JD Era: No Handouts, But One Big Co-sign [Spotlight]
“It just kind of worked out this way. That’s how it goes sometimes, the stars align and your shit just comes together. I gotta bring it home. Honestly, I feel a responsibility to really do some special shit.” – JD Era
SPOTLIGHT: JD ERA
No Handouts, But One Big Co-sign
Written by Jonathon “Bizz” Brown for HipHopCanada
Toronto, ON – Toronto might be having a moment right now, what with all the attention focused on the city’s hip-hop scene of late. Rap in Canada is creeping into the mainstream on both sides of the boarder and there certainly is a lot more to be proud of then even five years ago. But, if Toronto is truly going to make itself a part of the hip-hop conversation, Drake can’t be all there is. It just won’t happen. History shows us the regional risings of places like L.A. New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami didn’t happen because of a solitary rapper, but instead because of a collective emergence of top-shelf artists from that region.
Take 1993 for instance, when Los Angeles and the West coast became a major player on the backs of artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac. It wasn’t just Tupac or just Snoop, so all of them together influenced the industry’s attention. Around 1998, Master P. and Cash Money brought national exposure to their New Orleans brand of rap with a cast of artists. And in 2001/2002 Atlanta’s next generation of stars (T.I., Young Jeezy and Ludacris) emerged at the same time ATL veterans Outkast were getting the most commercial attention of their career. You could argue the last city to establish itself as a force in hip-hop was Miami with the emergence of Rick Ross, Pitbull and DJ Khaled.
To Toronto’s credit, they’ve got Drake and K’naan on the Billboards right now along with Melanie Fiona and her arm full of Grammys. Boi-1da and T-Minus are proven winners and beatmakers like Arthur McArthur and Rich Kidd are a hit away. But K’naan is as much an artist of the world as he is of Toronto and while Melanie Fiona is incredible, she doesn’t exactly have bars. So unless Boi-1da jumps on the mic or T-Minus starts dancing in the videos, there is still a hole in this equation. There are still a few positions waiting to be taken. There’s still another spot atop the city that’s vacant. Who will be the next rapper(s) to break through and push Toronto over the edge, into a permanent place in the hip-hop conversation?
“I think we need to go back to the days of Master T, when television and radio shows in Toronto made us pay attention to local artists,” explained Trixx back in December in HipHopCanada’s last Spotlight feature. “If it’s not playing on Flow or Kiss or it’s not on 106 and Park or it’s not on the MuchMusic countdown or if a U.S. artist doesn’t cosign us, those people are deemed irrelevant and I think that’s ridiculous.”
Enter JD Era.
The Mississauga rapper is best known at the moment for signing to Raekwon’s Ice H2O Records and is set to release his new street album No Handouts on April 16th. For those in tune with the underground Canadian hip-hop scene, Era’s been on the radar since back in 2005 when he started building a solid mixtape discrography (Black Market Mixtape Volume 1 – 2005, Black Market Mixtape Vol 2: Cold War – 2007, Coming To America – 2008, Thirt33n – 2010). Just a rookie and still attending Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo at the time, there was talk of Era signing with Canadian indie label Soul Clap records. After that situation fizzled, Black Market Music Group (formerly Black Market Gang) was born and things started to heat up. Era’s affliction for rapping pushed him into battling, where he’d earn some stripes winning several battles including 2006’s Eckofest. By 2007, Era got more attention with the success of “Paper Chaser” which appeared on Cold War, hosted by prominent New York DJ Superstar Jay. His next mixtape Coming To America achieved notable, if not significant, crossover success south of the boarder with popular blogs like 2DopeBoyz.com showing love. It also marked the beginning of his ties with a quasi-group called The Wise Guys with fellow Toronto rappers Bishop Brigante, Johnny Roxx, Ken Masters, Young Tony and Drake. That affiliation led to a short-lived “beef” with another local group Team Offense and produced the posse-cut “Good Riddance.” And by 2010, Thirt33n had some calling for Era’s inclusion in XXL’s Freshman class and produced his best performing radio records (in Canada) “Fame and Fortune” and “You Know This.” After somewhat of a hiatus, Era appeared on five records on Raekwon’s Unexpected Victory including “Just A Toast” and “Soldier Story” and announced he’d signed to the Ice H2O Records. Fresh off a country-wide tour beside a hip-hop legend and less than a month away from his biggest release to date, JD Era believes this is the beginning of the rest of his career.
“I gotta bring it home,” says JD Era, who signed to Raekwon’s imprint in late 2011. “Honestly, I feel a responsibility to really do some special shit. It may not be on some overnight shit but I promise you I’ma leave my foot in this shit.”
According to Trixx, for better or worse, one of the apparent keys to getting attention in this country is a major U.S. cosign.
“Raekwon is a revered artist who at any given time – I remember last year he came on at Manifesto and did his verse from “Cream” and tore the place down,” explains Mastermind, Assistant Music Director at Flow 93.5. “But see, that’s our generation. But the kids that are listening to Diggy right now or any number of those new generation artists, they don’t know who Raekwon is. So how much weight does that really hold for the people who are dictating – I’m not talking about the industry but I’m talking about the audience – where the music is going. How much weight does that hold that Raekwon is cosigning JD Era? For me, for you, for people who know Raekwon’s weight, that’s a big look and hopefully he can take JD Era where he needs to go.”
Raekwon is undoubtedly a legend, who is well revered in the industry and of all the Wu-Tang members is arguably the most active to date. But Ice H2O is, in reality, a new boutique label yet to prove itself as a machine. Raekwon has a healthy, loyal fan base that has never seen him cosign another non-Wu-Tang member to this point. But then again, as Mastermind noted, that fan base is aging. So can Era still satisfy the “base” while reeling in the new, younger demographic in the commercial realm? And while Era says he’s always been a big fan of Wu-Tang, his music doesn’t scream Shaolin. What does this cosign mean for his upcoming release No Handouts? Will he move towards a more traditional Raekwon/Wu-Tang sound or style or continue down a more bouncy, new school lane?
These are questions JD Era aims to answer with the release of No Handouts on April 16th. It was clear there was a lot on his mind when I sat down with him in Mississauga just days before he hit the road with Raekwon.
In HipHopCanada’s first Spotlight of 2012, Central Regional Editor Jonathon “Bizz” Brown talks with Era about Raekwon’s influence on his creative process, taking a more personal approach to No Handouts, still feeling the battle itch after attending King Of The Dot and his touchy relationship with Drake.
HipHopCanada: I’ve listened to a lot of your work since back in the day and one thing that people would say is that you can spit, you have bars, but maybe we don’t know the story of JD Era as a person. Is that something that you’re conscious of or that No Handouts will address more?
JD Era: Absolutely. I want people to connect with me a little more. I feel like fans genuinely haven’t had that opportunity with me and that’s a fault of mine. Even down to videos. I’m definitely going to put out a lot more videos so people can get my personality and connect with my personality more. They’re hearing the music and I know a lot of people think I’m dope but just want to know where I’m going to take it.
For me I feel like I’m at the best point in my career. Because man that’s all I wanted was everyone to stop and say “ok where you going to take it?” I’m comfortable with the ball. That’s how I’m feeling right now. Rae’s giving me an opportunity. He’s like ‘here hold the rock, go play Kobe.’ And I fuckin’ hate Kobe, but you get it!
The music definitely has to be more personal. Shits gotten real for me over the last couple years and you’re going to hear a lot of this stuff. Everything is all original. I got some really good records on there. I’m excited to put out the music. There’s a reason I been cooling for a minute and waiting to put this out.
I think people don’t understand, Rae is tweaking things behind the scenes a lot so I’m excited to represent right now.
HipHopCanada: What do you mean tweaking things?
JD Era: Like in terms of the project. He’s hearing my music and giving me tips on certain things. It’s good to have him as a mentor, as a reference. It’s like having one of the illest hip-hop reference points you can have at your thumb. I can hit him up and say Rae what do you think about this?
And this is from a man, one of the first guys to hear Big Pun and say he was dope. He’s got a seasoned ear. He’s heard every kind of MC on this planet, so for him to look at me and say ‘yo you got it’ that’s the boost I needed. I think people are going to hear it in me. I’m just excited to show and prove.
HipHopCanada: Not too long ago, you and Raekwon attended King Of The Dot. You used to battle but it was freestyle and over beats. It seems to me back then there were more active artists in the battle mix. Is there something about the format that’s more appealing to an active rapper versus this written a capella style?
JD Era: Me, I like the freestyle aspect because that’s how I came in. Guys I listened to like Biggie, guys like that they freestyle and you can hear it in their flows. Maybe that’s just me being a “rapper rapper,” but I can hear it in certain peoples flows when they can freestyle certain shit. For me that’s how I got into it.
The guys that do the written type of battle they cut a different type of level. It’s different when you’re up there freestyling because the margin of error does something. When guys sit down and you can write that shit and just cut into somebody, it’s crazy. I tip my hat to those guys.
Me, I’m more focused on writing records these days. I still do the battle stuff in terms of spitting punch lines but it’s in a different way. So when you can just focus like ‘this is for this dude’ I respect those guys.
HipHopCanada: Do you ever think about how you would do if you were in the mix of battling now?
JD Era: When I look back, if I got into that shit when I first started I’d be killing – actually I could do that shit right now! I could do it now. I could do that shit right now. I’m just more focused on other shit. But I’d body someone if I got in there. You don’t want me to one time, one time – Yo shout out to Mad Child. [Madchild battling] made me think I wouldn’t mind doing a one time.
HipHopCanada: At the end of The Come Up Show interview, you kind of cut in and say “Yo we’re ending that sucker shit.” And it felt like you were going to say more. Was there more to that thought?
JD Era: I’ll say this. Right now there’s a good temperature in our city and there’s a lot of positive energy coming from places it was never coming from before. And having someone like Rae come to the city and be a part of that energy has been crazy in terms of the opportunities he brings.
And I just feel like if you’re going to talk all this Toronto shit, like we’re doing shit for Toronto then lets actually do shit for Toronto. And I don’t feel like everyone is doing that right now.
I just feel with this energy that Rae is bringing to the city and with my movement and how I do things, people are just going to gravitate towards it because it’s not on some sucker shit right now.
I’m just saying, I feel like the energy is a little fucked up right now. I feel like people are pretending.
HipHopCanada: Pretending to do what?
JD Era: I just feel like, ha “pretending to do what.” People are pretending and I’ll just leave it at that.
HipHopCanada: Like pretending it’s bigger than it is with them?
JD Era: They’re pretending to do a lot of things for the city that they’re not really doing especially when it comes to the culture of hip-hop. For me because I come from that battle scene and I come from studying these OGs I feel there’s a certain amount of respect that has to be shown for certain things.
I feel like right now, where we’re at in Toronto, where we’re at in Canadian hip-hop it’s a special moment. And if we don’t take the right steps we could fuck it up. For me I just want to see us take the right steps as a whole. So I’m going to do my part and hope that everyone follows suit.
There’s definitely been a lot of sucker shit on the low though. It is what it is. I ain’t tripping on it. The truth shall set you free (Laughing).
HipHopCanada: I want you to help me connect some dots. First I heard that Raekwon was at the Rick Ross show in Toronto telling Ross that Drake wasn’t showing him any love since he’d been in the city. Then I heard “Stay Schemin’” and the first few lines are “It bothers me when the Gods get to actin’ like the broads.” And you know my circle and who I’m talking to, I’m talking to hip-hop people and people that listen like I listen and they’re asking “Is that a slick shot at Raekwon?” And then I see Hush (@ovohush) baiting you on twitter saying “the world wants to hear the diss track you got stashed.”
JD Era: Tony’s baiting me on twitter? Ok.
HipHopCanada: Isn’t he?
JD Era: I guess. I think he likes entertainment so he looks like he’s having fun.
HipHopCanada: But it looks like it’d add up right?
JD Era: Well you listened to the record what do you think? On my first listen it made me stop and take it in but then everyone said it was about Common so I left it at that.
HipHopCanada: But is there a track from you, is there a line from you, do you have that in your sights?
JD Era: I have great music in my sights.
HipHopCanada: I know you do, but great shots can be a part of great music. There have been a lot of good shots thrown in great music. I’m not trying to paint any kind of false picture, I’m just asking the real.
JD Era: For me, whatever’s in the cards is in the cards. If you think “the Gods are acting like broads” and the Gods take it that way maybe you should reach out to the Gods and clarify that or let people know who you’re talking about. Me I’m not really the person to ask about that.
HipHopCanada: Do you have anything to say about that though?
JD Era: Do I have anything to say? I want know, which Gods are acting like broads? Cause at the end of the day if its big homie (Raekwon), you already know where I’m riding.
I think men can be men and figure that out so.
HipHopCanada: It hasn’t been Wise Guys time for a long time now though right?
JD Era: That whole Wise Guys thing never really existed. It was a message board creation. I love HipHopCanada, I’ll ride with you guys to the death but that shit was created in a forum and it was us showing love to Drake in a situation. It was one track and done. Nothing more came out of it. Certain niggas hung out with each other, certain niggas didn’t. It was fun at the time.
HipHopCanada: Because of the things I mentioned, there’s been rumours of friction between you and Drake, is there?
JD Era: I don’t know. You gotta talk to him. I don’t talk to him. Last time I saw him was at the Tyga show and it was love, but I don’t know you gotta ask Drake.
HipHopCanada: Ok, let’s switch gears then. Can you explain the breakdown of your label situation? You have a deal with Ice H2O and a separate label deal with Universal correct?
JD Era: I’m a co-owner of Black Market Music Group so we already had the distribution with Universal. So we got Cpt. Hooks under the label, Chase Milly’s under the label, we got this girl named Anastasia. She got a record coming out. So we’re looking trying to put out music and give people an opportunity to get their music out.
But with Rae coming to the country and trying to develop his imprint we just had a good conversation about what I was doing already. He saw what I was doing and gave his blessing on that, but outside as an artist it’s Ice H2O/E1.
HipHopCanada: Everything’s kind of coming together for you now though isn’t it. How do you feel heading into the release of No Handouts?
JD Era: It just kind of worked out this way. That’s how it goes sometimes, the stars align and your shit just comes together. I gotta bring it home. Honestly, I feel a responsibility to really do some special shit. It may not be on some over shit but I promise you I’ma leave my foot in this shit. I’m mapping this whole thing out and soaking up the game and it’s a different ball game in the U.S. so I’m learning. Just watch me learn. I’m definitely growing. And you guys at HipHopCanada have been watching me grow and I appreciate everyone’s support. For real, that shit means the world to me. I ain’t shit without people supporting me. People have been riding with me for a minute. I can’t wait for No Handouts.
Written by Jonathon “Bizz” Brown for HipHopCanada
Cover artwork by Bridge Media Group for HipHopCanada