Hip-Hop

'Ignatius' Is the Jadakiss Album the Rapper's Late Best Friend Always Wanted

Jadakiss
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Jadakiss visits Music Choice on Feb. 19, 2020 in New York City.

Imagine meeting someone and getting so close to them that they become your best friend. Now think about that same person being on the verge of death and you didn’t even know because that person wanted to keep it a secret from you. This was the case for Jadakiss when he lost his best friend and manager, Ignatius Maurice “Icepick Jay” Jackson, to colon cancer in June 2017. 

"I lost my partner and a big part of my everyday movement as far as my career goes," says Jadakiss as he sits back into his chair with a gloomy look stamped across his face.  "I had to figure out how to manage, balance and understand that his death was a reality." 

Icepick lost a courageous battle with colon cancer at the young age of 44. His death affected many in the hip-hop community, but none more than the Ruff Ryders family whom Icepick worked closely with as a producer and A&R. Icepick played a pivotal role within the collective, executive producing several albums, including Eve's Grammy-nominated album Scorpion and DMX's Grand Champ. By the time the Ruff Ryders era came to a close in the mid 2000s, Jadakiss had hired Icepick as his manager, and both men shared a brotherly bond up until the Harlem music executive took his last breath two years ago.

"It stayed with me longer than anybody else that knew him because he didn't want me to know," Kiss explains about when he found out about Pick’s condition the day before his passing. "He didn't want it to throw me off from what I had to do, and he forced people not to tell me. People knew our relationship and they knew what it would've done to me. Icepick didn't want it to do what it did to me anyway. I can't wait to see him again and smack the s--t out of him."

Along with that tragedy, Kiss was also plagued by personal issues, including fathering a child outside of his family. "I had a lot of s--t to deal with, so that's why this new album is like a breath of fresh air for me being in this state," he says. 

Despite those hindrances, IGNATIUS serves as a celebration of Icepick’s life, and everything from the features to the production was curated as if the late-manager executive produced the album. On songs such as “Keep It 100” and “Angel’s Getting Pedicured,” Kiss even expands his rapping voice into an unfamiliar territory: singing.

"Doing this project is not my way of getting over it, but getting on with his passing and keeping him with us," says the musician. "It was like he was there being an A&R from heaven for his own project, you know?” 

Billboard spoke more with Jadakiss about IGNATIUS, his thoughts on Icepick's untimely passing, the importance of colonoscopies, stepping out of his comfort zone, a collaborative album with former foe Beanie Sigel and more.

Talk about your relationship with Icepick. You guys were very close with each other. 

In the beginning, I used to hate him. He used to be on my back all the time and asked me to do too many verses and do too much s--t when he was the A&R for Ruff Ryders. But after the label went down around the time Dee had the accident, I hired Pick to start working with me and being the A&R for my projects. He was helping me get my brand off the ground so we got tighter over those years. We just got super tight and then he passed on me. That was a big shock and trauma to my whole world.  

How did you cope with something so sudden like that? 

I did it through this album. You know after the burial when everybody is leaving the gravesite and you go somewhere with all the family and friends and everyone is eating and laughing and thinking about the good times? That's what I tried to make this project. I made it more of a celebration of his life as opposed to dwelling on his death. It's an Icepick project. It's IGNATIUS -- Ignatius Maurice Jackson.

What did his passing make you realize about your life?

It put me on the right path, sort of. I bought a house and got my family situated there. Like I said, I had a daughter outside of my home at the same time Pick was dealing with colon cancer. So now everything is shaping out with my internal family, and my kids are able to see each other and spend time with each other. It seems like as this album is wrapping up and everything comes to fruition. It’s like he’s telling me to stick it out and stand strong with it. This project is deeper than the music. There's a whole other chemistry, aura, energy and being that's over it and watching what it becomes.

Colon Cancer Awareness is this month. How important is it for Black and Latino men to get their colons checked? 

It's important for Black and Latino men to go to the doctor in general. We don't get checked up enough unless something hurts or we feel a lump or something like that. You have to go to the doctor, but getting a colonoscopy is very important when you're between the ages of 45 to 50. You have to get that checked, and every Black and Latino male should try to get that done because it's important. You want to know what's going on up there. The earlier you get it checked out, the earlier doctors will be able to detect it, hopefully, unless it's hereditary. Pick was one of the healthiest people I knew on Earth. He juiced watercress, could ride his bike all the way to Brooklyn, played ball every weekend, was super strong and it was just incredible what he was able to do. 

But I think he knew he was battling it while he was still with me. He was very adamant about me working out until I actually started working out. He was adamant about me changing my diet and he gave me some probiotics for my colon and all that. He gave me wild signs without letting me know something was going on. It was like he left me a lot of clues without even telling me.

He was healthy, man. That's what’s really crazy about this. He was super strong, and when I saw him in the hospital, he was about as thin as a wire. It crushed my whole world and I just dropped to the floor because of how crazy it was seeing him like that. They had to get me out of there because my s--t was so distraught, and he died the day after that.

I'm still mad that he didn't want me to know or that I couldn't offer any help. I couldn't offer support or be there financially or be there for anything. Finding out and seeing him in that state was a lot. I had to deal with the madness of why the hell he didn't tell me and then he's about to die on me. He just had a newborn baby too, and that part kicked in even more.   

Have you gotten a colonoscopy yet? 

I haven't, but me and Styles are really adamant about setting something up where we raise awareness and actually go do it to encourage people to do the same or have some type of event where you sign up to go. Last year, my doctor told me I didn't have to do it for another year or so. Maybe this year, but definitely in the near future.

Swizz Beatz did it and he encouraged me to get it done because it’s something that has to get checked. He said it wasn't that bad, and the only thing is the night before because they give you some stuff to make you use the bathroom frequently to flush everything out. When you go in there to get the test, it happens quickly. 

Hearing you sing on “Keep It 100” and “Angel’s Getting Pedicured” was not something we’d expect from you. How’d you tap into that mindset? 

It was really thanks to my team that encouraged me to do it. I always say my last album is going to be an R&B album. For my last contractual album, I'm doing an R&B album. With me having this raspy voice, people always asked when I was going to sing on a song. When I was going at it with 50, people were saying I don't sing on my own hooks. That always stuck in my head and people always told me I had to use my own voice not just to rap. I have a unique voice and I should try different s--t with it. So you know, I tried it and Pick used to say the same thing, so I wanted this album to be the one where I fulfilled that wish. It sounds kind of dope too [laughs]. I like how I sound on there. 

A lot of these features and producers were people that Icepick really admired. Out of the bunch, who were the ones you really wanted to work with?

All of them. I always needed a Ty Dolla $ign feature because I'm a big fan of his and he always asked when I was going to send him a record. To get the track from Hitmaka was a blessing too because he got missiles and a grip on the culture right now. He actually used to be signed to DMX back in the day. He was always around us when he was younger, so for that to come back around, I know made Pick happy. It was easy to get them and I never worked with any of them before on a solo tip besides Rick Ross.  

I’m hearing you’re going for your second Grammy nomination with “I Know” featuring John Legend.

Yeah, that song is the one I'm really pouring it all out on. I'm talking about Pick, my family and I'm talking to my wife. I told you the situation about having a daughter outside of the home, and the first verse is about that and the second verse is about Pick. Thanking him for putting up with me because there's times he could've quit and wanted to smack or hit me with a bat and say screw this n---a. John Legend does what he does on the bridge and hook, and that's the song we're going for the Grammy nomination for. Even if we don't win, a nomination would be an accomplishment for me.

You did Friday on Elm Street with Fabolous in 2017. Is there another artist you want to collaborate with on an album? 

Me and Styles have an album coming this year. It's going to be us going back and forth, and we're in talks of doing something big for that too. A radio personality begged me to do one with Push. I've talked to Benny the Butcher about doing one. There's one I'm definitely doing with Beanie Sigel called Kiss the Mac

Wait a minute. The same Beanie Sigel you had a vicious rap beef with in the early 2000s? 

Yeah [laughs], we already have a couple of records done for that. Don't be surprised if that comes out this year. 

Not a lot of people remember how bad that beef was between you two. That was one of the most vicious and disrespectful rap beefs of all time. 

That was a different time in hip-hop. It was priceless, though, because you're never going to see something like that again. Things won't be like that again. 

Do you see yourself going back to that old, vicious Jada that annihilated the competition with his rhymes? 

Yeah. I'm going right back to it after this project. That lane is slowly creating itself again with the Griseldas and Don Qs, but they're not letting it in as frequently as they're letting the other s--t in. That's one thing I'm adamant about is keeping the balance. We need more Griseldas and more Don Qs. The other s--t is having a little extended moment than it should have. But it's all good because it'll come back around. That other Jada is always there. It's just sometimes it's too scary for this population right now [laughs]. 

I love what Griselda is doing. It's not the norm and they got out of that box everyone tried to put them in. They created their own highway. I definitely think they'll bring that vibe back, but they're going to monitor it based on their success. It might be another 10 years before they let another in. You see how long it took Mobb Deep and The Lox. It took Griselda eons for them to get here. They want to monitor that kind of hip-hop because if they let that get too big they won’t have a grasp on it. That's just the reality of that.