Remembering The Jacka, Bay Area Icon
Looking back on the life of the Oakland rapper, with thoughts from Freddie Gibbs, Mistah FAB, Traxamillion, and Zumbi of Zion-I.
The Jacka, 2009 / Photo by John Coyne, courtesy of the author
This is not an obituary or a eulogy. Those are for people whose lives, friendships, and accomplishments need embellishment. They’re not real, and the words used are wrapped in plastic and cold to the touch.
This is about my friend, The Jacka. He had many names—Dominic Newton, officially—but The Jacka is what I, along with the rest of the world, called him. Over ten years ago, I wrote my first story on him as the editor of a local magazine called RUCKUS, meeting up with him in Hunters Point to shoot in front of a graffiti mural with The Coup’s logo. I already knew a little about who he was: practicing Muslim, C-Bo’s protégé; sometimes Cormega-collaborator; very much a part of a team that consisted of Fed-X, AP.9, Rydah J. Klyde, and this crazy dude named Husalah. Longtime collaborator and friend RobLo was also part of the group. They were called Mob Figaz, and they were always together, even when they weren’t. Although they were truly a Bay Area group, they were known across the country and even the world after selling over 140,000 units of their eponymous debut “without a major or a SoundScan” as Jack once put it.
After his debut and, later, the release of The Jack Artist in 2005—an anti-hyphy solo debut that was nearly sonically perfect, thanks to RobLo—The Jacka became the calm and collected big brother the streets needed, one who "lived the life” out of circumstance but only to make sure you didn’t have to. No line came without a cautionary tale, one that resonated most with those who had no choice to but hustle, rob, and, yes, sometimes kill (but, as he raps in “Iller Clip,” “don’t say”).
The Jacka, 2005 / Photo by Vivian Chen for RUCKUS, courtesy of the author
When Hus got convicted of drug charges and was about to go away at the peak of the Bay movement in 2006, Jack promised to save his spot for when he returned in 53 months. He threw a series of going-away parties, and Hus went away in style, with a red Corvette to go with his high-top fade. This is where I began to see the loyalty within this circle, which is guided by his enterprising USC-alum manager and business partner, Prashant Kumar, or PK as we call him. While Hus was locked up (and after he was eventually released), Jacka grew to be one of the most prolific artists working, putting out over a dozen solo albums, countless (and I mean, count for your damn self) collaborations, compilations and hundreds of guest features. Jack loved to work. He was a people person.
More than that, he knew that this was bigger than hip-hop or even the Bay. He never let a VIP, guest list, or backstage come between us, and he was always ready to roll at a moment’s notice. We spent many nights blazing up that Cherry Pie in the tunnels of Club Six or on Haight at the Milk Bar on reggae night. At SXSW, we rolled 20 deep. I never felt in danger or pushed to the side when he was around. He went out of his way to make sure our photographer got the best shot, even inciting mass hysteria with Hus to give us prime footage. Over time, through him, I met Traxamillion, Planet Asia, Krondon and the SAS Gang, Freeway, and Freddie Gibbs. No matter who I needed to meet for a story, he was there to vouch for me, to let them know he trusted me. No one ever questioned who I was because they knew we were real friends. And he was like this with pretty much everyone who knew him.
The Jacka and Krish in Dolores Park, 2010 / Photo by Bambu DePistola, courtesy of the author
So how do you document the end of a friendship? Do you begin the inevitable embellishment that happens post-mortem? It’s impossible to name every single person that was impacted by his generous spirit. I guess that’s what social media is for, but, even now, he meant more than another #HashtagMemorial or “gangster rapper” who “lived and died by the gun.” He was a man of the streets, first and foremost. But he was a man of Allah, a man of the people, and a man of his word. The gift he left us is enough music to last five lifetimes, although it will have a different meaning now that he is no longer grinning, waving us over, blunt in hand, back towards that smoky room behind the DJ booth.
We reached out to some of the many artists The Jacka worked with and developed friendships with over the years, and they shared the following memories:
I met Jacka years ago. I met him at a show I was doin’ and he came through—him and PK and stayed for the whole set. And ever since then, I’ve been rocking with them. I ain’t really had no music relationship with Jacka: We did songs, we’re both rappers. But it was more than that. I didn’t go to the Bay without calling Jack. He was more of a gatekeeper to me, you know? A homie on a real level. It’s deeper than that. I’ve lived in California over ten years, and as long as I’ve been living here, I’ve been fucking with the Mob. It’s a part of me, this Cali shit. So when I seen him pass—it feels like a part of you disappeared and is gone for no reason. Jack wasn’t the type of guy you had a problem with. So to see somebody take his life is totally shocking and tragic. I still can’t really get past it. It’s kind of crazy. The way I’m hurting, I know the way the Bay is hurting and the way his family’s hurting. It was a deeper bond than that. It wasn’t all about making raps. I’d sit in the studio with him plenty times and just talk. It was moreso about him just being a genuine person. I can call him if I needed a sack of weed, I can call him if I needed a hotel room—anything. Where should I go eat? He was never unavailable to me. Even when I would go to the Bay, and he was out of town, he would make sure I was taken care of at all times, and I’ma always love him for that. He didn’t have to do that, to show me the love he showed.
I just think we can’t fathom the fact that someone would maliciously hurt a person as cool as Jack. Outside of music, he was the most cool, approachable, laid-back dude in the world.
We were introduced through family, so that intro was more than anything. That sealed it just out the gate. I’ve known him for about 18 years, since I was 16 or 17 when I met him, and he never changed. You never had to re-introduce yourself, re-meet him. It was locked in, as you call it in the streets. He was one of the first fools who was already established in the scene and showed me love. I don’t think I’ll ever get over this. You’ve talked to someone who’s lost a lot of people in his life: my mother, my father, my grandparents, relatives, but this one go up there. If you look at pictures of any significant moment in my career, Jack was always there.
People have to understand that there is no correlation between the streets anymore. There was Once Upon A Time where people like Jacka were prophets of the streets, protected by the streets. He spewed the words of the streets and gave a visual of what cats where looking up to and were living. Which he did. The symbolism of what he lives in the streets in his poetry. Unfortunately, they don’t respect the prophets anymore. They don’t respect the gatekeepers of the ghetto, which means anyone is open.
I’ve been friends with Jack since 2006. When I met Jack, he thought I was actually somebody else (laughs). I called him up ‘cause I had this record called “From The Hood” at the time. I told him “this is who I am, this is what I’ve done, slide through.” He came through, did the verse, and, after the song got big, later on in life, he told me “Man when I came through and did that verse, I didn’t even know who you was!” We traveled the world together, performed together, tight situations. We made each other’s biggest records (the second song was “Glamorous Lifestyle” featuring Andre Nickatina). Jacka is the life of the party. He wants to make sure everybody is cool, everybody is okay. He treated everyone equally. No one was above him or below him.
Zumbi of Zion-I
We went out with a full band on that tour, and he was mobbin’ with PK and DJ Quest. The dopest thing about talking with Jacka was his candor. We talked about food, weed strains, and battle rappers. But what I remember most is our discussion about having kids and family life. He told me about his kids and his get down. Then he was like "Zoom, how many you got?" I was like "None." He responded "How'd you do that?" I laughed at the time, but for some reason his question stuck with me all the way up until my first son was born. He was just that kind of person, so sincere that you could see yourself reflected in his eyes.
I know people wouldn't normally associate the Jacka and Zion I, and that was exactly why our connection was dope. It wasn't built on preconceived notions or strategy. It was built on mutual respect. We make different types of music, but we respect each other within the context of hip-hop culture. The Jacka was an artist straight up. He was a complex dude that needed to tell his story.
Krishtine de Leon is a journalist living and working in Oakland. Follow her on Twitter.