By Madelaine Church | OBSERVER Staff Writer
The walls closed in on Jakhari Smith after he received devastating news in 2020. His beloved Papa, Charles Tillman Jr., had passed away.
Smith expressed his grief in his journal, which evolved into writing poetry and then inspired him to write music. The loss of Smith’s grandfather was the start of his career in music.
Tillman always had the intuition that his grandson would accomplish something in his life and consistently encouraged him. When Smith began pursuing music, it came all together in his head.
“It all made sense in his last days,” Smith said.
The multitalented rapper, 26, has become one of Sacramento’s prominent voices in the music scene. Born and raised in South Sacramento, the Laguna Creek High School graduate brings Sacramento to life through his music.
When Smith gained confidence in his writing, he sent a couple of demos to his friend Connor Chavez, a local musician, for guidance. Chavez said he believed Smith had the potential to captivate the community with his music.
“Jakhari’s writing, flow, and delivery is incredible. … I was blown away,” Chavez said.
Matthew Gonzalez, a local concert photographer, has captured many of Smith’s performances. He feels a deep connection with Smith’s music.
“Jakhari puts his soul into his music and it feels like he doesn’t hold back,” Gonzalez said. “He just wants to be real.”
Like many, Smith suffers from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Smith’s Papa looked past this; he always saw his potential and gave Smith the encouragement to be his true self and not to be afraid.
“He saw the greatness in me and always believed in me,” Smith said.
Smith connects with listeners by turning his pain into art. “Miles in the Sky” is a song dedicated to his Papa. He talks about his and his family’s grief, especially how painful the loss was for his grandmother Denise Tillman.
“I promise you I wouldn’t cry but my heart is broken. I’m just shallow without you. I miss every moment,” Smith raps in “Miles in the Sky.”
Smith has performed at Harlow’s, Torch Club, Sacramento State, Cesar Chavez Park and other Sacramento venues. His music has cultivated collaborations with local bands and musicians such as LabRats, Harlequin Rose, DogPatch, and more.
Chavez praised his friend’s passion in bringing his dream to life.
“His level of perseverance has been there from the start and I’m proud of him for continuing to push himself every single day,” Chavez said.
Brittney Bash, a good friend of Smith’s, watched him sing and rap in awe. His words, especially the vulnerability they conveyed, moved her.
“Whether you need encouragement or empowerment, Jakhari’s music will uplift your spirit,” Bash said.
Smith has released two albums, two mixtapes and an EP. He released his mixtapes, Until Tomorrow and On to Better Things, in 2021 and his first album, Reflections:, Vol. 1 last year. His most recent album Reflections:, Vol. 2 was released on his birthday, May 23, this year.
Smith’s new album addresses many themes, mainly trauma, self-reflection and growth. His songs convey the difficulty of overcoming heartbreak, grief, and of growing up. In “Backseat,” he reminisces on his childhood in Sacramento, viewing the world from the backseat of the car without a care.
“I’m wishing [I was] in the backseat. Had no worries as a youngin’ when my mama had me. Now that I’m older, these feelings always trap me,” Smith raps.
Andres Siguenza, owner of A New Kitchen Entertainment, has worked with Smith and noticed his growth. They met in November 2021 at a concert at Golden Bear in Midtown.
Smith’s Instagram caught Siguenza’s attention. He said Smith’s albums are an open diary and that he displays greater self-assurance in the second album.
“He’s seeing a lot of progress with his music and his confidence is going up,” Siguenza said.
For now, Smith has several shows lined up locally. But like any aspiring artist, he craves more exposure.
“It blows my mind how fast things have gone in the last three years,” Smith said. “I hope to travel and perform more outside of Sacramento.”