This is a new day for Turner Jackson. He's completely reshaped, reinvigorated and ready to take on everything that's in store for him. He has a whole new perspective these days, but it came at the immeasurably high price of losing friend and mentor Marcus "Arrilius" Hayes. Before his untimely passing this past February, Hayes had a tremendous influence on Jackson. He was a guiding light, and his death has left a colossal void in the rapper's life. "Losing him, I really had a breakdown," Jackson recalls. "It was crazy-emotional."
The unexpected loss led to lot of soul-searching for Jackson and others in his inner circle. "Some of us came out on top of that, it's very evident," he says, "and some of those who didn't are still affected by it. But it's all family business. You can't leave a brother behind. That's what Marcus would have told me."
From the sound of it, Hayes shared a lot of that kind of wisdom with Jackson. While many in the hip-hop scene perceive Jackson as a generally upbeat person, this was not always the case. "I'm known for having a temper," he admits, a shortcoming that Hayes evidently encouraged him to work on. "Marcus would just tell me, 'You have to be more accommodating to people.' I work every day to be a better person so I can be the best version of me, and that makes me better in all aspects of life."
Turner Jackson, 9 p.m. Thursday, November 14, Milk Bar, 1037 Broadway, 303-832-8628, $10, 21+.
As devastating as Hayes's death was, it also served as a wake-up call. "I spent two years sleeping on Big Jay Beats and Ear Attent's couch," notes Jackson. "Then, the day Marcus passed, I said, 'I can't take it no more.' So I got off the couch and never went back." The tragedy also gave him a clearer outlook on how his attitude affected his music. "The music was great," he says, "but it did not take off as it could have. The world wasn't ready to receive me because of the energy I was putting out."
Jackson poured his newfound drive and focus into his latest release, Black Electric Love, actively pushing beyond the inherent boundaries of his genre. "If I can make music that anyone likes — the hip-hop head and people who don't even listen to hip-hop — then I've won," he says. Indeed, Black Electric Love finds Jackson employing elements of jazz, rock and other genres as he seeks to fully express himself through new types of compositions and styles.
"Some of this stuff is new," he explains. "I mean, in terms of sounds, it's not new; it's been out there. It's just new to me." Jackson worked with a variety of folks on the production for the new album, including Elliot Baker of FLASH/LIGHTS, Spencer Foreman of Cobraconda, and Dynohunter, among others, and each of those guys brought new elements to the creative process.
The resulting production is very high-quality and quite diverse, with a seamless blending of multiple genres. Beyond even that, though, what makes the project stand out is Jackson himself. For his part, the rapper delivers precise patterns and astute observations with his lyrics. His rhyme schemes and pitch have always been distinctive, but the insight he brings to this collection reveals a genuine understanding of the human condition.
The first single, "Figure It Out," exemplifies this as Jackson raps with empathy about the pangs of the everyday struggle. Propelled by a dubby bass interspersed with a jazzy sax line, the track is truly uplifting, and it reflects Jackson's new perspective. "I'm a lover," he declares. "I love my kid. I love the women I am with. I love my mom. But love brings out a lot of things. Love makes you frustrated and sometimes angry; you learn to fight for what you want."
And what Jackson wants is to make music — but it's a balancing act. "Music is my angel and my demon," he says. "If I do it too much, the music comes out good, but then I'm not good." With this in mind, the rapper took a short break from the musician lifestyle before really throwing himself into the new project.
"I had to take a couple weeks away and just get away from the music life to get right," he recalls. At the same time, though, Jackson doesn't view music and life as mutually exclusive propositions. "My life is not compartmentalized," he clarifies. "I am not a compartmentalized type of person. With anything."
Like most artists, Jackson's worldview is as conflicted as it is complicated. But then Jackson himself defies convention. "Most people like me aren't chipper and cheery all the time," he says. "Even gangstas like to smile." He relishes the role of being different. "I love it. People usually think I'm the guitarist or something, not the rapper. Sometimes I'm afraid to tell people I'm a rapper."
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That's most likely because he sees himself as more than a rapper. While rap may indeed be his medium, Jackson sees himself as an artist, and this outlook has proved to be liberating. In fact, he thinks it's a sentiment more folks should embrace. "Musicians," he says, "need to start looking at themselves as more than just musicians."
Sounds like more words of wisdom gleaned from Hayes, who was one of the founding members of Jackson's Welcome to the D.O.P.E. Game crew. D.O.P.E. stands for Don't Oppress Positive Energy, a sentiment that still fuels the crew's creative endeavors today. Hayes may be gone, but his legacy remains. The team is stronger than ever these days, and it gives Jackson strength and comfort to know that he has a stable full of good people who have his back — as he does theirs.
"You have to have faith in the person standing next to you," he points out. "Everyone plays their part, and the people on your team have to be dope to even be there standing next to you. I trust in the team and what they think is good for us."