Jason "Jadakiss" Phillips used to practice rhyming during lunch in the cafeteria of his middle school in Yonkers, and by the time he was 12 he'd started putting his skills to the test in MC battles. In 1994, Yonkers native Earl Simmons (aka DMX) introduced Jadakiss and a couple friends--soon to be known as the Lox--to the Ruff Ryders crew, a tight-knit network of producers, artists, and managers. The Lox made a name for themselves working with Mary J. Blige, the Notorious B.I.G., and Puff Daddy (or whatever he's calling himself these days), and in 1998 released a platinum-selling CD on Puffy's Bad Boy label. Despite all the suits throwing cash at them, though, the Lox were unhappy--they considered themselves too "street" for the label's slick image, and suspected that their music wouldn't get the same promo push as Bad Boy's usual stuff. (In 1999, when their fans launched a "Free the Lox" protest campaign, Bad Boy dropped them.) Now 25, Jadakiss has just released his first solo album, Kiss tha Game Goodbye (Interscope). The subject matter follows the usual hip-hop format--the keepin'-it-real track about his teen troubles; the thug-life songs about bitches, model chicks, and guns; the positive preaching to the whippersnappers; and the requisite skits--but the sounds behind the lyrics sure don't. Jadakiss has collaborated with Timbaland, as well as freakier producers like Swizz Beatz (of the Ruff Ryders) and the Neptunes, to create some strategically off-the-wall tracks. In "On My Way," a particular standout, a low-slung groove snaps into a sped-up sample of a woman yelping like a cat in heat--in time, like a rhythm track--and from there segues into a slightly off-kilter backbeat. There's everything from grimy synth stabs to jazzy piano ditties on "Fuckin' or What?" and some truly amazing off-key harmonizing on "Nasty Girl." Even less idiosyncratic tunes, like the radio hits "Knock Yourself Out" and "We Gonna Make It," are worth cranking up to frame-rattling volume on a shitty car stereo. Jadakiss opens for Ja Rule, the lying, cheating, no-good, tender loverman who's perpetually got a frog in his throat. Thursday, November 29, 8 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence; 773-561-9500 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Christian Lantry.