Jason “Jadakiss” Phillips is two weeks away from releasing what’s arguably the best album of his career, but when he visits the VIBE office in Times Square, he has a different reason to celebrate. “This is my 23-year-old son,” he proudly shares in his distinctive raspy voice, pointing to a young man behind him wearing a red hoodie. “He just graduated from Clark Atlanta in psychology.”
While his son earned a college degree, ‘Kiss has been dropping doctorate level bars for more than two decades. He established himself as a rap legend in the mid-90s with his heartless, street-touching rhymes as a member of The LOX and on songs alongside rap greats like Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas, DMX, and more. Whether he’s conjuring images of a luxurious bathroom on “We Gonna Make It,” ruminating on social issues on his 2004 hit “Why,” or illustrating a heartless “Bishop” from 1992’s Juice on Schoolboy Q’s track “Groovy Tony,” Jadakiss has always been as hard as it gets. But 26 years after the Yonkers-bred group made their debut on Main Source’s song “Set It Up,” Jada’s connection to the street looks different. He and his groupmate Styles P went from solely trading lines on wax for the legendary record labels, Bad Boy and Ruff Ryders, to starting Juices For Life, a health-conscious juice bar in their childhood stomping grounds just north of New York City. The 44-year-old father of five children is also preparing to get into voiceover work, starting with a role as a superhero in an animated film.
The grown-up Jadakiss is reflected on Ignatius, his fifth solo studio album, scheduled for a March 6 release (the album was pushed back one week for sample clearances). The LP is named after Ignatius “Icepick” Jackson, his friend, former A&R and manager who died from colon cancer in 2017. Fans of the mixtape monster “Al Qaeda Jada” will get their fix with the Pusha T collab “Hunting Season,” but the rest of the record showcases him as the Jason Phillips that his friend Icepick inspired him to be: a seasoned musician with stronger hooks and more mature songwriting, covering a wide range of emotions and speaking about the relationships and experiences that matter to him while dropping jewels throughout. The first single “Me” sees him, “giving the people who don’t know me a quick autobiography,” he says. “Catch And Release” finds Jada recovering from a woman who betrayed him, while the Ty Dolla $ign-assisted “NYB (Need Ya Best)” gives love another shot; “Keep It 100” narrates how a friendship deteriorated over dishonesty in a deal. It’s no 4:44 or Life Is Good when it comes to baring his soul, but on Ignatius, Jadakiss is clearly a more focused, comprehensive artist than he’s ever been before. Just five years ago, with his last solo album, he was still citing himself as Top 5 Dead Or Alive; the raps still matter to him, and he’s clearly proud when two VIBE staffers tell him that this could be his best album, but there appears to be more purpose this time around.
In an interview with VIBE, Jadakiss speaks about his friend Icepick, bringing maturity to street music, and which rappers make him focus when he writes his bars.
VIBE: Tell me about Icepick; I’ve heard him mentioned in songs, but I don’t know much about him. How did you meet him?
Jadakiss: I met him many, many years ago, probably when I was 17 or 18. He worked at Black Man’s Jewelers inside Mart 125, on 125th Street. That was always catchy to me because he was the first black jeweler that I ever met. Then after that, when Ruff Ryders caught on fire, they pulled him in to be the A&R. He A&R’d all of the Ruff Ryder compilations, he was there for We Are The Streets, my solo album, Styles’ solo album, Eve projects, DMX projects. Then after Dee got into the accident and Ruff Ryders kind of went down, I hired him to work with me. He started A&Ring all my projects after that, everything I released on Def Jam up till now. We just got really tight – from the music for my career, to picking the production, mapping out who I should work with, building up my social media brand, teaching me and bringing me to art shows. He was adamant with me about working out and eating right. He used to speak to me every morning, map out a plan to take over the world.
I was one of the last people to find out that he was fighting colon cancer. He ain’t want me to know though. He made sure that everybody that was around him who knew, wouldn’t tell me. That’s what led to this project. After the funeral and after the whole thing got out and we buried him, it still didn’t sit right with me. It’s like it was all new because I didn’t know until the end. I was trying to figure out how to deal with it, as far as what I was going to do with my career, what I was going to do with regular life. Then I just thought, after the Freddy Vs. Jason project (with Fabolous), because he was actually there for the beginning of that when the talks were happening and the contracts were drawn up. So then I just decided, what can I do to get it off my back for a sense of closure? That’s why I thought of naming it after his real name. Unless you went to school with him, you ain’t know his name was Ignatius. A lot of the features are things he always asked me to do – when would I work with Pusha, 2 Chainz, Ty Dolla, we always wanted a John Legend record. Some of the production is stuff that he left around that we had future plans of working on, like the “Closure” outro; the producers came from Norway, called the Pitchshifters, he was working on some stuff with them. I just wanted to base everything around him, then I can sorta leave that right there and get on with the regular Jadakiss scheduled program. He’ll still be with us spiritually, but we don’t have to dwell on it. We can end it off with a celebration. This is like the laminated card they give you at the funeral home.
A lot of us have health issues that we don’t tell people about. He’s calling you every morning ––
We talked every morning for years. For the two or three years prior to that.
How’d you react when you finally found out?
When they finally let me go see him, he was as small as (picks up a notebook bookmark ribbon). He was a brolic dude, so that dropped me to the floor seeing him. Then he passed away the next day or the day after that. In hindsight, after sitting down with myself, smoking and crying and thinking about it, he probably knew far as maybe a year prior to that, he knew and he wouldn’t tell nobody. I have such a vivid memory and I can [recall] things, he was giving me signs, he was telling me without telling me. He actually had a surgery that was related to that, but he told me it was some whole other. … He said, “I gotta go get this little surgery, it ain’t nothing.” Then after, he was having pains in his back or in his leg, so he had to go in and do another surgery. And that’s when it got real bad. He still was playing it off. The last few times we talked, I’d say “I’m coming to Harlem to see you,” and he’d make up something. “Yo, come to the crib,” he’d make up something. When I sat down and thought about it, he already knew. He just didn’t want me to know.
But he gave me probiotics. He’d give me wild stuff. That was all signs. “Take these every day.” He gave me vitamins two months before I stopped seeing him.
So he was trying to make you focus on your health, while you had no idea what he was dealing with as far as his health.
I think that’s what hit me the hardest. He was on me so hard to lose weight, work out, eat right, and I don’t even know the whole time, he’s going through his own. That really messed me up.
Did you ever feel upset with him for not telling you?
That’s in some of the songs. All of the songs have a double meaning. “Keep It 100,” I’m talking about my life inside my house and an incident that happened with one of my ex-friends. But I’m also talking to Pick, that he should’ve kept it 100 with me. I can’t wait to see him again so I can smack the hell out of him. There was a part of me that was angry. Me and him were tighter than glue; being one of the last people to find out, that crushed me. But I was one of the last people to find out because he wanted me to be. That makes me happy that he loved me that much that he knew it would’ve hurt me, but I also wish I could’ve helped out. I might’ve could’ve helped the situation instead of trying to go ballistic. I could’ve helped out financially somehow, or anything.
People show their love for us in different ways. But you also said that thinking back, you said that he was showing signs. Did you ever feel bad that you didn’t figure it out?
No, because it was done casually and charismatic and nonchalant. It would be random little stuff. He was on me so much about working out and eating. When I first started with my trainer, he came for the first week or so. Then once he seen that I had the bug – I got off red meat, started eating fish and vegetables – he got off me. He would be on me till I get it, then he’d leave me alone. It didn’t seem like he was doing it, but the whole thing is a setup.
Is he older than you?
He’s older. I think he’d be 48 or 47 right now. Two or three years older.
This is (Icepick's) album! He A&R’d it from the pearly gates!
Do you have any bigger brothers?
So would you say he’s like a bigger brother?
He was definitely like a bigger brother, partner, mentor, all that.
What would’ve been his favorite song on this album?
Hm. I’d say the joint with 2 Chainz. Or the joint with Push. Or the John Legend. This is his album! He made it! He A&R’d it from the pearly gates! When you say that, it feels like he would’ve loved all of them joints. That’s a beautiful thing, that it’s named after him. I feel like it accomplished what I wanted it to accomplish. I feel like people who knew him, or knew of him, would receive it better than a fresh listener, but a fresh listener would still be able to appreciate it.
Generally, I’m a mixtape Jada guy. All of your albums have a few joints that I like, but sometimes I think you’re trying to cover too much ground. This album has a lot more clarity and is more focused. All 13 songs fit. Do you think thta making an album dedicated to him helped you find more clarity?
I think it’s him. His whole spirit and presence and being and aura was in each session, each production being picked. This is the only album I did post-production on. That’s something he was on me about. Whenever he first started working with me, and The LOX, and the Ryders, it would get done a little bit, but never how much I did it on this album. Live instruments, samples, beefed-up bass. I didn’t notice it until halfway through the process, like “holy sh*t, Pick always wanted this.” I didn’t care what it was going to cost. He was a part of the project without physically being there. All the ideas he wanted me to do, I was able to do to the best of my ability.
You’ve always had bars, but this album feels more mature and developed. The hooks are better, song concepts are fleshed out. How have you gotten so much better as an artist, when you were always a top tier rapper?
Learning the game a little more. Understanding music. Understanding that hip-hop is an art form that you have to express it whatever way it comes out. Being open to new music. My son brings a little bit of A&R to the table, hearing the music from his aspect and his age group. Just enjoying it, never thinking you’re bigger than the music. That gives legs to dudes like me.
What does it take to stay sharp?
Sharpening your skills. Staying in the studio. Listening to new music, listening to old music. There’s a couple golden era CDs and albums that, if you always pop them in, they always sharpen you up like a college professor, or a high school class. Even a church sermon. There’s some discographies out there that are therapeutic to listen to before you write. Even some of the not so new, but new stuff. Some of those Drake albums, Kendrick, J. Cole, Slaughterhouse, Royce Da 5’9”. There’s a collage of music out there that should make you want to create.
I appreciate where you and Styles’ careers have gone, because you’ve shown that street music can mature. That you can have connection to the streets, but talk about it in a way that’s different from when you were younger.
We always look at it as being elder statesmen. One of the catches with being a dope artist is saying the same exact thing a trillion different ways, and being able to get across somehow differently every time. The way to express maturity and growth and evolution is to do that throughout the music. We started as pitchers to bosses. Now we’re business owners. We’re still bosses, but P always tells you in his bars, “I’m selling fruit now.” That’s what it’s about. The A Boogies, I expect them in a few years to still be lit, but in a different way. That’s what it should be. Hov started out as a drug dealer in Marcy; he’s bumping his head on the clouds now. If you’re not picking that up, you’re not picking up the right message in hip-hop. Despite how they might try to tarnish it. Some of the things they say are true, but a lot of them are not. But it’s a stepping stone.
Artists like A Boogie, I expect them in a few years to still be lit, but in a different way. That’s what it should be.
It’s about evolving and making a career out of it. A lot of dudes have nice, big songs. One of them, or maybe two of them. But to have a career, you’ve got to salute them. Rick Ross, a lot of dudes. Look at what Ludacris was able to do – a radio personality to the Fast and Furious franchise. That’s incredible. That’s stuff that goes underrated, he should get big upped for that. LL, from being the first artist on Def Jam to where he’s at now. That’s unheard of. Nobody would’ve ever thought dude that came in on Krush Groove [would be doing this]. That’s stuff that goes under the rug, but dudes that study the game, I appreciate that. I want to take steps up to where when I am older and don’t feel like doing it no more, the transition will be an impeccable one like those guys.
The video for “Me” was a nine-minute film. Do you want to do more movies?
Definitely, my bucket list is to do more movie stuff and more voiceover stuff. I actually got an animated movie coming called Supercharged out in April, I’ve got the lead role. It’s a kids movie where there’s a superhero that’s got superhero kids that he leaves with a babysitter, and the babysitter asks a girl that’s his friend to come over and study with him. But somebody’s that got beef with the dad tries to steal the kids. The babysitter’s playing a videogame where this is happening, but it’s actually happening. I’m the dad. My character’s name is Captain Lightyear. I can’t wait for my kids to see it, and to see their faces when they hear my voice and see the cartoon moving. It’s going to be nuts.
This album definitely shows a new, mature Jada. What is the mature Jason like?
Family man. It’s always some good and bad, some positive and something sad. After Pick’s passing, I got my family in order, bought a new house, did the picket fence type of thing. Father comes home at night, look at my kids’ homework on the counter. Eat my meal, look at Sportscenter. Look in his room, see if he’s there. Go and sadly watch the end of a reality show with his moms, and fall asleep. I’m Kiss the artist, and Jason the father. It’s my job. I reap benefits outside of work, as well as hardships because of work. You deal with it. It’s no different than your favorite actor or your favorite ballplayer. You pinch us, we still gotta go “ouch.” Some people think your life is so vainglorious that you’re unpinchable. Nah, same thing. When they say “cut,” you gotta go into your moms and take the garbage out, or bring her some hot sauce or something. It’s reality.
Kobe Bryant passed away recently.
Rest in peace to the Mamba. And everybody on board the helicopter, his daughter and the other passengers as well. They don’t get the proper [acknowledgment]. Though they wasn’t the biggest profile people as Kobe and his daughter, we’ve gotta always mention them out of respect.
You’re a father of five, and Kobe had four kids. How did that death hit you as a father?
I was in LA, unfortunately. I was there, and you hear it, you think it’s fake news. You hope it’s fake news. Then you turn on the TV, and you’re hearing it from everywhere and you realize it’s real. You’re so sad for Kobe. Then when they mention his daughter might be aboard, then you’re really like, “Oh nah, please Lord.” And then once they tell you she was actually one of the passengers…if you’ve got daughters, or any kids in general, you put yourself there and you can never even imagine what to do. You start thinking, what were they thinking? It’s horrible to visualize and think about. All you can do is pray for his family, his wife, his other kids, as well as the other people’s families.
You’ve recorded with some of the best rappers of all time, and I haven’t heard anyone completely wash you. Is there any rapper that makes you rewrite? That makes you think, “if I’m working with him, I really gotta bring it”?
I wouldn’t say they make me rewrite. But there are certain artists that I would take a slower approach. It’s some dudes I can come in, scour the room, and be like “put the beat on,” like Larry Bird at the three-point contest when he didn’t take his warm-up jacket off and he came in and said, “who got second?” That’s how I feel with some dudes. But there’s others that you’re going to take your jacket off and strategically throw several bars that you’re sure several of your peers would’ve kept. You just throw them away until you get that perfect fit and pay homage and respect to your colleagues. It’s like taking your time on an essay instead of completing the amount of sheets that your teacher says need to be done. That’s just how it’s done. I don’t think Jordan wouldn’t play the same against Magic Johnson as he did the old Knicks.
So which artists push you like that?
Always Styles and Sheek. That’s why I think we’re so dynamic. My two brothers at home keep me on my toes, first and foremost. And then Fab, Nas, ‘Hov, Andre Three Stacks, Drake, Cole, Cordae. A lot of dudes are spitting. Don Q, Game, 2 Chainz. Niggas spit. Never underestimate nobody. Never take nothing for granted. You just saw the Wilder fight. It can always go wrong on any night. [chuckles]