We’ve probably all heard it before. The story about the athlete turned artist; but the fact that 25-year-old Ross Jack was once a little white boy listening to black music while playing football (his mother honing his ear with the likes of the Jackson 5 and Diana Ross), adds a fun twist to the familiar narrative.
Talking to Ross, he immediately comes across as an earnest and humble youth – and I use the word youth because, not only can you hear the effervescence of it in his voice and the way he speaks, but he personifies it with his optimistic outlook and approach towards his life and work. Adding a whole other dimension then to this multifarious individual is what he says. He listens politely to each question and judiciously answers each one, never afraid to talk or share. From the way he converses, with a wisdom that belies his age, it is evident that not only does he enjoy his work, but he knows what he is doing.
Besides the music he was introduced to, here is a young man with a history that makes him half British, half South African and includes a four-year stint in Spain. What, then, made him choose hip hop as a singer? “I always connected with it. I like the culture, the swagger, the attitude; it has its own soulful vibe to it. I’m not into that gangsta rap kinda stuff…more along the lines of Mos Def, Kanye West, Jay-Z – their work is more educated, refined and it’s all about soul”. So does he think that hip hop is still growing or starting to fade away? “It’s trying to compete with pop and its starting to lose its culture in the pure sense”. Ross himself states that he likes “to experiment and be different” and admits that some of the artists he admires are not at their best point” “I’d like to see it go back to being more musical”. He shares a general sense of positivism about the South African music industry though, stating that it is an “exciting time –and even if “it [the industry] is always a bit niche, hip hop is coming along and it will get there”.
Ross is starting to attract widespread attention and acclaim with his song Seven45 – its unpretentious lyrics and throbbing beats immediately connecting with an audience. I ask him about the way the title is written and he says it was used “to establish the brand of the song…it becomes its own monster”. Admittedly, when I first saw the title, the first thing it brought to my mind was a .45 automatic – ironic, as the song has nothing to do with weapons and thereby subverts the cliché of hip-hop as the soundtrack to gangster culture.
His debut EP Chandeliers was released in October, he has just been signed onto EMI Records and he has plans for an album next year that’s “gonna have some nice joints”. With the additional titles of songwriter and producer, I marvel at how much he has managed to accomplish at such a young age and he simply yet sagely responds that “I have a natural feel for it. Music comes naturally to me and the rest is application. It’s about passion: you put everything into it if you have drive and passion. And that’s what I did – in the bedroom, in the studio.” Not to mention, he is also a performer and will be showcasing his skill at the VIP Lounge in Sandton and has plans to head south to Cape Town as well.
I ask him what the best advice is that he has ever been given, particularly in terms of music. “I know it’s cheesy, but it’s so true: know that what you do is dope. Believe in yourself…be confident in how good you are and don’t be deterred at any cost. The harder you plug away, there is light at the end of the tunnel”. This emphasises the point of origin: youth unfettered by cynicism. His attitude is one that far more people, no matter what industry or lifestyle they pursue, would do well to adopt. Is this then not music’s purpose at the best of times: to remind us of this? That although you roll out of bed at 7:45 and have 15 minutes to get to work, at least you know it’s happening because you had a good night whose memory will get you through the day.