Jay Hackett’s introduction to music came in the third grade by way of the violin.
He would confidently stand on top of the wooden kitchen table in his family home in West Friendship and perform for his family.
In his 9-year-old mind, they were the audience and he was the superstar musician at a sold-out concert.
The violin didn’t even belong to him, but his older sister’s instrument served as his initiation to the world of music; it’s a world he’s been a part of since and one he has no intention of leaving.
When Hackett was in fourth and fifth grades, he played clarinet, but he said that never really stuck.
When asked what did stick, he replied, “The microphone.”
Hackett, 27, is now a rapper who spends his nights performing across the area. In the daytime, he’s a special education paraeducator at Bellows Spring Elementary School in Ellicott City.
He followed his mom’s footsteps into the Howard County Public School System. She’s the principal’s secretary at West Friendship Elementary School in West Friendship.
On Friday, Hackett, known onstage as JayMoney Hackett, will put out his fourth release, “JAYDAY II.”
The nine songs, which will be released by local label Wisdom Court Entertainment on music streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon, detail what Hackett describes as a motivational journey through his late teenage years growing up in Howard County and problems and situations he faces today in the county.
“When you hear [the music], if you’re from here, you know, you can relate to it,” he said.
The project ebbs and flows through waves of emotions and, for Hackett, that means anyone who listens can relate to something.
“[Whether you’re] a kid from the county just trying to make it or not, [the music] gives you that motivation, what you need,” he said.
Finding inspiration and mentors
Growing up, Hackett got that motivation from mentor Billy Dee Williams, a Sykesville native who is known onstage as Billy Lyve. The two had a chance meeting at the former Highs gas station off Route 32 when Hackett was 12.
He was living with his mom at the time in the Sykesville Apartments complex, and he would walk almost daily down the road to the gas station to get ice cream or candy with friends. One day, he saw Williams selling CDs outside the gas station.
“I’m 12 years old, [and] I’m like, ‘Oh you rap? I rap, too,’ ” Hackett said. “[Williams] responded, ‘Oh you really want to do this?’ And ever since that we’ve been working together.”
Williams describes himself as Hackett’s big brother.
What started as Hackett helping sell CDs and handing out fliers turned into a full-fledged partnership, including Williams being featured on Hackett’s latest release with the song “Bet On Me.”
“JAYDAY II” features the song “Kill the Hype” in which Hackett pays tribute to Williams’ mentorship:
“If I say Imma do it, then most likely I did it. Y’all suckers talk the life, but you know I lived it. When I was 12 years old I was taught the work. Lyve taught me the ropes so I use its perks to get ahead of the game, make people know my name. Just want the respect, y’all can have the fame.”
The release also features local rapper Donnie Thomas, known as Donnie Breeze, on three of the nine songs. The two met in summer 2017 through the music scene in Maryland and have had a collaborative relationship ever since.
Thomas — who, like Hackett, has deep Howard County roots and currently lives in Ellicott City — described their relationship as magic.
“For me, when I make a song with somebody, this is exactly how I want it to be: organic," Thomas said. "When we went and made the tracks, it sounded like we were meant to be on that together. It wasn’t just forced, as opposed to me having something pre-written or recorded and then saying, ‘You can you just hop on that.’ ”
Thomas said Hackett’s lyrics resonated with him because he remembers similar parts of the Howard County experience.
“It’s about giving people something to be like, ‘Oh, I felt that.’ ... I feel like music is really powerful because you might hear a song and the joint gives you chills up your spine,” Thomas said.
“JAYDAY II” does just that, he said.
Thomas recorded five of the nine songs in a basement studio in Ellicott City; the other four were recorded at Wynn Studios in Glenelg. Thomas said the typical recording process takes about 30 minutes to an hour, and then “everything else after that is to spice the song up.”
“You may stumble upon something you want to keep in a song just by accident, or by playing around," Thomas said. "I’ve learned just ... don’t be so serious, don’t try to perfect this song. There’s always something that you can come back and add to a song later. You might think of an idea, so sometimes I’ll try to get a song done, and then say I’m done with that and I’m going to move on to the next thing. Or else nothing will ever get put out that way.”
A release party for “JAYDAY II” will be held at 8 p.m. Friday at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place. CDs will be sold at the event.
Starting out in music
When it comes to his lyrics, Hackett said it took him time to find his stride.
“As soon as I got into middle school, I used to rap about money and chains and girls and a bunch of stuff that I didn’t have, just to make the music because it was fun,” he said. “And finally, as I got older, I realized I couldn’t rap about that because I don’t have that. So I started spitting about Howard County and where I came from, my friends around there, problems that are around here, things I go through and they go through and then it just took off.”
Growing up, Hackett listened to everything from Prince and Barry White to Dr. Dre and Eminem and anything in-between; he said the variety forced him to notice the intricacies of music.
“When I was younger, when I heard beats or songs, I noticed the tunes of different beats. Noticing what’s different about different songs, what’s happy, what’s sad, what’s mellow,” he said.
Hackett learned to make music by putting his own words into songs and listening to the lyrics of other artists and what they were going through.
Writing for Hackett comes in two forms: writing to write and attacking a beat.
“When I want to write, I sit in my room, have the laptop open and go through some beats,” he said. “You might hear that one and say, ‘OK, I’m going to attack this one.’ Or sometimes I’ll just start writing thoughts and find the beat later.”
Hackett’s Howard experience
The lyrics in his new release detail what Hackett describes as “what it’s like to be that age and ride around the county.”
“So County,” a song not on the release but featured on his Instagram, explicitly references his experiences in Howard.
“When I was 17, we would get pulled over for no reason. Several times I thought it’d be my last day breathing, and they’ll pull me out the car, put the gun to my face, wanna search my s*** because my tinted windows match my race. But the car ain’t have no drugs and I ain’t have no gun. When they tell me why they were searchin’, they thought I was dumb.”
The lyric references the multiple times Hackett, who is black, said he has been pulled over in the county.
“I’m coming home, telling my mom and my dad, ‘Yeah, I just had five cops search my car for no reason,’ at 17 years old. It was crazy,” he said.
The song continues:
“Crooked cops in my area, there’s just not the city and the racists walk the town like the Klu Klux committee. Some dudes around my area came up with a plan, spraying n***** and Nazi symbols on walls with a can.”
The song describes the May 2018 incident at Glenelg High School, his alma mater, where school officials discovered more than 50 swastikas and homophobic and racist slurs scrawled on the school’s main entrance, the stadium press box, bleachers, sidewalks, picnic tables, parking lots and other locations. Four seniors were arrested and later found guilty and sentenced to jail.
“I feel like [racism] is a hidden conversation around here,” Hackett said. “You can see that problem anywhere you go, absolutely, 100%. But there’s been a couple incidents in Howard County where racism wasn’t talked about.”
“I try to get them to rap, too. I try to motivate them to do what they can do. If I rap in front of a crowd full of kids, you would have thought I was an all-star, like a celebrity. They go crazy. The kids in school, they go harder than the crowds in Baltimore sometimes, jumping up and down and screaming.”— Rapper Jay "JayMoney" Hackett, who is also a special education paraeducator at Bellows Spring Elementary School
Hackett wants to sit down with County Executive Calvin Ball to see what they could do together to unify the county.
“Racism is never going to stop; that’s just something that’s on the Earth,” he said. “But for something to happen on several occasions in Howard County, Maryland, how come no one has stepped up to the plate? I’d love to sit down with Calvin Ball and have this conversation.”
Music is education
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In the classrooms at Bellows Spring Elementary, Hackett uses his musical talents to motivate the kids. He raps for them every day, and they ask him to let them freestyle: “Mr. Jay, let me get a bar.”
“I try to get them to rap, too,” he said. "I try to motivate them to do what they can do. If I rap in front of a crowd full of kids, you would have thought I was an all-star, like a celebrity. They go crazy. The kids in school, they go harder than the crowds in Baltimore sometimes, jumping up and down and screaming.”
Turning that energy into motivation is what he tries to do every day in the classroom, he said.
“I’m not doing it to promote my name,” Hackett said. “I’m genuinely doing it to show kids they can go places. They just need the right person behind them to be a motivational coach.”
That intersection of educating and making professional music is where Hackett says he stands out.
“You just can’t be in the studio. You can’t just hit play and write rhymes. You have to actually be in the streets and be a good person.”