October 3rd was a sad day for fans and supporters of Tupac Shakur’s musical legacy. According to Allhiphop.com, Johnny Jackson, better known as Johnny ‘J,’ committed suicide by jumping from a tier in the LA County Jail, where he was serving time on a DWI charge.
Johnny ‘J’ was an incredible producer and perhaps the single most influential musical contributor to Pac’s catalog. After producing the smash “Knockin Boots” for Candyman back in 1990, he met 2pac and they began cutting records, leading to their first commercial release together, “Pour Out A Little Liquor,” from the Thug Life album, Thug Life Vol. 1 (1994). The next year, while Pac was in jail, Johnny released an under the radar solo LP called I Gotta Be Me, and contributed “Death Around the Corner” to the Me Against The World album.
But it’s really his work on the classic All Eyez On Me that marks his unique sound– groovy slap basses and funky guitar riffs, synthesized drums and melodic synth lines. It was a sound that very much seems to be created amidst Pac’s tireless work ethic, and you can visualize the records he produced coming together while Pac is writing his rhymes on the spot in the studio. They have a very live, organic– but synthesized– feel, and at the time that was a huge break from the production norm, which was still very much about neck snapping drums, and short sampled loops reworked into 4/4 rap beats (even Dr. Dre was still in that zone). Johnny ‘J’ was able to give Pac a much more musically dynamic sound– something more free flowing and improvisational– and it allowed for a string of undeniable hits.
A good example of Johnny’s influence can be heard in the title track, “All Eyez On Me.” Whereas The Trackmasters also flipped Linda Clifford’s “Never Gonna Stop,” for Nas’ “Street Dreams,” their rendition was a straight loop with a drum track. In Johnny’s flip, you can hear him replay the bass line underneath the loop, and his drums are tighter, more compressed, and just all around more “in the pocket.” Such subtle differences, yet Pac’s “All Eyez On Me,” till this day, is the more acclaimed track.
Johnny produced a bunch of other big records off the All Eyez On Me album, like “How Do U Want It,” and “All About U,” and after Pac died in September of ’96, he would be called on repeatedly to rework pre-existing songs for posthumous albums. He also contributed to albums from Nate Dogg (“Crazy, Dangerous”) and Bizzy Bone (“When Thugz Cry”), while continuously supplying Pac’s extended fam, The Outlawz and Big Syke, among others, with tracks.
Still, Johnny ‘J’ never managed to recapture the magic he created with Pac while working with other artists. Perhaps they just lacked the talent and abilities that were bestowed upon one of the greatest voices of our generation. And because of that, Johnny spent the years leading up to his recent death floating beneath the radar, so much so that most people (including myself) didn’t even know he was in jail.
That said, Johnny J’s musical contributions cannot be understated, unappreciated, or misrepresented. Regardless of anything, at many critical junctures in his career, Pac needed hits, and Johnny supplied them in bulk time and again. Hip-Hop owes a debt of gratitude to him.
And so here we are… the irony is kinda crazy…
Pour out a little liquor.
RIP: Johnny ‘J’ Jackson (August 28th 1969– October 3rd, 2008)