On The Record: Pou Jackson
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Depicting real life the island way is the only option for local lyricist Pou Jackson, and Hawaii hip-hop is in a better place because of it.
From laid-back, backyard party music to traditional raw and lyrical hip-hop, Jackson is the innovator of a style he calls Roots Rapp, a blend of hip-hop and island reggae created for local people to vibe out to.
The Kaneohe native doesn’t claim to be the first to combine street rap with island rhythms, but prides himself in being a homegrown MC relying on homegrown values instead of borrowing too much from the continental U.S.
‘Buds and Beers’
Featuring Pou Jackson (pictured), Tripple Los with special guests Kaipo Kapua, Sister Lubei and The Happ
» Where: Chez Sports Bar, 98-150 Kaonohi St.
While Roots Rapp is a little different from the norm, you can’t help but notice its authenticity. The undeniable groove of old school funk, traditional Samoan harmonies and even a bit of gospel can be found among the many layers of Roots Rapp. The merging of so many different genres is a direct reflection of Jackson’s upbringing and a clear example of what he stands for.
Jackson said paving his own path comes naturally; putting out quality music islanders can relate to comes first and foremost.
“You know how most rappers say, ‘Oh, I got a little something for everybody?’ Yeah, well, I don’t. I make my music very closed minded, my island people first, (the) rest of the world second,” he said. “In return, my island people, real people, real mokes are getting it now, hopefully the rest of the world will get it later.”
Jackson put out his first mixtape in 2003 and has been dedicated to the rap game ever since. He said the release of “Introducing Pou Jackson” in 2012 was a landmark moment of his career.
“I funded the whole project with my own money,” he said. “Holding that CD in my hand and seeing my album on iTunes really felt like I accomplished something.”
He flexed his versatility as an all-around artist to be reckoned with on the recent online release of a new mixtape, “tByrds Eye View.” Jackson will also be one of the main attractions on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Chez Sports Bar in Aiea for an evening of live island hip-hop.
“Give me a dope beat with no topic, eventually the music will tell my ears what to tell my mind, what my pen should be writing, or what my fingers should be typing,” Jackson said. “There is no one set blueprint on how to write or create music, and that’s what makes it fun for me.”
Jackson, who is half Samoan and half Caucasian, grew up with no father present. Born in American Samoa, he moved to Oahu as an infant and lived in Mayor Wright Homes and Kuhio Park Terrace. His mother died when he was in middle school, which forced him to relocate to Kentucky to live with his sister. He also spent time living in Tennessee and Georgia before returning to Hawaii at the age of 21.
Throughout much of his childhood, life without a father was a struggle. The fact that he was a local boy thousands of miles away from home with a skin tone paler than most Polynesians added to his frustrations. After adjusting to living away from Hawaii, acceptance and the need to prove himself remained constant, he said.
“I was on this whole F-the-world trip,” he said. “Even though that in itself was a very (messed) up stage in my life, it helped me get comfortable with the skin I was in.”
Becoming a father also changed his world for good. Responsibility became something he relished instead of avoided. With the foundation of his own family in place, the days of wildin’ out gave way to a more purpose-driven life. Not only did his life make more sense, music suddenly did, too.
“My focus became super sharp because it wasn’t just for me any more, so I couldn’t half ass nothing,” said Jackson. “I learned that to be a good father, you had to be 100 percent all the way in it. So I simply applied that same motivation into making my music.”
A proud father of four, he developed his slow rhyme flow from his days living in the South when the street stories of the Geto Boys, 8Ball and MJG, Three 6 Mafia and Trick Daddy painted pictures of street life and thuggery. While his style is more positive, he will never lose sight of his early hip-hop influences.
“Whether I’m making it specifically for island people or for the masses, I always write from the heart and I always speak exactly how I feel,” he said. “When you truly speak from the heart, its hard for people to hate on it. I’m a grown man now, so that will always reflect in my music.”
Recognition outside of the state is the goal of just about every aspiring artist from Hawaii. Jackson said he may have a foolproof formula for island rap to eventually earn recognition. Broken down to its basics, his idea is fairly easy to execute and comprehend.
“Jacking other people’s slang is not going to make us stand out,” he said. “I truly believe that once Hawaii creates its own official sound, its own identity, something like what the West Coast, Dirty South and Midwest did when they got their foot in the door, our exposure will come.
“If that doesn’t happen we will always just be sounding like them, who’s them? All of them. No matter how many dope MCs we pump out, without our own sound to present to the world, we ain’t never gonna get in the driver’s seat. We will never get the props that we truly deserve.”
Kalani Wilhelm covers nightlife and music for the Pulse. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter.