With the 50th anniversary of hip hop celebrated in 2023, Local Spins will occasionally ask Michigan artists to reflect on important albums that shaped them. Today, we feature Last Gasp Collective’s Jay Jackson.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians trace their inspiration to key recordings that influenced their careers. Today, our “Albums That Changed the World” series focuses on hip hop, which celebrates its 50th anniversary as a genre later this year. Over the next several months, we’ll ask some Michigan artists to reflect on the hip hop music that’s most influenced them. To wrap up January, writer Ross Boissoneau showcases music that changed the world for Kalamazoo producer and Last Gasp Collective frontman Jay Jackson. At 9 p.m. tonight (Jan. 31), by the way, PBS premieres “Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World.” Details here.
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Multi-instrumentalist, rapper, producer, composer, bandleader.
Yes, Jay Jackson has seemingly done it all.
And he’s nowhere close to stopping, though he does admit the pandemic did put the brakes on virtually all musical activities.
“It slowed things down. We were gigging and touring non-stop,” he says of the award-winning, Kalamazoo-based hip-hop outfit Last Gasp Collective. “I don’t think anyone in the band had a day job.”
That’s changed, as many if not most members now have other jobs and the band members themselves are scattered. “A lot of people moved back to their hometowns.”
Jackson grew up in a religious household, where gospel music and the occasional Motown song were virtually the only musical sounds. “Music was the one thing allowed. There was a piano and drum set in church,” he says. He was also attracted to the basketball courts, and went to Indiana Tech to play basketball, before returning to the Kalamazoo area to lean on family to help him raise his family.
“I really committed to music when I stopped playing basketball. I went to a lot of open mics and things. That was my entry; I met a lot of people.”
That’s in fact how the Last Gasp Collective got its start. “It started at open mics, with rap over live instrumentation,” he says. He began working up backgrounds on his laptop, then presenting them to the instrumentalists to learn and perform on stage.
The band last fall released “Our Daily Bread” — nominated for album of the year at the upcoming WYCE Jammie Awards — and Jackson currently is working on a solo release.
1. Kirk Franklin, “The Nu Nation Project” (1998) – It’s almost impossible to pick three. I listen to so much music. I came up super religious. Prior to 12 (years old) I wasn’t exposed to any secular music, other than Motown. But of the albums that shaped me, this was on repeat non-stop. In the house, the car, at church, at choir. It’s where gospel was transitioning, more hip hop and R&B, little pieces from outside gospel. It struck me that music can evolve. It can be uptempo, have beats, but be clean. There was almost a stigma, hip hop was about guns, shooting, objectifying women.
2. Kanye West, “The College Dropout” (2004) – In my early teens, that album completely changed my life. I wouldn’t be playing music otherwise. It showed the positive side, you didn’t have to be bad. That sent me on a chase. Eventually hip hop became my favorite style and what I did. It’s in the last 10 years as I got serious with Last Gasp Collective, a combination of everything, minor 9th chords, hip hop with live instruments.
Listen: “All Falls Down”
3. August Greene, “August Greene” (2018) – It’s a group with Robert Glasper, Common and others. When it came together, I said, “That’s our sound.” It’s very jazzy, it’s just like early hip hop with strings, choirs, when Kanye was doing his chop sample. It molded my approach.
Listen: “Black Kennedy” (Live)
Currently Loving: Kota the Friend, “Lyrics to Go Vol. 4” (2023) – This is just as tough (as three inspirations) because I listen to so much. I listen to music before the lyrics or vocal delivery. Every single song grabbed me. This was produced by Statik Selektah, and they (Selektah and Kota) complement each other so well. It’s a mix of live drums, sampled and digital. I’m studying the drum patterns.
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Jay Jackson’s Playlist on Spotify
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