Shawn Jackson

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Wise words once spoken by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill strike a chord with Inglewood, California rap sage Shawn Jackson. A student of Big Daddy Kane’s refined rhymes, Prince’s coolly finesse, and Stevie Wonder’s soulful swag, Jackson’s strategy for success is simple: Balance. After a brief stint with former hip hop group Soul Kaliba in 2002, Jackson realized his dope penmanship alone wouldn’t suffice. He would need to be both the performer and the lyricist. Now, after years of paying dues, the 31-year-old wordsmith is back—for the first time.

Off the heels of his solo debut that dropped earlier this year—First of All… (Tres Records, 2008)—and awaiting the October release of his forthcoming LP Soundcheck, with rapper/ producer Newman of rap group Giant Panda, Jackson takes a minute to reflect on how far he’s come and what lies ahead. The results? So far, so good.

“Am I rich? No. In fact I’m quite broke right now, but you only know that [because] I just told you that.”

Format: Who is Shawn Jackson?
Shawn Jackson: Shawn Jackson is simply complex. The man I am in everyday life isn’t quite who I am as an artist. The artist is just my expression. You listen to me and you may think, “man, this cat talks a lot of braggadocio talk.” I look at myself as an expensive commodity. Am I rich? No. In fact I’m quite broke right now, but you only know that [because] I just told you that. I know there’s a war going on in this music/culture; however, I’m not preachy about bringing “real hip hop” back. I just want to be an example of doing something else, which ironically is the era a lot of these young cats attempt to duplicate. I’m old school, not throwback. Also I’m actually a pretty introverted soul, so the artist is willing to say a lot of what the man may observe while laying in the cut.

Format: Chronicle your journey from Soul Kaliba up to now. What’s it been like?
Jackson: Man, Soul Kaliba was such a blink of an eye in hind sight. Coming fresh out of a group at the time I had no idea what I was doing at that point and was trying to find an identity. I think living in Rhode Island and it being such an underground driven scene, I was trying to find a way to fit in and please people although I didn’t know how to connect with them. I was just focused on being a better writer and MC. Shawn Jackson’s thought process is: “You’re already a good writer, now entertain.”

Format: In July you released your debut album, First of All …, and it’s a return to the real pure, raw hip hop aesthetic. What was your focus, or goal, going into it?
Jackson: I just really wanted to make a dope hip hop album. I can drive drunk a little bit with lyrics and concepts, meaning I’ll swerve in and out of my lane, but hip-hop is my first priority. That’s what I am, and that’s what got me into this music and it’s been so long since I’ve heard a hot top-to-bottom cohesive album. That was my approach with this one.

Format: Are you happy with the final product?
Jackson: Absolutely! I mean, you’re always going to say, “damn, I should’ve said this or I didn’t really annunciate that word correctly,” but that’s always going to happen. The one thing I do want people to understand is over half of the songs on the album are so old. “Go There With You” and “Soopafly” were recorded in 2005. “Feelin’ Jack,” “Countdown” and “Fix Ya Face” in 2006. I mean, that’s just a testament that they stood the test of time. I’m not however proud of my potty mouth. I need to work on that [laughs].

Format: To the larger, more mainstream hip-hop community you’re considered a newcomer. Yet, on “Strategies,” Guilty Simpson rhymes, “This is a game I’m convinced we will win.” The operative word being “we.” And on the lead single, “Feelin’ Jack” you state, “He is I, I’m the shit/ Born wit it so I spit.” Why so confident?
Jackson: Man, we have to think that way, if we don’t who will? City to city, state to state you have some of the dopest emcee’s you’ve never heard in life and who will never get shine. To me, Guilty saying that line is saying that we live by different codes and we will dominate our arena. Lyrics are still important to me with whomever I work with. We can do what a lot of what these cats do, but they can’t reciprocate. I think as worldly issues get realer, people have a desire to lift the veil. Once you do, true lyricists will be standing in front of you. For the record, the “I’m the shit” reference was just a play on Snoop’s “What’s My Name.”

Format: You also surrounded yourself with a select few artists on First of All …; Comel, Guilty Simpson, Ty and Ta’Raach, among others. What was it about those individuals that made you want to put them on the album?
Jackson: They’re all pretty interesting cats to say the least, and beyond that, I knew they would drive me to a foreign, yet familiar place artistically. These are also all relationships I’ve built since returning back to L.A. from Providence. I have faith in what they do and they feel the same. Music is a beautiful thing when collaborations form naturally.

Format: Any certain artists or producers you want to work with in the future?
Jackson: There’s too many to name. I have more of a desire to work with cats coming up as opposed to established artists who are forced to think strictly hits. I root for the underdog.

Format: For a lot of hip hop artists, their first album is their magnum opus; Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Nas’ Illmatic, just to name a few off the top of my head. What can fans expect next from Shawn Jackson?
Jackson: I’d say more honesty. I want to focus on writing more of what I feel and have been through as opposed to just giving you what I’ve seen and just being a raw lyricist. First Of All… is just as it sounds, an introductory piece. I didn’t want to give the people all of me just yet; I wanted us to feel each other out first like you approach personal interactions and relationships. I’ve always gotten better throughout my career, I just have to focus on Shawn doing Shawn and not falling to that pressure shit. I can tell you this, my next album is even more conceptual and cohesive so that element alone should maintain people’s interest.

Format: These days music is so niche-specific it’s crazy. Do you see your sound changing, or evolving with future efforts?
Jackson: Oh yeah. I’m sure people are going to be shocked by some of the things I do, but trust; it’s all me. I’m not trying to fit into any specific sound or be a duplicate of other cats. I’m just complex and yet honest with myself concerning my craft. If you do your homework and peep what little discography I do have, you’d probably be shocked by some of the songs and projects.

Format: Can you speak on your new project—Soundcheck—that you’re doing with Newman from Giant Panda?
Jackson: Well, it’s not First Of All … Part 2. It’s a different sound, somewhat of a reminiscent experimental hip-hop feel. Drums are a little heavier, but the unique thing about it is, it’s an on location recording in Portland, OR. Also, it was recorded to two-inch tape for that warm analog sound that’s been missing. The whole approach to the album was based on fun, but with an innovative approach.

Format: Do you feel boxed in by hip-hop? Does the label “hip-hop artist” limit you, as an artist, when creating?
Jackson: Nah, I think the danger is when the fans get boxed in. Take for instance Snoop’s “Sexual Eruption,” that was the hottest joint out to me at that time cause Snoop jumped out the window. Although I knew a lot of people that hated that, he had to know the risk he was taking but he likes what he likes. I respected that for both the risk and the reward. I’m also someone who likes what he likes, so my approach to my music will follow suit. People label me as this strictly underground artist but I don’t. I feel like I am an underground artist with commercial appeal. I’ll take that.

Format: Why is your future so bright?
Jackson: I just know I’m supposed to be doing this. People say that about themselves, but I don’t see it. I don’t even see it with some of your favorite rappers. I’ve always been someone who people were intrigued by and knew that whatever it is I’m doing, he’s probably good at it and is headed in the right direction. I shine even when I’m down and I’m grateful for that. I’ll be good as long as they feelin’ Jack shit.

More Info: http://www.myspace.com/shawnjackson

Jason Parham

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