Ajax rapper uses his amiable personality and multi-faceted experience to achieve success

No matter how you spin it, wearing multiple hats in the music industry can prove to be quite the test. The simultaneous duties as an artist and as a promoter striving to build a business have definitely presented obstacles along the way for Peter Jackson, but a silver lining has existed throughout — invaluable experience that teaches the principles of persistence, pragmatism and positivity.

Jackson’s unique come-up story as a promoter turned emcee in Canada’s hip-hop game has given him a chance to develop these characteristics over the years. But if you ask him, he’ll tell you that his growth isn’t complete.

“I still feel like I’m coming up,” the Ajax, Ontario native explains. “Some people call me an OG or a legend . . . I’m 30 years old. I just turned 30. I know I’m not 19 anymore, but I still feel like I’m coming up.”

“I still feel like I’m coming up.”

His perspective aligns quite well with his down-to-earth qualities — he’s an admirer of sports, a teller of tongue-in-cheek jokes, and an individual unafraid of admitting where he’s from. In fact, he wears his home on his sleeve — both literally and figuratively — with Toronto Raptors-themed music on his recent We The North EP, in addition to his noticeable Ajax and Toronto-inspired forearm tattoos.

Dressed in a pair of Air Jordans, jean shorts and a black T-shirt accentuated by a gold 9-0-Nickel Entertainment pendant representing his record label, Jackson kicks it in the back room of downtown Toronto’s Hong Shing Restaurant on a gorgeous summer evening — sharing Chinese food potluck-style with his team, cracking jokes, discussing his past and explaining his future goals.

CONGRATULATIONS ON THE WE THE NORTH EP MAKING IT TO THE TOP THREE ON THE BILLBOARD CHART FOR CANADIAN ALBUMS. WHERE DOES ALL YOUR LOVE FOR THE TORONTO RAPTORS COME FROM? HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A FAN?

I had seen [Michael] Jordan’s last game in Toronto with my pops at the SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre). I remember the inaugural season 21 years ago. I remember being excited. I liked basketball before we had [the Raptors]. You know what it is — you can always like sports, but if you don’t have your team, it doesn’t mean as much. I think it grew from that . . . I really love the sport. Doing the music makes me feel like I’m part of it . . . It’s a way for me to show my passion. It definitely came from being around it for the last 20 years.

WHO’S YOUR FAVOURITE TORONTO RAPTOR EVER, AND WHY?

Damon Stoudamire. Mighty Mouse. He was the first superstar here. Vince Carter was a superstar, but [Stoudamire] was our first [one] in basketball.

“It’s totally different now. There’s rappers in Toronto actually getting a million hits on their videos . . .”

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE TORONTO HIP-HOP CULTURE GROW OVER THE YEARS?

We’re building the infrastructure here. Drake, Kardi[nal] Offishall, Maestro — those are some people I can look at and be like, ‘wow, Kardi really did this right,’ or ‘wow, Maestro used to stock the shelves himself,’ . . . Drake — the way he’s expanded this into a worldwide thing. Those things over the years lend to the infrastructure . . . It’s totally different now. There’s rappers in Toronto actually getting a million hits on their videos, and some people don’t even know who they are. That never happened before . . . I think it’s grown like crazy. I think it’s [still] growing every day.

ON YOUR SINCE I WAS 16 PROJECT FROM LAST YEAR, YOU MENTION THAT THERE WERE CHALLENGES IN YOUR COME-UP, PARTIALLY BECAUSE OF WHERE YOU’RE FROM. TELL ME ABOUT THESE OBSTACLES AND HOW YOU OVERCAME THEM.

Ajax is a hockey city. It’s a suburb. Nobody rapped there before I did . . . But I’m a white boy to them — ‘what’s a white boy doing acting like he’s Black?’ I’m not acting like I’m Black, I don’t know what that means. I’m acting like me. This is who I’ve always been. I’ve played hockey, I’ve played baseball, I’ve played basketball . . . that ain’t got nothing to do with the colour of my skin. At first, I think that was a thing — with white people. White people were horrible with me at first because they expected me to be something else . . . I feel like that was a big challenge, and the thing is, people from Toronto didn’t take me seriously because I’m from Ajax. I’ve never said I was from Toronto . . . It was a challenge breaking into Toronto at first, because if you’re not from Toronto, nobody really [takes you serious]. I think they were wrong. [Because I wasn’t from Toronto] I wasn’t in that crabs-in-a-bucket mentality.

DESPITE WHERE YOU’RE FROM, WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO PICK UP A PEN? WHO WERE YOU INSPIRED BY?

Local stuff. Our people. Family inspired me. I can’t remember the first rap record I bought. Probably MC Hammer as a kid. My sister was really big into R&B — SWV, TLC, Aaliyah and stuff like that. That’s what I was listening to when I was too young to know what I wanted to listen to. I was listening to her music. A lot of my come-up was R&B music and whatever my parents were listening to — until I started getting into my own thing. Like everybody else, I grew up on Eminem. I grew up on Mobb Deep, that kind of stuff.

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“You can’t expect a hobby to be your job. You can’t expect the results if you’re not putting stuff into it.”

TELL ME ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED AS AN ARTIST, AND HOW YOU’VE COMBINED THAT WITH YOUR PRIOR EXPERIENCE AS A PROMOTER. HOW HAS THAT SHAPED YOUR BUSINESS MENTALITY?

I think being a promoter has allowed me to be an artist with a better business mentality because I know what [other promoters are] doing wrong. I know what I like; I know what I don’t like. I know what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. It’s allowed me to see in the business and help it all grow.

IN THE CANADIAN HIP-HOP SCENE, THERE’S A PERCEPTION THAT DOING MUSIC IS MORE SUITABLE AS A SIDE HUSTLE THAN A SUSTAINABLE WAY TO EAT. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THAT PERSPECTIVE?

They’re right, because most people think it’s a hobby. You can’t expect to make a million dollars from something you’re not willing to put a hundred grand into . . . To me, that’s what it is. You just need to do the correct things to compete. You can’t expect a hobby to be your job. You can’t expect the results if you’re not putting stuff into it. It took me a long time to realize that. I was thinking I was just going to get it, like oh, ‘I’m sick.’ I know I’m good, but that doesn’t mean anything. It really doesn’t.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN FOR THE HIP-HOP SCENE IN CANADA TO FLOURISH GOING FORWARD?

I think more people need to work together — and you can’t think that if I make it, you’re fucked. That doesn’t make sense, like I’m not mad at P Reign. I don’t have any problem with Tory Lanez. I’m happy to see these guys win . . . I think you need to see what other people do right and be happy for them. Otherwise, it’s not gonna work.

People tell me “no” 50 times a day, but the one time they tell me “yes,” I make it work 50 times.

YOU’VE GOT THE “HARDEST WORKING RAPPER IN CANADA” MONIKER. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE PUTS YOUR WORK ETHIC ABOVE THE REST?

I’m not willing to hear “no.” When things don’t go right, I’ll still do [them] again. I really feel like not stopping and never quitting. People tell me “no” 50 times a day, but the one time they tell me “yes,” I make it work 50 times. That’s the difference.

WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE WHEN IT COMES TO THE NETWORKING SIDE OF THINGS?

Don’t burn no bridges, because they always come back. A lot of times, you could be rude to somebody and not realize that person is going to become the person that you need at some point.

DO YOU EVER SEE YOURSELF EXTENDING YOUR REACH BEYOND MAKING MUSIC OF YOUR OWN?

For sure. I would love to act. I don’t know if I’m any good (laughs). The two movies I’ve been in, I got killed in both of them — quick. The merchandising side of things is definitely where my head’s at with a lot of stuff, but I just always figured this would give me enough money to go do real estate, open a restaurant, that kind of stuff. I just want to get money with my family. I enjoy rapping, but I also enjoy business a lot. I enjoy being successful in business, trying in different things, and dabbling in stuff until it works. Like I really, really like the stock market . . . Rap can be a gift and can allow me to do so much more . . . Plus everyone wants to work with rappers because they think they’re cool. Most of them aren’t (laughs).

Photos © Isa Ransome + Urbanology Magazine