- by BRYTBURKEN
INTERVIEW WITH THE JACKA (OF MOB FIGAZ)
It’s three days before the interview. I’m on facebook, talking to my dude about how much I’ve been listening to The Jacka lately, and how it’d be a pleasure to interview him.
Two days before. I check the timeline and realize to my surprise the Bay Area rapper is in Sweden at the moment, about an hour from me, on a school in the tiny town of Eslöv, together with Mistah F.A.B. and Freeway.
Two days and some tweets later, he’s sitting across the table from me, in a school ten minutes walking from my Malmö apartment, spitting game into the microphone of my MP3 player.
“What are you doing in Scandinavia?
Really just going school to school, being motivational, talking to the kids, talking to the people, my peers. I got here through networking. I got a friend, he’s a fan of our music first, and he said ‘I’m gonna stick to my gut. I’m gonna bring you out here. You’re one of the artists that really deserve it. Even though I could have Wiz Khalifa or some big name artist, I’m gonna have you because you represent the people, you represent us. And you’re successful with it.’ I’ve actually made a living out of the music. I don’t sell drugs. I don’t do no stupid shit. I only make music. I take care of my family from the music. It came from dedication, networking and being true to my people. He recognized that and said: ‘You know what, you’re one of the dudes that deserve to come out here. You’re true to what you’re talking about.’ And that’s really the main reason why I got here.”
I call up David, the man who brought the rappers out and organized the lectures: “The Jacka releases so much material that I hardly can keep up. But his solo albums are brutal. He is one of those that really are gonna be successful. He is a finished product that people should accept more. It is something positive for my students to see, an inspiration.” On the video recordings from Eslöv, Kristianstad and Malmö I see a young audience, but one that is listening attentively. Mistah F.A.B. seems to have made the deepest impression, and The Jacka is soon to bring up the motivational speaker qualities of his fellow Bay Area artist.
“My boy cried yesterday when he was talking to the kids. He talked about his mother, who just died. He got more in depth yesterday with the kids, because he really wanted them to believe in themselves. We were all kids when we started rapping, but we believed we were gonna do it. We tried to give them that insight, to let them know that you do it right now. Today. You don’t have to wait on a dream. The dream is now, start it today. You’re young, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, you can do it now. You don’t have to wait ten years. Go to school and rap, you don’t have to do no stupid shit.”
Even though we’re in one of Malmö’s seedier parts, and our interviewee is in a good mood, laughing at jokes, answering our questions openly, thoughtfully, we’re reminded from time to time that his home is a very different place.
Born by 14 year old parents and raised in housing projects around Northern California, he sees his mom get addicted to crack and his father swallowed up by a ten year prison sentence – only to be murdered shortly after his release.
By eleven he’s selling crack, having joined the Nation Of Islam two years earlier. “They showed me how to be black, because I really didn’t know”, he explains in an interview with The Demolition Men. “I just knew we were in America, we used to be slaves, but I didn’t know why it was so tough for us. They made me read books that taught me to be proud of who I am.” This dual allegiance – to the streets and to Islam – is in many ways what makes The Jacka’s music so rich and rewarding.
Most people in rap are five percenters or Nation Of Islam, but you’re a Sunni. What made you go more towards this way of Islam?
Five percenters and Nation Of Islam are great, but Sunni is more about the religion than anything. I’m Sunni because I read the Quran, and i like the more orthodox way of it. Nation Of Islam teach you the morals but not the religion too much. It’s more about becoming a good person and doing the right things than ‘this is what you should do out of this here Quran’. I like the more orthodox way of it, because it’s more of a struggle for us and it’s not easy. It’s not like I can accept that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Okay, he died, but my sins are still my sins. I still have to answer for them. It’s not gonna be that easy for me. And I don’t want it to be that easy. I wanna strive to be better, and that’s the main reason.
Is there still a Black Panthers presence and influence in Oakland and The Bay Area?
They influenced, but not as much. It’s good to know that they were there. They did a lot of things for the people. But it’s not a bigger influence on me than Islam, nothing is. It was cool that they had that, but it’s not for me.
Is it still a presence with kids growing up now?
Everybody knows what it is. If the police come and try to disrespect you, attempt to do things to you, then you know your rights. The Black Panther Party specialized in teaching people their rights. So you know when a motherfucking police come to you he can’t just play you and talk hella shit to you. He doesn’t have the right to do that. If you understand that you can put him in his place. But if you don’t have that knowledge then you can’t say nothing. You’re just gonna accept their abuse.”
I say Underground Hip Hop, and you think conspiracy rappers, boxes of dirty, smelly old vinyl, and male-only concerts; in The Bay Area, the independent wave that peaked in New York by the end of the millenium more resembles – at least since Too Short started selling home-made tapes “out the trunk” here in 1983 – a river flowing steadily through the landscape, year after year, watering the fields, giving birth to new lifeforms and giving income to local artists.
“A lot of people be calling underground music, like, you know, Mos Def… They are major. Underground means the shit you gotta tell your boy about. You don’t gotta tell nobody about Mos Def. They already know. You gotta tell people about The Grouch, though. You gotta let them know. Andre Nickatina. You gotta tell people about him. The world don’t know anything about him, just certain people. That’s the dopest shit about music. That’s what music is about, having the newest shit. Just like clothes. Shoes. Having shit nobody ever had.
And it’s all mouth to mouth. Friend to friend.
And that keeps it authentic. I am happy. If I would’ve had a major deal, I probably wouldn’t be here still. I’d probably be down already.
Do you think you would be tired of the whole game?
I probably wouldn’t be tired of it, but they would probably be tired of me. When you get a major deal, they use you. They use your image, they use you, and when you play out, you’re done. A younger dude comes up and takes over. When you stay independent you can always put your music out. You don’t play out. You’re not oversaturated, the world never heard you that much.
You got more power also, you have your fans. If they just put you out there you don’t have that loyalty.
You don’t. Look at Young Buck. He got put on by 50 Cent. Then when he called up 50 Cent crying, he lost all of his fans right there. He never had his own fanbase. He got put on by 50 Cent and had his fans. He never had his own label and never started his own foundation. He’s doing it now, but he didn’t do it before, so it’s harder for him now. If you come in the game, if you have been travelling and getting your music out there, like Wiz Khalifa, who was always on the road, underground, for the longest… Then it kicked off for him. Lil Wayne, too. Curren$y, all those guys. They started with the struggle first, then they blew up. They got real fans. They might not make the best songs in the world, but they got real fans from the work they put in. Supporters. Jay-Z, he actually probably knows a million people personally, that support him. He probably actually has 200-300,000 real friends of his.
Then you have local artists that sell 100,000 tapes and then they go with a major.
Right. And then play out. Let me tell you something, what we do is this. We got these CD’s and we press them up, store-ready, wrapped up in plastic. It costs us under a dollar to do that. When you’re the kinda guy that sells 200,000 copies, you sell them to the store for seven dollars a piece. That’s how much money you’re gonna make. You’re gonna sign that away to somebody? It doesn’t make sense. They’re gonna put you on the radio. You’re not gonna be able to make the song you want. Your A&R is gonna pick the beat, with the chorus, and you’re not using your creativity no more. They’re just using your image, and then they water you down. You’re not that same dude that those 200,000 people were buying. And like we said before: people like having shit that people never heard of.
Have you met any local artists or producers here?
MFS from Denmark. I like them. A lot of artists from Sweden. I can’t remember the names off top. You got a lot of artists that actually sound good. I think that comes from Swedish artists feeling that they don’t get their credit. That makes them work that much harder to make them sound hella good. So when you do hear it, you’re like “oh shit. This is good!”. That makes you better than all the other motherfuckers, because they get their props anyway. It’s hard to get your props when you’re so far out and speak another language. You got to really go hard, and I noticed that here.
Did you get any chance to record anything with MFS?
We went there and recorded… I was out here last year and I met them too. We went to the studio, stayed there all night. Last night we went to the studio, the night before that we made six songs. They had Yukmouth out here. They’re trying to bring a lot of people out here. I like them. They got good videos, they do acting. They showed me a little movie they had on youtube. Wood is a good actor. I couldn’t believe it. It’s nice out here. I wish a lot more people could see it, where I’m from, to come out here and see that it’s real, the hip-hop culture. Everybody’s a part of it. It’s not a certain group of people who do it, everybody fucks with it. Everybody’s got an Adidas sweater, or Kappa. Everybody looks nice and got the rap shit, the hip-hop lifestyle. It’s not really that much left of it in America no more. There are certain kinds of people that actually look down on this shit. White collar mothafuckas. It makes money, it’s positive, why wouldn’t you want it?”
The Jacka is like an Oakland version of Cormega; how he goes from spitting ice cold, finely detailed murder raps to shedding thug tears over the instrumental, often in the same verse. “I’m not trying to make you like what I’m saying”, he explains. “I’m trying to get into your soul.”
The first time I heard you was on the Legal Hustle compilation. I was like, who is this guy with his own song on here? Where did you meet Cormega?
I met a friend of his in 2001, in North Carolina. He hooked me up with him over the phone, and flew him out to California. This is like 2002. Ever since then he’s been a good friend of mine. I was in a situation where I was with people who had lots of money, they used to do whatever I asked them to do and shit. So we flew him out, took good care of him, showed him a good time. I’m glad I did that, it gave me a lot of opportunities. We’re kind of far from you guys, but New York is a five hour flight or something. Not too far. My friends in California didn’t understand it. They didn’t listen to much East Coast – now they do. Back in those days they didn’t. To me he’s better than Nas. He never contradicts himself. Nas is creative and it takes him a long time to put out an album. He works on it so much that it has to be dope.
You made quite a few songs together.
Yeah. We got shit that never came out, he just sent me some shit to get on recently. I did, but didn’t have the time to send it back for him. I got shit with him for my new album. And me and Freeway have an album ready to come out.
With Mega, is it gonna be a collabo album, or is he just gonna guest appear?
I’m gonna do an album for Cormega. Solo album of mine, he’s gonna put it out on Legal Hustle.
You’re working with Cormega, you got Freeway, you got the new song with Eldorado Red. Is that how you plan, you wanna spread out?
Yeah, to get heard, to get your shit out there. Like you just said, if it wasn’t for that Mega song you’d probably never heard of me. Good thing I did. That was a great move.
Or I would have heard you on “Devilz Rejectz 2″ with Ampachino. That was one of the top releases of last year. The raps, the beats.
Those dudes are from Ohio, close to the east coast and everything, from different little places. You start picking those kind of beats and making those kind of songs, I felt like, that’s what people really wanna hear more than the shit they hear on the radio. I said fuck it, we’re gonna stick with this formula and do it. Sort of like the music you hear now, in there. We rather hear that than the shit on the radio. If I’m at a club and having a few drinks with some girls, then it’s cool. But in my car or my house, nah man. Fuck no. Somebody gotta make that shit, but not everybody.
Did you have producers on it from Ohio?
Yeah, from Ohio and California. And New York. Joe Millionaire is from Ohio.
Did you send e-mails back and forth when recording?
No, he came to california and I went to Ohio. It’s better to do that. The energy is better. The motivation is better.
You never send e-mails with beats and stuff?
I do that a lot, but not for one of my projects.
You did those “Dre Area” albums like Zakat for Mac Dre’s family. Do you take that thinking and put it in other aspects of life – does it influence other decisions?
Yeah, every decision. In a situation like that when he’s a good friend of mine who only had good intentions for me and my friends… before he died he had a meeting with me and Mob Figaz and he sat us down and told us he’s gonna give us a lot of money, he told us to come fuck with him, and let’s take this shit over. A couple of weeks later he died. I see a lot of people reaping the benefits of his death, maybe everybody except his kids and his family. We gotta do that project totally for his people. I think everybody should do a project like that for somebody.
You got more projects coming?
I got a project with Paul Wall. He’s just a cool guy, a really humble dude, a millionaire, he doesn’t need to do nothing with me. He said he was a fan of my music when he met me. I’m a real fan of his shit. He sent me text messages with pictures of all the CD’s he had. That’s so motivational for me, like “this dude knows who I am? That’s crazy. I’m underground. I had no idea.” I got one coming with him, and that’s like charity for him because he didn’t ask me for nothing. But it was given to me. Like Freeway. He didn’t have to do a project with me. He didn’t ask me for one cent; charity for him, too. It feels good, because we take from our souls and turn it into songs.
Do you have any more collabos with Turf Talk?
Yeah, on the Flight Risk album. That album only has ten songs. I like to try to keep a lot of shit out. To stay relevant, so everytime somebody go to the record store, they can see me there. Always stay with the people.
You listen to reggae – and any other music outside of rap?
I listen to soft metal, heavy metal: Isis, Opeth. They’re really good.”
Shaheed Akbar, The Jacka’s name since converting, started rapping young, inspired by Slick Rick and 2pac. His breaktrough came under the mentorship of Sacramento legend C-Bo – known from albums such as “Gas chamber,” “The Autopsy,” and “‘Til My Casket Drops” – as a part of Mob Figaz, whose debut album “C-Bo’s Mob Figaz” sold 140,000 copies.
“Have you already recorded new songs with Mob Figaz?
We’ve got a lot of new stuff. Just keep recording. Just to have a hundred songs so we can put 5-10 albums out. We don’t have any release dates because we want to be able to fully travel with the Mob Figaz, to promote it. With Husalah home on parole we can’t really go nowhere. It sucks to have an album out an not having everybody there when you do a show. We hold this time out with Hus, and in the meanwhile I’ll keep doing what I do. We got a label called Mob Figaz LLC, so we’ll have it there before any record label.
You got something coming out on your own label, The Artist Records?
I got an artist out right now, Joe Blow. He dropped a street album, “You Should Be Payin Me”.
Talking about street albums, why is the song “The Addiction” (from “The Street Album”) so short?
It wasn’t just me on there first. The DJ just picked it, he could’ve played the whole song. I don’t know why he didn’t. Young L produced that song. Young L, a rapper named Dojah from San Fransisco, and Mistah F.A.B. was on it.
What happened to your reality show, Raphouse?
It’s still going on. We haven’t released any of it yet. We’re still recording. In two more weeks it will be done. Some of the footage from here will be on it. I’ll drop it everywhere, free on the internet, TV. I’ll keep doing it until we get a deal or something, with VH1 or somebody. I’d rather like it to be on a late night, something where we can really express ourselves and use the language we wanna use and do the stuff we wanna do. If not, it’ll always be on DVD’s and on the internet.”Share