Wednesday (February 19) is a spirited day at BET’s Times Square headquarters amid a visit from Jadakiss, one of New York’s long-established rap crown bearers.
However, the day became bittersweet for everyone, including Jada. While it was marked by conversations about his most personal album to date, Ignatius, it was marred by the news of burgeoning Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke’s death just hours before his arrival. In a wool-lined jean jacket, plain white T-shirt and a pair of “Dickie’s” khakis, Jada’s aura is unpretentious for an inarguable hip-hop legend. To most, such marked humility might appear unusual for an artist of his caliber. But Jada doesn’t see it that way, whose idea of legendary status is more layered than the average.
“It’s different meanings of legend,” he enlightens. “Pop Smoke was possibly going to be a legend right now. He had a big song and a hell of an upside to his career. He was gone too early and so soon. It’s just about the work that you put out while you’re here, how they gravitate to it and how they receive it.”
On this account, the work and impact left behind by the 20-year-old was pressing enough to prompt Jadakiss to delay Ignatius by one week. As Jada’s sixth studio release, the album typifies his idea of legacy in a sentimental fashion, in honor of several fallen hip-hop figures. The album's title hails one that he especially holds closest to his heart: Ignatius “Icepick” Jackson.
Icepick, also referred to as “Jay” by friends and family, passed away in June 2017 at 44-years-old, after a battle with colon cancer. The life of the imprinted Ruff Ryders A&R and Jada’s longtime manager sourly hit the hip-hop and Harlem community as he was canonized by names such as Swizz Beatz, DJ Clue, and Jada’s LOX mate, Styles P. Jada’s first release of the new decade now serves as a memorialization to his beloved friend, whom Jadakiss looked to as his most trusted guidance throughout his career.
Naturally, the passing is still a sore spot for him even close to three years later. Jadakiss faithfully wears Icepick’s photo and name in a diamond-encrusted pendant on his neck. The mention of his tenderest memories with Icepick in the album’s outro, “Closure,” once shattered him into tears during studio recordings.
“The outro is probably the toughest,” he says. “It’s only about eight bars. I was cracking up, and it was hard for me to even get through those eight bars. I was crying. Even the engineer was crying.”
Prior to recording for Ignatius, the loss also deterred Jada from returning to music for awhile, which he admitted in light of 2017’s joint album with Fabolous, Friday On Elm Street. The 12-track collaboration was his first swing back into music after the depression from Icepick’s death sunk him away from the scene for a while.
The project earmarked the sounds of his late friend on the eponymously-titled “Ice Pick” song featuring Styles P and included a beat produced by Icepick, though its lyrical matter wasn’t entirely devoted to him. “He did so much for me as an artist,” Jadakiss reminisces. “I felt like I owed him that— a full project. It’s a form of closure for me. I didn’t feel like I could go on.”
After allowing pain to be a deterrent, he now employs it as a constructive artform for Ignatius. Grief translates into the album, but it doesn’t overwhelm it, which Jadakiss notes as an intentional objective. “The album is not sad,” he says. “It’s gonna make you happy, sad and dance. It’ll be like the emotions you’d have at a funeral. You go to the funeral, you cry. You go to the burial, you cry. You go to the repass, and laugh, and reminisce. This album is the same type of way.”
Classic Kiss lurks through Ignatius from start to finish, making a grand entrance on the “Pearly Gates” intro track with his signature “ah-HA!” and reigning terror through “Huntin Season” with Pusha T and the third track, “Keep it 100.” He’s most recognizable in his street-accosted lyricism and nimble rhyme consistency for tracks like “ME” and the album’s first single, “Kisses To The Sky”. Melodically, experimentative Kiss enters untapped sound potential, as efforted in the Dej Loaf-assisted “Gov’t Cheese.”
The aforementioned outro, “Closure,” a deeply poignant ode to our dearly departed, saves the best for last. Shouting the names of heaven’s newest entrants from recent times, including Prodigy, Mac Miller, Juice WRLD and Kobe and Gianna Bryant, the song is responsible for Jada’s reworking of his original February 28 release date. “[The album] was almost finished but I had to go in and add Kobe and the people from the helicopter and Gigi,” Jada says. “Now, I gotta go back and add Pop Smoke because the outro is a dedication to everyone that we lost. It seems like every other week I gotta add somebody.”
But whether its classic Kiss, experimentative Kiss or sentimental Kiss, the root of each track bows to Icepick. “It was all production that he left and wanted me to work on along with features on his bucket list that he wanted me to do,” he says. “I tried to keep the whole project around Icepick. From the name of it, to the frame of it, to the sound of it.”
In its texture, Ignatius boasts Jadakiss’ healthy balance of time-honored New York grit and cognizance of hip-hop’s contemporary sonic landscape. Hence, Jadakiss describes the project as cerebral in its structure as well. “Lyrically it’s going to be what it’s going to be until the day I die,” he says of this dynamic. “Sonically, you gotta experiment sometimes. My voice is my own instrument that I use to rap. Some people can only freestyle, some people can only make certain types of songs. I can do it all. In order to evolve you have to stay in your lane but still grow as your fans grow. You can’t just make 13 albums talking about the same sh**.”
While Jada singles out Ignatius as his most vulnerable body of work, it also loudly displays the sagacity that he’s inherited over the course of his career when shaped up beside the rest of his catalog. That also consists of the emotional intelligence he’s acquired to bear the many losses of life he’s witnessed and coped with throughout his journey. While our discourse has freely addressed the discomforting matter of death, it still feels dismaying to wonder what legacy Jadakiss believes he’ll have left behind when it’s time for hip-hop to place flowers on his tombstone. He approaches the idea of his own death with the same modesty he entered the office and our conversation with. “Death is a trip we all have to pack for, you know?” he says. “Hit me with the little stuff. I don’t need the big accolades when I die. Hit me with a couple good little ones: Kiss, one of the best voices in rap history.”
(Photo: BET/Evans Alexandre)