The East Coast Renaissance brought forth a swathe of hip hop masterpieces - think Illmatic, Ready to Die, Enter the Wu-Tang and The Infamous. Whilst these remain the best known of New York's '90s output, the reinvigorated hip hop scene produced many less-popular classics, records which inspired critical adoration but lacked the staying power of the other culturally enduring LPs.
Brooklyn-born emcee Jeru The Damaja first appeared on Gang Starr's 1992 LP, Daily Operation. He would become a member of the group's loose collective, Gang Starr Foundation, when it was founded the next year. Jeru's relationship with the duo proved to be indispensable - his first two efforts, '94s The Sun Rises In The East and '96s Wrath of the Math, were entirely produced by Gang Starr member DJ Premier. Those two records are generally considered to be Jeru's most accomplished work.
1994's The Sun Rises In The East introduces Jeru's verbose lyricism as well as his unique perspective: casting himself as the original "Dirty Rotten Scoundrel," he elaborates on his fight against ignorance, the true beneficiaries of black-on-black crime, the state of the rap game, his life in Brooklyn and his own hip hip prowess. It finds a young DJ Premier delivering his trademark techniques: sampled-and-scratched hooks, melodic turntabling, and self-sampling, to name a few.
As a part of our ongoing series, we've gone behind the album and looked at the samples that make up the record. In doing so, we recognise the greatness of both the sampler and the sampled, criss-crossing through time and culture whilst exploring artistry.
"Intro / Life"
"Life is the result of the struggle between dynamic opposites" - so begins The Sun Rises In The East. Jeru's lofty opening speech is a recitation of the opening narration from First of the North Star, a famous '80s anime series. Speaking in grand images, Jeru suggests that universal equilibrium is maintained as the pendulum swings from light to dark, an open-ended image of impending black excellence.
DJ Premier borrows the piano trill from "Cerecka," a track by Czech-born bassist Miroslav Vitous.
Vitous' debut as leader, 1969's Infinite Search was confusingly released under three different names. There were minor differences between the three issues, titled Infinite Search, Mountain In The Clouds and The Bass. Whilst Infinite Search is the definitive version of the record, Mountain In The Clouds and The Bass contain bonus track "Cerecka," elements of which appear on this track.
The drums that enter at 0:13 are lifted from a brief break in Kid Dynamite's "Uphill Peace Of Mind." The break appears three times on The Sun Rises In The East, punctuating both "Perverted Monks In Da House (Skit)" and "Perverted Monks In Da House (Theme)."
It's no surprise that the sample reappears so often: the three second drum break has featured in over 100 tracks.
The sound effects and score that open "Intro / Life" are taken from Fist of the North Star, a mid-'80s anime series. Adapted from the manga of the same name, FOTNS is revered as one of the best (and most violent) anime series of all time.
Jeru's poetic opening is itself a recitation of the show's opening narration, which is difficult to source online. As such, I've included a clip from the show that offers a glimpse into the series.
The second single from the record, "D. Original" finds Jeru doubling down on his role as rap's real "dirty rotten scoundrel." Though he invoked the title on lead single "Come Clean," this is the first track on the album on which Jeru outlines his self-appointed status.
DJ Premier samples a famous breakbeat from Upp's "Give it to You," a track off their 1975 self-titled debut. Fellow Brit Jeff Beck produced the album, also contributing uncredited guitar work. The rock-jazz fusion band released their second and final studio album in '76. "Give It to You," included on Ultimate Breaks and Beats' SBR 503, has been sampled by artists such as Del the Funky Homosapien, Eric B. & Rakim, Jungle Brothers and Schoolly D.
The first voice you hear on the track says "dirty rotten scoundrels." It's not Jeru, but instead a sample of Gang Starr member Guru introducing Jeru's guest verse on their 1992 track, "I'm The Man." His first appearance on wax, "I'm The Man" was featured on Gang Starr's third LP, Daily Operation. It was the beginning of a friendship between Jeru and DJ Premier, who would go on to produce his first two albums.
The brief vocal sample at 1:05 - "I'm the original--" - is courtesy of Marley Marl, Heavy D and Biz Markie. The three late-'80s titans teamed up for Marl's 1998 album In Control, Vol. 1, collaborating on "We Write The Songs." An influential producer through the '80s, he worked on albums such as Long Live The Kane, Mama Said Knock You Out and Down By Law. Eric B. & Rakim recorded their first collaboration, 1986's "Eric B. Is President," at Marley Marl's house in Queensbridge.
The final vocal sample is taken from Jeru's own "Come Clean," the lead single from The Sun Rises In The East. The sampled lyric - "dirty" - is the same word used to describe Jeru by Guru on Gang Starr's "I'm The Man," an introduction to his self-appointed 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrel' nickname.
Released as a single in September '93, "Come Clean" remains Jeru's most successful track, peaking at #83 on the Billboard 100.
"Brooklyn Took It"
Taking a cue from NYC legends Boogie Down Productions, Jeru waxes poetic about Brooklyn's mid-'90s come up. Whilst BDP were from Bronx, KRS-One namechecked Brooklyn in Queensbridge diss "The Bridge Is Over." Jeru uses this sample to talk about Brooklyn's runaway successes, claiming that if your clout is gone, it was Brooklyn who took it.
The instantly recognisable voice that raps "I check it out" at the open belongs to legendary East Coast emcee Big L. It's a vocal sample of Lord Finesse's 1992 track "Yes You May." Big L's feature alongside Finesse is hardly surprising: both were members of D.I.T.C., the Finesse-established hip hop collective.
Whilst Big L would go on to become on of the most acclaimed rappers of the '90s, "Yes You May" was his first official appearance on wax.
Another famous voice appears at 1:01 - that of KRS-One, who raps "Brooklyn keeps on taking it!" DJ Premier lifts that sample from Boogie Down Productions' "The Bridge Is Over." The track was a response to MC Shan's "The Bridge," which KRS-One saw as claiming that Queensbridge had invented hip hop. "The Bridge Is Over" finds KRS standing up for the Bronx with a diss track - one that would ultimately kickstart one of hip hop's most famous feuds.
"Perverted Monks In Tha House (Skit)"
This brief, frantic interlude reiterates Jeru's scoundrel attitude. The two samples used in the skit later appear on "Perverted Monks In Tha House (Theme)," which is essentially an instrumental version of the track. Jeru later spoke on the skit: "That skit, that was our war chant. That was letting people know who was coming through, that’s why it was also chaotic.
The drums that run alongside Vitous' instrumental are taken from "Uphill Peace of Mind," a track by classic rock band, Kid Dynamite. The eponymous debut, from which "Uphill Peace of Mind" is taken, was released in 1976. It was quickly followed by their sophomore record, also titled Kid Dynamite. The group were ultimately dropped from their label due to lack of commercial appeal, but were culturally resurrected by samples from Dr. Dre, Just-Ice, Outkast and Eazy-E.
On "Mental Stamina," Jeru trades verses with affiliate Afu-Ra. It's Afu-Ra's debut appearance, coming a whole six years before his belated debut LP
"Mental Stamina," like "D. Original" before it, incorporates a sample from Gang Starr's "I'm The Man."
Whilst the sample on "D. Original" revisited Jeru's debut feature, the sample on "Mental Stamina" finds DJ Premier revisiting his previous production work. The high-pitched sound effect that opens the track is lifted from the later half of Gang Starr's 1992 song.
Ayers is one of music's most sampled artists, and as such, he holds a particular reverence amongst hip hop producers. "Sensitize" alone has been sampled by the likes of Big K.R.I.T., O.C., Quasimoto and 7L & Esoteric. High-profile samples appear on tracks by Kendrick, Dre and N.W.A.
There's little to add when it comes to Jackson's blockbuster, one of a handful of culturally enduring singles off his magnum opus, 1984's Thriller. It was the track that broke MTV's racial barriers, elevating the singer to a new level of African American stardom.
One of the more controversial tracks on the album, "Da Bitchez" was a takedown of duplicitous, money-hungry women. It's far from the only '90s rap track on the subject - peers such as A.Z and EMPD also weighed in on opportunistic groupies. Whilst not as misogynistic as much of mid-'90s rap - see Snoop's "Ain't No Fun" or KRS-One's "Say Gal" - it prompted a short-lived feud with members of NY trio, The Fugees.
The prevailing horn riff that dominates "Da Bitchez" is taken from "Whispering Pines," a nine minute instrumental jam by jazz group The Crusaders. The jazz-fusion group experienced crossover success throughout the mid-'70s, and 1974's Southern Comfort peaked at #31 on the Billboard 200.
The record was their seventh as The Crusaders, despite only adopting the name in '71. Throughout the '60s, the group went by Jazz Crusaders.
The drums are lifted from "All Night Long," a 1983 track by Mary Jane Girls. The short lived R&B group, assembled by Rick James, released just two albums throughout their brief eight-year career. James wrote and produced all the group's original tracks, including "All Night Long."
The opening drum fill is an interpolation, or replayed sample, of Audio Two's "Top Billin'."
Originally released as a b-side to their 1987 debut single, "Make It Funky," "Top Billin'" became an unlikely hit. Though the group never replicated that success, the track has been sampled by acts such as Kanye West, 50 Cent, 2Pac and Quasimoto.
The titular refrain at 0:20 is actually an interpolation of Eazy-E's "Eazy Street," a track taken from 1990's The Return of Superfly soundtrack. The third instalment in the Super Fly series, it arrived a whole 17 years after Super Fly T.N.T.. The film was poorly received by critics and audiences alike, and the soundtrack failed to salvage the project.
"You Can't Stop The Prophet"
The Sun Rises In The East's most straightforward storytelling cut features Jeru, the titular prophet, battling against his "archnemesis" Mr. Ignorance and his posse: Hatred, Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Despair, Animosity and Deceit.
Like "Da Bitchez" before it, "You Can't Stop The Prophet" boasts an instrumental built around a Crusaders sample. This sample is taken from the end of The Crusaders' "Chain Reaction," the title track from their 1975 LP. It was released just one year after Southern Comfort.
Chain Reaction represented the group's seventh release as The Crusaders, though they'd been dropping at least one album annually for 14 years.
The drums that punctuate "You Can't Stop The Prophet" are sourced from Lou Donaldson's "Ode To Billie Joe." A jazz cover of Bobbie Gentry's 1967 hit, it was released the same year as the original Grammy-winning country track.
The album, Mr. Shing-A-Ling, features jazz greats Lonnie Smith and Idris Muhammad on organ and drums, respectively. The record was Donaldson's 29th, released just 15 years into his career.
The scratched vocal sample at 2:15 - "can't a damn thing stop me" - is lifted from Fat Joe's "The Shit Is Real." Though released as the third single from his 1993 debut, Represent, a remix of the track also appeared on his 1995 sophomore effort. That remix was handled by DJ Premier, Jeru's sole producer. Though the remix of the '93 was included on Joe's '95 effort, it was released as a b-side in '94 - the same year as The Sun Rises In The East.
"Perverted Monks In Da House (Theme)"
"Perverted Monks In Da House (Theme)" is musically identical to the original skit, an instrumental version of the intense hype track. To read more about the samples below, scroll up to "Perverted Monks In Da House (Theme)," the fourth track on the LP.
"Ain't The Devil Happy"
A track laced with biblical imagery and Five Percenter terminology, "Ain't The Devil Happy" finds Jeru arguing for a radical reimagining of masculinity and street lifestyles. He sees the African American community as weighed down by metaphorical fratricide, drug slinging and absentee parenting, all of which contribute to keeping "The Devil" - the white powerbrokers profiting off these ills - happy.
The vocal sampled at the open belongs to comedian Redd Foxx. Taken from his 1976 stand-up record, You Gotta Wash Your Ass, the sample finds Foxx commenting on his raunchy, upfront demeanour: "now I don’t be foolin' around, I tell the truth... nothing’s secret."
You Gotta Wash Your Ass was his only record on Atlantic, released at the height of his fame, much of which he owed to his role on Sanford and Son.
The second sample DJ Premier's taken from Lee Oskar's My Road Our Road, "Our Road Pt. 1" contributes the distinctive orchestral hits to "Ain't The Devil Happy." The jazz-funk LP is named for the two A-Side tracks, "My Road" and "Our Road," which together run for almost fifteen minutes.
The drums are lifted from Pleasure's 1975 track, "Bouncy Lady."
Taken from the Portland R&B group's first LP, Dust Yourself Off, the track (and the rest of the album) was produced by Jazz Crusaders member Wayne Henderson. The Crusaders were sampled on both "Da Bitchez" and "You Can't Stop The Prophet."
The scratched laughter scattered throughout "Ain't The Devil Happy" is taken from "After The Laughter Comes Tears," an early Wu-Tang Clan b-side.
Though it was included as the b-side to Wu-Tang's 1992 "Protect Ya Neck" single, the track was originally the seventh track on the group's '92 demo tape. It would appear on the group's legendary debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), as "Tearz."
"My Mind Spray"
On "My Mind Spray," Jeru elaborates on his lyrical gifts and the power of his rhymes. As he sees it, whilst many wack emcees continue to degrade and debase the art of emceeing, his lyrical skills make for a formidable weapon.
The otherworldly synth hook is a looping sample of Bob James' "Nautilus," included on his 1974 LP, One. A seminal smooth jazz record, it featured instrumentation from Grover Washington Jr., Idris Muhammad and Thad Jones.
Fausto Papetti's cover of "Love's Theme," an instrumental track by Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, features one of hip hop's most renowned breaks. Included on SBR 511, the 1987 instalment of Ultimate Beats and Breaks, it's since been sampled in over 50 hip hop tracks. Papetti himself was an Italian saxophonist. "Love's Theme" was included on his 1974 record, 18a Raccolta, which, like many of his albums, featured uncensored female nudity on the cover.
The track's title, "My Mind Spray," harks back to a lyric from Jeru's first single, 1993's "Come Clean."
The original lyric - "your nine spray, my mind spray" - stresses Jeru's intellectual prowess, and "My Mind Spray" continues to explore his unique brand of lyrical combat. DJ Premier, a known fan of the self-sample, uses the sampled lyric as the track's central refrain.
The first single from Jeru's debut album, and his biggest commercial success to date, "Come Clean" is a minor East Coast classic.
The bizarre percussion that underpins the instrumental is the work of jazz pioneer Shelly Manne. The sample is sourced from "Infinity," a brief forty-second vignette that closes his 1972 LP, Mannekind.
The Indianapolis group released five albums between '71 and '75, disbanding soon thereafter. The group released a sixth LP in 1996, though only two of the original members remained.
"Come Clean" was released on October 26, 1993. DJ Premier impressively flips a sample from another East Coast single released just eleven months beforehand. The refrain on Jeru's track - "uh oh, hands up / cause we're dropping some shit" - is taken from Onyx's "Throw Ya Gunz," a smash hit for the Queens-based gangsta rap outfit. Like "Come Clean," "Throw Ya Gunz" was the group's debut single, and both tracks remain amongst the artists' most enduring releases.
The penultimate track on the album, "Jungle Music" is built around a fitting Jungle Brothers sample.
The looping piano chords that open "Jungle Music" are the work of Ahmad Jamal, a revered American jazz pianist. The chords are lifted from the middle of "Dialogue," the nigh-nine minute track from his 1974 LP, Jamal Plays Jamal. As well as acting as band leader, Jamal produced the album.
After a brief musical hiatus in '62, Jamal returned to jazz and recorded prolifically. He continues to play today, well into the sixth decade of his career.
DJ Premier's knack for building hooks out of chopped-and-screwed vocal samples is well documented. On "Jungle Music," he flips a lyric from Jungle Brother's "Straight out the Jungle," turning it into a catchy refrain. Group member Mike G raps the sample: "in the J-U-N-G-L-E!"
The track's final line - "in the jungle, brother!" - is a pitched-down sample of legendary artist and hip hop favourite James Brown. Premier borrows from "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose (Remix)," a vocal remix of a 1969 instrumental single included on a 1986 compilation album.
Brown's cultural reverence is reflected in sampling: according to WhoSampled, Brown has been sampled 11,480 times.
On the final track, Jeru reminds us that whilst his album was produced by one of hip hop's greatest proiducers, he could "rock a rhyme with just static." He also takes the opportunity to gas up his sexual prowess and reiterate his weaponised lyricism, a fitting conclusion for an album of relentless lyrical assaults.
The drums on "Statik" are courtesy of Funkadelic, though strictly speaking, it's not the Funkadelic you're thinking of. "You'll Like It Too" was the second track on Connections & Disconnections, the 12th Funkadelic record. It was recorded by a group of onetime Parliaments members during the implosion of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective, and their legally ambiguous use of the Funkadelic name only acted to accelerate the collective's downfall.
DJ Premier samples Jeru's "Come Clean" at 0:05, lifting the exact same lyric as he did on "D. Original."
It's no surprise that Jeru revisits the word "dirty" on his closing track - he's continuously self-identified as the "dirty rotten scoundrel," and as such, the word has been used in "Come Clean," "D. Original," "My Mind Spray" and "Perverted Monks in tha House (Skit)."
Yet again, DJ Premier turns a vocal sample into the titular refrain. This time around, he takes a lyric from Positive K's "How The Fuck Would You Know," a track from his only solo LP, '92s The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills. That album featured the track "I Have A Man," a runaway success that eventually earned Positive K the dubious honour of being a one-hit wonder.
The Dirty Rotten Scoundrel
Jeru's debut would garner acclaim from critics, just one in the onslaught of excellent mid-'90s East Coast releases. The legacy it left behind would be more subdued than some of its contemporaries, and that's understandable - the record didn't push boundaries as much as it flourished within them.
It didn't help that Jeru was surrounded on all sides by exceptional, genre-defining efforts. Illmatic introduced the world to an emcee in the vein of Rakim, helping resurrect conscious rap in the age of G-Funk excess. Though Nas' career would progress unevenly, his excellent-albeit-divergent sophomore album proved the record was more than beginners luck. It would inspire a young Jay-Z, then known as Jaz-O, to slow his flow, shaping 1995's Reasonable Doubt. Similarly, Wu-Tang Clan's debut would pioneer rhyme schemes and popularise brooding instrumentals whilst introducing the world to a collection of excellent emcees, and the years following brought records such as GZA's Liquid Swords, Ol Dirty Bastard's Return to the 36 Chambers and Method Man's Tical.
The Sun Rises In The East isn't prized as an influential LP. A creatively potent collaboration between a legendary beatsmith and a verbose, socially-inclined newcomer, the album offered a pithy distillation of New York's sound. A startlingly proficient debut, it captured the spirit of '90s hip hop: DJs, emcees, break beats and hardships. Even after 24 years, The Sun Rises In The East represents a high water mark of conscious rap, invigorated by Jeru's uncommonly intricate lyricism and Premier's hook-friendly production prowess.