The Jack Wilson Interview
Pittsburgh’s poetry and hip-hop circuit veteran Jack Wilson might have left the ‘Burgh for greener pastures, but he’s still a native at heart. You might remember our recent interview with Mr. Owl in which we talked about Jack and Owl’s recent collaboration, the ‘Consumers Become Producers’ mixtape and corresponding follow-up project. We were graced with the gift of an exclusive track from the duo and are very excited to announce its premiere, which you can check out over here! We also had a chance to catch up with Jack to discuss what else he’s been up to since the big move to Baltimore. Here it is.
I knew Jack Wilson by the name D.J. Brewer before I knew he and Jack were actually the same person. Upon beginning this interview, I wondered if D.J. and Jack were the same person at heart or if Jack served as a sort of altar-ego. “I guess you can say D.J./Jack are one in the same… moreso than say, Jack being some ‘slim shady’ alter-ego or whatever. Basically I decided on an MC name once I started performing in order to lessen the confusion over the fact that I’m not a DJ – my name is Dennis James and I’ve gone by my initials D.J. as a nickname since I was a kid. It still confuses people, but that’s ok. Jack Wilson was the Christian name of a native Paiute holy man (aka Wovoka) who delivered the “Ghost Dance” speech before the massacre of Wounded Knee – that’s where I got the name. Plus I’d just always liked “Jack” – it was my grandfather’s nickname, Kerouac has been an influence, and most of all it’s just a solid, working-class name which exemplifies my background.”
Born and raised in Beaver County, Jack moved to Pittsburgh in ’98 and posted up in Lawrenceville. In an effort to branch out, he moved away a few years ago. “Since August 2010 I’ve been living in Baltimore, but as of next month I plan to re-locate to NYC. I moved away from home for multiple reasons, but mostly for new experiences and opportunities. After ten years of accomplishing a lot locally and helping the Pittsburgh poetry and hip-hop scenes grow, I felt like I needed different challenges and further growth myself. Plus I’d been laid off from my 9-5, and when it came time to look for a new job I figured might as well try to do so in a new place. Bmore certainly has its charms; I’ve found many similar attributes that I also love about the 412… although perhaps too many. Plus they really don’t like the Steelers and I’ll bleed black & gold until I die, so I’m not sure ‘Smalltimore’ is the best fit for me right now (hehe). And although Pittsburgh will always be home, I’ve dreamed of living in NY since I was a kid and my many recent trips from Bmore have only fortified my desire to give the ‘big city of dreams’ a shot. We’ll see what happens!”
A well-known figure in the local spoken word poetry and hip-hop scenes, Jack’s inspiration during the creative process stems from similar places. “I receive great amounts of inspiration from music in general, so when I write lyrics for a track I always try to consider the beat’s vibe/mood and add something complimentary. Sometimes I’ll even just go off of the producer’s title for the track – for example, .rar Kelly and I have a song coming out called “Jimmy Legs”, which was the working title of the instrumental he sent me, so I just went with it and wrote a song about this dude Jimmy Legs who’s like a corrupt music industry gangster. With poetry, there’s more of a blank slate idea-wise, but now that I think about it the process is pretty much the same – just building off of that initial blast of inspiration. I’m one of those writers where it comes flooding out all at once, so I’ve learned to trust and harness that flow in ways that allow me to be confident and prolific in my writing in whatever format I’m expressing myself.”
A recent project that came to mind immediately fuses hip-hop and spoken word poetry. The previously mentioned ‘Consumers Become Producers’ mixtape, a collaboration with Mr. Owl, is one of Jack’s most recent accomplishments. “I was having one of those shitty days when I got two e-mails from friends – one from Chris (Mr. Owl) asking me to peep this mix he’d put together for an upcoming show with Rivka, and one a little while later from poet Brian Francis asking for feedback regarding some of his works in progress. Call it luck/fate/timing/whatever, but when I read one of Brian’s poems as Chris’s mix was playing in my headphones, it fit perfectly and everything immediately and spontaneously took off from that point. In fact, I spit the exact poem of Brian’s I was reading at that moment over the same part in the mix, on the final product (@27:04). Most of my poems on the mix are approximately 10 years old, written during the legendary early days of Shadow Lounge, and as the Iraq war loomed over us – which fit Chris’s idea of consumers/producers quite nicely. The whole process only took a few days, to be honest. Now the mix is nearing 1,000 overall plays and has become something I’m very proud of; an important chapter in my body of work.
For the follow-up, we want to expand upon my idea of using other artists and have asked various Pittsburgh poets to contribute not just their words, but their voices, over original beats submitted exclusively for this project. Although the selection isn’t complete, as of now I can say we’ve confirmed Christiane D, SolSis, Nikki Allen, Billy Pilgrim, Julian Nichols, and William James (whose work is also featured on the original mix). All are talented and weathered veterans of the Pittsburgh poetry movement, and I’m confident the result will be a powerful representation of our city’s vast talent. Mr. Owl is currently in the process of collecting track submissions, and once he puts the mix together we poets will begin to do our thing.”
And what about this exclusive track they made for us? “Like ‘Consumers Become Producers’, this collaboration with Mr. Owl just sort of came together naturally. Since Chris and I are friends we often trade ideas/drafts/etc. and therefore I have many of his tracks saved on my laptop. I’ve found that his smart sense of timing and diverse production style fits well with my spoken word rhythms and we’re both really excited about what the future holds regarding our future collaborations. Straight up though? I made this track the night Wiz’s Taylor Allderdice came out, after learning that he’d used two beats from D. Dumont, who’s an amazing Pittsburgh producer I’ve also been lucky to have worked on a few demos with. The reality was mad inspiring and made me more proud and motivated than ever to be a Pittsburgh hip-hop artist. When the track was finished, I knew I wanted to dedicate it to Nakturnal as a nod to our collective friendship and for all the hard work you have also put into building our local scene. The lyrics/poetry specifically culminated from a few sick bits and pieces I’d recently saved in my smart phone after random nights of sitting alone on Bmore barstools.”
As for the future, “Right now I’m focusing on ‘real life’ things like moving to NYC… although with this 4/20 mix Mr. Owl and TimeBomb are about to release, perhaps I’ll get to come back for a release show (if there is one, because I just made that up). I do have a show this month in Delaware with a very talented young MC named Avant Garde with whom I’ve collaborated on a couple tracks (incl. the Mr. Owl produced “Most Mighty”), and I’m constantly in the studio – I just finished two huge tracks with an amazing producer from Moscow named Malefique, and I’m currently finishing up my long-overdue solo album/life’s work “Trickster Divinity”. Add our follow-up to ‘Consumers Become Producers’ as well as a couple other collabs (including my ongoing groups WOVOKA w/Deric Norgren and Bigelow Riders w/Davy Hamburgers) and I stay working, just the way I like it.”
NYO Exclusive Track:
Consumers Become Producers: