When we first got word of The Jacka's death by gunshot in Oakland, close to midnight on Feb. 2, we didn't want to believe it. At 37, the Pittsburg, Calif.-born rapper had been hustling for roughly half his life, and while he never quite hit the big time — nor did he seem to care — he was a rock, a fundamental part of the Bay Area hip-hop community, a friend and mentor to many, and he had so much more to do. A family man and a proud Muslim, the MC — born Dominic Newton, though he converted to Islam in later years and went by Shaheed Akbar — rapped about the realities of street life with a rarely seen level of thoughtfulness, hard-won wisdom, empathy, and nuance underlying each gruff word.
As of press time, there were still no suspects in the murder case, though the Oakland Police Department has offered a reward of up to $20,000 for tips that could lead to an arrest. In the meantime, a community is in mourning. We reached out to members of the local hip-hop scene to ask what The Jacka meant to them, and below are two heartfelt tributes. Visit All Shook Down at sfweekly.com/allshookdown for more.
Zumbi, MC, Zion I
I first got hip to the Jacka thru his song “Barney (More Crime).” I was infatuated by his marriage of complex street narrative mixed with genuine spirituality. It tripped me out, and made me a fan for life instantly. Now, I can generally appreciate street music, but I don't get down with gratuitous hyper violence. What Jacka brought to the game was the dichotomy of striving for something more, while still being stuck in the downtrodden stress of the hood. His music is real to put it bluntly.
I first met Jacka at the Hella Fresh [Fest] at the Fillmore in the year 2005. He came backstage without an entourage, humble and eager-eyed. We exchanged pounds and he expressed how excited he was about hip-hop just being in the Fillmore. I immediately recognized why I connected so deeply with his sound. Here was a man who completely embodied his words. He was not a studio thug, but a sensitive and articulate artist embedded in street culture. His posture was relaxed and his words were genuine. He was down to earth and super chill. I knew that I wanted to work with him in some capacity, because the respect was instant, tangible.
Since that meeting, we've done dozens of shows together, including the Fresh Coast tour in 2009. I got to know him on that tour as easy going, and hella funny. He was just real. He was one of those authentic souls that has been thru the fire. I have found his character to be a rare gem in a sea of imitators, haters, and bullshitters.
We also recorded two songs together … “Dream” on his Tear Gas album, and “Dank” off of my Vs. mixtape. The crazy thing is that I had tried to get him on the new Zion I EP to drop a verse on the song “Unity,” about the tension between the police and the black community a month or so back. He was never able to send the verse, so I just figured that I'd catch him on the next round.
Last night, I realized that there would not be a next round. I am in shock. I am hurt. I am deeply saddened that this man has been taken away from us, and mainly, his family. I wish that we were angry at his life being taken, instead of just being sad. The senseless murder of our young men takes many forms, and they all sicken me.
I will remember my brother. I will not forget what he has given me, us. I pray that we here in the Bay Area can begin to stand together truly unified under the banner of our culture. We need to rep his spirit like he always repped for us. To the Jacka, I salute you big bruh. You will be missed. Rest in power … my brother.
Rocky Rivera, MC, music journalist
I met Jacka in 2005 at a pivotal time in both of our careers: me with my writing (née Krishtine de Leon), and him, as a solo artist in the Bay Area making music outside of his group, Mob Figaz. I've interviewed many great artists, but not a lot of great people who understood their influence and took great care to uplift the next generation. Jacka was that kind of person: witty, hilarious, interested in people, a close follower of hip-hop culture in all elements. We also smoked hella blunts together at industry events — a ritual that was necessary and often — guaranteed to be a time where our occupations were not at the forefront of our conversation, where we became friends.
In 2006, when I became part of a MTV docu-series about music journalists called “I'm From Rolling Stone,” I put him as one of my favorite artists in my RS blog profile, and he never forgot that. I think that was the first time he saw his name in the magazine, which unfortunately, tends to cover artists like him post-mortem (see: Tupac Shakur). I was in my early twenties and full of regional pride, resentment for the mainstream, rejection of industry politics. I wanted artists like Jacka, who had tremendous talent and was certified in the streets, to have as much fame as the next mainstream rapper. Unfortunately, the Bay movement that was sparked after Mac Dre's death fizzled out, and I grew less interested in print media, as did the rest of the world. Even still, we would see each other, light one up, talk about life, talk about music.
When I moved to L.A. and pursued my own music, he never questioned it or thought it was corny. In fact, he is part of the outro of my first album, a voicemail he left on my phone during one of my visits home to blaze the Cherry Pie and celebrate Husalah's return home from federal prison. Even though I stopped writing and had no publicity to offer him in return, we remained friends throughout the years, something that has never happened with any subjects I've interviewed. I'd meet up with him and his manager PK at a studio in South Central L.A., with Krondon from Strong Arm Steady writing a verse in the corner, Planet Asia passed out on the couch. I went to A3C in Atlanta in 2011 and there he was, in the back room with Erk the Jerk and a bunch of other guys I would have probably avoided, had my big brother not been there.
What I am most grateful for is that he made it a safe space for me as a woman in the hip-hop industry. He watched out for me and my crew, mostly women who were photographers and bandmates of mine that were used to navigating those spaces, but still the kind to leave early if things got too sketchy. He treated us with respect, and in turn, those around him treated us with respect. In the industry, association is everything, so if you rolled with The Jacka, you are automatically certified. Many artists that visited the Bay rolled with him, and he took care of them, as he took care of me.
This is the kind of character that radiated through all of Jacka's relationships, through every interaction. He was always interested in what was “good” for the Bay, what he felt would elevate our culture to the next level. He was truly a gatekeeper.
The thing I am saddest about is the trauma our community is facing; another death in Oakland at the hands of gun violence. Though Jacka was an important figure, he knew what this lifestyle entailed, what his purpose would be. The high crime rate in East Oakland and other cities around the Bay that he spoke to is something others experience through his music, but may never see for themselves. This is a reality for many people who live and work in those communities. On “Dreams,” off his 2009 release, Tear Gas, he wrote:
I guess I revived the scene/ they finally realize who's king
I remind them so much of who they supposed to be, the best time I ever had in my life was free/
Grabbed the mic on the stage ripped the crowd, everybody was amazed then look at me now
Even though I'm older I still helped my little n*ggas spout
Prayed for a change in the hood but (it was all a dream).
The loss of a young black leader is devastating. I really feel for the Bay and his family right now. He fed so many people, made sure they were ok if they got locked up or had a baby. He traveled the world. He had a generous spirit that defied what people may assume from hearing his songs alone and never meeting him. That's the thing about artists that make them great: their complexity, their kindness, and their dark moments. That's what you hear in his music. That's what he left for us to dissect and play, over and over until we finally get it. At the news of his passing, I hadn't written a single article in nearly six years, only returning to my craft to write a memorial piece on him. But I would gladly never write again if that meant I could have my friend back home, safe and sound.