Jac Ross first turned ears last January with his empowering debut single, “It’s OK to Be Black.” The track later became the backdrop for the NBA’s Black Lives Matter PSA commercial. Now as protestors continue the fight for social justice, Ross has reimagined the track with the help of rappers D Smoke and Buddy.
“It’s OK to Be Black 2.0.” follows Ross’ earlier released singles “Saved” and “Questions” as he further embraces his self-described calling as the “Faith Dealer.”
Discovered and signed by Grammy-winning producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Ross is currently recording his first EP for Darkchild/Island Records. In this edition of 20 Questions, the Live Oak, Florida native offers hints about the forthcoming EP, reveals his favorite protest song and explains why the Temptations classic “My Girl” is his go-to karaoke choice.
1. Why did you decide to remix “OK to Be Black 2.0”?
To reach as many people as possible. There are a lot of people in the Black community who are suffering through racial injustice, and everyone doesn’t have a platform to speak out. Doing this remix allows me to be their voice and say, to the best of my ability, what we are feeling as a culture.
2. What is your favorite protest/empowerment song?
My favorite would have to be “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. The song conveys a powerful message from a position of being tired, weary and frustrated with the continuous repetition of injustice to African Americans. All while being tired and angry, the writer remains positive and holds steadfast that one day this mess is going to be over and a change will come. It’s powerful to be strong while doing it graciously.
3. Why is music such an instrumental force in dealing with societal issues?
Because music is a global language. Music goes beyond the mind and reaches the heart and soul of a man or woman, a little boy or a little girl. It becomes the bonding agent toward healing. I feel that music is a natural part of everyone. It dispenses peace, love and happiness — all while breaking down ugly characteristics that we’ve learned.
4. What else can listeners expect to hear on your forthcoming EP?
Listeners will hear an EP that deals with this present moment. They can expect something that is motivating, transformative and thought-provoking. It’s my intention to bring forth music that will make a change in the world. Now more than ever, people are in need of some hope, some encouragement and change.
5. What one thing have you learned about yourself in pursuit of your career?
That nothing I’ve done on this journey has been in vain. There were many days when I felt I couldn’t even make it this far through the trials, tribulations and personal issues I’ve endured. My upbringing as a child taught me to be resilient and never give up. That mindset has prepared me to win. It’s not conventional to start your career in the middle of a global pandemic and high racial tension. However, I’m more focused now than ever. And because I’m prepared, I believe there will be opportunities to use that preparation even in the middle of this chaos.
6. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
Sam Cooke’s gospel song, “Jesus Gave Me Water.” I can remember sitting in a back room, downloading songs and putting them on a CD so I would be able to listen in the car.
7. What was the first concert you saw?
A gospel concert by Lee Williams. I was about 12 years old and it had a major impact on my deciding to have a music career. There was something magical in that room; something I had never felt before. I left the concert that night with an assurance that I would be doing music the rest of my life. Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like had I not been at that concert.
8. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?
My mother has always been a stay-at-home mom. My father is a reverend and a life insurance agent. My childhood was very loving and easygoing thanks to both my parents being so loving and patient. Every day felt like a great day.
9. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
My dad. Even after going to a concert, my dad would always say that he’d put my music next to any artist in the world. He’s always been the driving force behind my confidence and instilled a mindset of persistence in me at an early age. Even when there were days I wanted to give up on my music, I couldn’t stop because I wasn’t taught to quit.
10. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
Winning a Grammy. As a kid, I imagined myself walking across that Grammy stage in front of my family, giving a speech of thankfulness for the support they have all given to me. My whole life I’ve envisioned this, and every day I’m working toward achieving this dream.
11. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
Live Oak, Florida helped me to make the most of my surroundings and to never make excuses as to why I can’t do something. It also gave me the determination to make my city proud. Being from a small town, it sometimes seems like you can’t make it out. But now that I’ve made it out, I hope my story of perseverance and consistency inspires others in my town to understand that you can be somebody if you work hard and believe in yourself.
12. What’s the last song you listened to?
“Black Habits” by D Smoke. He’s one of my favorite artists currently putting music out. He’s a lyrical genius and, most important, he comes across as very authentic.
13. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
Michael Jackson. He embodied what it means to perfect your craft. His energy and work ethic are unmatched. To be able to witness him live would literally be poetry in motion.
14. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd at one of your sets?
So far, I haven’t seen any crazy encounters. I hear stories from other artists that will definitely keep you on edge. I think sometimes the music gets so good that people don’t always know how to react to it. Each place you travel to is different. As time goes by and the world returns to normal, we can all expect some crazy things to happen during a set.
15. What’s your karaoke go-to?
It’s always “My Girl” by the Temptations. The song has so much passion behind it. Every time I sing it, I think of the Temptations movie. It’s a fun, familiar song that gets the whole crowd singing.
16. What movie or song always makes you cry?
The movie Hardball always gets to me during the scene when G-Baby dies. It’s crazy how that movie is still so relevant today: innocent little kids being killed due to gun violence. In the movie, G-Baby is a kid that everyone loves. It’s always tough not to cry when he dies.
17. What TV series have you watched all the way through multiple times?
I’ve probably watched every episode of Impractical Jokers multiple times. I just enjoy having a good laugh. When I’m on the road and in my hotel, I’ll be in bed watching hours of that show. It’s important for me to feel as happy and light as possible before I do any performing as that energy definitely goes across to the audience.
18. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
That I play the drums. I think sometimes my fans get so caught up in my voice that they don’t realize I play multiple instruments.
19. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I’d like to be an NBA coach or a basketball coach on some level. Basketball has always been a passion of mine, something I do almost every day. I watch every single game and after each game I stay up and watch the press conference. I spent a little time as an assistant high school basketball coach and I had a blast.
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Not to worry so much about the future. It’ll all take care of itself. Live each moment like it’s your last and don’t worry when you don’t see things moving right away. Give yourself time to develop and stay focused on your mission.