Jo Doja 

Richmond hip-hop hopeful gears up for a comeback.

click to enlarge art45_music_joe_doja_100.jpg

Down goes Doja! Down goes Doja! But wait … he's getting up.

The debut album "More Than Music," by native-Richmond rapper Jo Doja (aka Joseph Day) begins with a funny boxing skit wherein the music industry has knocked down the young underdog and he makes it back to his feet, later proclaiming himself "the black Rocky." It's an apt metaphor for a struggling musician who's been tantalizingly close to breakthrough success.

Doja, 26, has been rapping his entire life. He began his career as Lil' Fats alongside fellow "P-Dog" crew members Mont Gee, Jay-Sin and Demi God. Together they formed the group Perilous, a subgroup of the Richmond alliance Disorganized Union. After going solo, Doja (a nickname that stuck) scored a local rap classic with the radio hit "Cadi Man," a reference to his passion for Cadillacs.

The exposure helped him sign with noted gangsta rap label Priority Records, which, in turn, got three of his songs featured alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg on the soundtrack to the Martin Lawrence/Danny DeVito film, "What's the Worst That Could Happen?" But Priority merged with EMI's major label subsidiary Capitol Records in 2001, and Doja soon found himself without a label.

Now his full-length debut is being released by Country Boy Music, brainchild of producer/rapper Adolphus "Danja Mowf" Maples, a longstanding pillar of the local hip-hop community. For years, Mowf has been assembling local talent and scrapping for a breakthrough on a par with nationally known Virginia hip-hop artists such as Missy Elliott, Pharrell Williams and the latest sensation from Virginia Beach, Clipse.

Doja's new album certainly sounds like a mainstream release with top-notch studio production; propulsive beats are wedded to sparse instrumentation, making for a lean and hungry tone. Stylistically and lyrically, it's all over the map, mixing gritty gangsta rap anthems with moody R&B and club-flavored tracks in an attempt to reach several different audiences.

"I don't feel a certain way everyday," Doja says. "So I make music about what's going on in my life at the time. I might be hyping about the club one song, and then the next song over, showin' the passion and love for the music."

One of the first singles to be pushed is the menacing banger "VA Boy," which features plenty of gunshot samples, local area-code shout-outs, and lyrical snippets such as "Whatchou gonna do but get added to the murder rate?/Richmond is the city, Virginia the state."

The biggest challenge, Doja says, is coming from a small market and having enough outlets. He adds that most people don't attend live shows unless an artist has a video or national presence.

"There used to be a lot of hatred, but seein' how other cities is coming together, that's how they making it," he says. "A lot of local people are coming together and showin' the love, representin' where they from."

DJ Lonnie B., familiar to listeners of Power 92.1 Jamz, has watched Doja since the teenager used to freestyle on B.'s show on University of Richmond's radio station, WDCE 90.1-FM, in the mid-'90s.

"By far, he's one of the best songwriters in the city," B says. "Jo is one of those people who can take a beat and paint a whole 'nother picture over it. He's taken beats I thought was trash and made something special."

For now, a typical day for Doja involves making time for his two young daughters while juggling the demands of marketing and promoting his new album.

"Situations happen, and things get stripped away from you," he says. "[Before] it was like a drug and I was on a high. I just want to get back to that point. I done seen some things now, and I'm better prepared for the industry." S

Jo Doja's "More Than Music" is available in Virginia record stores.

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