In several songs, Jadakiss has boldly stated that he is in the "top five dead or alive" among rappers. Judging from the respect he has received from critics and fans alike, he may be not be far off the mark. Through his consistent presence on mainstream radio, underground mix tapes, and commercial albums, Jadakiss has built a reputation as one of hip-hop's most talented MCs.
Born Jason Phillips, Jadakiss spent his early years honing his craft in his native Yonkers, New York. At the age of 12 he began to perfect the distinctive delivery and clever lyricism that has since propelled him to all-star status within the hip-hop industry. From the street corners of Yonkers to his middle school cafeteria, Jadakiss would enter rhyme battles with anybody who dared to challenge him. "If anybody was winning a battle it was me," he recalled on his website. "I had millions of rhymes that just tore people's heads off." His success in these battles gave him the confidence to take his rapidly improving skills seriously and begin to pursue a career as a rapper.
By 1994 Jadakiss's reputation as a lyrical phenomenon spread to future rap superstar DMX, who was an established talent on the Yonkers hip-hop scene. DMX introduced him to David Styles ("Styles P"), with whom he formed the Warlocks. Word of the group's talent spread through Yonkers quickly, and eventually reached the ear of R&B superstar and fellow Yonkers resident Mary J. Blige, who promptly brought their demo tape to Bad Boy Records executive Sean "Puffy" Combs. Combs quickly signed the group, which also included Sean Jacobs (Sheek) and was now known as "The Lox," and began to market them as Bad Boy's hardcore alternative. In 1998 the group released their first LP, Money, Power, Respect, which earned platinum sales and cemented their reputation as an underground powerhouse.
Despite their success with Bad Boy, the group was dissatisfied with the way they were marketed by the label, as well as by the financial structure of their recording deal. The group felt that their hardcore rap sound was obscured by Bad Boy's highly commercial, radio-friendly pop sound. After a public struggle that included the group wearing "Free The LOX" t-shirts in concerts and publicity appearances, the group was signed by the Ruff Ryders label, which also housed their former mentor DMX. In addition to scoring a better financial deal, the group felt more comfortable with the label's hardcore orientation. "We just needed to be with a rougher label," Jadakiss told the Sing365 website, adding, "You are always better off with your people no matter what." Soon after, the group released their first Ruff Ryders record, We Are The Streets, and all three began working on solo projects.
Despite his undisputed position among rap's elite, Jadakiss has yet to receive the individual accolades that usually accompany such a distinction. In 2001 Jadakiss released his solo debut, Kiss the Game Goodbye, which fell slightly short of platinum staus with more than 900,000 copies sold. Despite decent sales, the album received unfavorable reviews from major outlets like Entertainment Weekly, which described the album as "a full clip of odious 'Glocks and bitches' clichés over pallid Goth-hop arrangements." Jadakiss attributed much of the album's poor production and marketing to his problems with his former label.
Like many superstar rappers, Jadakiss's defining career moment came amidst a rap battle, his with Philadelphia rapper Beanie Sigel. The feud, which began when Jadakiss accused Philadelphia rappers of copying his style, turned into one of the biggest rap stories of 2001. After subtly mentioning Sigel's name on "Un-Hunh," a track from Kiss The Game Goodbye, Jadakiss released the underground battle rap "F*ck Beanie," in response to Sigel's "F*ck Jada." The two continued a war of words that lasted into the following year. Despite the lyrical intensity of the battle, no physical violence followed, and the two have reportedly ceased feuding. Jadakiss told Vibe magazine, "[I] got no beef with Sigel. We good. I'm over here praying for Sigel."
Tired of garnering street respect without the financial benefits, Jadakiss has made a deliberate attempt to infiltrate hip-hop's mainstream. In addition to his presence on underground mix tapes, Jadakiss has appeared on radio-friendly songs with artists like Joe, Jaheim, and Jennifer Lopez. In addition he released his sophomore solo effort, Kiss of Death, which reflected his new focus. The album, which features a variety of popular and diverse artists like Pharell Williams of the Neptunes, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg, has provided Jadakiss with the biggest buzz of his career. In a review of the album, Source noted, "That's what hits you the hardest on Kiss of Death: Jada's unabashed display of personal and artistic evolution.... This time around, he shows the requisite depth and growth expected from an MC with his level of talent and experience."
The attention surrounding Jadakiss's album wasn't all related to its favorable reviews. On the album's second single, "Why," he poses critical questions about American society. On the song, he asks the provocative question, "Why did Bush knock down the towers?" This single line brought Jadakiss considerable attention, both positive and negative. While many fans gave their support for the song, some major radio and video stations responded by editing President Bush's name from the song. Others, such as conservative media personality Bill O'Reilly have dismissed Jadakiss as a "smear merchant." Jadakiss told the Associated Press, "It caught the ear of white America. It's a good thing. No matter what you do, somebody's not going to like it, but for the most part, most people love the song."
For the Record …
Born Jason Phillips on June 1, 1974, in Yonkers, NY.
Began rapping at the age of 12; formed group The Lox with Styles P and Sheek, mid-1990s; The Lox released Money, Power, Respect, 1998; left Bad Boy Records for Ruff Ryders, 1999; The Lox released We Are TheStreets, 2000; released first solo album, Kiss the GameGoodbye, 2001; released second solo album, Kiss ofDeath, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, website: http://www.interscope.com. Website—Jadakiss Official Website: http://www.jadakiss.com.
Kiss the Game Goodbye, Ruff Ryders/Interscope, 2001.
Kiss of Death, Interscope, 2004.
With The Lox
Money, Power, Respect, Bad Boy, 1998.
We Are The Streets, Ruff Ryders/Interscope, 2000.
Airplay Monitor, July 9, 2004.
America's Intelligence Wire, July 16, 2004.
Entertainment Weekly, August 24, 2001.
Source, July 2004.
"Interview: Jadakiss," Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=316 (September 21, 2004).
"Jadakiss Biography," Sing365.com, http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Jadakiss-biography/9B46ADDBD486651A48256BF30010FE03 (September 21, 2004).
Jadakiss Official Website, http://www.jadakiss.com (September 21, 2004).
"Jadakiss—The Takover," Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/mod-ules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=316 (September 21, 2004).
—Marc L. Hill