No Fluff

13 September 2012 | 5:45 am | Cyclone Wehner

“People have become complacent... Everybody is happy and they don’t care about what’s going on around them, so there’s no need to speak about things that are going on.”

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Hip hop's veterans are finding a new appreciative audience in Australia, KRS-One recently greeted like royalty. Brooklyn's Jeru The Damaja (AKA Kendrick Jeru Davis), specialising in “hardcore conscious” hip hop, first toured with The Beatnuts in 2008, recalling the experience as “excellent”. “I love Australia,” he says. “I had a great time. I thought it was great. I thought the people were great. I'm really looking forward to coming back.”

Davis made an impact as a guest MC on GangStarr's 1992 Daily Operations with the joint I'm The Man. Two years on, he himself dropped the cult DJ Premier-produced The Sun Rises In The East, home to Come Clean. Though the PolyGram signing led rap's East Coast resurgence, he was soon beefing with the Fugees. Davis castigated 'sell-out' hip hoppers like Puff Daddy on 1996's The Wrath Of The Math (Puff's cohort The Notorious BIG retaliated). By 1999, he was happily indie.

Davis, his last foray 2007's Still Risin', has sustained an incredible run as an underground MC. Many a cred rapper has succumbed to airing flossy radio hits, or what RZA called 'R&Bullshit', but Davis resisted. “All my records were actually commercial successes,” he insists, MTV programming his videos. “A lot of people think that 'underground' means that you don't sell records, but I just never went the route of the poppy stuff. I like my music a certain way – I can't go fluffy, that's all.” Not that there hasn't been pressure. “The pressure and the temptation is always there, but it depends on why you make music. I make music because I love it – if it sells records, then that's great, I don't have to change. I'm not looking for any other validation from other places. As long as I make money, and I'm doing what I love, I'm cool.”

Davis has embraced hip hop's evolution into a global force. He collaborated with a Polish group, Slums Attack, on Oddalbym – a platinum (and YouTube) hit. The widely travelled MC is now cutting an LP with Slums Attack and other Polish hip hoppers. (The MC has also laid down vocals for Perth producer Kid Tsu.) Earlier, Davis appeared on Suntoucher off Groove Armada's Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub). “Those guys are some of the best guys who I've met in my career as far as music people,” he says effusively. “I love those guys.”

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Contemporary commercial hip hop sounds indistinguishable from EDM, yet Davis has no problem with this, reasoning that electro has long been a part of the culture. What dismays him is “a lack” of skill. “A lot of today's hip hop is not my style because a lot of rappers suck!” he laughs. “It's not even because it's commercial or not – because you have to remember that groups like Run-DMC, Whodini, Lords Of The Underground [and] Big Daddy Kane were all platinum. They would always have commercial hits and all of that, but they just did what they did and they were good MCs.” The lyricist attributes the absence of political hip hop amid the GFC to (US) MCs' dearth of empathy. “People have become complacent,” he rues. “Everybody is happy and they don't care about what's going on around them, so there's no need to speak about things that are going on.”

Aside from the East European project, Davis is prepping a solo comeback, Premier reportedly on board. “I'm just getting ready to re-attack society with good hip hop.” He may have had his differences with GangStarr, but the late Guru remains a constant inspiration – his kindred spirit in rap. “The way I remember him is I just rock the mic – and every time I rock the mic Guru is rocking the mic with me. It's no separation.”

So what can we expect from Davis in Australia? “Dope hip hop, dope mic-rocking, good times! I'm really a people person, so I like to hang out with the people. I don't like to stay backstage, I like to come out into the club and party with everybody and have fun.” Party, no bullshit.