by Eric Tullis
Last week, outspoken Durham rapper Jozeemo announced that his performance at tonight’s Wrath of the Godz hip-hop show at Casbah would be his last, after more than 10 years of wrangling with a promising music career that never quite took off. In the place of tough-guy street raps and outrageously obscene web videos, he’ll be concentrating on an something entirely different: a higher education.
At 36, Jozeemo—a.k.a. Joe Murdock III—is enrolled for the 2012-13 fall semester as a full-time student at Alamance Community College, where he’ll be pursuing an associate’s degree in Industrial Systems Technology. A Triangle hip-hop scene without Jozeemo will definitely be lacking in charm-harm, hardcore rhymes; his voice will be missed, and his antics will live on in infamy.
But before he bows out, we asked for some final thoughts about his rap career, his academic pursuits, and some of his lingering feelings about his relationship with the North Carolina rap scene.
Independent Weekly: We might as well address your announcement that you are officially retiring as one of Durham’s most notorious emcees. How do you feel about that?
Jozeemo: I had a good rap career and I’m getting older. I wasn’t actually able to accomplish everything that I wanted to in music. I can blame that on a lot of things and I’m not going to point any fingers right now, but it was time for something different. Like I said, I’m getting older and I have more kids and whatnot.
Maybe I’m reaching here, but this all sounds like the character Stringer Bell from The Wire, who also took classes at a community college. Both of you have infamous street reputations, but you also want a certain level of success in the classroom. Would you agree?
Yeah, I know The Wire. Streets smarts come in handy. It’s common sense. But it’s also about being careful and being cautious in your maneuvering.
Before you announced your retirement, you were working on producing and directing music videos for local rap artists. Will you continue to do that?
I’m falling back from all of that. Music, videos, everything. I’m concentrating 100 percent on school. That’s my only focus right now. Yes, I still have a record label, but I have other people in place to do what they need to do with that. But I’m going to get this degree. I’m going to always support good music. But as far as me being on stage or someone asking me for a feature or asking me to get down or rock with them—no. People are just going to have to understand that. If they respect me, then they’re going to have to respect my decision to better myself.
Tonight’s show will likely be your last show as a rap artist. Do you see this as a moment where you’ll be passing the torch to a younger generation of Durham rap artists, like Wreck-N-Crew?
I’m a fan of Wreck-N-Crew. But I hope people can take from my story that despite crazy impossible odds, I still did my thing. I had a pretty good run. I was on national tours, I rocked with Little Brother, I rocked with 9th Wonder. I’ve had ups and downs, and I can’t complain. It was a fun ride. I hope they see that it can be done. I did that for a decade and at the end of it, I own my house—free and clear, no mortgage—and I own my own car, title and all. I never made MTV, but I got my slice of American pie.
You’ve been through a lot over the past decade as far as relationships in the music industry and the ins and outs of the business. What advice would you offer some of the up-and-coming hip-hop artists?
Avoid bandwagons. Don’t try to ride someone else’s fame or think that somebody else’s name is going to get you on, because it’s not. If you don’t grind hard for yourself, you will not make it.
Looking back on the release of your last album, True Identity, it seems like it wasn’t promoted properly and it just kind of came and went. How do you feel about the way it was received, especially among this year’s NC hip-hop releases?
I wasn’t satisfied with it. The marketing wasn’t there, the promotion wasn’t there, and I have nobody to blame for it but myself. I’m a single entity doing my thing. When I recorded True Identity back in 2007, 2008—that’s how old it is—I had a machine behind me, or at least I thought I did. I recorded the project with Black Jeruz and I was told that it was going to get a push and a big buzz, but it didn’t happen like that. So, when the label I was signed to, Hall of Justus, fell apart, I decided to put it out myself. I knew I didn’t really have the backing to put it out majorly like I should have, but I did. I’m proud of myself because True Identity was the first album I dropped on my own label. I got it on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, everywhere you can digitally get something—it’s available. And I did that myself.
So, do you still stand by the album and would you consider re-releasing it?
I’m definitely proud of the music. There’s no questioning that. But I’m not bitter. I can’t be bitter. At least I did it. But if someone were to listen to it tomorrow and it picked up some steam again, yeah. I’d promote that. But I’m still not losing focus from this associate’s degree.
The last time you and I talked was a day or two after the so-called N.C. Hip-Hop Day (in fall 2011). Back then, you weren’t too happy with a few Triangle hip-hop artists. Has anything changed? Have you guys hashed anything out?
From my perspective, nothing has changed. I still don’t have any respect for those guys. I have my reasons and they don’t have any respect for N.C. hip-hop. They were selfish, they didn’t want anyone to shine brighter than them. I don’t see any of them flourishing like they want to. Karma is crazy. Karma is a bitch. It’s just my opinion and my perspective, but I felt like they stifled my career or tried to. They tried to shelve me. They didn’t want to be outshined. Still to this day, 9th Wonder is not a man. He won’t call me and talk to me like, ‘You know what Jozee, we could have did more. We didn’t even try to.’ 9th held back the co-sign. All I wanted was the co-sign. He wouldn’t do that. But he’s grown. He can do what he wants to do. But I called myself his friend and at one time I thought we were friends. Same with Phonte. Phonte was fake. He was funky. He ended our friendship over some words that he thought I said about somebody who he didn’t even like. I thought that that was just kind of weak. It is what it is. I don’t like them guys, and I probably never will again. I’m not interested in talking to them because I don’t do music anymore. I’m going to get this degree and nobody can take that from me. Nobody can stop my shine. They couldn’t stop my shine in the music because I still did what I set out to do. And now, once I get this degree, I’m going to still be doing what I want to do.
Why did you wait until now to choose to go back to school—rather than, say, five years ago?
Five years ago, I was fooled and I blindly put my faith in some people because they had a situation. When I chose to sign with Hall of Justus, Little Brother had a deal with Atlantic. All I saw was bright lights. I saw Chaundon getting his chance, I saw Joe Scudda getting his chance, L.E.G.A.C.Y. and all these other people and I was like, ‘Wow, the only thing I’ve ever wanted in my music career is a chance to be heard; now I’m about to be heard on a national scale from dealing with Little Brother.’ But I was fooled because they never had plans on giving me my shot like they gave them other guys their shot. I’m not knocking them other guys. I liked Scudda and I like Chaundon, but they don’t do the same kind of music I do. They don’t have the same kind of work ethic that I do. They don’t rhyme like me and they don’t have the street fans that I have. I never got that national exposure, and I still have fans. I felt like they squandered opportunities. If I would have had them, it would have been on. ...
All that the Hall of Justus did was put me on the shelf and put me on the back burner. When they used to do shows, they wouldn’t bring me on the road. I had songs on new albums with Little Brother. I might have done three or four shows with Little Brother doing one of my songs. Out of all of the times they did “Lovin’ It”—a song that was years old—they kept doing that and they never wanted to rock my jam. I never got that chance. It was Phonte because he was the one that always put the shows together. He was the one that controlled everything. It wasn’t Pooh. It wasn’t Big Dho. It was Phonte. Then I tried to go rock with 9th, but 9th only rocks with people that are going to do exactly what he says. ... I’m not going to do that. So I trusted people who let their egos get in the way, instead of just making music and trying to win.
But aside from all of that, what’s urging you to get a higher education?
Let’s be real, everybody knows I have a [criminal] record. Unfortunately, once you pay your debts to society, they say that you can get back and be a part of life, but your record will hold you hostage. This is my testimony; I’m testifying right now. My skill set is very high, but because of my record, there are a lot of jobs that I just can’t get. Yes, I’m a felon. Yes, I made some mistakes. So, it doesn’t matter if I atoned for those mistakes and paid my debts to society; people still look at me like, ‘That’s that felon’. When they see my record, they tell me that I’m overqualified for the job, but then they tell me no because I’m felon. So, in this field (Industrial Systems Technology), my record doesn’t matter. It’s in such high demand that they need people. I already personally know two felons in this field. They make great money and their record doesn’t matter.
Does the fact that you have seven children have anything to with you wanting to change career paths?
The kids are going to be taken care of regardless. I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to feed mine. But I just want a better life for all of them.
Cool. You’ve expressed some strong feelings. Are you sure you want to put this stuff out there?
Man, I don’t care. I’m not rapping anymore. I don’t care. And for the record , anybody who has any opinion of anything about me, they can kiss my ass. I did my thing. I’m done.