Jadakiss Earned Eminem’s Respect With ‘Kiss Of Death’
Anyone who is a fan of hip-hop knows the legacy of Jadakiss, The LOX and D-Block. Ten years ago, on June 22, 2004, a then-29-year-old ‘Kiss released Kiss Of Death, which showcased his growth as a vivid street lyricist. While most rappers are affected by the sophomore slump, the Yonkers native’s second effort fared much better than his debut, 2001's Kiss The Game Goodbye. It was his most well-rounded LP, featuring an array of rappers and producers; Kanye West, Eminem, The Neptunes, Anthony Hamilton, Nate Dogg and Mariah Carey all offer their talents, but Jada is front and center as the star.
Kiss Of Death balances gangsta narratives with his take on consistently grinding to be the best. At the time, Jadakiss was fully removed from Bad Boy Records and had made Ruff Ryders his home. With more creative freedom in his new label situation, Jada went to work on an album that he dedicated to his core fans while honoring the teachings of Puff Daddy and The Notorious B.I.G. "[I was] trying to hold it down for Biggie—just going off the things he instilled in me and taught me," Jada says. "[He] put me up on the game, as well as Diddy, as well as Ruff Ryders, as well as being raised and born in Yonkers. Just trying to spit and represent and please my fanbase."
Tracks like "Time’s Up," "Why" and "Real Hip-Hop" serve as proof that he exceeded those goals. Now one of the veterans of New York rap, Jada can look back at Kiss Of Death as a project that helped him build a solid reputation as a solo MC beyond the groundwork he laid down with his LOX brethren Styles P and Sheek Louch. Here, Jadakiss delves into Kiss Of Death, breaking down fan criticisms, the singles, and how it impacted his career 10 years later. Welcome to D-Block. —Eric Diep
Previously: Jadakiss & Styles P Open A Juice Bar
Styles P Breaks Down His Five Most Essential Albums
The LOX Pays Homage To NYC In New Video
XXL: Kiss Of Death sold really well in its first week, moving over 200,000 copies. Did that surprise you?
Jadakiss: It wasn’t the commercial success, but it was the fans. I got a lot of fans, like core fans, that love me. I ain’t one of the dudes that sell five or 10 million brackets, but my followers are stern. They’re there. My fans—Jadakiss fans, LOX fans, D-Block fans—they loyal. How many we got—600,000 or 700,000, or whatever they is—they loyal though. You gotta appreciate that and make sure you cater to them.
The sophomore slump is something a lot of rappers go through, but this wasn’t the case for you. Did you have a strategy going into Kiss Of Death?
Nah, not at all. I tried to stick to the formula. People always ask, like, even when my [upcoming album] Top 5 Dead Or Alive comes out. What did I do different? Actually, I did nothing different. I’ve grown as a person and matured. I’m reaching more levels of success in my life, but I got about the same approach on making the album. Bring some beats that I like; I take a long time 'cause I don’t want to rush it 'cause I feel like it's like my baby. Sometimes the people get mad that I take too long, but if I don’t feel it's right, I won’t put it out. That’s 'cause of the passion of my music and the respect I have for my fans. You know what I mean? I could put something out every 60 days, but it wouldn’t have the substance that I want it to have.
From the first one to the second one, it was about a three-year gap. Do you think it was an appropriate time for you to drop a project?
Yeah, I had to go through some stuff. You want to go through some things. The people love when you give them a part of you. You know what I mean? Those are the most successful artists. Artists with a story to tell when the people can feel that they are growing with you. They turning into like your family. They know what is going on with you, so when you go through some things and have some stuff going on, it makes better writing. It makes better songs. Better content for the project that is coming.
In that time, I think the tour bus had flipped. I had lost some money. I got robbed for some money. Some money out of the crib. My moms was sick for a while. I was going through [that]. Me and my pops wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye. I already had a son, but I had another daughter out of wedlock. It was crazy. All that kind of stuff breeds for good music.
“Why” was a successful single that a lot of people related to. What were you thinking about when you made that?
The song "Why" was always in my head. Three or four years, I always wanted to do a song called “Why” and just ask wild questions. And I guess, strategically, after the 9/11 thing, it worked. It opened up people’s ears because some of the questions, not just New York or the Tri-State area, [people] wanted the answer to. It actually hit home, like, globally. That’s why it did so good. That was one of my challenges with making the song “Why” with the questions and stuff I was asking. Would it spread on a broader horizon, and not just for the hood or not just my fans? I wanted to go outside my contemporary fans, and it did just that. It reached Bill O'Reilly, it reached all kinds of stuff.
Hav came through with the track. That’s like a Havoc track that you wouldn’t even expect. That don’t even sound like Havoc. Then, Anthony Hamilton came through and put the icing on the cake. That was a good marriage right there. “Why” is a song I can do somewhere that ain’t one of my major markets and it’ll bring the fans right there. It will attract them right in. That song, even if you are not familiar with me, once I drop that [begins humming “Why”], they tune in.
And “Time’s Up” has the iconic brag, “Fuck riding the beat, nigga/I parallel park on the track.”
I knew that was a great one when Em called me to talk about that line. That’s when I knew that was a good one. He felt that line just as well as you felt it. This is when I was thinkin’ about it. That was a pat on the back for me. I felt good getting a call from one of my colleagues that I got a lot of respect for to feel that bar right there. That probably helped to get him on there, liking that joint.
That’s how you gotta be in the rap game. Back then—not to take [away] nothing that’s going on now—you had to have lyrics to even get into a certain realm. To get Big’s attention and be recognized by Hov, to Nas, to Wu, to Redman, Eminem, all of these dudes. Snoop. You had to have some lyrics. You can swag your way into the winner’s circle now. It’s nothing wrong with that. I am glad I came into the game at the time that I came in. It made me respect it more. If you didn’t have no firepower, they wouldn’t let you in at the time when we got in the show.
Talk about your Ruff Ryders situation. Were you one of the priorities on the label?
After getting off Bad Boy and then finally getting on with the Ruff Ryders/Interscope deal, it was like being able to exhale. The studio sessions were a lot different than the Bad Boy studio sessions. Like, we were able to just do anything we want. Not saying Puff didn’t let us do it, mind you; of course he was banging out the hits. “All About The Benjamins,” “Money, Power, Respect.” Whatever we was doing. But it was more militant. Ruff Ryders was militant, but it was free. Ruff Ryders was free. "Just do you. Do you, and we gonna make this shit a hit." With the movement, everything played a part. T-Shirts, bandanas. Dogs, motocycles. Just the whole look of it was something new.
You had some big name producers here. Did you have a lot of control with that?
I was a big deal at Interscope. Interscope showed me a lot of love. Back then the budgets were different. Whoever you wanted to use, if you want to get this fuckin’ album done, let’s go. You want Kanye? You want Pharrell? Whatever you want to do. That was a different time, they was throwing that money around. Of course, more records were being sold so they were able to throw more money around. But yeah, you know that era. You know how to do it, baby. Link up with Primo, get all them good dudes. Get a couple of the big names and turn that album in. Now, you don’t even need a big name now. They ain’t even giving you the money to pay for a big name, so you gotta go find these dudes that’s the up and coming, next hot producer.
The fans were saying your first album, Kiss The Game Goodbye, was too gangsta and your second one was more receptive to the mainstream. Did you ever feed into that criticism or respond to it?
Actually, I thought the first one was more commercial and Kiss Of Death was more hard. That’s why the first one was Kiss The Game Goodbye and the second one was Kiss Of Death. I was trying to show you the other side of me. But unfortunately, it turned out to be a well-balanced album that everybody likes. My whole thing when I make albums is doing a little bit better than the last time. Or staying content. I'd rather do the same thing than do less or do worse. You could do better or a lot better or you just can make that same progress. I'm cool with that.
Why do you think Kiss Of Death was more successful than the debut?
I think Interscope understood more by the second album. When I wrapped up Kiss Of Death, I went and sat with Jimmy [Iovine] and the whole [crew]. I felt like Eminem status. I sat with Jimmy and played them the album and went through it. He said “Why” was gonna be the second single. This, that. It was more strategically planned out. They knew where they was spending the money and they spent it. They didn’t just tell me they was gonna do something and not do it. Everything they said they was gonna do, actually got done. When they just put their input in a little bit or the higher powers that be press the button, it' s a different result. That was Kiss The Game Goodbye and Kiss Of Death right there. Kiss Of Death, Jimmy Iovine and Steve Stoute and them was more involved in that. So they pushed buttons and people got on their job and did what they did, as well as the people liking it. That was that was about.
Ten years later, how did you think that record impacted your career?
Helluva lot. Kiss Of Death, some people know me for that album. Like, from there on. You know what I mean? So that was my standout. That was the one that brought me out to the world. To be the dude to be reckoned with. That’s all you really want. That’s all you really want—to get that good look. It’s on you to take it from there.