Dominic “The Jacka” Newton, one of the most popular rappers in the San Francisco Bay Area’s sprawling underground rap scene, was murdered in East Oakland, California on Monday night. He was 37 years old.
Emerging in the late 1990s as part of the Mob Figaz collective, the Jacka evolved into a solo star with street albums like 2005’s The Jack Artist. In 2009, he scored his biggest hit, Tear Gas, which reached Number 12 on Billboard‘s R&B Albums chart and produced the regional anthem, “Glamorous Lifestyle.”
“The team has no comment at this time,” the rapper’s publicist tells Rolling Stone. “But we ask for everyone’s prayers for the Jacka’s family, loved ones and the entire Bay Area community.”
Throughout its history, Bay Area hip-hop has been defined by independent hustle, yielding hundreds of albums a year from locals whose impact often spreads far beyond Northern California. The Jacka’s discography encompasses dozens of CDs issued through his imprint The Artist and local labels like producer Nick Peace’s Million Dollar Dream.
He worked with countless rappers, from Bay Area icons like E-40, Keak da Sneak and Andre Nickatina to Paul Wall and Devin the Dude. He assembled projects like 2012’s The Verdict, part of a four-album exploration of crime and punishment, and Drought Season, a series with Wiz Khalifa-associated rapper Berner. Last fall, he dropped two albums, including Highway Robbery with Philadelphia rapper Freeway.
Born into a broken home in Pittsburg, California, the Jacka began hustling on the streets at an early age. However, he also joined the Nation of Islam as a child and later, while serving time in prison on a robbery charge, became a Sunni Muslim. He took the name Shaheed Akbar, even as he continued to depict a uncompromising turf life.
“I knew [being a Muslim] was a way for me to pray to God directly,” he told VladTV.com in a joint interview with Freeway last October. “Some of the things I talk about in my music, I don’t wanna say ’em, but I say ’em anyway because I’m in the streets, and just so people can get the experience from them.”
It was his talent for writing about the West Coast thug life with unflinching honesty, and a slightly wheezy, yet magnetic, voice, that made him a beloved artist. His hardened perspective is reflected on tracks like “Mob Shit,” where he rapped, “Some of my niggas shot up, some of ’em died on me too/Some of my niggas came up, got rich and everything/I know they lost a lot, they deal with the pain.”
“He was a gangsta rapper, but unlike a lot of gangsta rappers, he didn’t glamorize the criminal lifestyle,” Matt Werner, who runs the authoritative Bay Area rap site Thizzler.com, tells Rolling Stone. “He talked about the pitfalls and the dark side of it. I think a lot of people really gravitated towards that.”
One of the Jacka’s influences was Marvin Gaye, another musician unafraid to explore his inner darkness. In a 2009 interview with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, he said, “Listen to Marvin Gaye…I guarantee he’s going to grab your soul. He knows something and could put it together with the music. And what he talked about was the struggle, the pain. I try to make shit that’ll stick to your soul. Like the music my parents used to listen to.”
Twitter reaction unfolded shortly after Jacka’s shooting, with scores of musicians from all coasts showing their love and appreciation, including E-40, Bun B, G-Eazy and Freddie Gibbs. R&B singer Keyshia Cole, who was raised in Oakland, wrote, “#RIPTheJacka!! So many good things to say #AboutARealOne.” Queensbridge rapper Cormega, who often worked with the Jacka, tweeted “I been looking for the right words but I just can’t find them. How do you kill someone who is beloved by everyone and has love for people?”