We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin Jackson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I am originally from the South Side of Chicago, Il. I grew up on 95th and Wallace until I was about 12 or 13 and then moved to 63rd and Dorchester until I was 18. I was raised by a single mother who worked very hard to keep my busy and who made sure I had a number of older male mentors around me to helped maintain and influence my interests in music and the arts. As a child I spent a lot of time at church singing in choir, on the step team, and participating in other youth activities that kept me active. Between that, piano lessons, basketball, and school I had a pretty busy schedule most of the time. The Southside of Chicago is extremely rich in culture and community, but just like any other city it has its struggles. For most of my adolescence violence in the city was pretty high and sometimes felt like at any point anyone could be on the wrong side of a gun. During this period of my life, I was lucky enough to find that there were various outlets for kids like myself and-to that I will always give credit to for birthing the essence of who I am today. Firstly, my Junior year in high school I was accepted into the Advanced Arts vocal arts program at the downtown building called Gallery 37 Center for the Arts, home to a program called After School Matters. Gallery 37 is home to multimedia art programs that are open to inner city students to hone and expand their interests, knowledge, and skill set in the arts ranging from Culinary Arts to Theatre, Dance and more. There I learned to sing in various languages and met a lot of kids from various public schools across the city. Since this program was downtown and part of my actual school curriculum, I would leave the SouthSide high school that I attended “King” around 5th period and take the bus all the way downtown for the remainder of the day. As I spent most of my time downtown I started to become familiar with the streets and atmosphere of it. At some point on a random Wednesday I stumbled into the place that shaped my musical identity and helped me hone my craft by performing my material in front of my peers on a consistent basis. That was the Harold Washington Library. Home to Lyricist Loft (Rest in peace Brother Mike) . Out of this place and various other open mics around the city spawned a generation of ridiculously talented individuals. Lyricist Loft was like an underground renaissance for black inner city teens. We were all 15 – 17 from different parts of the city coming together to share our essence with really sometimes a room full of strangers who eventually became family. We all week to week for a couple years watched each other grow and connected with each other. Artists who have careers now sharpened their skills her. Artists like Chance the Rapper, (whose face was actually on the Harold Washington Library for a while), Saba and Pivot Gang, Noname, (for a while Noname Gypsy), Jean Deaux, just to name a few, all made their way through here at one point. Along the way I ended up being apart of a group called The Happiness Club, led by Tanji Harper. we had weekly rehearsals, wrote songs together and performed them in front of various audiences around the city and even got a segment that aired on Windy City Live. Here I got practice songwriting, choreography, and singing not behind a piano, which was what I had been accustomed to for so long. Tanji really pushed me outside of my comfort zone and gave me a stage to hone my skill and to her I will forever be grateful. My background, upbringing, and who I am today are all intrinsically connected to the experiences and lessons I learned through the beautiful and sometimes not so pretty nature of Chicago. Had I not been involved in any of these programs, groups or open mics, or even met some of the people who I still call family till this day, I honestly cant see how I would have gotten here.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Usually I would refer to myself as an Rnb and soul artist, but as of recently I have been creating and pushing a sound that I am calling Rnbop. Rnbop is a melting pot of influences from Jazz to World to Reggaeton to Hip Hop and more. What sets me apart, which I think is true for any artist, is my artistic vision and personality, coupled with my passion and determination for what I am creating to be shared with the world. I am most excited and proud of the project I am currently working on. It’s been about 2 years in the making and everything is coming together in what I like to assume is just divine timing. The road to here was not easy nor would I have ever wanted it to be. Though being able to tour playing keys and backing vocals for Dreamville artist Bas was an amazing circumstance I found myself in and honestly a huge catalyst allowing me to embark on the Artist journey even more. The biggest lesson I have been learning is to trust your own vision. You need to have an unwavering almost delusional belief in yourself and your vision, especially as an independent artist who doesn’t have the backing of a label. At the end of the day the music, the art will always speak for itself, but energy surrounding it, the confidence in it will translate and people will feel that. I want the people to know that Justn is an authentic artist. My music comes from the deepest parts of me and is created from stories and experiences that I have gone through, or even what i’m going through. who I am and my music are one in the same, so If you love my music then you love me and honestly I wouldn’t want it any other way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would definitely have to take them to see some mountains. Im from a city where there are none lol so thats number one. probably some hiking trail in Pasadena and then take them up to Mulholland Drive to see the ridiculous houses that exist and also the amazing views. Id also have to take them to sunset blvd and grab some Harolds Chicken cause I mean like, what? Thats a Chicago Staple. GOTTA have some Harolds. Actually that might be the first thing we do lmao. After that we gotta walk to where all the superhero’s be at on sunset. Hopefully its a busy day and the dancers and tourists are out there as well so they get the whole experience. Then probably hit a rooftop bar like Mama Shelter or Ep LP or Perch. Id probably end the trip with a drive up PCH to some private beach in Malibu and take in the ocean breeze and the atmosphere. Yea thats a solid week for me, or a really busy day it really just depends.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and Foremost I want to shout out my mother. She was and is the voice of reasoning in my head always and sacrificed so much for me to be doing what I am doing now. I love her unconditional support even when she is not too sure whats going to happen next. She has always prided me on being who I am. Secondly, I’d like to thank Mario Moody, my piano teacher for 10+ years. Mario was a true mentor to me at key development stages in my life. When I started writing music he was the first person I’d show and sometimes would practice writing music over actually practicing the songs he had given me the week prior. We butt heads as I got older but I appreciate all of those interactions because without Mario I dont think I would have gravitated and known that songwriting was something I was truly passionate about. Thirdly, I want to thank Mr. Henry and Mrs Hendricks from Gallery 37. They were hard on me at first because I needed it and I love them for that. Also without Gallery 37 I would not have known about the art school in California that I ended up graduating from 4 years later. Fourthly, I want to shoutout Tanji Harper and the Happiness Club for taking me in and helping me hone my skills and putting me around such talented people that I had the privilege to learn and aspire from. And last but not least I want to thank one of my best friends in LA Nele Moens. Nele started managing me a couple years ago as an artist and its been non stop growth ever since. She has pushed me to places musically and artistically that I dont think I could have gotten to without her. She has been such a positive reinforcement for me, a soundboard when i needed and an all around great person.
Chase Fade Maya Iman Nele Moens