Mars Jackson is the first hip-hop artist to sign with Misra Records in the label’s 17-year run. But no good has ever come from being uptight about genre, so let’s just say Misra Records has added a talented, distinctive, dynamic new voice to its roster, and he makes hip hop.
“I didn’t wake up one morning and decide Misra needs to have a hip-hop artist,” says Jeff Betten, general manager at Misra, which also represents Phosphorescent and Great Lake Swimmers. “I reached out, got a conversation going … pretty much the same as any other artist I’ve ever signed.”
Jackson, 29, expected a record deal to happen for him at some point, whether Pittsburgh-based or national, on a mostly indie-rock label or not. Learning the violin and singing in church choirs played an important role in his appreciation of different musical styles growing up, and by the time he reached Slippery Rock University, he began thinking of music as a career.
After a difficult 2015 in which he faced family problems and a frustrating stretch of joblessness, Jackson began work on what will be his Misra debut, a full-length called Unemployed Faith slated for August. It’s a chronicle of a rough patch — personal, local and relatable. It’s also the logical next step to follow his early singles while bringing his fans something new and unexpected.
“It’s nothing like you’ve ever heard from a Pittsburgh artist, on this level, being a local artist. Nothing like what you’re hearing out in the city now,” says Jackson.
In addition to his forthcoming full-length, Jackson is busy this month working on a new EP, I’m Just Being Nice, with local producer Nice Rec. There are also shows to book and an album to finish, but mostly Jackson just seems happy to be doing what he’s doing in his hometown.
“Pittsburgh plays a big role in everything that I do. I’m here. I’m still here,” says Jackson. “At the end of the day, if I can do my music and live here at the same time and touch people, that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Mars Jackson performs alongside The Garment District and Meeting Of Important People at the Carnegie Museum of Art on May 19.