By the time he quit high school, Jadakiss / Phllips was already renowned as a freestyler and was rapping for his rent when he attended the ‘Jack the Rapper’ battle fest in Florida as a 16-year old. A friendship with the Ruff Ryders management folks lead him to hang out at the studio, watch in envy as artists like DMX came and went and conquered. Still a teenager Phillips formed The Warlocks with Sheek Louch and Styles P and they made their debut guest staring on The Main Source’s 1994 album track ‘Set It Off’. This in turn pushed Jadakiss into the clutches of The Notorious B.I.G. and now calling themselves LOX. They paid tribute to the Big man with ‘We’ll Always Love Poppa’ – b-side to Puff Daddy’s ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ in 1997.
So far so good, but contributions weren’t the only thing that Jadakiss wanted to be known for and Puffy’s slick, radio-friendly approach wasn’t where his head was at either. The LOX made their stand with the album Money, Power, Respect in 1998 (it would eventually go Platinum) and hit the new millennium in some style on the follow-up ‘We Are the Streets’ where you find them working with Timbaland early on and the esoteric Swizz Beats. Both these are cult items.
Now signed to Ruff Ryder’s, Jadakiss made his break out with Kiss Tha Game Goodbye. His star was in the ascendant now and the album shifted close on a million copies thanks to a canny blend of Gangsta, Mafioso and Horrorcore with lashings of suave East Coast funk thrown on top to keep listeners guessing and dancing. With producers including The Neptunes, Icepick, Alchemist, Just Blasze and Mahogany, this brilliant collection of MC style, toast and boast and hilarious bravado cuts like ’Stick Yourself (skit)’ and ‘Cruisin’’ (featuring the aforementioned MrDogg) rapidly became a word of mouth must-have on both sides of the Atlantic and Jadakiss was well feted when he visited these shores to promote. The samples were sharp and the originals crisp so the interplay between borrowed pieces from Michael McDonald, the Jackson 5 (always a winner) and Sounds of Blackness created a seamless fusion.
Jadakiss waited three years to let that all soak in before revealing Kiss of Death in 1994. Recording now in NYC and Los Angeles (at Groovyville) this is just as accomplished and the writing is broader. Stand out cuts include ‘Why’ (with Anthony Hamilton) and the smash ‘U make Me Wanna’ (with Mariah Carey) and the album’s best known piece ‘Welcome to D-Block’ performed with LOX and Eminem, who also produces. Jadakiss is now established and his continuing collaborations with The Neptunes, The Alchemist and Kanye West result in a fully grounded and rounded disc that is a joy to behold. This time the samples are off the wall – cut ups from British hippy group Gong and Roger Troutman are integrated into real Old Skool faves – Melba Moore, Curtis Mayfield and Atlantic Starr. It’s a soulful shoot out that is now considered to have attained classic status in hip-hop circles.
Another five years will elapse before Jadakiss returns, this time with the crunchy, The Last Kiss (the original title Kiss My Ass didn’t fare well at retail tests for some reason). Over a dozen producers work their thing here and we’re particularly enamoured of The Neptunes mixes on ‘Stress Ya’ and ‘Rockin’ With the Best’ (featuring Pharrell Williams and Bobby V). The hits are everywhere though: ‘By My Side’, the infamous ’Letter to B.I.G.’ and the switched on ‘Who’s Real’ are all the business. You can also hear where Jadakiss is at musically since most of the samples are old soul grooves. Rhymes wise this is an incredibly detailed affair. Plenty of ad-libs, some torchy vocals and even layers of violins make this stand out from the crowd with ‘What If’ revisiting his big hit ‘Why’, while he’s right on the street for ‘Things I’ve Been Through’ ably assisted by Luther Vandross’s borrowed ’Promise Me.’ One of our favourite emcees, Jadakiss has an output that still thrills. We wish there was more of it but what he’s done to date is great. Whisper it quietly, a new album is in the pipeline for late 2014. We’ll kiss that when we see it.
Words: Max Bell