So I have to study and get wiser to even make a song."
To be sure, Tear Gas isn't a sociological treatise; like the blues, it voices the despair of a culture rather than proposing solutions. But such articulation is exactly what makes the music of both Pac and Jacka so powerful.
"Listen to Marvin Gaye," Jacka continues. "I guarantee he's going to grab your soul. He knows something and could put it together with the music. And what he talked about was the struggle, the pain. I try to make shit that'll stick to your soul. Like the music my parents used to listen to."
Besides his social consciousness, Jacka's success rests squarely on quality. Last year, his single "All Over Me" included on Tear Gas hit No. 7 on KMEL's playlist and No. 15 on Billboard's "Bubbling Under" singles chart. Yet he refused to rush his album to capitalize on this exposure. Instead, he released 11 side projects. Two of them debuted on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart: Drought Season (Bern One), a collaboration with rapper Berner, at No. 55, and The Street Album (Artist Records), a "mixtape album" with KMEL DJ Big Von, at No. 91.
"Motherfuckers like shit that make them think," Jacka says, when asked about his appeal. They also like real albums and, taken as whole, Tear Gas is among the best rap discs in recent history, major or indie. Despite its array of producers and perhaps a few too many guests, Jacka has fashioned a tight, coherent album where every track is vital an extreme rarity in contemporary hip hop. With its minor-key, exotic flute and harp textures, the new single "Glamorous Lifestyle," also produced by Traxamillion and featuring André Nickatina, epitomizes the overall feel.
"It's not an easy process unless you really listen to music, and follow all kinds of genres," says Jacka. "Some people just listen to rap, but other music helps you grow as an artist."
Being a rapper, Jacka's voice is ultimately his most important asset, an instantly recognizable, rounded, mellow drawl even when he raps fast that is never raspy, despite the steady diet of blunts. His melodic, half-sung delivery, moreover, perfectly fits his vocal texture and mournful themes.
"My style really comes from the struggle," he says. "I'm not trying to make you like what I'm saying I'm trying to get into your soul." This spiritual goal reflects what he credits as his primary influence: chanting the Koran. Surprising or not, given his gangsta themes, smoking, and even drinking, Jacka is a devout Sunni Muslim. It's the result of a spiritual quest he began at age 9, when he joined the Nation of Islam.
"They showed me how to be black, because I really didn't know," he explains. "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. They can be a little strict sometimes, but they have to be; there was so much taken away from us."
When Jacka began intensively reading the Koran, however, he began to question some of the Nation's teachings. "I realized that what it said in the Koran is what I should do," he says. "Not that plus something else."
The development of Jacka's faith toward more orthodox Islam accelerated circa 2000. The Mob Figaz' momentum slowed when C-Bo went to prison and Jacka caught a robbery case that landed him in county jail for a year.
"In jail, I was reading the Koran and realized the Sunni Muslim way is for me," Jacka remembers. "It's the way I can pray directly to God." Following his release, Jacka took his shahada, declaring his formal adherence to Islam.
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