IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Game of Breath showcases Jaysaun’s full range, from brain benders and battle plans to heart-splitting autobiographic tracks.
Three years ago, Jaysaun, Slaine, and Edo G released an album and a statement with their Special Teamz debut, Stereotypes. In addition to emerging as an instant underground archetype on the strength of poignant commentary and provocative bangers, the disc declared its protagonists to be the undisputed kings of Boston hip-hop. And lo and behold, even in the ruthless crab bucket known as the Bean rhyme scene, all others forever held their peace.
Jaysaun's tour de force with Special Teamz was hardly his first romp atop the Hub. As a member of the Kreators with Big Juan, XL, and DJ G-Squared, he dispatched his polysyllabic stamp on a slew of anthemic Boston-centric singles, one of which, "Foreign Lands," got on MTV in 2000. Yet despite this and rides with Gang Starr Posse and a track record with Guru and Krumb Snatcha, he never fully stepped into the spotlight on his own. In fact, until recently, he didn't consider himself to be much more than a reliable Teamz mate.
"I never thought that people wanted to hear just me like that, but as my career developed, it turned out that they did," says the Dorchester rapper, who plays Jerky's in Providence this Sunday and Church in Boston August 6. We're talking at his plush new BNB Studio in Brockton. "I'm always loyal to a fault — if the fucking ship is sinking, I'll drown on the boat. Even if people saw me as a leader with the Kreators, I never saw myself like that. To me, I was just a cog in the ship, and as the ship started falling apart, I had to get in the driver's seat. That's plagued me, but now I've learned that you have to do some things on your own."
Although the famously gold-fronted MC still rolls with Slaine and Edo, this past year Jaysaun took some serious steps on his solo journey by releasing Game of Breath (which featured the theme song for local UFC hero Kenny Florian). With only the West Coast vinyl sensei DJ Revolution on cuts and a few vocal guests, the project showcases Jaysaun's full range, from brain benders and battle plans to heart-splitting autobiographic tracks. Having toured Canada, the United States, and Europe more than a dozen times and moved plenty of group units, he landed a deal with Redline distribution and sold a respectable few thousand copies. But for a vet who was used to just showing up and dropping verses, the industry was a cold place to navigate alone.
"Game of Breath was my first time doing everything by myself," he explains, "and it was a major learning experience. I thought I was equipped to be the label, the publicist, and everything else, but I wasn't, and my bills were piling up. When that happens, you always wonder what this hip-hop shit is all for. People walk up and tell you that you're a legend, and I'm there ready to shoot myself. It's hard — I just didn't know what I wanted to do or where things were headed."