Spreading across the vast galaxy of the Internet one step at a time is a new rapper: Darren Jackson. The fresh young man doesn’t just perform; he is an artist, entrepreneur, musician, and already has started his own nonprofit organization (Director Job and Leadership Training) in his hometown of St. Louis. The organization empowers at-risk men and women.
Jackson forges his own path and doesn’t follow any of the rules. With only two released singles available, he already has picked up thousands of fans and has begun touring. He will be performing at Pop, Rock and Soul, presented by HEADSTORM Entertainment, at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater this weekend.
Jackson always has worked and been involved in efforts to aid his community, which forced him to put music on the backburner. “I really wanted to spend time giving back to my city,” Jackson tells. “It was lying there, dying, and I felt like I needed to be a part of the solution. I realized that since the nonprofit job already was started up and in full flow, I could start doing other things to support my home.”
At first he strayed from the touring life. Instead he focused on his community; however, after composing “Midwestside,” a song intended to rally his community together for a brighter future, his mindset changed.
“It really is a very interesting city, filled with beautiful people,” Jackson says, “but all anyone ever sees is the segregation and crime that is portrayed from the outside. After I wrote that song, I decided we should go on tour and make the focus ‘Midwestside’ and bringing people together. Then I realized it isn’t just the Midwest I was going for; it was bringing together people everywhere.”
Only a few months into his West Coast tour, life tried to slow him down. While cruising through California, the news began to spread about the chaos unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the untimely death of Michael Brown. Brown was shot after being stopped by the police for walking in the street. Because Jackson was on the road, his home was too far away for him to support his community.
“It was and still is a huge mess in Ferguson,” he laments. “Right now it is a double-edged sword for me traveling as an artist, because on one end my mother, family and friends are right there on the front lines, trying to make a statement and stand up for each other. I feel like I need to be out there fighting with them. Normally, I’m the one out front screaming ‘let’s go, let’s go.’ Now I’m on the road with my sister and my girlfriend, and it is hard to make music and share with everyone what really is happening in Ferguson versus what the media is saying.”
From hearing the daily occurrences of violence between rioters and police officers from friends, Jackson received terrifying word that his mother, an African-American Methodist Episcopal church pastor, had been shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet by a police officer while standing in front of the protestors. “My mother is a good passionate lady, and she got shot,” Jackson states. “It didn’t make any sense to me!”
After finding out his friends and his mother were alright, he continued his tour. His mother encouraged him to continue spreading his message. Doing so with only two released hip-hop tracks didn’t prove easy, but Jackson got together his dream team, which he coined “Team Edge Life.” It comprises his sister, Chrissi, and his girlfriend, Danielle Elise.
“I just asked them: ‘If we are going to do the ‘Midwestside,’ tour, how are we going to get this stuff out?’” Jackson explains. “Then everyone started putting out their ideas. Forget trying to do this the way you are supposed to do it, we are Team Edge Life. So we started coming up with ideas of like, ’Yo let’s just make everything on our own, book our own [shows] and build our own crowd.’”
Using all the big social media sites, the small team began tackling the difficult tasks of being a band on the road with only ta few contacts. “We hit up all of our friends in all the cities we wanted to visit and worked with them to help us book shows,” Jackson informs, “We got our friends to be our booking agents instead of hiring one.”
In Wilmington, Jackson knew the talented musical family, the Burnettes, including dad O’Bryan and daughter LaRaisha. The Burnettes reached out to the hip-hop artists—who they say is like part of their family—to join the bill.
During Jackson’s upcoming performance, he may be dropping a few new tracks. It will offer him a way to test out his new EP, which he plans to release come spring 2015. “I promise it is going to be an authentic and relatable project, that will hopefully inspire people to live on the edge,” he says, “because that is where people find themselves, and that is where people are most happy.”
This happiness excels for Jackson personally thanks to sheer determination to do everything independently. This inherent drive led him to found his own record company at beginning of 2014.
“I wanted to make this work for myself and others, so we really can be heard,” he informs. “Everyone laughed at the idea. Everyone said: ‘Don’t do that; you don’t have the money.’ But I prayed about it and worked my ass off.”
Eventually, Jackson had the opportunity to present his record company to a potential investor. The investor liked his music and gave him the money two weeks later, along with a connection for another investor. Edge Life Records was born.
“After we had the money to start getting everything together, we had nothing stopping us,” Jackson says. “I was able to get back into music full-force, playing piano and writing more songs. We eventually got hooked up with Grammy Award-winning producer J.R. [a.k.a. Courtney Orlando Peebles], who really helped us dial everything in exactly the way we wanted it. I also am touring with one of my very best friends, Chris Grindz, and he will be performing in Wilmington with me. He is an awesome rapper, who randomly came into the underground scene [in St. Louis].”
An Evening of Pop, Rock & Soul
Featuring Darren Jackson
Saturday, August 30th, 4 p.m.
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Dr.