By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Charlie @pittsburgh Current.com
Over the past two years when people would ask hip-hop artist Mars Jackson when he was going to release new music, he gave pretty standard answers.
But the truth is, he wasn’t writing new music for an upcoming project or in the studio recording new tracks. He was in a therapist’s office trying to work through some serious issues that have dogged him for the past few years.
“A couple of years ago I went through a spell where I had all of these emotions come to the surface and I didn’t know where they came from,” Jackson told the Pittsburgh Current on May 4, his 34th birthday. “It all had to do with never meeting my father, despite the fact that he lives four hours away. I had no relationship with him and I couldn’t understand why this dude didn’t work harder to make that happen.
“I was internalizing everything. I tried to suppress these things. I couldn’t write, I didn’t go on tour. It was like I lost my super power. “I was emotionally breaking down and having panic attacks and I felt ‘less than’ because I had those feelings. In the black community, we don’t talk about stuff like this, But I had to get through this mess.”
Most importantly,therapy helped him get through a rough time in his life. But it also gave him the ability to work through those emotional barriers and begin creating again. On May 4, Jackson released his first piece of new music in two years. “Look Up” was born out of those hard times and it’s about his journey dealing with the issues surrounding his father.
The track, produced by DanSully and Bobby Webster and featuring Cam Chambers, is a smooth, jazz-influenced piece. Jackson begins the song: “They said you had a long way before your strong enough. So what you waiting for, do you want it bad enough? You gotta take control if it ain’t addin’ up. Keep shining your light and you’ll find your way.”
As Jackson was planning to get his music rolling again, he met up with DanSully and Webster and then Cam Chambers. He began meeting the trio at the Empty Space Project in New Kensington where they began working on the track. “It started out, we were just talking about life and getting to know each other,” Jackson said. “Then we started going back and forth until we had the music.”
Jackson had already been working on the lyrics for “Look Up,” and he knew he wanted to write about what he was going through. And to do that, he had to make himself vulnerable and be honest about his struggle. With a first verse in hand, he and Chambers performed it several months ago at a show at Spirit Lounge in Lawrenceville. Hi fans didn’t recognize it, of course, and it was still incomplete. That second verse still hadn’t materialized.
Then, in March, he and his fiancee went to New Orleans to look at Wedding venues.
“At the time, COVID-19 was bubbling up, but it wasn’t hot then,” Jackson recalls. “But when we got back home, life changed.”
While Jackson doesn’t have a relationship with his father, he does have one with members of his father’s side of the family, at the urging of his mother, who Jackson calls his hero, he is close with his aunt, his father’s sister. Within a period of a few weeks. His aunt had lost her husband and her father-in-law. Two days after burying her father-in-law, she lost her mother, Jackson’s grandmother due to complications from COVID-19. The loss hit Jackson hard. Because he lost his grandmother, of course, but also because he wasn’t able to have a closer relationship with her.
“It just brought up these feelings that I’ve had my whole life and I had to get these feelings out,” Jackson said. “That’s what the song is about, it’s about looking up even when things are really hard. “I wanted to try and connect with people’s hearts. Then when the COVID happened, I realized there were other people who probably felt the way I did.
“I started thinking, what if I caught this and died, never meeting my father. But I realized there’s only so much I could do in that situation. When I would talk to my dad on the phone years ago, he would always say he loved me and I said it back to him. But in recent years I realized I was making it easy on him by saying that. There’s no reason in 34 years that we couldn’t have met. I made it easy on him, I was right here and he couldn’t make that sacrifice. So, I had to let that go and not let those feelings control my life.”
That time allowed him to finish the song. And although his full-length isn’t due until later in the year, he decided to release the song now in a difficult time for everyone.
“I’m not trying to bash nobody, but this is my story,” Jackson says. “It feels good to be able to open up about stuff. In an odd way, this has turned out to be a positive influence in my life. THis experience has helped me create a whole new outlook.”