Mumbo gumbo

Yonkers MC Jadakiss offers hip-hop the kiss of life

Jadakiss is barely awake. The MC is on the phone sluggishly interviewing in an L.A. hotel room. But discussing his politically edged single "Why" (featuring Anthony Hamilton), the low-key Yonkers, N.Y., native acknowledges that his music, at least, is about a wake-up call.

"I made it to stir up some shit," says Jadakiss matter-of-factly of the track — from his second album, Kiss of Death, which sold a quarter-million its debut week — which asks a series of questions, some mundane, some profound and some accusatory. Lyrics such as "Why did Bush knock down the Towers?" and "Why did Kobe have to hit that raw?" have attracted the attention of not only the hip-hop buying public, but even CNN and Bill O'Reilly have gotten into the mix. (O'Reilly has labeled Jadakiss a "smear merchant.")

Jadakiss has experienced personal controversy previously, especially in the late '90s with his group the Lox's departure from Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy label (an association that yielded the party classic "Money, Power, Respect" featuring Lil Kim). And in his current XXL cover story, Jadakiss talks about willingly leading the beleaguered Ruff Ryder camp that was once associated with another rough-voiced mic master, the troubled rapper/actor DMX.

"I felt like I was the leader when DMX and them was still here," Jadakiss boldly states in the article. Now, however, it's Jadakiss' time to shine, he proclaims sleepily. These days Jadakiss is awaking more than controversy — he is really waking up those who have doubted his skills.

Unlike other MCs who proclaim themselves king prematurely and presumptuously, Jadakiss has put in work for real. He is quick to tell you that he has been through all the eras: Biggie, 2Pac, Jay-Z. "I don't even know how I maintain," says Jadakiss. "I just keep up with the Joneses like that. I guess it really stands from keeping my ear to the street. Trying to see what's going on. Not be so secluded. I try to be as down to earth as possible. That's what the people like."

And Jadakiss disagrees with any suggestion that he has benefited from Jay-Z's retirement for obvious reasons. "Naw, I wouldn't say I benefited from Jigga's retirement, 'cause he ain't really retired. He's still around."

While Jay-Z flirts with Jordanesque retirement plans, Jadakiss is just catching real steam in the game. His last album, Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, was a marginal success. The difference this time just may be that Jadakiss — who has shown up on umpteen tracks, independent and mainstream, with artists ranging from Bone Crusher to Jennifer Lopez — is amply represented as well.

"The last album they told me a lot of songs to do and what to do and change that and this," says Jadakiss. "This album, they just really let me do me. I didn't have to change nothing. That's like an extra boost when you play them a little bit of your music and they feeling it and then they just telling you to keep going in that direction."

But record company wisdom did prevail in some instances. Jadakiss needed more West Coast appeal, so there is "Shine" with DJ Quik and Snoop Dogg. The track's syncopated beats and laid-back chorus easily conjures up the pimp and party vibe that the West Coast is known for. Then there is Nate Dogg on the hook of the lead single, "Time's Up."

Much of the rough and rugged New York sound is still there. Havoc, half of Mobb Deep, produced "Why." Although there are no Dirty South tracks per se, Atlanta is a popular destination for Jadakiss. "I try to move around a lot and go there and soak up the love," says Jadakiss, echoing his former label head Combs' affinity for the A-Town.

No matter where he goes, however — physically or with his sound — at the end of the day, Jadakiss reps Yonkers as much now as he did when he, Styles and Sheek entered the game. With New York rappers regularly accused of falling off in the face of Dirty South and Midwestern MCs' rise, few could be more prepared to protect New York's turf than Jadakiss.

"Yonkers is like a gumbo of everywhere," says Jadakiss of his 'hood. "It's a little bit of the Bronx, a little bit of Harlem. It's like a gumbo of New York." And gumbo, by record company logic, is what keeps an artist at the top of the charts.