“If I want to see the rest of the dream, I got to go out and get it for myself.”
By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
A few weeks ago, hip-hop artist Choo Jackson released a new video. The song was called “Loner,” and the accompanying video was a tribute to his friend and mentor Mac Miller.
It didn’t take long before the Internet did what it does best — shit on happiness. He was accused by some of trying to use Mac’s name and image to “build a career,” or chase clout. Comments like these were the exact reason that Jackson kept quiet publicly about Miller’s September 7 death. “Loner,” a song that was written before Miller’s death was a tribute to his friend and he no longer cared what other people thought about his relationship Mac Miller.
“People are saying all of this stuff and it hurt because this man was my friend,” Jackson says. “He helped me grow as an artist. He would have me out to his house, he put money in my pocket. I miss my friend”
The past few months have been tough for Jackson. He invited the Pittsburgh Current to his hometown of Chambersburg, a solid three hour drive from Downtown Pittsburgh known, apparently, for its peaches. He wanted to talk about his relationship with Miller, and share what the man meant to him. In the aftermath of MIller’s death, testimonials and memorials came from everywhere. But Jackson kept his sentiments to himself.
Why? An outsider looking in might surmise it’s because of the importance of the friendship. As you’ll learn in this story, Jackson cherishes his friendships. Not just the one he had with Mac Miller, but all of the real-life, important, ride-or-die bonds in his life. It would honestly crush him if people thought he was friends with Mac Miller or anyone, for that matter, just to get himself ahead.
It’s easy to see that Jackson is having a hard time reconciling Miller’s sudden death at the age of 26. On the day this story went to press, officials announced Miller’s official cause of death: an accidental overdose from a fatal mixture of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol. The report says he was found kneeling on his bed, his head resting on his knees.
Not knowing exactly what happened had been bothering Jackson since Miller’s death. Sitting around his mom’s dining room table, he repeatedly mentions how knowing what happened would help give him closure and make the loss of a friend hurt less. When the news was announced Nov. 5, Jackson texted:
“The cause of his passing just came out today,” Jackson wrote. I asked him if he felt a sense of closure. “I thought it would, but it didn’t at all. Only thing is time, I think.”
Miller’s death sent shockwaves through the country’s musical scene, but nowhere was the pain more evident than in Pittsburgh. There was an outpouring of support from fans, friends and collaborators. The reason that Miller’s death affected so many people is that he truly was a good person who helped a lot of young artists, like Choo Jackson.
“Mac had this thing where he could make you feel like he already knew you,” Jackson explains. “We had this artists’ bond and I think we also got along so well because I never overstepped his life. I loved when we’d hang out, but I was never one to blow his phone up because as big as he was, if I’m texting him like a million other motherfuckers are texting him too, or sending DM’s, meanwhile he’s trying to chill out in Argentina or some shit. When he wanted to talk or get together, he’d find me. It was a good friendship and he was a great mentor.”
“I ain’t made it yet. Mac and I collaborated and he took me on tour, but at the end of the day, I’ve gotta get there on my own. That’s what he did. Now, to honor him I have to complete the journey and help out other young artists out there just like he helped me. I fucking owe him that.”
Long before Choo Jackson met Mac Miller and started touring the country, he and his boys were making a name for themselves. Jackson moved to Chambersburg from Florida when he was 15. That’s when he met his friend Swaine, aka StaXX. A year or so later, they got another member of their crew; a second Maryland transplant, Phil Wushu. The three met playing football together at Chambersburg Senior High. The question about who was a better baller barely hit the room when Jackson chimed in that it was him.
“Shit,” Wushu says.”I was so good I quit so I didn’t have to show your ass up.” The lace-covered wooden dinettectable he sat at served in contrast to his bravado.
The room erupts in laughter. The three have been friends for years. In fact, doing a photo shoot without StaXX and Wushu was out of the question. They have chemistry, love and adoration for one another. That’s probably why they clicked musically as well.
“There’s not much to do around here but party, be a little reckless, but we were young,” Staxx says. “And the other thing to do was make music. We just started chillin’, vibin’ out and posting shit. Facebook wasn’t even really that big back then but we started getting a lot of hits. And honestly, back then, there weren’t a lot of folks putting stuff online. Us? We lived online.”
Wushu called the three “trailblazers,” and he may be right. It was the late 2000s, early-2010s, and they were doing something not many, if any artists were doing. They were leading the way with DIY promotion and they were doing it from a city that was known more for its fucking peaches than its hip-hop.
“I feel like we might have been a little bit ahead of our time,” Jackson says. “We started getting known through videos.”
And what exactly was the name of this ahead-of-its-time group?
“Phresh Muney,” says StaXX with a laugh.
“Now, originally,” Wushu explains, “we spelled it regular like ‘Fresh Money.’ But there was another Fresh Money out there so we changed it up with the “PH” and dropped that ‘O.’”
The guys started making music at Pittsburgh’s ID Labs, the studio that helped artists like Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller get on the map. Miller started hanging around the studio in 2009 and in 2010, the Phresh Muney crew began working out of the tiny studio. Phresh Muney would make a record there called “Regular Guy.” The song was so good that in 2012, Miller himself did a two-minute remix, complete with a Phresh Money shoutout. But in 2010, the group started having conversations about doing solo projects for a spell.
“I got right to work immediately because at the time I had this shitty warehouse job, cleaning fucking toilets,”Jackson says. “I was working on this demo, parts of which would later become [mixtape] “Beer Flavored Pizza. But, honestly, I was still thinking about the group.”
Jackson approached a former Phresh Muney producer who was now working with Miller and asked the producer to approach Miller about doing a feature on a future Phresh Muney project. Miller said, no.
“But the guy told me Mac liked my stuff and wanted to work with me,” Jackson explained. Jackson wasn’t sure what to do at first. But he realized that the opportunity was too good to pass up. “It was awkward having the conversation, but they understood that nothing like this happens in Chambersburg.”
“Hell yeah we understood,” Wushu says. “A foot in the door for one of us is a foot in the door for all of us.”
At the time Jackson and Miller hooked up, Miller was launching his K.I.D.S. mixtape. “When this was all happening I did understand how big of a star he was going to be,” Jackson says. “But I had no idea it was going to be this Kurt Cobain-level stardom. And to even be part of something like that was wild.”
Jackson remembers his first show with Miller. They played in front of 1,200 kids at Slippery Rock University. “I was so scared because he just put me out there during his set and I didn’t know if I could perform,” Jackson says. “Hell, he didn’t know if I could perform, but I got a shot and it was awesome. Before that, we made music, we didn’t really perform live. When we did, we spent most of our time trying to figure out what to do.”
For the next 18 months or so, Jackson would play a few dates a year with Miller. He got his first chance to open for Miller in 2014, during a two-night Christmas show in Atlantic City. The following year he went on the road for Mac Miller as a bonafide opener on Miller’s Go:od AM tour.
It was during this time that that the two became close and Jackson says he was appreciative for a chance to see Miller up close every night doing his thing.
When asked to describe where he thinks Miller derived his talent from, Jackson didn’t hesitate.
“Did you listen to [Miller’s final record] “Swimming?” he asks. “What did you hear when you heard that first song? You know what I heard? A fucking angel singing.
“I’ve seen him make music before. What he did on that record was unreal and it made me feel some kinda way. It’s a gift from God. Wait, he’s Jewish, they’re down with God though, right? All I know is someone laid that on him. For all I know he could have been John Lennon reincarnated. Mac was some kind of special.”
Even as Choo Jackson continues his musical journey, his life’s journey from here, it seems like a lot of who he is will be formed by his time with Miller. Jackson learned from Miller the importance of not just taking advantage of a gift, but using it to help others get to where they want to be. Countless artists credit Miller with helping them get a shot in this business.
But Miller didn’t just share knowledge, he collaborated with other artists like they were peers, his friends. Jackson surmises that there must be countless unheard Mac Miller recordings floating around the country. He loved working with others in an attempt to make something different, something new. Jackson says he has at least an album’s worth of material that he recorded with Miller that he plans to do something with some day. Right now though, he’s got his own music to make.
“Mac experienced so much in life. Number one albums, he toured the world. And I’m glad he showed me a little part of that,” Jackson says. “And I think that he only showed me a little part of it because If I want to see the rest of the dream, I got to go out and get it for myself.”
“And that’s my plan. I’m trying to get the right set of music so I can go out on a cool-ass tour, make hits and keep my man’s legacy alive.”