Candles shone brightly among flowers, stuffed animals and empty bottles of alcohol at a street memorial at 94th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland where a popular Bay Area rapper known as “the Jacka” was fatally shot by an unknown gunman on February 2.
Weeks after he was killed, the memorial continued to grow. The hip-hop community is mourning the loss of the Jacka, 37, whose given name was Dominick Newton. For many, the death of the rapper also means the loss of a mentor to at-risk youth and young artists in the Bay Area. His friends say one of his most lasting legacies will be the young people he mentored.
“Jack definitely had a legacy. The Jacka was a world-known rapper, hip-hop artist, but more than that, he was a staple in our community,” said Brett Badelle, a longtime friend and former DJ to the Jacka for ten years. Badelle said the Jacka would go to local after-school youth programs such as Youth UpRising in Oakland to rap with the kids. Badelle and others at his memorial said he was known for his humility. He was a father of six, and after converting to Islam, he changed his name to Shaheed Akbar.
The Jacka, originally from Pittsburg, California, found success in the Bay Area group Mob Figaz before pursuing a solo career in 2001 and then starting his own record label, The Artist Records. His extensive discography includes a long list of mixtapes and solo albums, including his most recent album, What Happened To The World, released in 2014. He often collaborated with Bay Area artists such as rapper Andre Nickatina for the 2009 hit song “Glamorous Lifestyle.” The Jacka dedicated and titled his song “Kuran,” after his oldest daughter; in the song, he also speaks about being a Muslim. In 2008, he won Ozone magazine’s Patiently Waiting: California Award, an award given to artists whose next album is highly anticipated by the West Coast. “Through his music, he tried to give people the strength to get through hopelessness,” Badelle said, “to turn their life around.”
Rudy Codez, executive director of the United Playaz, a violence prevention and youth development organization in San Francisco, said he would call the Jacka to speak to students when tensions arose. Codez remembers a specific incident when students at an alternative high school in San Francisco (which he preferred not to name) were on the verge of resorting to violence over their conflicts. “He came down and talked with the kids, mentored the kids and did a show for the kids at the school,” Codez said. “That silenced the violence.”
One of the students that the Jacka mentored through United Playaz, who prefers go by Nano, is the president of the local record company Livewire Records. “Every time I’d see him, he’d give me a lot of props in what I was doing in the music business,” he said. “[He] taught me what to do, and be better at what I do.” Nano credits the Jacka and another Bay Area rapper, J Stalin, for taking him under their wings and helping him succeed in the music business. Nano said he remembers the Jacka for his sense of humor, his advice and caring persona.
Codez said many young people were shaken up by the death of the Jacka because they saw him as a role model, and as a symbol of hope in escaping difficult circumstances. “We see death a lot, but when it’s someone on the magnitude of the Jack it raises your eyebrow, because you wouldn’t think that would happen to the brother,” Cordez said.
Over a month after his death, the Oakland Police Department has not made any arrests connected to the death of the Jacka. Nano says he plans to mentor young people at United Playaz to continue his legacy, and friends say they may soon hold a peace march to honor him.