By Jesse Kline
Editor’s Note: This story is the work of Jesse Kline, a senior at Monroe High School, as part of his culminating challenge. The work of the most successful students who do their final senior projects at the Monitor are published.
The first thing he sees in the mirror backstage at the Odd Fellows Lodge in downtown Monroe on Lewis Street, just before his biggest show yet, is the expectancy from the audience reflected in his nervous face.
Despite his jitters, Jackson Alesna—known by his artist’s name J.A.E.—comes out on stage to deliver rhymes, wordplay, and socially conscious messages to the 100 or so people ready to watch. Without the safety buffer of his studio at home, the adrenaline of the stage and the faces of 100 excited fans in the crowd are all Jackson has to make it through the show.
Jackson, an 18-year-old senior at Monroe High School, first got into hip hop when he was in the 7th grade, throwing around what amounted to little more than dictionary-hop–based more around rhyming words than saying any kind of message–with his friend Clayton Avalos. He considers high school to be when he started to get serious with his music.
“Being in the high school environment, it’s like I had a reputation on the line. I didn’t want to be making stuff and then looking stupid.” Jackson explained.
If J.A.E. was going to build a reputation, he was going to do it his own way.
Hip hop is often decried by any voice of “serious musical pretension” because the themes on the radio songs are overwhelmingly at one of two extremes; money and the luxurious lifestyle it affords or the harsh ghetto life and the conflicts that arise there. Few mainstream artists break either mold, and it’s only with underground or local hip hop that you’re likely to hear anything different.
Jackson’s upbringing is familiar to most people; suburban, pressured by grades and friends, unsure of the future but planning it out anyway.
However, that story is almost completely alien to mainstream hip hop, or at least it has been for most of the genre’s history.
“I feel like there are a lot of kids like me that don’t listen to hip hop because they feel like their story and their upbringing isn’t represented at all,” said Jackson. “I think what sets me apart from other hip hop artists is my subject matter. I’m all for breaking social norms and standards, like I’ll rap about my decision to not go the standard college route. How many hip hop songs are there that really deal with stuff like that? Very few.”
Like many high school seniors, Jackson isn’t entirely sure where he’s going after high school. It’s a tumultuous time for both his personal and his artistic side – J.A.E.
Besides just music, he’s invested heavily in DECA, a program which encourages entrepreneurship and builds skills in marketing and business for high school and college students. This interest in both music and business opens a wide range of possible post-high school plans for Jackson as an individual and an artist: “I’m looking at going to Bellevue or Shoreline which both have pretty good audio recording programs, and then I’d like to switch over to UW and get a business degree.”
Refreshingly realistic are his views on the monetization of his own music.
“Being an artist, it’s kind of hard to say I want to get into business,” he said. “It’s the oppression; those people make money off of screwing over artists, but at the same time you have to make money to support your family.”
However, by no means is there a lack of passion in his music.
“Business is my back-up plan.” Jackson explains.
All of Jackson’s music can be found on his YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/Jae2oh6Music.