There’s always been something unique about Jaren Jackson Jr. He’s not just an NBA unicorn – a seven-foot Goliath who can truly do everything on the basketball court, from guarding the best players every night to draining threes to putting it on the floor – he’s also eccentric in ways you’d never guess. A young man of his time, he says things like, “If it ain’t trendin’, it ain’t nothin’,” and he can often be seen in groovy outfits like a chore coat that reminds you of “Scooby Doo.”
Jackson Jr. is in the middle of a historic season for the fast-rising Memphis Grizzlies, that are in 3rd place in the Western Conference of the NBA.. The numbers are stunning: He had 52 blocks in January alone, the first player in franchise history with over 50 blocks, and became a league leader in the figure: 121 in 53 games. Over six games in January, he had 25 blocks and 9 steals–in the last 20 years, the list of names who’ve done that is slim (Ben Wallace, Joakim Noah, and Marcus Camby), and most of them became All-Defensive Team level players, or Defensive Player of the Year. He’s helped lead a defensive evolution for the youthful Grizzlies, who led the NBA in both blocks and steals in January.
Away from the court, Jackson Jr. is equally vivid. When our video call began, he showed me the second level of his home, which he’s transformed into a studio where he’s recorded over 100 hip-hop tracks. There, he told me about the NBA’s secret flock of undiscovered rappers, played me one of his songs titled “O.J. Simpson,” explained how he came back from injuries to become a budding star, and clued me in to what it’s like to play with Ja Marant.
GQ: So, you have a studio? You rap?
Jaren Jackson: Yeah, I rap, for sure. It’s the only thing I like doing in my free time. It’s just fun. I’ve been rapping for years. It ain’t new at this point [laughs].
What type of rapper would you say you are?
[Thinks very hard.] Ummmmmmmmm. Shoot. I’m not like, I don’t know, I punch in. I wouldn’t say I’m like Nas….
What I make, it’s not poetry, it’s more the vibe of it. The feel of it. I just make music you feel good to, stuff you can play to turn up, to chill, whatever. It’s more of a feel. It sounds good. I create more than I rap. I try to, sonically, please.
You know I have to hear something.
You wanna hear something? [smirks] Alright… [Yells toward a producer.] Yo, he wanna hear something!
Play me something that’s actually good.
I’ve been rapping since I was, probably, 14. I’ve been recording for the past five years. There’s a whole difference between recording and rapping. But, if you wanna rap? Lunch table with your friends? Kendrick Lamar? That’s rapping. Recording, stopping a line and moving it, creating different vibes and melodies, you can do a lot with these machines right here. I’m blessed to have it. But it’s definitely a difference in the craft. It’s something I do in my free time and I just got addicted to it.