Jeremiah Jae - Raw Money Raps
I must admit that at times I have relished the recent dissolution of the classic system of underground rap music. As someone who has been on the wrong side of more than a few condescending conversations about Lupe Fiasco or the current Rhymesayers lineup, I have taken a little pleasure in the current irrelevance of that which, ten years ago, would have been referred to as independent or underground hip-hop.
While labels like Stones Throw and Def Jux are either floundering or no longer in business, the advent of the free mixtape and websites like Bandcamp, Datpiff, and even Tumblr have moved independent hip-hop projects, and by association the underground itself, more directly into the hands of independent artists. Leftovers from the heyday are merely referred to as underground because that is what they once were. If anything, these record labels are now characterized by their stale sounds and smug fans, focusing on the saccharine positivity and separatist mindset that originally attracted many uppity listeners, myself included, to the genre. Rapper-Producer Jeremiah Jae’s Raw Money Raps, however, has made me regret these selfish thoughts.
Lyrically the album can often seem like standard hip-hop output. Jeremiah’s subject matter is a mix of hip-hop clichés from past and present. The title is Raw Money Raps after all, and the album follows suit, addressing topics like guns, hoes, violence, future success, wack MCs, Islam, and even Twitter. One might see such trite subjects as a thematically restrictive, but in Jae’s case they really show an acceptance of deeper creative bearings, in the way that the preset form of a sonnet might allow a poet to write a better poem.
Jeremiah takes on traditional rap motifs as if he has not heard them mentioned in song by anyone else, with a sense of newness and wonder. They can often seem more logical and introspective as a result. The song “Money” describes the rapper’s self-consuming quest for its titular subject. He repeats, “No smile on my face, just tryna get this money.” The song is not a glorification of the robotic craving for paper nor a condemnation of a finance-obsessed rap industry. Instead, it is a man’s meditation on his own seemingly purposeless need for cash. His brooding comes in a flow seated somewhere between Earl Sweatshirt and SpaceGhostPurrp, a voice as monotone as it is subtly woven into itself.
The similarly titled “Money and Food”, on the other hand, shows a nuanced personal manifesto: “Can’t figure how to make figures without spittin’/ so we spittin on these n*ggas from a distance.” Not only is this a highly crafted line full of subtle internal rhyme, it represents the overturning of an age-old platitude. Rappers continuously describe their rapping as a quest for funds, but for Jae, the fact that he must rap to make money only gives him reason to define himself against, rather than amongst, other rappers. To some extent, the entire album performs this act of finding difference in similarity. Peering at the genre from afar, he can connect dots that other rappers can not see.
Jae’s production is similarly intriguing. He clearly uses classic underground producers like Madlib and J Dilla as a starting point, but not as an obvious point of comparison. His beats are neither as heartfelt as Dilla’s nor as whimsical as Madlib’s, but both elements are present. Unlike either producer, Jae’s beats can seem almost oppressive: loud, indifferent, and repetitive. It helps to lend a sense of awe to his strangely insightful lyrics. Most of all, his production is cryptically simple. It is the type of music that seems to be composed of only a few sonic elements, but it is imbued with a depth that can take months to study fully. Jae’s minimalism again exhibits the benefits of his personal constraint.
Raw Money Raps thus serves to paint Jeremiah Jae as a relative rarity, a modern hip-hop artist with rigorous creative standards. It’s existence is as much evidence of the death of the underground’s golden age as it is an exemplar of its purest element. It is a bridge between old and new ideas about mainstream alternatives, connecting the intensity of the past with the widened creative capacities of the present. It shows us that an independent sound is not about positivity or superiority, although it can contain both. Raw Money Raps, instead, defines underground hip-hop with a continuously invigorated creativity at its center, a creativity that is always shown, rather than told.