I have to apologize in advance for taking so long to review Jacka’s CD, but it’s been in my car constantly since it dropped. With that said, don’t dismiss his album as just another Bay Area release full of trunk knockers. “The Jack Artist” could very well be the best album dropped this year. What makes Jacka’s sophomore album so good is the mix of honesty and reality found in his rhymes with Rob Lo’s impeccable production. Some of you ignorant purists and self-proclaimed “heads” may be dismissing Jacka already as just another gangsta rapper from Cali. Such an approach is ignorant in more ways that one. For one, some of rap’s best music has been “gangsta music”, including albums by greats like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Mobb Deep, and Biggie. The second reason Jacka should be given a chance is that he’s not your average gangsta rapper. Though a “gangsta” by most people’s standards, Jacka displays remorse, understanding, and motivation to change – all qualities which are true rarities in today’s rap game. Those qualities, by the way, would probably knock a few years off a sentence or help secure earlier parole. If somehow your rap play list has more stringent standards than a federal judge, then maybe the fact that Jacka has Cormega’s seal of approval may be enough to get you open.

The first thing that makes “The Jack Artist” so dope is the production by Rob Lo. Though Maki and Mob Figaz’s own Husalah both contribute strong tracks to the album, Rob Lo is the common denominator that takes every song to the next level. “Never Blink” features a soulful voice sample and smooth piano accompaniment along with a commanding bass line. “Iller Clip” is just as soulful, but this time features a sweet string sample along with another dope voice sample on the hook. Maki’s “Barney (More Crime)” maintains the albums soulful and melodic vibe with a cascading voice sample and another attention grabbing bass line. By now some of you may be thinking Rob Lo is just another producer cashing in on Kanye’s sample resurgence, but Rob Lo and his Blahk Operah Muzic have crafted a style on their own. It maintains the Bay area’s love for deep bass lines that play center stage, but manages to balance that with extremely soulful and emotional melodies. Even when Rob Lo goes into party mode, the beats are as soulful as anything else on the album. “Girls Say” would be playing on radios across the nation were it not for the fact that Jacka is an independent artist. The bass line plays the melody this time around, layered with soft bells and well placed female voice samples. “Get Out There” features a smooth R&B hook as well outstanding instrumentation by Rob Lo.

Rob Lo’s soulful production is the perfect match for Jacka’s rap style. Jacka does more than your average rapper, by actually using his voice as an instrument rather than just talking over a track. Don’t get it twisted, Jacka isn’t doing a Nelly or Ja-Rule impersonation, instead he manages to use both his flow and his actual voice to reflect emotion instead of letting his lyrics just speak for themselves. On his hit, “Barney (More Crime),” Jacka manages to infuse a message into a song about everybody’s favorite drink and weed:

“Smokin’ a stick of that Barney
But not the purple dinosaur
That shit that niggas dyin’ for
Shit my niggas ridin’ on
Sav wit the windows up
See the smoke pour out
Soon as I open the door
Soon as I go to the store
Voices like “Whoa! Who got it?”
“You know who got it nigga.”
Summertime comin’ up
Can’t breathe without it
Bring the Hpnotiq
Bring the henn
Mix that shit, it turn green
Now break down the purple
It’s softly rough
Milwaukee Bucks
I’m from the place where they grow that stuff
You got your girl in the clutch
Just give me a light
I’ll take that bitch
If she ain’t give me head all night
Sellin’ dope is cool
But rap is on my mind
It’s hard to do them both
And get my bread at the same time
High as fuck off purple
Man I’m out my mind
Gotta grab my strap
Boy it’s time to do some more crime”

On its face the track may seem like another rapper’s ignorant ode to drugs and alcohol, but a closer listen reveals the conflict of a man trying to do right but gravitating towards the wrong path despite his wishes to go straight. “Never Equal” also reveals a similar conflict, this time finding Jacka trying to grasp the seemingly irreparable rift between his lifestyle and his religion:

“Desert Eagle, five-zero, same color as my hero
You might be a thug, but to them you never equal
Life time, life of crime, it’s a war against my people
Not strong, holding on, don’t let the world leave you
I seen a lot of things, most of the shit was awful
It wasn’t crack only, it was murder also
I tried teaching Mus the king, but you still seemed lost though
It’s just a dream, you on your dean boy, but you not
You know you don’t feel safe cuz you got your glock
At a nigga face, man, for the first time
They know I’m a gangsta, it’s way deeper than my rhymes
You might be thug, but you never equal to my nine
I speak to people trying to change they lives with Islam
The same way I was taught, please forgive me for my deepest thoughts
I took advantage of my people, where the weakest walk
Niggas dying in the street, I never seen no chalk
Still when I was a teen we had to kill for out props, nigga”

Jacka’s constant struggle between the lifestyle he feels forced to live, and the wrong he knows he does is what truly makes this album special. Nothing makes this struggle more clear than the hook on “Iller Clip” where Jacka asks:

“If you push more than one drug then say – ‘Yeah’
If you got more than one plug then say – ‘Yeah’
Yo, if you shot a nigga before don’t say – ‘Yeah’
But if you got more than one whore then say – ‘Yeah'”

The third line of the hook sound completely out of place, especially considering the song’s title and subject matter, but despite embellishing everything about a gangsta’s lifestyle Jacka would still like to be able to live his life without any unnecessary static.

Some may find it hard to truly grasp Jacka’s message, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jacka himself had difficulties fully grasping his own message sometimes. “The Jack Artist” is full of references to guns, drugs, and sex that people have come to expect from gangsta rappers, but the reality is that Jacka is a gangsta rapping. What he is trying to convey, and usually what most rap fans tend to miss, is the fact that living his lifestyle doesn’t stop with the drugs, guns, and money. Behind the things kids tend to glorify are the paranoia and the heart-wrenching decisions to be made. Jacka’s justifications of killing on tracks like “Iller Clip” and “Never Equal” aren’t an attempt to convince the listener or his religion as much as they are attempts to convince him self that he had no other choice and it was his only option. The entire album reflects the experience of a man trapped in a world where crime and drugs are glorified while his religion and conscience are telling him otherwise. There are times where Jacka completely relishes in his lifestyle, like on “Girls Say,” but those moments are balanced with heartfelt wishes to change and do right on tracks like “Kuran.” Overall, you can’t completely understand Jacka until you hear him for yourself. Even then, chances are you might not connect with him on the same level as I have. But if I was asked in the future to describe what life was like for those trapped in America’s ghettos in 2005 I would point to “The Jack Artist” – an album that captures the good, the bad, and the ugly of what too often gets portrayed as a one-sided experience.

The Jacka :: The Jack Artist