The Jacka reprises hyphy with a gangsta twist

Who needs a hyphy movement when you have the Jacka? The Pittsburg turf rapper is a one-man phenomenon. Though independent, he has as much street cred as any major-label rap artist. Maybe even more.

Like his mentors C-Bo and Mac Dre, Jacka built a reputation as an authentic gangsta. He bounced in and out of the penal system as a juvenile before picking up the mike. Though he doesn't go into specifics, he openly talks about "hitting banks" and "moving kilos," and boasts that he's unafraid of gunplay.

Along with AP.9, Husalah, Rydah, and Fed X, he was an original member of the now-fabled Mob Figaz before dropping his first solo album in 2001. A bridge between the mobb music era and the hyphy era, he appeared on numerous songs with the likes of Mob Figaz, E-40, Too $hort, Keak da Sneak, and Mac Dre, and contributed to the Yay Area's lexicon with 2005's "Barney" — an ode to purple bud that became a street anthem. His second album, The Jack Artist (also from 2005), galvanized his 'hood following in the Bay Area, while earning him fans from Texas to Florida. Last year, he cracked the Billboard Hot 100 for a mixtape called The Street Album, while his single "All Over Me" clocked 1,500 radio spins, 350,000 MySpace listens, and 100,000 YouTube views.

One of the most in-demand indie rap artists around, Jacka claims to average $10,000 a week doing verses on other people's songs. In a good week, he estimates he might make up to $15,000 for 10 verses at $1,500 apiece. He's worked with Lil Keke, Yukmouth, and Bone Thugs N Harmony, among others. Currently signed to SMC Recordings — home of Mistah F.A.B., Killer Mike, and Pastor Troy — his third album, Tear Gas, drops June 16. With the disc's Traxamillion-produced first single "Glamorous Lifestyles" (featuring Andre Nickatina) already winning over street, radio, and club listeners, it's looking like Jacka could be the breakout rapper from the Bay the national scene has been waiting for.

"Some people might be in a better position as far as a [record] deal, but I have more respect," he says over the phone from a studio in Hayward. Those props are beginning to trickle upward into media attention from rap-centric blogs and national press. Recently, XXL compared Jacka to "50 [Cent] in his heyday"; Jacka doesn't completely agree with the comparison, but he's willing to concede he and Fitty both have syrupy lyrical flows.

Jacka's combination of melodic, reggae-inspired cadences; hard-core street lingo; and ghetto-derived spirituality has given him an almost Tupac-esque appeal that's more universal than regional. On Tear Gas, he sounds equally at home alongside Philadelphian rapper Freeway, N.Y.C. MC Cormega, Houston rapper Paul Wall, and L.A. lyricist Phil the Agony as with Bay Areans E-40, F.A.B., and Zion-I. His rugged, nimble verses hold their own against his esteemed guests on tracks like "Greatest Alive," "Storm," and "Get it In." On the solo number "Girls," Traxamillion remakes the Beastie Boys classic with deeper bass, more slap, and ringing keyboard flourishes, while Jacka reminds rap fans where their vernacular originated: "I'm from the Bay A-R-E-A/We know what's up/The words y'all say as slang/We made it up."

What separates Jacka from your average hood hustler–turned–rhyme spitter? Despite his lofty swagger in the studio, in person he comes off as an unpretentious dude who sees no separation between himself and his audience. "It goes back to how you treat people," the practicing Muslim explains. "I'm keeping it 100 [percent] — that's how I was taught." His philosophy comes down to this: "You gotta spit something that's gonna stick with a motherfucker's soul to make them feel it."

With Jacka, it's not so much what he says as the way he delivers his message. He offers deadpan surety while traversing the conflicts between his chosen faith and street reality, transcending the gangsta norm in the process.

 
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