Raekwon has a history of cooking up some of the illest verses and projects with and without his Wu brothers. His work over the past 20 years has given him the entitlement to be considered one of hip-hop’s best lyricists of all time. He conducts himself with an attitude that matches the American hip-hop dream, moving himself from the ghetto and into million dollar mansions. With his experience and the support of hip-hop heads all over the world, you would think that a co-sign from the Chef would bring in numbers and a platform for your music to hit that same level of support, but for Missisauga-based rapper JD Era, that million-dollar dream has yet to happen.
In 2012 the Chef came to Canada like Columbus came into the Americas. He was welcomed like a king and his presence in Toronto and eye to the Canadian hip-hop music scene was assumed to be promising and in our benefit. However, JD Era’s arguably stalled career has shown us otherwise. Era has been around since before Drake saturated Toronto radio stations and before Raekwon’s last seven solo projects were put out. For the time he has spent in the industry and with a co-sign from one of hip-hop’s most well-known rappers, his career hasn’t reached the amount of people you’d imagine.
JD Era is the only act associated with Raekwon’s Canadian division for ICEH20 Records. It's worth noting that although ICEH20 proudly touts the fact that they're a Canadian record label, their output over the past few years has been limited to online-only mixtapes. Their former headquarters in Toronto has recently closed since opening its doors in 2012, leaving many to wonder aloud as to whether of not this entire endeavour was nothing more than a ploy for Raekwon to take advantage of Canada's generous cultural funding programs and associated tax breaks.
Recently, JD Era independently released a 39-minute project called Barz, which showed that Era is still a skilled lyricist with a lot to say. Three minutes in to the project, Era addresses a Breakfast Club interview in which Rae initiated that his Canadian label wasn’t progressing because there was no work being put in from the artists. In reply, Era’s states on the song that “Chef and I haven’t said six words in six months,” exposing the camaraderie that he and Rae feel towards each other.
Era is at a point in his career in which he is trying to hold those in his team accountable for their titles. As a label, ICEH20 should be paving the way and executing the means for Era’s material to hit the same level of fans that the head of the label has access to. As a business man, Raekwon has demonstrated that he needs to put the focus primarily on his artist’s development instead of his own. “It’s one thing to be a great rap artists,” Era says, “It’s another thing to be a great business man.” Although Era’s loyalty and fandom for Raekwon is still very evident, Rae’s rapping career and reputation should only make up a fraction of what he can offer new artists. And even after all these years, JD Era is still an up-and-coming artist.
As for not putting in work, it appears Era has been doing quite the opposite, not to mention on his own. He has several videos coming out in the next few months and a project set to come out in the summer with collaborations from different genres and a variety of Canadian artists. He’s expanding and evolving his music into something that combines his history of well-constructed lyrics to experimental sequencing and vocals. However, even with attachment to the label and the platform the co-sign has given him, Era is still in need of the obvious: a budget to work with. “I need a push,” Era says, “a budget, that’s the perfect label situation. In any dream artist situation, they want the budget to create, and they don’t want to do things that they had to do prior to getting signed.”
JD Era is Juno-nominated and well known in the Toronto hip-hop music scene, but this co-sign from Rae has only given him problems and more to live up to. We spoke to the veteran rapper about working with Raekwon, his current situation with the label, and how he sees his future going.
Noisey: What’s the situation with ICEH20? Do they still have a studio in Toronto?
JD Era: They never had a studio here. They have offices in Toronto, but I know they just set up a new studio in New Jersey. They’re trying to set up in a new location in Canada because they’re still pushing the Canada thing, but I’m the only Canadian artist on ICE20. But I’m signed on the Canadian side, it’s a different situation. With myself and Raekwon, we’ve always had our own situation, because at the end of the day – that’s the guy that put on for me. All of the years, no one really came and said "I’m gonna give you a shot” before Raekwon. He’s just gotta get his business together.
What do you mean?
It's one thing to be a great rap artist, but it’s another to be a great business man. Being associated with Rae is a double-edged sword, because you get some new fans by association, but there’s a level of expectation that comes from those Wu fans supporting you. There was a point where I stopped and looked back on what I did with my Raekwon co-sign, and I wasn’t satisfied. I put in a lot of work, and I didn’t feel like it hit where it needed to hit. No Handouts did really well it terms of how it was received, but I still think the music could have been spread to a lot more people. My goal on Barz is to sit back and reevaluate this situation, and take certain things back into my own hands.
What kind of things would you like to see Raekwon do for you?
I need a push, a budget. In any dream situation for an artist, they want the budget to create, and they don’t want to do things that they had to do prior to getting signed. Just to be able to sustain a certain standard of living and to record. I respect Rae’s ear and his vision, I know what his thoughts are about everything, so that’s why I wasn't surprised by those Breakfast Club comments. But I feel like if you’re in a position where you can get your message to people, and I’m your artist, then you should be speaking positively about me in public.
Raekwon’s a childhood hero, but there was a moment that happened where it forced me to reevaluate. No Handouts came out and we went on tour. We came back off the tour, which by the way we didn’t get paid for, and I’m in Rae’s office. I’m like "Yo we gotta print CDs cause we just came off the tour, so let’s promote!" He’s like "I’m not printing CDs." I’m like "you’re not printing CDs? This is a record label, how are we gonna give people my music?" He’s just like "Yo you gotta figure that out, I’m not printing CDs.”
At the end of the day, people are not gonna make sacrifices for you just because you’re Raekwon.
Do you regret signing to ICEH20?
I don’t regret anything, its all a learning process. I believe in persistence. You keep working and you get whatever it is you deserve. Have I received any money since signing? Not at all. In fact, I probably would have made more money staying independent. I regret having to deal with this for so long, but there are positives and negatives to every situation. The passage into the US is priceless. I can go anywhere and just tell them like I’m Raekwon’s artist, and in their eyes I’ve passed the rap test because of that co-sign.
So what do you want from a label?
I don’t want nothing from Raekwon – get me my budget – get it right and get the business right. Make sure the kid’s good and that business is business. I don’t know if Rae's a great business man. My opinion is that he can be a better business man, but I can also be a better rapper. There’s always room from improvement, you know what I mean. I will say this, the rap game is really 90% business and 10% talent. So if you don’t have your business straight, no one’s gonna hear what you’re putting out.
Do you think his time in Wu-Tang helped shade his perspective on business?
That’s the thing, it’s like, he came from a fucked up business history, and he’s telling me “yo Era, I don’t want you to deal with the stuff that I dealt with," but when he was coming up, that deal wasn't thorough. But Rae’s the type of dude that, depending on how he woke up, you’re going to get whatever he’s feeling that day. I got respect for him, that’s big brother at the end of the day, but him being the big brother means we don’t see eye to eye all the time.
Do you think his heart is in the right place with ICEH20 and his reason for starting it?
Raekwon legitimately has good intentions for Canada and he legitimately loves Toronto. That was his intention from day one, to put Canada on. He said that in interviews all the time, but I’m the only Canadian signed to the label. Him and Camo didn’t see eye to eye, and the Raz Fresco connection didn’t go beyond them just speaking. We need more labels in Canada, you've got to do it properly for us to really create something. There has to be more people doing it properly. The idea of a Canadian being signed to a rap label in Canada is a pipe dream.
Canada is very backwards in terms of the hip-hop scene. We don’t have enough channels, but if they just allocated a couple more channels, a couple more signals to play the music, thing would change. Right now, it’s a numbers game, and if that’s the case, we need more people taking chances. Why is it that we have to leave Canada, get co-signed, and then come back for everyone to love you? We have this weird thing where we wanna judge and critique the music based on everything but what it sounds like. That’s a problem in Toronto, but really it’s a problem everywhere.
Do you know if Raekwon heard you mention his Breakfast Club interview on the song off the Barz mixtape?
He hears everything, Rae listens to all of this fucking shit. It will never been a beef thing with Rae, we’ve been through a lot. But I’m going to keep putting him on the spot. I’m going to keep putting him in situations where his people are gonna be like “what’s up with Era?" He’s going to keep giving this bullshit story, saying I’m not working. But I’ve been doing my thing for years and years, I’m just going to keep on working. And we’re going do what we’re going to do, how we handle business with no help. Independent. I definitely have to eat, and he’s not helping me do that.
What do you want potential fans to know about you, outside of the fact that you’re signed to Raekwon?
I don’t even like talking about Raekwon too much, because I’m Era, I’m pretty fucking good too. I just want to get away from it, I want to separated ASAP, because as much as it helped me, it didn’t really help me in the long run. I’m one record away if we’re being honest. I've got three new videos you might see next month. I let the music speak and we’ll see what the temperature’s like. We’re not in the business of sugar coating things, that’s not how its supposed to be. I’m always going to be as honest as the time is. We’ll see what comes. I’m open to a lot of different things. I’m still independent at the end of the day man. Everything you seen thus far, JD Era has put a stamp on it. Everything will be right in due time, I just gotta stay consistent and keep working. I gotta get more people on board with my stuff.
Tania Peralta is a long lost member of Wu-Tang.