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JERU THE DAMAJA (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Sun Rises in the East. (ffrr/PayDay) 1994
Wrath of the Math (ffrr) 1996
Heroz4hire (Knowsavage) 1999

Straight-edge Brooklyn rapper Jeru the Damaja (Kendrick Davis) puts forth "pugilistic linguistics," "verbal gymnastics," "vocabulary calisthenics," "scientifical powers" and "Mind Spray" with dry, forceful articulation on his first album, but the imaginative production by DJ Premier of Gang Starr runs circles around his uninspired writing. A marvel of uncommon elements shaped into atmospheric tableaus (like the edgy cinematics of "You Can't Stop the Prophet" and the aptly titled "Statik"), the tracks give Jeru a fascinating and diverse playground. He strives to match the sonic diversity with an essay on cultural heritage ("Jungle Music"), a scorecard on the prevalence of evil ("Ain't the Devil Happy") and a treatise on sexual politics (the trumpet-flayed "Da Bichez," in which he divides women into opposing camps of sisters/young ladies/queens and greedy exploiters). But for too much of The Sun Rises in the East., the Damaja is a drag, an average old-school boaster wearing '90s colors. The album's biggest disappointment is "Come Clean," an extraordinary offbeat construction of simple drums and echoing electronic plunks, wasted on a boring sucker-MCs rhyme that is ironically stymied by the track's elusive rhythms.

[Ira Robbins]