Exploring Sound with Pittsburgh Rapper Mars Jackson
Whilst well known artists like Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller currently represent Pittsburgh on the main stage, you don’t have to look very far to find the next up and coming rappers working hard to make a name for themselves. Wavering somewhere between classic hip hop and a little bit of anything goes, Mars Jackson is a perfect example of the fresh new talent making its way out of Pittsburgh. His recent freestyle series has garnered him significant attention from a number of blogs, together with the work of his multi-talented creative team ‘Hii Class Society.’ With a sound that even he admits is a lot easier heard than described, Mars is an artist who is determined to show the world he is ready to take the main stage with the greats.
We chat to Mars Jackson about ‘Culture Vultures,’ how meeting YC The Cynic and Joey Bada$$ gave him hope and the importance of perfecting and protecting your craft. Jesse Kuss writes.
You described yourself as being the class clown in elementary school who accidentally found his way into the school choir. When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music more seriously?
I always knew I was serious about doing music but I didn't think the people who I grew up with or my peers would take me seriously. As soon as I just focused on my craft and got to understand myself as a human being, I realised I’ve got a story to tell but also music that needs to be delivered. I’ve been around music my whole life, and the culture of hip hop nationally and locally, and I try to incorporate all those elements into giving people good music.
Despite being a Pittsburgh resident, your mother and her family grew up in New York and you were also born there. Did that have much of an influence on you when you were growing up?
It kind of was but it wasn't. It might sound confusing but my mother moved back here when I was four and my nana was born here in Pittsburgh so this was home base. My mother used to go to high school with ‘The Fat Boys' which is something I always laugh at, but my mother was the only girl of five brothers and listening to music was normal. Plus I lived with my nana and grandpa for a couple years so I was listening to Al Greene, Anita Baker etc from them, old school hip hop around my uncle and mother, then venturing off as I grew up listening to a lot more. Then connecting all that with our local culture; shit was wavy.
One of the first CD’s you owned was by DMX, which I understand you would have to hide from your mother. How did your love for hip hop grow and evolve into you wanting to be a rapper yourself?
I think it was the fact that I enjoyed storytelling and Nas and DMX gave us that. The way they articulate words and phrases had me wanting to write and rap all the time. My mother would be like “quit talking to yourself and mumbling” [laughs]. Here I am free styling and she didn’t know. But truthfully I just knew the confidence was there all the time. Watching people battle around my way in the park or at the lunch table and I'd be the one doing the beats when they rap, and I'm like “I could rap too” but nobody knew. I didn’t showcase that until I got to college and was on operation kill shit at your party if somebody asked me to freestyle. Listening to so much I knew that I had to perfect my craft before I could go out and rap with some of the best mainstream and local artists. I earned my stripes through my music and focus.
You recently took a trip to NYC and had the opportunity to meet YC The Cynic, Joey Bada$$ and Statik Selektah. What was your mindset like going back home to Pittsburgh?
My mind was totally on “I gotta get out of Pittsburgh and flourish.” NYC gave me hope because coming from where I'm from, as you can see only Mac [Miller] and Wiz [Khalifa] have the spotlight, but there's so much good talent. We as a city get overlooked. But going there and talking to YC, Joey and Selektah, and even a few other artists I got to chop it up with, I could tell that this is it for them. There is no plan B with this shit, you can't second guess and you’ve got to work your ass off in that booth and really become what you see yourself becoming. It gave me a whole different outlook on a lot of things mentally, physically and spiritually.
'Just Some Shit' is one of the first tracks I heard by you. It has a different sound compared to a track like 'Sacrifices' that you did with Badboxes. How would you describe your style?
I'm still finding myself as an artist. A lot of people ask me “can you describe your sound?” and I tell them truthfully that it’s a good thing I can't. If I asked you to describe my sound for me I would get so many different answers [laughs] and I let my music speak for itself and to see what people can gain or compare it to. In my mind I think I can't be compared to a lot, but when you think that and work on yourself, you can evolve into something so beautiful or create something so wonderful. That’s my aim, to not lock myself into a corner with music.
You have said that you are always in competition with yourself. What are some of the things you make a conscious effort to do in order to better yourself as an artist?
I always try to take or conquer ideas from a different approach. I study and research different kinds of music because I want you to know that my music IQ is not subpar by a long shot. Also when I say "only competition is in my composition," I mean that with all my heart. I realised that if you’re going to waste energy, waste it evolving your craft and mind to come up with dope concepts to the life that you live on a regular basis and evolve it into something with meaning. My elements have got to be right. I always have my best friend Grits Capone around, who is a spoken word artist who has also been a big part of my success, because we know how to just vibe off each other, especially when collaborating.
You talk a lot about protecting your craft and your personality. What exactly do you mean by that?
Culture vultures are my biggest pet peeve, what I mean by that is that there have been incidents of when you create or you’re in a lane that people want to understand, and they take from it. I've been around my city for a while and I hate when people who put in hard work and live, eat, breathe this shit 24/7, trying to make a way out of no way, and you have people who come in and take ideas or be around you for the sake of your energy. It's like a blood sucking leech. I try to understand why they do it if they aren't paying homage or shedding light on what's becoming of our local culture. Instead they come in and take and take and give no credit. Pittsburgh is small enough when you see a person really evolving; some tend to see it as a threat instead of a building process. That's why you protect your craft like you protect your life.
You are part of a collective known as Hii Class Society (HCS). What does HCS strive towards?
Hii Class Society consists of me, Grits Capone, Boom Simmons, Killa Mo and Jmy Jam. It's a collective of friends that help with a lot of the creative direction of Mar Jackson as a brand. I want to take this time out to say Free Mo! He's gone away for a minute, but that's my brother and he's helped me in ways that a lot people couldn't understand. We strive to go against the normal and just be you, not them. Also everybody does their own thing too and its dope when we get together and build for days and weeks to give a different visual or ideas to you guys.
What stimulates your soul?
Love stimulates my soul. Love and more love. Oh did I mention love [laughs]? Love makes the world go around. It's powerful, words are power. I want to give you love in my music to love my music. Just love. So when you see or hear a Mars song, I want people to be like “I love that guy” [laughs].
Get to know Mars Jackson: