Wilbert Jackson wants to set the record straight. Last month the 21-year-old fledgling rapper unwittingly found himself featured in a City Pages cover story about gangs in St. Paul. In the opening section of the article, I recounted a conversation that took place between Jackson and St. Paul police officer Tim Bohn in the parking lot of the BP gas station on Lexington Parkway. The story also stated that, according to the cops, Jackson is a Selby Sider gang member.
"Incorrect," says Jackson, slumped on a black leather couch in a Van Buren Avenue house on a recent Saturday afternoon. "That's not true. I don't know why they would think that. Just because I'm from a certain neighborhood. I've never caught any cases or nothing like that. Never been to jail. Nothing."
Jackson, who also goes by the hip-hop moniker Dubb J, says the cops are guilty of racial profiling. "Just 'cause I'm friends with a few people, they place that title on you," he scoffs. "That's what they're always doing to these young black men out here in St. Paul."
The article ("Gangs of St. Paul," 1/24/07) also quoted Officer Bohn suggesting that Jackson had recently been caught with a bag of marijuana during a traffic stop. This too, Jackson says, is not true. "I was just a passenger getting a ride," he insists. "They couldn't charge me. If I do the crime I'll do the time."
After discovering his newfound notoriety, Jackson contacted City Pages through his manager. He says that everyone—from his mom to girls to cops—has been dogging him about the article. The initial plan was for me to meet him at the Quik Copy store on University Avenue that doubles as his recording studio, but the location was subsequently changed to the Van Buren residence for our Saturday meeting.
Jackson is joined by his manager, Darren "Stacss" Neal, and two other associates. His hair is loosely braided under a winter cap, and he wears a pair of baggy jeans and a T-shirt. Jackson insists that he's just a hardworking musician struggling to succeed. He says he's sold more than 3,000 copies of his debut CD, primarily by peddling them himself. "When you saw me, what was I doing?" he asks me. "I was out there selling my music. At the gas station, everywhere; I do it all over the city." Jackson's got upcoming gigs slated for Trocaderos Nightclub & Restaurant and the Green Room, both in downtown Minneapolis. But he complains that cops have been showing up at his concerts, scaring off patrons. "The gang task force be at my shows at Club Sizzle," he laments, speaking of a recent St. Paul gig.
Jackson slips a disc into a DVD player. It's a video for his song "Hey." (That track and three others—"Bitch I Gotta Have It," "Gangsta Shit," and "It's St. Pilla"—can be heard at his website: www.myspace.com/dubbjac.) The video was filmed in August in the parking lot of the Tobasi Stop on Selby Avenue. The rapper wears a green shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Bitch I gotta have it," along with sunglasses and a backward baseball cap. Girls in tight white tank tops and skimpy black shorts energetically shake their butts for the camera. A crowd of folks sings along to the catchy number that seems at least partly inspired by the similarly titled OutKast megahit. "I had both my grandfathers out there," Jackson says proudly. "All my family."
According to a search warrant subsequently filed in Ramsey County District Court, however, the video production also resulted in a nearby shooting. The police claim that it was just one of more than 20 shooting incidents over the last two years stemming from an ongoing feud between the Selby Siders and the East Side Boys. Jackson, however, says that the gunshots had nothing to do with his hip-hop production. "We're actually out here doing positive things to uplift the community."
Jackson seems genuinely bewildered by the press coverage. But he also notes several times that any publicity is good publicity—especially for a hip-hop aspirant. Ultimately, though, he seems resigned to guilt by association while he hustles to make it in the music biz. "I'm on the first page of an article, 'Gangs of St. Paul,' and I'm not in a gang," he sighs. "Just because I'm a ghetto celebrity."