? Premo matches J’s lyrical dexterity with a bleakly blunted backdrop (tongue twist that!) that has a hypnotic quality, and it sounds even better while driving in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. I speak from experience.
Ya Playin’ Yaself – This was the lead single from Wrath. Jeru gets back on his soapbox to call out all the rappers who promote violence and drugs and worship money and materialism: “Now, I don’t push a Lex, others had their turn to flex, Jeru is up next, all these so-called players up in the rap game, got brothers on the corner selling cooked cocaine, it used to be Latoya and Jim hats, but now it’s Uzis, Macs and G-packs of crack, everybody’s psycho or some type of good fellow, but me I keep it real that’s on swine like Jello.” Jeru momentarily takes his foot off the necks of these “so-called players” and uses the second verse to address the ladies whom he thinks dress too promiscuous and hi-lariously instructs them to “put some clothes on that ass if you respect yourself.” Premo’s bouncy backdrop is guaranteed to keep you vibin’ while you listen to Jeru’s judgment and reprimanding.
Invasion – This one begins with a short skit that finds Jeru in a heated exchange with a couple of overly aggressive cops during a routine traffic stop that ends with Jeru speeding away and the cops firing shots at him. Then Premo showers the listener’s ears with a sweetly melodic boom bap groove that Jeru uses to examine the tumultuous relationship between young Black men and police, accented by a dope Nas snippet on the hook. This was originally released on The New Jersey Drive Vol. 2 Soundtrack in ‘95, but it works as a nice tacked on bonus joint. The album ends briefly revisiting the instrumental from the opening track.
On Wrath Of The Math, Jeru splits his time between two separate roles. By day, he’s a mild-mannered emcee out to proof that he’s lyrically nice, down for verbal pugilism and can bust your ass with well-articulated scientifical rhyme schemes. By night, he’s a Black superhero, protected with a breastplate of righteousness and armed with wisdom and knowledge of self, out to save hip-hop and the Black community from the clutches of ignorance. And Puffy.
Jeru plays both roles well, consistently spewing razor sharp bars full of consciousness and intellect, delivered in his Shakespearean-like cadence and authoritative vocal tone. And of course, Premo delivers on the production end, scoring Math with an ill batch of boom bap slaps that will keep your head bobbin’ while you revisit and dissect Jeru’s well-thought-out rhymes. Wrath’s content doesn’t expand beyond anything Jeru didn’t previously cover on The Sun Rises (and with all off its sequel records, it could have easily been titled The Sun Rises In The East 2), nor does it come with a high-powered single like “Come Clean,” but it’s still a really good album from the dynamic duo.
For years, Nas has teased us with whispers of a collab album with Premo (he even recently rapped about it on “30” from King’s Disease III), and I’m completely here for that. And now that Premo and Jeru have patched things up, I’d be just as eager to get one more collab effort from them as well.
Yes a very good album maybe not as good as his debut but better than any that came after this album…when he & Premier went their separate ways
I just listened to Jeru’s Heroz4Hire album the other day for the first time. Premo’s presence was severely missing.
In mid ’95, I was starting to not enjoy hip hop albums so much. This was like a breath of fresh air for me. I definitely want to know what you think about Camp Lo’s album Uptown Saturday Night.
Another dope review!
This one was recommended to me early on on my hip hop journey (in the mid 2000s), and I loved it right away. I prefer it to his first album, because I like the production more (Come Clean might be an exception, but Ya playin’ yaself comes pretty close to me). Jeru also made me hate the materialistic mafioso rap even more early on, so I wouldn’t even check out Biggie until recently because he was associated with Puff.
I just realized that you already passed by the release date of Lord Finesse’s The Awakening, do you have that one? I would be interested in your opinion 🙂
I don’t own a copy of The Awakening, but my homeboy had the cassette back in the day, so I do remember some of the records on that album. I’ll have to track down a copy and do a review on it after I wrap up ‘96. Thanks for checking out the blog!
I always prefered this album as well compared to Sun Rises In The East. I never knew they did a video for Me Or The Papes until a few years ago. That someone posted it on Facebook. Back in 2000 or 2001. I tried giving his non DJ Premier album a chance and I was disappointed. The last song I liked of his was El President that he did with DJ Honda back in 2001. I follow him in IG from what I know he lives in Berlin, Germany now. He has some cool videos and pics around Europe. But he spouts to much conspiracy theory stuff for my taste. (Same as Pete Rock on IG) But that’s another post altogether.
Here is the video for El Presidente. BET Rap City showed this video a few times back in 2001. Enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5kp5Tr1ClM