Exclusive Interview: Jadakiss comes through for a two-part conversation, talking "Ignatius," his friendship with Biggie, and the one collaboration he's been eying for years.
Following a last-minute delay, Jadakiss has officially released the fifth studio album of his legendary career, Ignatius. A recurring placement on top ten lists from the barbershop to the booth, Jada's prolific catalog and deadly bars have earned him respect in a game where steel sharpens steel. Many might even call him the blacksmith -- an inspiration to the likes of Pusha T, a collaborator to legends like Nas, Eminem, Jay-Z, DMX, Ghostface Killah, and countless more. You can hear his laugh the moment you read about it. Jason Voorhees during hunting season.
Being a longtime fan of Jadakiss, I jumped at the chance to interview the LOX lyricist following his "Fuck Cancer" event at the end of November last year. A second conversation was then scheduled in February, once the album's initial release date was inching closer. As such, today's feature arrives in two parts, both of which span topics ranging from Ignatius, the man behind the album's title, and Jada's own wide-ranging career.
Check it out now, and show some love to one of hip-hop's most formidable lyricists of all time. This conversation has been edited for clarity.
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Originally recorded on November 27th, 2019.
Hey Jada, how are you?
How you doing?
How’s your day going so far?
It’s alright, I just got to Detroit.
You and Fuck Cancer just put together an event honoring your friend Icepick. How’d that go?
It was cool. It was dope. Nice turnout.
How did you end up linking with Fuck Cancer?
Swizz and my man Rob Walker. They plugged us in, we did a little piece a few months back on Icepick.
Looking back on Icepick and everything he helped build --I’ve been seeing his name for years, since I was buying Ruff Ryders albums-- how did you guys first meet and develop such a close friendship?
We met when he was doing jewelry. He’s also a jeweler, that’s why his name is Icepick. He was doing jewelry on 125th and Harlem. Ruff Ryders hired him. We had a close relationship working on all those compilations, group albums, and solo albums. When Ruff Ryders kind of went down, I hired him to work with me.
What was his dynamic like in such a big group like the Double R? He’s clearly impacted so many people within the Ruff Ryders camp, working with you, Eve, DMX.
He’d just get things done. He was the person who’d go get the features, go get the producers, go get everything you wanted. He’d make it happen.
Was he ever giving creative input?
A little bit. He was more of my A&R slash partner. He’d go get me production, get me different sounds. He’d do all the running around, the fieldwork. Sample clearances. He’d do everything.
Was there ever a feature you didn’t think would come through, only for Icepick to make it happen? Was there ever a feature he wanted you to do?
On the Kiss Of Death album, we were trying to wrap the album and we needed Snoop. Snoop was in New York at the time, at a party. Pick actually went to the party, came back and brought Snoop back to the Sony studio and got him to lay the verse. He got him to leave the party and lay the verse on a song called “Shine.” That was the beginning of his dopeness. He’s been doing that kind of thing ever since. He’d always drag me to the studio if I didn’t want to go. He always had good insight on things.
Looking toward your upcoming album Ignatius--
That’s his real name. That’s his government name. Ignatius “Icepick” Jay Jackson.
Were you working on that album before his passing?
I was working on a project. We were just gathering production, getting beats together. It wasn’t going to be the Ignatius project, that came after his passing.
Did the direction of the music change in light of it?
Definitely. It all went around him. Going back to the last question, he always wanted me to do a feature with Pusha. Just me and him. Me and Styles have a song on the Clipse album, but he wanted me and Pusha to work just me and him. He always wanted me to do a song with John Legend, I got that on this project. Production from Pitchshifters, they did “One More Mile To Go” on the Top 5 DOA project.
There’s a lot of things inspired by him. That’s why I named it after him, to give myself some closure from his untimely demise. He’ll still be with me in spirit, but I can move on and do other stuff.
My condolences. I can’t imagine losing such a close friend. Was the writing process ever particularly difficult on this album?
The intro, the outro, the song with John Legend. Even some regular songs. Just thinking about him will put you in a somber place, a dark place. But I didn’t want the album to be all somber. That’s why the first single is “Me.” Soulful, not sad or nothing. The album’s not sad, it’s just in his name. A couple of sad moments there.
When you guys used to talk about music, was there a particular style he liked to see from you? A favorite verse or track?
Nah, he was always trying to find that next big hit. He always wanted me to be bigger and better every project, every opportunity.
I recently say you make an analogy to hip-hop being a Ferris wheel, with the goal being to get as many go-arounds as possible. To sustain that longevity. Looking at your own career -- platinum records, unanimous respect from your peers-- is there anything you’re still looking for?
Just to give the fans good music. I was able to buy my mom a house off hip-hop. Put my oldest son through college. My second oldest kid is about to go to college in a year or two. I’m pretty much happy with my achievements and accolades as far as financially and respect from my peers. Those that passed before me, the Bigs, the Puns. I’m pretty much cool. I just do it cause of the passion. It’s still a lucrative way to take care of my family and enjoy life, but for the most part it’s the passion still.
How’s The Lox’s documentary coming?
Dope, it’s going to shock everybody. You gonna see a bunch of different sides of me, Styles, and Sheek that’s never been really seen by the public. There’s some sad moments on there also. That’s how life is, there’s going to be ups and downs in life. A lot of people keep those things private, which they should, but it’s a documentary about us. We had to share some things with the people.
When’s that dropping?
It’ll probably come out at the beginning of the year. February, March. After my album comes out. It’s going to come out with the new Lox album.
Anything you’d like to share about Ignatius moving forward?
Make sure you absorb it. For all the fans, I appreciate the D Block support, the Jadakiss support. Check out that new Styles album that’s out now, Present. Look out for the new Lox album coming out after my solo album. As far as the Ignatius project, if you know me, if you knew Icepick and his history working with Ruff Ryders and The Lox, you know the significance and importance of this album. You’ll appreciate it if you really sit down and listen to it.
Looking back, how do you feel about the Ruff Ryders movement?
The Ruff Ryder movement was very therapeutic for my career. Those my big brothers. They took us somewhere we wanted to go in hip-hop. A world tour, making big records. Making a lot of money young. Doing things like that. It’s beautiful to be a part of that. It’s like being a part of the Lakers, the Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys. One of them teams that’s America’s favorite, for a nice amount of years. Especially to be a part of that so young.
The Ruff Ryders movement was legendary.
The Ruff Ryder movement was very therapeutic for my career. Those are my big brothers. My managers. They took us somewhere we wanted to go in hip-hop. As far as seeing the world, making big records, making a lot of money young. Doing things like that. It’s beautiful to be a part of that. It’s like being a part of the Lakers or the Bulls or the Dallas Cowboys. One of those teams that’s America’s favorite for a nice amount of years. Especially to be involved in that so young.
Man, I got Volume 3: In The R We Trust for Christmas one year. I listened to that so many times.
That actually put me onto your music in the first place. Kiss Tha Game Goodbye dropped, and then Gangster And A Gentleman dropped. Both those albums are classics to me. Just wanted to say that. I’m a big supporter of everything you’ve done.
I appreciate it, definitely.
Two days before the initial release date of Ignatius on February 26th.
Hey, how are you doing?
How you doin’ brutha?
I’m doing pretty well. Can’t complain. You in the studio?
Nice. What are you working on?
Just tightening up some last little things on the album I had to lay on top of the masters. Couple words, couple tweaks.
Are you excited for the big release?
Hell yeah, always excited. Always thankful. Always honored to still be in this position twenty-plus years later.
Could you walk me through what it’s like to put out a big release into the world? You’ve been working on this for a long time and it’s got a lot of emotional weight as well.
The recording process is always the easiest process, the least stressful. It’s when it gets to the end, where we at now — closing out of an album with the samples and the payments and the producer splits, who did this and that. That’s when it becomes a headache. That’s when you just want to throw in the towel. But for the most part, it was one of the easier albums to make. I think that’s because of the aura. The energy of Icepick was with me, making it.
And you got the Pusha T collaboration! I know he really wanted you guys to link up and drop something, and the track is crazy.
How did you come up with the concept of “Hunting Season?”
That’s just how I felt when I got the track. My in-house producer, he actually picked the track from another in-house we got. He was like ‘yo unk, this track right here is one of the most knocking-est tracks I heard in a minute. I’m bringing it to you.’ As soon as he threw it on, I was like damn.
“Hunting Season” just came to me. I recorded my part and sent it to Push. We actually recorded it months ago. He was on me to put it out, like ‘when are you going to put it out?!’ I was like dawg, I gotta finish the whole album first! He had a relationship with Icepick as well. Pick used to work at Star Track for a minute. Double families.
I like how you’re warning people you have a crossbow and bear traps in your arsenal. You really are Jason.
I tried to keep the comparisons of really hunting. Talk some real talk on hunting.
You even have all the good strategies. I’d be scared at that point. The bear trap line in particular.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
With this being a brand new album, I want to take it back to the beginning. When did you first realize you had a skill for rapping, for putting words together? What was the scene like when you were a kid?
Coming from Yonkers, it’s north of the boroughs. We always had a chip on our shoulders cause they always called it upstate. We never got the recognition that The Bronx, or Brooklyn, or Manhattan or Queens or Staten Island got. They always overlooked us. One of the gripes we always had was: ‘we going to show them how nice we are.’ Make them know about this demographic where we from.
I started off just snapping on my friends. Around seven, eight years old. Maybe nine, ten. Maybe even eleven, twelve. That’s how I started with it. One of my bigger homies used to make me rhyme. We used to rock with one turn-table. He would come with all sorts of makeshift beat machines and ways to provide the production. I would just be doing what I could do.
As I got to junior high school I got better. In high school, me, Sheek, and Styles were making tapes. We started hustling to pay for the studio. And then once we were able to make good enough songs for a demo, we gave it to one of the dudes that was in our everyday entourage, my manager Marco. He’s actually Mary J. Blige’s first cousin. The rest is history. He passed it to her while she was on tour with Jodeci and Puff. That caused Puff to set up the meeting. The rest is history.
Was there something specific about the Yonkers sound that was setting it apart from the other boroughs?
The way that we was spitting! You hear the young Lox. You hear the young DMX. That took the world by storm! Whatever’s going on in Yonkers. Mary on top of that — we busted the door down.
Getting into the industry, it must have been a major change from what you were used to. Did you ever feel overwhelmed?
We was definitely overwhelmed. But we was hungry, thirsty to get in the game. We didn’t learn as much as we should, which caused us to sign the contract we signed. It was all a learning experience. But we was more eager to just rap. We didn’t care about the business. We didn’t know none of that stuff, publishing, splits. We was just trying to rhyme. Hit hard and as fierce as we could. Any time we could.
Look back at that whole era, it feels like there’s this notable sense of healthy competition. There were song structures you don’t quite see anymore. Posse cuts! You, Styles, Sheek, DMX, Jay-Z on the same track, killing verses — was that competitive spirit always there? That chip on your shoulder?
It’s still always there, due to the politics of game. The stuff the people want to see and hear. There’s always a sense of hunger and fierceness in it. You gotta look at it like that, cause you know — somebody always trying to steal your spot. Steel sharper steel. Sometimes you have to sharpen your own steel.
On that note — I wanted to ask about your relationship with Biggie. What brought you guys together? Was it an artistic thing, a genuine friendship?
It was both. Artistic and friendship. We were like his little brothers! He was happy we was on the label. He had big plans to work with us and do big shit with us in the future. As far as music and touring and things of that nature. The sky was going to be the limit for us. He welcomed us on Bad Boy with open arms.
He was a master at his craft. A great storyteller. It’s cool to know he saw something in you guys. I can see how you forged that bond. Moving away from the Bad Boy era, how did you end up connecting with Ruff Ryders?
Ruff Ryders was our managers when we were on Bad Boy. After we got on, and DMX got on, they got their own label. The object for us was to get back home and make the music we wanted to make. Which would be on Ruff Ryders label. And that’s what we were able to do.
Was a solo album always part of the plan?
Nah. They presented that after. The solo album wasn’t in the plans for nobody until it was presented.
Were you looking forward to that at the time? Especially when Kiss The Game Goodbye started taking shape…
Yeah, I was cool with it. The people wanted it. You gotta give the people what they want. It wasn’t forced, they asked me for it.
Do you still look back at that album today?
I loved it. I loved making it. I loved the times, the budgets they gave. I loved everything that had to do with it. Those were the golden eras. The great years.
One of my favorite songs of yours was on that album — Show “Discipline” with Nas. Did you record that together?
Yeah, we recorded that together in L.A. In the Interscope studios. It was dope.
A song that has come to be representative of your story is “Feel Me” off that album. What was it like opening up to an audience that might not have known that story?
It was exciting for me. The fans want you to open up to them, and I was giving them me. Feel me?
Moving through the early millennium, when everything was so big -- album budgets, CDs were selling, music videos were the most popular way to discover new music -- how do you look back on the Kiss Of Death era?
It was beautiful. There was even more money being spent. It was royalty. Those were the royal days. The money they were spending, they wasn’t saying no to nothing. We were making so much money and they were spending the same.
Streaming really changed the game. Do you ever miss the CD days?
Yeah, and no. I like this new digital shit. But I liked the CD era, it was the best era for me. In the same token, there’s still a lot of money on the table.
Plus the convenience. It’s mostly good, but sometimes the deeper cuts don’t always get enough shine. When you own the CD, it’s easy to live with the whole album. Now, I can listen to songs from Kiss Tha Game Goodbye and songs from Ignatius in the same five-minute span.
Back to Ignatius -- did you have a specific writing process in mind, given the importance of the subject matter?
It depends. But this project was very meticulous. Usually I’m meticulous but if it’s an on-the-go type of situation, if that’s what the beat is saying, we make it happen. But for the most part, I like to sit down and be particular.
When you’re piecing together a project like this, do you have the structure in your mind already?
I build it piece by piece. Throw a storyboard up and start to build around it. Make sure all the songs fit.
In terms of collaborations, you’ve recorded with every hip-hop legend in the game. Is there still someone on your bucket list?
My all-time bucket list track is with Andre 3000 and Stevie Wonder.
That would be monumental.
It sounds pretty specific. I assume you’ve thought it through.
Stevie Wonder on the hook. Me and Andre 3000 have the same birthday so we base the song around there somehow.
I have one last question for you, and it's about you and Styles’ juice bar.
Juices For Life, baby.
Who is the bigger juice connoisseur -- you or Styles?
Styles is definitely the bigger juice connoisseur. I’m actually learning from him. He damn near a doctor right now. He knows so much about the remedies and tonics. Blac seed oil and things like that. I learn from him as we go.
Juice of choice?
They switch up. Yesterday I had a banana shake with a bit of peanut butter in it. Tasted awesome so I’ma be on that for the next two or three days.
Anything else you’d like to share before the album drops?
Look out for the tour -- they’re routing that now. Look out for the merch. I appreciate everybody who supports Jadakiss, D Block, LOX, So Raspy. Anything affiliated.
Stream Ignatius right here.