Shawn, Mr. Jackson if you're nasty, is one of the tastiest "new" emcees to hit the ground running. But he's not really new. He's been at it for years. It all started when he moved out East after a childhood spent in Inglewood, CA. First, it was high school with ma dukes in Florida. Then the craft really got down to business being honed in Providence, Rhode Island, where Jackson spent a decade following high school. You can dig up a couple choice 12" and remixes that Shawn blessed in the past but most recently, his studio time has found home in the city of lost angels where Shawn met Alex Newman, one third of Giant Panda and Tres Records, the label that also houses Y Society, People Under The Stairs and Lightheaded. The two worked well together, got busy and two and a half years later, First Of All was complete.
The first official full-length LP is 12 tracks of unrequited, original sound. It is neither distinctly East or West coast but instead possess pieces of each culture's spice. In fact, the coastal meld is so finessed, it's difficult to pick apart and pin-point where the beats and flow are coming from. Even though most of the album's production and lyrical guest appearances come from LA (the strongest beats come courtesy of Ty and Newman), every joint remains accomplished in its cake-mixed appeal. Lyrically, the album maintains the quiet, strong appeal of Jackson. There are tracks about the industry (Fix Ya Face, Hate Down, Maan Up!), girls (Go There With You, Gold Medal Kids) and recognizing personal confidence (Soopafly, Feelin' Jack and Strategies). The refreshing reality is the honesty in Shawn's writing. No gun shot wounds, no jail behind bars, no calling out names.
Aware of the two sides that live inside him, Shawn baked in a few subtle and non-intrusive skits where two friends of his, one from each coast, attempt to communicate with each other. They never succeed but maybe in the end they should have because Los Angeles, Rhode Island, East, West and in between, First Of All is appeal for the masses.
Rae and I had the chance to catch up with Shawn and Alex on a warm and sunny Friday morning, the day following their show (Newman manned the decks) at the Someday Lounge for the Fix. In person, Jackson is every bit what his stage presence alludes. He is kind and humble. No bling, no pretensions, no couture labels, no unnecessary posse of peoples. He is also funny, using arm gestures and faces to color humorous anecdotes. And he admittedly adores Portland, Peaches, Prince and wearing the color purple.
July 25, 2008
[Sara] Hello Mr. Shawn Jackson. So, can you give us the back story? There’s not a whole lot out there about you and it feels like you just popped up out of nowhere with this amazing album.
Shawn Jackson : Well musically I would say it really started in Providence, R.I.
[S.] Is that where you were born and raised?
No, I was actually born in Inglewood, CA So, 1995 – 2005 I was in Providence, R.I. so that’s why you hear a kind of East coast / West coast balance in my sound. I did the group thing for a couple years. I had different names. I would rather not go into that right now (laughs). I’ve been around. As far as Shawn Jackson, the past couple of years I’ve been on Frank and Dank’s 12” and I’ve been on People Under The Stairs 12” remix, a Time Machine record. I’m there but I’m kind of hidden.
[S.] What was the concept behind First Of All?
I knew early that I wanted to call it First Of All because I just thought that was a dope title but I didn’t know conceptually what I wanted to do with it. Being out West, I knew I wanted to do a dope, old school West coast vibe album. I always felt like they had the best albums as far as theatrics. With that and the producers and relationships I build with Newman and Ta’Raach and Mekalek, I just knew I could get a balance of sounds from all these cats that are so different and it was really just experimenting with that and then the album just formed itself. At any point in time, it could’ve went street or it could’ve went eclectic but it all just happened to work.
[S.] I’ve listened to the album all the way through several times and usually, I’m able to say, oh, you kind of sound like pieces of these three or four different artists, but not with you. Your sound is so unique and special. You really don’t sound like anybody else I’ve ever heard and getting the back story helps because you’ve spent time East and West. What has the feedback been since the album came out?
It’s been crazy. It’s such a blog and internet game now. There’s a couple types of black people. There’s black people that’ve had internet for 10 years. There’s black people that’ve had it for two or three. I’m the latter so I’m not on there all day like (pretending to click a computer keyboard). But it’s crazy to come to Portland to do a show and have people know me. I’m still naïve like that. People really seem to be excited about the album. I’m excited. It’s getting a response beyond what I can ask.
[S.] Tell me about some of the folks that you collaborated with on the album. Ty is featured on two of my favorite joints, Soopafly and Go There With You.
Soopafly, he actually produced that also. And Go There With You, that’s the oldest beat on the album. I lived in Rhode Island when I got that beat so that was 2004.
[S.] Do you have a hand in making any of the beats?
I don’t make beats but I wish I did. Newman did the title track and did Backstage. But what people don’t realize about First Of All and Soopafly, that’s a 2005 song. Go There With You, that’s a 2005 song. Feelin’ Jack, that’s a 2006 song. All of this is old music but it took me two and a half years to make it (the album) so now I’m itching to put some new stuff out.
[S.] What’s the connect with the other guests on the album; Double K, Comel, Beloved, Guilty Simpson and Big Tone and the concept behind the skits?
Double K, I got to tour with him in ’06. The cat Ja-Pan who’s he’s actually arguing with on the album, that’s a friend of mine from Rhode Island. The point of the skits on the album is the difference in where I’m from, like the conflict from within. They don’t even understand each other [for] the whole album and for me to have that balance is kind of like how my mind works. I don’t even over think it anymore. Whatever you hear, that’s it. That’s what I was feeling right then.
[Rae] So to piggyback off that, because as an artist, I know it takes time to get to that spot to where you don’t care [what other people think]. How do you remain confident when everyone is an emcee or is a musician?
I used to over-think everything because my focus was different. My focus was on being a better writer and not being an entertainer so this is my first time balancing both. You get to a point where you’re like, yo, I’m dope, I know how to do this, I could do this in my sleep, now what? Because I’ve done shows where some other goofy crew will come up and shut it down and I’m like, “You’re wack”, you know? But then it made sense because they think they’re dope and then people believe they’re dope. It’s just an entertainment game. I try not to deal with the bafoonery. I’m not a flashy dude. I talk a lot of flash…
[S.] You kind of do on the album – You’ve got the money thing in there.
I’ll explain that. What it is, I look at myself as an expensive commodity. A pair of Jordans, they only cost dollars to make but you sell that brand, and it is what it is. I’m attempting to something more priceless than something more fly by night. Shawn Jackson as an artist, I’ll say everything that I wouldn’t say as a person. It’s just my expression. On the East coast, everything is mad bear hugs and the end of the world. LA, it’s totally different. I’m learning to get back into my LA element. I left LA when I was 13, I moved to Florida in between [living in LA and RI], where my mother still lives and went to high school in Florida. On the New Jack Hustle album, I have a song explaining all of the moves.
[S.] Is that the next album?
Yes. We did it last year. Recorded it here in Portland. It’s called, “Sound Check: Live From Portland, Oregon”. Newman’s on the album and everything is Portland. Vursatyl’s on there…
[S.] That’s amazing. Why Portland?
Because we wanted to record to reel, to tape, and we knew a cat out here that had it [the equipment] and we just had the idea of using everything Portland.
[S.] When is that going to drop?
Newman [Giant Panda]: October
[R.] So right now, I think, is the best time for music because you have more choices, you don’t have to fit in a box. Independent is the major but on the flip side, nobody’s buying albums anymore so how do you make that work for yourself?
Yeah, there’s no filter. With First Of All, I tried to make it an album that you really wanted to know and own. I think CDs are for collectors. It’s the days of free media. You look at Wayne and the science of that. He did all that himself – the labels buying and promoting him like that. Regardless if you like him or not, you’ve got to respect his movement. What he did was big for music.
Trilla This Or That!
Transformers or GI Joes?
Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson?
Skydiving or tight rope walking?
Canada or Mexico?
I already live in Mexico [laughs].
Rice or potatoes?
Jackson 5 or The 5 Heartbeats?
Pre-Ike Tina or pre-Bobby Whitney?
It’s relevant to me so I’ll say pre-Bobby Whitney.
Last movie that you saw?
I finally saw No Country For Old Men.
Peaches [laughing]. I’m sitting with two women, I’m sorry.
Favorite board game?
Me and Prince. I’d have Prince produce something for me. I would like to do some old Indianapolis soul.
[R.] Would you dress the part?
[S.] The ass-out pants and everything?
I’m going for it. I’m going in!
[S.] And since you have a Portland project coming out, what do you love most about Portland?
People are genuinely nice out here.
[Trillas] Thank you for your time Shawn.