Westword (Ru Johnson): You consider yourself to be ushering in a new school era of hip-hop. What exactly does that mean?
Turner Jackson: Well the Neo New School isn't something that just pertains to music. It is a lifestyle of youngsters such as me that come to show and prove in whatever they do. I think a lot of folks my age have this idea that the world owes them something, when, in fact, it is the exact opposite.
We owe the world a valuable contribution because we take from it. The Neo New School is the young folk who do the best they can possibly do every day, with no excuses. That's the ideology that I put behind it.
Ww: Is it as important to know as many Big Daddy Kane songs as one might know songs by Wale?
TJ: I don't believe what you know is as important as what you're willing to learn. Being a person who recently started to research hip-hop history, it is very important to know who Big Daddy Kane is. That's because a lot of current hip-hop is a direct descendant from Kane -- including Wale. I don't think you have to know as many Big Daddy Kane songs as a current [artist] as, say, a Wale, but you do have to know and respect who he is. The only way to know that is to listen to his music.
Ww: It seems as if you fashion yourself not only as a rapper, but a revolutionary -- your stage name is a throw to history's Nat Turner -- are you education or entertainment?
TJ: I recently have discovered that I'm about education, but it has to be learning for the sake of you and what you'd like to know or should know to make your life better. If you have someone that doesn't want to learn anything, then they don't want a better life.
The purpose of revolution is change. The world has no need for another lackluster, unmotivated person. Someone has to learn to become better than who they are. Nat Turner did it for freedom. I do it for the freedom to be better than you are. But at the end of the day, I make music, so I love to entertain the masses.
Ww: In rap years, you're pretty young, at 22. How often do you have the "pay your dues" conversation?
TJ: I'm actually still 21. I'll be 22 on September 4th, and in rap years, I am very young. Some of the guys that I look up to and seek advice from have had the paying dues talk with me many times. Honestly, I'd say about once every two weeks or so. It's all a learning process, and I'm learning that I'm doing okay, but I've still got a long way to go.
There are folks that have been making music for years that are very talented and are still grinding for a break. Paying dues is part of how you build your rep, as well. So I'm in no rush to get anywhere too soon, but I am working hard every day to get where I'm going -- wherever that may be.
Ww: Your lyrical terrain is rugged with punch lines and humorous double entendres like "The Biggest Loser." How do you come up with these themes?
TJ: Different songs come from different places with me. Sometimes the beat tells me what to say, and sometimes my emotions just take over. For example, "The Biggest Loser" was born strictly from Dealz Makes Beats production. If he never made the beat, I would have never made that song.
Then there is a song like "Mr. Mistro." That was the emotion of being pissed off. Someone told me I wasn't a musician. My reply: You're right. I'm Mr. Mistro. I use my ideas, taste for word and my love for speech and presentation, do the work, and then I go to town.
Ww: On the production end, you have some heavy names and collaborations, from Big J Beats of 1984 to Dealz Makes Beats to Xperiment. What criteria do you use when choosing which beats to rap over?
TJ: I really don't have criteria for the beats that I rap over. I just have to like it. I know within thirty seconds if I like a beat. When I can't help but move and jam out to a beat, it's hot to me. As far Big J, Dealz, Xperiment, Kid Hum, Savier One goes, I just happen to have homies who are dope at making beats. Most of those cats I kick it with and chill on a regular basis. That's how it is for anyone I make music with. We kick it. We build. We get to know each other. Music is a personal thing, so you should know the cats that you chose to make music with.
Ww: There is the argument that "great" MCs are harder and harder to come by these days. If there were rap prerequisites, what would be your overall qualifying skill?
TJ: I don't think great MCs are harder to come by. I think everyone has their own idea of what a great MC is. My personal strength is my ability to freestyle. I'm always ready to kick one. I can express my ideas well, which also helps me with my writing.
Ww: How are you making your mark on the music scene in the city right now?
TJ: Right now, I'm getting ready to launch my campaign: "Freestyles Are Still Free (FASF)" on September 1st. I show up. I give the general public wherever I'm at freestyle, and then I'm off to do it again. My homie Joe Thunder is working with me on that. So be on the lookout for me on the bus, in the grocery store, at McDonalds, wherever. People are gonna remember if you give them a great show, no matter where it is.
Dealz and I are wrapping up TCM. Nofrendo and I are in the midst of working on my next mixtape, "Welcome to the Fader," and then Kid Hum and I are working on something very special. All I can say is "Groovy Music Makers from Earth." Other than that, I'm doing what my mentor told me to do, "Ask how you can help." So I just ask folks how I can help them. I pass out fliers and stuff to shows I'm not even a part of. My mark is what I do.
Ww: What is musically radical about Turner Jackson?
TJ: I'd say the most musically radical thing about me is that I don't believe I'm a rapper. In my own head I'm a superhero, and my power is communication. The songs I write are like pages out of my comic. I, honestly, am trying to use my voice to change the world. I'm about getting a message across more than music. Music is just how I get my message across.
Ww: If we gave you a soapbox to expound from regarding the climate of hip-hop, what would you say?
TJ: Hip-hop is like a bowl of mixed nuts. I only like cashews and honey roasted peanuts. Some people only like walnuts. Some people like all nuts. The only thing that matters is that you're eating what you like. Hip-hop is going through the same thing that every other genre of music has. Not everybody is gonna like all the music that comes out. Some folks are wack, and some aren't. It's a matter of perspective, I guess.
No matter how we feel and see things, let's say less than talented artist make it. It happens, and it will always happen. Hip-hop is more than just a 'hood thing. It's a corporate thing. I don't care about the music industry. I ain't signed, so all that don't concern me. I'm just making my music, and what hip-hop is to me is the most important thing.