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When you first lay eyes on Jediah, you can't help but notice the teardrop-shape tattoo on his upper left cheek, not to mention the barrels of two smoking shotguns inked on either side of his neck. "I got a lot of tattoos," Jediah says, lifting his pant leg to display a few more. "That's what we do in the hood: get tattoos." From the sailor-style "Dade County" inscribed across his index fingers to his zig-zag cornrows, this 26-year-old gangster-turned-recording-artist looks every bit the part. Quite honestly: He makes 50 Cent look like Martha Stewart.
At the moment he's also half-drunk and half-asleep, having just emerged from 24 hours straight inside a recording booth at North Miami's famed Studio Center. These days Jediah is hard at work on his debut album, Confessionz of a Thug (the "z" being the preferred gangsta spelling), which is set for an early May release. The disc offers a mix, from Southern crunk-tastic flavors to Tupac-inspired love songs, including the auto-erotic single "SUV," in which Jediah croons, "This one's dedicated to my SUV/You're my own personal hotel, mami."
For a guy who's only been rapping steadily for a couple of years, Jediah has generated plenty of hype. By his own account he's already been offered a multimillion-dollar record deal (and turned it down) and gotten into a high-profile beef with Miami's beloved Trick Daddy.
"He's like the chico version of Rick Ross. Maybe even better," enthuses Hector Mendez, owner of Studio Center, where superstars such as Shakira and Wyclef lay down tracks. Mendez, a keen observer of the local hip-hop scene, and one who's seen Jediah in action both on and off the mike, tags him as the next rapper to watch. "Jediah's style is so rugged, so grimy. He's the real deal, 'cause he lived it."
Jediah Arteta was born in Opa-locka, to an Italian mother and a Colombian father. He named his record label La Cosa Nostra as a tribute to the ruthless mob presence in both of their native countries. The eldest of nine siblings, he was raised mostly by his grandmother, his mom being only fifteen years old when he was born. He grew up in the heart of Washington Park, a section of North Miami Beach infamous for its high crime rate and gang violence. As Jediah puts it: "I was raised in the hood, by the hood. I wish I had a charmed life, grew up in the suburbs, not having to worry about gunfights and shit, but it just didn't turn out that way."
In fact there was a point in Jediah's teendom where he could have gone on the straight and narrow. A natural athlete, he won a baseball scholarship to attend Dade Christian School, one of Miami's top private schools. But his other extracurricular activities in particular his partying didn't go over so well with school officials. After expulsions from numerous district high schools, Jediah stuck to one thing he was good at: being a thug.
This path, not surprisingly, led to a series of arrests, from minor assaults to (his personal favorite) weapons possession. "In the hood, we wear guns like we wear socks," Jediah explains. "That's just how it is. I'd be lying if I said I'm not packing right now." Jediah says he was eventually arrested for attempted murder, though the charge was reduced to a lesser charge, improper exhibition of a weapon.
It was the prospect of major jail time that led him to pursue the path of his hero, Tupac Shakur. "Tupac raised me," he says flatly. "My father wasn't there all the time so when I needed to know how to talk to girls, Tupac taught me how you handle business on the streets, Tupac taught me. Man, he was my older brother."
His own experience on the streets also turned out to be a great teacher. "The music industry is just an extension of the streets," he insists. "The hating, the politicking, the backstabbing, the money, it's the same shit I was a champion in the streets, I knew that game like the back of my hand. So this music game, it ain't so hard."
Aside from hot beats and catchy lyrics, Jediah knew he needed to join forces with a talented producer. He teamed up with a local up-and-comer, Carol City's Michael Chin, better known as Merk Traxs, who is responsible for Jediah's raw and uncompromising sound of machine-gun rhythms and bombed out bass. Think Dirty South music in a mud bath.
Jediah found himself laying down his first rhymes back in 2004 at the coveted Circle House Studios. "Everyone that's anyone records at Circle House," Jediah says. "If you want to play with the big boys, you gotta go where the big boys play." How did the fledgling rapper pay for studio time, which can run up to $1000 per day? "You gotta do what you gotta do," Jediah says.
Jediah's first single, "M.I.A.," included a guest vocal turn by Deuce Poppi, an artist on Miami's Slip-N-Slide Records. As Jediah remembers it, it was Deuce who suggested that he recruit Trick Daddy for a guest slot on the single, and offered to ask him. According to Jediah, Deuce came back a couple days later with Trick's response: $30,000 for a verse, $70,000 if it was for a single.
It was a shocking introduction to the economic realities of hip-hop stardom. "I grew up listening to Trick Daddy," he says. "I got a lot of love for Trick, but when he came at me like that, man, I didn't know what to make of it. I mean, I'm from Miami. I know you're the boss and I don't want to disrespect you, but I got a girl that's pregnant and we need to make some bread so I'm gonna hustle on this corner of the block and what you want? Like, a little cut? Ten percent? He's asking for, like, 90 percent! That just means he don't want me to eat!"
The day he heard Trick's reply, Jediah says he went back into the recording booth to drop "I'm Jediah." The song, a menacing thumper, featured a withering attack on Trick Daddy. "What you do, pussy nigga, I don't give a fuck," Jediah snarls. "You keep talking like a thug, you gonna get touched."
The single was conveniently leaked to a couple of underground radio stations, where it naturally attracted attention. "I was getting props from mad people," Jediah recalls. "They were like, öFinally, someone who's man enough to tell it like it is.'"
As was to be expected, Trick Daddy struck back with the song "Get Low." Jediah countered with a track called "D Boys," in which he used tongue-and-cheek comebacks such as these: "You got a problem with what I'm saying come and get me dawg/Breaker breaker bang him in his fucking mug/You's a trick and we don't love them hoes in Dade County/ To tell the boss to get low, you get your head bounty."
In fact the feud with Trick attracted the attention of a major record label out in Los Angeles. Jediah says he can't get into specifics, due to legal issues. But he claims he was offered a multimillion-dollar contract, which he declined, for an unexpected reason. "They wanted me to rap in Spanish and I don't do that," he explains. "I'm not gonna change up my style and do some reggaeton shit just because there's a big Hispanic market. That's not who Jediah is."
Besides, Jediah hardly speaks Spanish, an oddity for someone of Colombian descent living in Miami. "When my dad came to this country, he wanted to learn English. He wasn't about speaking Spanish all day," he says. "Plus I grew up around black people. When people see me, they know I'm not some white Spanish dude; they know I'm a Spanish nigga."
Jediah is not the sort of fellow prone to regrets. But he does concede that he might have jumped the gun a bit in dissing Trick Daddy, given that Trick's request for payment was, in the end, hearsay. Still he insists, "I'm a gangsta and that's what gangstas do: We don't step down when we get disrespected like that. But man, I'm more mature now, I got things to live for. I got a daughter, you know. I'm not about to throw all this shit away."
"J's not all ghetto 24/7," Studio Center's Mendez notes. "I mean, I've seen him as a father, playing with this daughter. He's also this serious poker player playing at these big-time tournaments. If you look beyond his physical appearance, Jediah's a big teddy bear."
A big teddy bear with a thugged-out wardrobe and multiple prison-inspired tattoos, true, but also a guy who knows when to take life seriously and when to lighten up. "Man, in this business, it's all about how gangsta you are, how mean you are, all about öbeing real.' But for me, keeping it real is showing all sides of you: happy, sad, angry, vulnerable. No one walks around mad all day," Jediah laughs. "That's just impossible!"