After making their much-heralded debut on, then, mentor Ice Cube’s break-out solo LP, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Los Angeles, California, based rappers; J-Dee, Shorty and T-Bone, collectively known as Da Lench Mob, soon embarked on a musical journey of their very own. The controversial trio, who had strong ties with the Nation of Islam, later unleashed their gold certified, 1992, Street Knowledge debut, Guerillas In Tha Mist.
While recording what was to be their sophomore collection, Planet Of Da Apes, tragedy struck. In 1994, in a strange turn of events, group member J-Dee [nee’ Da Sean Cooper], was charged with the murder of Scott Charles. Although both were separate incidents, both Cooper and T-Bone were arrested and charged with murder in two separate incidents. While T-Bone would be acquitted in his case, Cooper is currently serving 29 years to life.
Cooper checked in from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, California. In the almost 20 years since his conviction, media attention on what was then labeled “Gangsta Rap” has waned. But hot button issues at the core of J-Dee’s conviction—California’s controversial “three-strikes” law, the alarming number of incarcerated black men and the booming business of privately owned prisons to name a few—are still very relevant. J-Dee spoke on his role in the music, culture and how he has remained active over the past few decades.
J-Dee Maintains His Innocence & Appeals 1993 Murder Charge
HipHopDX: It’s been, what you call, almost two long decades since you were convicted and ultimately sentenced to life in prison for the crime of murder. What have the past 20 years been like for you?
J-Dee: The past two decades have been hard for me, but one thing I’ve learned to do is pray first, act second and push forward. I’ve lost so many loved ones, including my mother, over this 20 years...it’s a miracle I’m still sane. Being charged for a murder you didn’t do and wouldn’t snitch on is hard on a man who stuck to the G-Code for his entire adult life—especially when those you loved and respected, immensely, so easily turned their backs on you.
DX: What does your day-to-day life actually entail? And, how do you make the best of your time being incarcerated?
J-Dee: My day-to-day life entails my job as a clerk in the prison’s computer lab for vocational training. I work out an hour a day, attend self-help groups; such as NA/AA, school of the Bible and anger management. I’m an author now, so I dedicate four hours a day to writing urban novels. I play chess and handball and try to stay as busy as possible. I’ve secured a three-book deal with Ghettoheat Publishing in New York City, and I've been working with two very talented brothers; Anthony Barrow and Big Tray Deee, on a book of short stories that are out; titled: Los Angeles Tymez: Urban Tales. This has become my latest passion. My novel, Dirrrty, is scheduled to be released in November on Ghettoheat.
DX: I know that you have always maintained your innocence for the crime that you were accused of, so are you working with lawyers on an appeal? Is there anything going on with your case in terms of any new developments?
J-Dee: I’ve always maintained my innocence, and, yes, I’m currently working with the Innocence Project in San Diego, California. There are new witnesses and new evidence, not previously produced at trial that can exonerate me, if those in a position of power are willing to fight for truth and justice. There are two prosecution witnesses expressing their willingness to come forward and recant their testimony. A lot of time has passed, and sometimes humans like to make peace with their higher power before parting this life. Personally, I just want my freedom back. Lyrics to a song, and a 9-1-1 tape shouldn’t ever be enough to convict a man of murder—especially when 50-plus shell casings, from a dozen weapons, were recovered from the scene, ya’ dig? Something ain’t right.
DX: From a musical standpoint, have you managed to keep up with the current state of Rap music? And, that being said, are you happy with what you have both seen and heard from the art form in recent times?
J-Dee: Yes, I’ve kept up with the current state of music, and my feelings towards the Rap game are mixed at best. I am upset with the dismal sales of West Coast music and the shift in power when it comes to O.G.s who are music/media moguls and have the resources to create the next great class of West Coast legends. Having said that, I am a big fan of G. Malone, Maylay, Bad Lucc, Ras Kass, Game, YG, Big Wy, Yukmouth, C-Bo, Don Diego, Jayo Felony, Gangsta, CJ Mac, Mack 10, Tray Deee...and the holy trinity; WC, Snoop Lion, Ice Cube and Lord Dre—the Dr. But as a realist, I must give my utmost respects to [Young] Jeezy, Rick Ross, Ace Hood, Slick Pulla, T.I., 3 Stacks, Young Money, Bun B, Trick Daddy—and the hardest muthafucka that ever did this shit—Sir Brad Jordan a.k.a. Scarface! They’ve carried the torch like loyal comrades should. Their music is played every day in the C.D.C. [California Department of Corrections], and that tells me exactly what I need to know—unite or perish!
DX: From a personal angle, have you continued to hone your craft while behind bars? I’m sure because of who you are a lot of aspiring emcees have stepped to you, either wanting to give you props and/or to test you. Has this been the case at all?
J-Dee: As far as me continuing to hone my craft, the short answer is, hell muthafuckin’ yeah! Long gone are the days of “Buck Tha Devil.” I have enough heat to melt the polar ice caps! I'm currently working with Big Tray Deee of Tha Eastsidaz and a hot producer named Jerry “Dre” Dupree. We are creating a soundtrack to an urban novel with a 14-track project that will surely give Rap fans a glimpse into the direction the New West is moving in. My comrade, De-Capone, is by far a force to be reckoned with. There are a lot of beasts with skills languishing in these warehouses. Ninety-percent pay homage to my early accomplishments, and the other 10 percent simply try to crush a legend. I respect both groups. It’s the essence of true Hip Hop.
DX: How has not only Hip Hop, but, even more importantly, yourself, either changed and/or evolved over the course of past 20 years?
J-Dee: Hip Hop has changed drastically over the past two decades. Crossing over was once a sin, but now it’s necessary to succeed. Lyrics are not as thought provoking. Beats are recycled; biting is the ultimate compliment to an artist. It’s all business, and I respect it to a degree. I’ve evolved as well. Music was once my life, but now I’m the father of four gorgeous girls—a [husband to a] very beautiful strong soldier named Kristi—who is my wife and best friend. My priorities are in order, and it is now my job to make sure that my wife and I provide our children with structure, guidance, love and a sense of self worth and values. This is my life now, and I make no apologies for it. I love my wife and children, period. Every black man should.
J-Dee On Unreleased Tracks & Being Voted Out Of Da Lench Mob
DX: Unfortunately, you were unable to participate in the second Da Lench Mob LP, Planet Of Da Apes. Had you done any recording for it before what happened to you happened? Is there any unreleased J-Dee material floating around somewhere?
J-Dee: For the record, I was the first in the studio and last to leave when Planet Of Da Apes was being recorded. Sadly, I was arrested by the second month of recording. I wrote feverishly and recorded three solo tracks; “Lost In Tha System...Again,” “Back To Da Criminal Set” and “McDonalds Is Still My Spot.” Without pointing fingers, muthafuckas elected to remove my songs, so I couldn't receive my publishing. I was voted out of the group by Shorty, as the “rumor” goes, and replaced by Maulkie. It was hard to believe, but as they say, it us what it is. I have a modest amount of work floating around out there that has never been released. Jazzy D, Mako Capone—cats who have held me down—are sitting on it. I’ll release a double CD upon my return to the City of Angels and Demons, and after that I will go away for good.
DX: Also, have you had any access to record while in prison? I’ve heard some facilities have that type of technology that inmates can sometimes utilize...
J-Dee: As far as being in a prison studio working? The answer is no. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not allow me to do shit! I’ve found creative ways to work, but none of which I care to speak on. Da Lench Mob was not CDCR friendly, and they let me know up front where they stood [and still] stand. I keep to myself and keep my circle small. The less they know...the less they know.
DX: During your time away, have you been able to keep in touch or have you heard from any of your former musical cohorts; Ice Cube, Shorty, T-Bone, etc.? If so, when’s the last time any of y’all spoke or visited with one another?
J-Dee: Over the years, not one member of Da Mob has visited with me. However, this doesn’t upset me anymore because I’ll be up for parole in 2015. I get to turn a page so to speak. When it comes to Ice Cube, he and I are cool as a fan. We just don’t speak on it. He has been supportive and a great source of help over the past few years. Ice Cube literally showed me how to feed my family legally. How could you be mad at a man who does this? Ice Cube is a businessman, and I respect his reluctance to affiliate himself with a man in my position. Do I wish for him to help me get free, of course. I loved that nigga like he was my brother. We’ve been homeboys since 1986, and I wouldn’t be known as J-Dee from Da Lench Mob if it wasn’t for him putting me in a position to record with him.
T-Bone, personally, has never liked me. He experienced the same thing in regards to being falsely accused of murder, but he was acquitted after being given $77,000 for an attorney, and $1.5 million for bail. This was provided to him in exchange for him breaking up the group. At least this is what I was told. As for Shorty, well he’s my brother from another. We’re going to argue, fight, talk shit, etc. The politics of this game made him choose a side, and people were being thrown under the bus by each other. Shorty should’ve advocated for me a lot better. He knows who killed the man I’m in here for. He knows I didn’t snitch on that man, because I wasn’t cut from that cloth. He knows that if it wasn’t for me, he would’ve never been a part of Da Lench Mob. He could’ve done so much more to help prove my innocence. He’s been in prison before, [so] he knows how hard this shit can be. Nevertheless, I still got love for the brother. He could advocate now if he wanted to.
DX: Is there anything I left out or just plain forgot to mention?
J-Dee: Before I close, let me just say that I am a soldier from the minefields of Los Angeles. I will survive, because I live by the code of karma now. I don't gangbang or do dope like 90% of the industry. I’m a hungry writer/novelist, and Ghettoheat Publishing is my new home. Anthony Barrow and Big Tray Deee are brothers who have given me a chance to showcase a piece of my work in Los Angeles Tymez. Hickson, the CEO of Ghettoheat, has put me in a position to grow in this new arena, and I respect him so damn much for taking a chance on me. Be on the lookout for my hot new single “Gettin’ It In” and “Da Streetz Gon’ Cry” featuring Big 3D. This nightmare is almost over, y’all! Praise Yahweh for givin’ me a gift I couldn’t destroy even if I wanted to.
DX: Lastly, how can your fans keep up with J-Dee? Is there a Facebook or Twitter? And, where should they send letters?
J-Dee: Finally, to all of my fans, who I consider as family, you can always reach me on Twitter at: @DaRealJDee, @JDeeCooper.com, via Facebook, at KreoleCooper and via e-mail at [email protected] Any letters should be sent to J.D. Cooper #J-52728 RM. 3237 P.O. Box 8101 S.L.O., CA 93409.