For a man two years into a 20-year sentence for gun possession and drug charges, who was recently denied parole and had phone privileges revoked for over a month, Jason Jamal Jackson, better known as 03 Greedo, sounds optimistic and focused—optimistic for his career as an artist, and focused on continuing to release music while he's locked up.
Greedo recently told The Washington Post he was fighting to overturn his current sentence. The reporter, Jeff Weiss, has tracked Greedo's rise and kept in contact during his current incarceration. The story in the Post provides some potential explanation of Greedo's optimism.
"He and his new attorneys claim that his prior counsel was ineffective and grossly negligent," Weiss reported. However, as he notes, the courts are currently shut down due to the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the prolific artist from Watts released Load It Up, Vol. 01, a joint album with Ron-Ron, a producer and frequent collaborator. The album title, which is also one of Ron-Ron's producer tags, nods to his ability to provide a fresh inventory of beats for Greedo's notoriously prolific and lengthy studio sessions. And Greedo's been happy to have some support from the outside.
"Alamo [Records] is so live," he told me over the phone. "They've been rocking with me. I've been gone for more than two years and they trust me, and I trust them. I'm in a great position to still do what I want to do, creatively."
Load It Up features verses from Chief Keef, Sada Baby, and Key Glock, as well as newer artists including Shordie Shordie, Z Money, Shoreline Mafia's Rob Vicious, and recently freed Ralfy the Plug. The dark melodies and sounds vary per track, with deep, shelf-shaking bass as a constant throughout.
While his usual recording process is to freestyle or rap in one take, Greedo has been writing more, and feels less limited in what he's able to rap about now that he's been sentenced.
"I couldn't speak on so much, because I didn't want to go to jail and then have some new charges. You see what happened to Bobby Shmurda or Boosie, when they went to court and [the court] used their music against them. Same thing with my bro, Drakeo," he said.
In preparation for his time in prison, Greedo tucked away a cache of music, the majority of which hasn't yet seen the light of day. As Greedo told VICE, there are multiple projects still in the works: one album executive produced by Hit-Boy, as well as separate joint albums with Ty Dolla $ign, League of Stars, Cardo Got Wings, and Lil Uzi Vert. Greedo knows his fans, as well as Uzi's, will be dying to hear that project, but they shouldn't expect it any time soon.
"I want to make sure people respect me as a solo artist first. I don't want to try and ride the coattails of his success with streaming lately. I feel like that's hating," he said.
VICE spoke to Greedo a few days after John Middleton Transfer Facility in Abilene, Texas restored the 33-year-old rapper's phone privileges.
VICE: What's the story behind this project?
03 Greedo: My creative director [Jeremiah “Picaso” Aubert] introduced [me and Ron-Ron]. I really used to make most of my beats, and I don't like the typical beats that be in California. But he's like, 'Nah, this dude is different. This dude's from Watts.' And I'm like, alright. I trust Picaso with my career.
So I go over there, I'm really trying to prove myself as a producer, but his shit was so fire. So we ran through a gang of beats the first time we met and recorded, and I was just like, 'Load it up, load it up.' Me and Ron-Ron probably have the most songs together out of anybody. And Load It Up isn't even 5 percent of it. I don't think people understand how much music we got.
Do you feel like Ron-Ron is one of the people who can keep up with you, in terms of your output?
Yeah. I think that turned him up. It was a challenge to him. He was like, 'Shit. You think I can't come with it? I'ma come with it.' I'm telling you, we used to be recording and he'd be falling asleep and I would be pushing him to keep going. I'd make sure he had whatever he needed, I put dollars in his pocket. We'll walk outside and the sun's beaming. We were challenging each other. Nobody else can really do that.
You've talked about how your recording style was either freestyling or doing a one-take, but now you have the time (under unfortunate circumstances) to write more. Once you have the chance to record, is that going to change how you're making the music?
I think that's what worked for [that] time, because at the time, music was changing, and it was becoming more simple. People were leaving more space in there, instead of just punchline, punchline, punchline. You still had to say clever shit. I had to dumb myself down because if I was writing it down, it would be a little too much. But now, I think people understand: 03 Greedo is outta there. He's legendary. His brain is on a different level. Not to toot my own horn, but just because it's what we're talking about.
So many artists come back from losing a friend or going to jail and they don't touch on things without being boring, and that's what the fans want to hear. Me, I lost about ten friends while I've been in here. People want to know how that shit affected me. Or losing Nipsey, who was my musical mentor. They want to hear about that. They want to hear everything that's going on. So it's good that I'm writing it down. At the end of the day, practice makes perfect. So I'm coming up with new flows, new deliveries, better melodies. I said I want to use less AutoTune when I come home, because I obviously don't have AutoTune in here. I don't think it's going to hurt me, I think it's going to help me.
Why do you think some rappers are ‘boring’ about talking on those times?
Maybe they're shell-shocked. Some people don't have that type of talent to express their emotions. Some people are only good at talking about the trap, some are only good at talking about clothes, they're one-dimensional. Me, I got all types of sides to myself. I've been in jail a lot of my life, so the jail time ain't affecting me the way it would affect someone who's never been to prison, or hasn't really been outta town away from their family before. Some of my fans consider me the Gucci Mane of California. I gotta be that dude. I gotta talk that shit.
Speaking of being the Gucci of California, I spoke to his engineer, Sean Paine, about the logistics side of it, while Gucci was away. Could you explain what it's like coordinating your projects while being locked up?
It's real easy, because the difference with my situation [is that] I really recorded on these beats before I left. I did thousands of songs. There's so many emails packed with songs, so many Dropboxes and secret files and folders. A lot of times over the phone I select songs and send them to my creative director. There's some songs I completely don't remember and still turn out great, like on the Shoreline Mafia album. I don't even remember recording that. But it's doing great in the city, so, fuck it.
I looked at what Gucci Mane [did] while he was gone, I looked at what Lil Wayne did while he was gone. I think Lil Wayne prepared by making videos and then he had Drake and Nicki to keep shit going, and Tyga and Gudda Gudda to keep it going. I look at what Gucci did, songs like "Again" with [Young] Thug, and how he kept having things to release. Those two people inspired me the most to go on a run and record, record, record. Without Gucci and without Wayne, I don't even think I would've had the idea to go in like that.
You said 'Lie to Me,' which you couldn't get on the project because of a sample issue, was the most necessary song. Can you explain why?
On some of my songs I sing with a raspy voice, whether it's because of where I was recording, or I was losing my voice from recording so much, and we're smoking. I want to make songs that are easy to sing along to. Sometimes I purposely sing in a way where kids and people who can't really sing can sing to it. But I think I was singing beautifully on "Lie to Me." It speaks on what I'm going through now, with the new fame and with being away. I tried to realize the type of love that you see normal people go through might not be a possibility for somebody like me. The album was so dark, we needed something light, a single that took it somewhere on the charts. But it's alright. Everything happens for a reason. If that would've been on the album, that would've been the cherry on top.
In terms of what made it onto the first ‘Load It Up,’ is there a track that you're particularly proud of?
"Scary Movie," because everybody wondered what creep music is, and it's hard to tell them in words. That's what creep music is.
I've seen this movie, but I was watching it two weeks ago, Get Out, when he goes into the Sunken Place, that's how it feels when a perfect song comes on to me. It just feels like, 'Oh shit.' It takes over. That's what "Scary Movie" does to me as soon as it plays. I close my eyes and fall back a little bit.
You've asked for people to send books and letters. Have you gotten any books recently that you've enjoyed?
50 Cent, Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter, I read Mike Tyson's Undisputed, that was live. There's a lot going on in the world, so people are sending me books on that. But I don't get too deep into that type of stuff. I just try to focus on being an artist, so my biggest thing is reading biographies. My favorite book that I've read since I've been in here is probably the Rick Ross book [Hurricanes], the Gucci Mane book [The Autobiography of Gucci Mane], I've read two books on Kurt Cobain. Other than that, I got two books that Pharrell Williams made, and a book from Virgil, who made OFF-WHITE. I got a big-ass book that Rihanna made that's just pictures, that was live. Rihanna's somebody I look up to.
In 2018, you talked about wanting to make a pop album. Can you tell me a little bit more about what a Greedo pop record would be like?
[There are] two big albums I've been writing—over 50 songs a piece, too— OG the IceMan [is] just gonna be straight talking about the drug dealing I couldn't talk about. But there's another album I'm making that's R&B and pop. I don't really think they have genres in music anymore, even though I said that. Singers rap and rappers sing. I've been writing an album called I Can't Lie, I Fucking Love You. In California in prison you can get a radio, you can get a CD player, you can get tablets in certain spots. Here, you can't do that. So I've just been in touch with my own melodies, and I think that album will be the closest to what I was trying to do with a pop album, and speaking on things a typical rapper couldn't talk about.
If you had to guess, when will you drop the next ‘Load It Up’?
[laughs] Shit, I'd drop that shit today if I could. But people gotta do press and shit like that. I want to first see if people are paying attention to what I'm doing. I just wanted to capitalize on every category so you could see. God Level, was like, 'Hey, I could freestyle great songs, but let me take a little bit of the street out of it, Still Summer In the Projects was more for the ratchet women, and the people who like to turn up in that way and the type of music that [DJ] Mustard makes. With Travis Barker, you're bringing in the type of crowd that he brings. Kenny Beats Netflix & Deal was more like a concept album and more lyrical, and with Ron-Ron, it was like, let's come closer to home, let's bring it back to Watts with some street music.
The difference between you and say, Gucci or Lil Wayne, it seems like you have so many styles you're trying to cover.
I just want to be—I don't want to say a legend, because that's for people to give you props—but I just want to be… I don't know what you'd call it. When you bring up music, period, I want to be mentioned. I want my music to be played whether it's rap, or singing, like how Pharrell went from making songs with Clipse and Birdman, now you leave off a Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios, you hear Pharrell. I want to be that, but amplified. Also, shit, I gotta pay the bills. To look the part of who I want to be and the icon, and the something-from-nothing story, I gotta have on 30 chains, I gotta have cars that cost $1.5 million, so I have to work this hard for my point to be put out. I don't think that people understand that, and it sounds crazy to people. It probably sounded crazy to people before I started dropping so much, but now people are starting to see. I'm trying to do something that's never been done. Not for the props, but just to change music, to be a big part of music forever.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
‘Load It Up Vol. 1’ is streaming right now on all major platforms.