Rest in power to Shaheed Akbar (born Dominic Newton), aka The Jacka. On February 2, it was reported that this man, a truly beloved Bay Area rap legend, had been murdered in East Oakland. He came on the scene in 1999 as part of the Pittsburg, California, collective Mob Figaz, endorsed and signed by Sacramento gangsta rapper C-Bo. Much like Ghostface Killah in the Wu, Jacka wasn't the standout dude in his crew at first, but he would come to be the group's most consistent MC and staunchest flag-waver.
Delivered via his singular slurry-mouthed, deceptively simple style, The Jacka's words color-flopped from desolate survival logic to gracious prayer to meditations on black struggle—all iced with a melodic gift (recalling Slick Rick at his most lackadaisical) that could somehow turn blood-freezing street tales into a the warmest lullaby. Literally—you could probably rock a baby to blissful sleep with the hook to "Won't Be Right," singing, "I just wanna clap on my enemieees." Rap haters (you know, racists) love the old "live by the gun" chestnut, but they refuse to see why people around the world have to live the way they do—and their own silent complicity in it.
Stylistically, The Jack was also a bridge-maker—though straight from the Bay, he and the Figaz had a love for the mournful godbody gangsta rap of the post-Illmatic East Coast, exemplified in Capone-N-Noreaga and Cormega. It was 'Mega, in fact, who really put The Jacka on the national map. He liked his contribution to the single "Barney (More Crime RMX)" so much that he put it on his own album Legal Hustle—a year before it would appear on The Jack Artist.
I'd been a fan since that album, but it was 2009's epic Tear Gas that made him one of my favorite rappers, period—to my ears, the way he not just spoke on, but exemplified struggle and black pain simply hadn't been heard in hiphop since 2Pac. He was balanced and never cartoonish, never glamorizing, always acknowledging the other side, the karmic price for the way of life he despaired being married to.
You could hear that he loved his black people first and foremost, never judging anyone for doing what they had to do to survive, be they his fellow block-bred hustlers, crack fiends, prostitutes, or his own broken family. On "Iller Clip," he rapped about his father being locked up for a lot of his life: "My pops served 15 years/Felt like 60/Even though you had to ride that one out/You still wit me." His father was later killed, just as Jacka's grandfather had been. Also gunned down in Oakland was Huey P. Newton—this context is important in a country that hunted down and broke down the Black Panther Party for self-defense, that flooded crack into those communities the BPP tried to protect, decimating black families. RIP to the Dopest Forreal.