Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, things went very, very well for Jadakiss. Along with his rap group, The Lox, he scored consecutive deals with two of the hottest record labels in music — Bad Boy Records and Ruff Ryders Entertainment, respectively. During this brief but highly productive period, where he famously appeared on songs like “All About the Benjamins,” “24 Hrs. to Live,” and “We Gonna Make It,” he became celebrated for his raspy voice, clever bars, and super-slick flow. The man born Jason Phillips, a product of Yonkers, New York, was a generational talent, on par with the rap hit-makers and heavyweights du jour, be it Jay-Z, Nas, or DMX.
But while the music business brought him fame and, later, a fortune — over which he later battled his former label boss, Diddy — it was becoming a father to a young son that brought Jadakiss a truly special kind of joy. Today, that son, Jae’Won Phillips, is 23 years old, a recent graduate of Clark Atlanta University, where he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha and earned a degree in psychology. Until recently, Jae’Won had largely steered clear of the music business. After graduating in 2018, he spent a year working as a production assistant at Tyler Perry Studios, then moved back to New York to distribute a very specific kind of stimulant. (No, not the one daddy made a career rapping about.)
But music still beckoned. In September, Jae’Won hopped on “So Yonkers,” a hometown-inspired remix to Casanova’s “So Brooklyn,” where he lets loose a rapid-fire flow reminiscent of his pops’ (who makes a brief cameo in the video). To hear him tell it, he’d been rapping for years, but had never taken it seriously, only leaning into it as a therapeutic hobby during his postgrad phase. Plans for more music are still TBD, but dad is keeping a watchful eye, especially following the release of Ignatius, Jadakiss’ sixth proper solo LP, and one that may reignite the Top Five arguments that once took over high school cafeteria lunch tables.
LEVEL got Jadakiss and Jae’Won together at Manhattan’s Premier Studios for a rare photo shoot and their first joint interview to talk fatherhood, family legacies, rap beginnings, and life after music.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
LEVEL: When you’re a kid, your parents are like superheroes to you, whether they were doing absolutely nothing with themselves, or being a rap star. Jae’Won, when did you realize your dad was, well, not like other dads.
Jae’Won: I probably saw a video when I was younger. My mom says my favorite video was the “24 Hrs. to Live.”
Jadakiss: I remember watching the rough cut of the video in the house. In the video, there’s a cop that says, “Get the dogs!” Jae’Won was so little, he’d look at the screen and be like, “Get the dogs!” [laughs]
Jae’Won: I just remember people always coming up to him and stuff. As I got older, when you start listening to music — you know, kids listen to music — but when you really listening, you’d be like, Oh, snap.
“Growing up in Yonkers and your pops being one of the most famous — most wealthiest — people, you get treated differently. But when you go to school with other wealthy people — or with people whose parents, like, own the Giants — you see a different type of wealth” — Jae’Won
Growing up, what kind of music is dad playing in the house?
Jae’Won: He didn’t really play music in the house. It was my grandparents playing, like, The Temptations and stuff like that. I would hear all the music in the car.
Jadakiss: He ain’t tell you about the laptops I gave him, filled up with music.
Jae’Won: Yeah, I’d get his old laptops filled up with music, but I’m also open to a lot of music. A lot of people listen to what’s now; I’ll listen to music that they had. I like a range.
But you wound up taking a different path.
Jae’Won: If you have the chance to go to school, go to school.
Jadakiss: He had to have a better life than me.
You wound up going to a prep school, Iona Prep, for high school.
Jae’Won: That experience was different. Growing up in Yonkers and your pops being one of the most famous, wealthiest people, you get treated differently. But when you go to school with other wealthy people — people whose parents, like, own the Giants — you see a different type of wealth.
With that kind of wealth, did some of those kids act like dicks?
Jae’Won: Yeah. You got that in everything though, even if you not wealthy.
Well, now you’re rapping. Some of the sons of the Wu-Tang members are rapping, too. They got a group called 2nd Generation Wu. Are you paying attention to any of that?
Jae’Won: Nah. Not because I don’t want to, it’s just I’ve never ran across it.
Jadakiss: I’d hook him up with them though. Those is my bros. I would love to connect them.
When you first heard Jae’Won’s music, what was your reaction?
Jadakiss: It was cool. I still never thought he’d take it serious, but now he’s getting a little more serious with it. I let him do his own thing. He gets his own studio time, gets his own production.
Sounds like dad’s a tough critic.
Jae’Won: Nah, he’s not. It’s just — I legit don’t go to him for anything music-wise. I keep it completely separated. It’s mostly an independence thing.
Jada, you use the word “serious.” What’s something Jae’Won can do to show you he’s serious?
Jadakiss: I mean, for one, I ain’t pay for all them years of college for him to be no rapper [laughs]. So if he gon’ do it, he gotta blow me out the water with it, or come back with some type of deal, you know? He gotta do what I had to do for my parents. I could’ve signed with Ruff Ryders at 16 or 17. But they wouldn’t let me sign. So, I had to wait ’til I was of age and sign on my own. Then, I bought my moms a house, like “Remember you told me this wouldn’t work?”
So, same sorta thing, but I didn’t have a college degree. Now, he’s fortunate to have a college degree and the ability to rap. For me to get involved, he gotta take it to that serious notch like it’s life or death. Like I had to do it. Or other than that, I see him getting a job in his field — psychology — or what I fuckin’ paid all that money for college?
But he’s working now, which you have to be happy about.
Jadakiss: He works for my dad. My dad owns a coffee distribution company. He wants to leave it to him, but he ain’t really jackin’ that. My dad wish that he had the same passion [for the coffee business]. But yes, he’s working.
Does he do local distribution?
Jae’Won: It’s global. He work with everybody: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, wherever you could think of. Anywhere coffee’s growing, that’s where it comes from. He works with distribution that all the big companies that you would see in your local grocery, supermarket, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s.
I don’t think many people know that.
Jadakiss: My pops worked in coffee since I was little. If you go to his office to get a cup of coffee, he’s gonna grind you some beans and make the coffee, as opposed to the regular way you might see it. He’s the plug when it comes to coffee. I’m actually gearing up to have my own brand. My own strand of coffee.
Now that Jae’Won has graduated college, is he going to be involved with Jadakiss things?
Jadakiss: I let him design merch. I let him go with me sometimes on the road. Gotta give him the information and let him see some things.
Any musical advice for him?
Jadakiss: Just learn the game. You graduated in psychology, the rest is inevitable. But for him, it’s really just about making that song, one of them songs. More time in the studio, more time writing. This is the era where writing is really not the number-one thing, and I don’t come from that. When I was at that stage, writing was a mandatory thing. Every day. Even now, thinking of a couple lines or a bar or two is still something I do every day.
Not to sound like a hater, but it’s a generational thing.
Jae’Won: It’s a new age of rap.
Jadakiss: It’s a new time. They do things different — you can’t get mad at that. But you also can’t lose [lyricism]. That’s why I’m able to still be here.
Your parents didn’t initially believe you could have a career in music. Was there a moment where you could sense that they felt this music thing was real?
Jadakiss: Yeah, when I came home and bought my moms brand new cars with bows on them. One of the early disagreements [my dad and I] had was when we first started getting some money—I was about 19 or 20 at the time—I went and got a Benz. I had enough money to pay for the whole car, but I still had no credit — it was early. I went to my dad to co-sign for me because he already had established credit. But he was like Nah, and I’m like — nah?!? So I put everything in my name. Me and him had tension for a while off that.
I can imagine.
Jadakiss: Fast forward 20 years later, my dad is my bookkeeper. So, we go from [my dad] not wanting me to sign [to Ruff Ryders], to me and him having issues over the car, to him handling all my finances. He’s a part of my career now. Your dad ain’t gonna let nothing happen to you.
Jae’Won is 23. That means he was born around the time you got signed to Bad Boy.
Jadakiss: The Golden Era. ’96. He was still a little, little baby. I was on the No Way Out Tour. He was only months old.
Did his mother ever bring him to any shows?
Jadakiss: Nah, he ain’t come to none of them shows back then. We had to keep him from the weather and all. He was just on bottles and diapers, sleeping.
Were you nervous about being a dad?
Jadakiss: I was 20 or 21, I was cool with it. He got a good mother; we come from good parents. I wasn’t worried about none of that. I knew what I had to do. I was already doing the right thing by doing music. And my first publishing company is in his name, so he was already lined up to be straight, soon as I got into the game.
“A father figure is setting the blueprint, the model, the standard, the way for you to become a man and take on the world for yourself” — Jadakiss
Did you give him any writing credits on things he didn’t write, like how Khaled did with Asahd?
Jadakiss: He gets the whole publishing. “All About The Benjamins,” all that early catalog is his, so he’s good.
Is there someone in the music industry that you look to as a kind of father figure?
Jadakiss: A lot of big brothers. A lot of uncles. But no, not father figures. I respect a lot of dudes I met, but they’re not father figures. Not for me.
What’s the difference, for you, between a father figure and someone you’d see as a brother or uncle figure?
Jadakiss: A father figure is providing for you, as well as showing you things. A big brother is giving you the game and showing you things too — but a father figure is providing for you while he’s showing you things, and raising you. A father figure is setting the blueprint, the model, the standard, the way for you to become a man and take on the world for yourself.
Jae’Won, you’ve got younger ears. What did you think of Ignatius the first time you heard it?
Jae’Won: It’s my favorite album from him. I love it, front to back. Opposed to all the other ones, this is the one. If I was a new fan, never heard none of his music before, and people wanted to sell me on him, I would want them to play me this album first.
There’s also a Lox album and documentary coming out this spring.
Jadakiss: Yeah, it’s gonna be heartfelt. It ain’t gonna be no gangsta shit. It’s showing real life and showing the other sides of myself, Styles, and Sheek that the world probably never saw.
Why do you wanna show those sides now?
Jadakiss: We got fans that been with us over 20 years, and sometimes…
Jae’Won: It’s good for the culture. We wanna see what the artist been through. Where they come from. My dad’s generation didn’t come with cellphones or none of that, so we always wanna know more about their stories and that experience. Like, what was the Cash Money/Ruff Ryders tour like?
Jada, you have other kids as well — a 16-year-old, a pair of five-year-old twins, and a daughter, who is four. Any of them showing musical chops?
Jadakiss: The little ones love music. The twins and my daughter, they freestyle or whatever they’re talking about in their language. I don’t know what kinda sense they making, but they got some rhythm and they can dance, and they love listening and watching videos and songs on their iPads.
That’s a lot of kids, though. Is it difficult managing them?
Jadakiss: Nah, we got good families. I’m blessed and I’m lucky, so it’s working. Four more to put through college is crazy, but we gotta do it.
“I try to make my schedule around parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and school trips. The time is as valuable or even more important than the finances” — Jadakiss
Being that you’re a little older now, more established in your career, is there anything you try to prioritize now with your younger children?
Jadakiss: I try to be there as much as I can. Even tonight, I wanted to take my twins and my little daughter to see Sonic, but when I leave here, I gotta go pick up some last-minute stuff and go to Charlotte early in the morning, so that’s hurting me.
When Jae’Won was little, I was on the road more than ever, so these days I try to be there as much as possible. I try to make my schedule around parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and school trips. The time is as valuable or even more important than the finances. Life is short, tomorrow’s not promised, so to be there with my kids, and do things with them, and go on family vacations — this is more valuable than anything. I’m sure some of these billionaires — some of your favorite actors and athletes — seldom have time for their family, and that’s when the money is not adding up to the love. You gotta try and balance.
Is there anything you regret about being on the road when he was young?
Jadakiss: Nah, he here with me now. And I was on the road to provide and make a better life for him. I had to do that; that’s my profession. Thank God his mother was able to understand and work with me, and be able to raise him up, handle him, and take care of him while I wasn’t there. Even if I was able to send them money, she was still able to do a good job with nurturing and teaching him. But, he’s good. Some people’s dads are truckers who are gone for six months, and are only home for 62 hours, so it comes with the job.
Then there was the time he was gone, like when he went off to college. That had to be crazy for you.
Jadakiss: I was a little scared when I left him there. I dropped him off, went to Walmart, got the TV, the little fridge, all the stuff to put in the dorm room. I’m like, Yo, this is nuts. Leaving my boy down here in Atlanta. He gonna be on his own. What if he get a headache? What if he get hungry? After a while, he was like, Nah, I’m good. Nah, I ain’t comin’ home, I’m chillin’, I’m good.
Jae’Won: I love Atlanta.
Jadakiss: He got his degree, loved it. It was an experience that I never had the chance to do, so that was one of the accomplishments in life that I felt proud of, you know what I mean? Of myself and of him.
Maybe you’ll take some college courses yourself one day?
Jae’Won: We’ll start a TV show, let’s do it.
Jadakiss: I might take a course or two in sportscasting.
You’ll be on this side, asking the questions.
Jadakiss: My transition bucket list is to do some voice-over stuff, some more acting, some podcast stuff.
Crazy. Jae’Won will be rapping and you’ll be the one in school. For now though, you’re still the rapper and he’s the one playing hooky.
Jadakiss: [Generational] wealth, that’s a beautiful thing! For your grandfather to be your boss, and you tell him, “Yo, Grandpop, I gotta go do something with Dad — an interview and a photoshoot…” My dad likes that kinda stuff, even though he’s like a grouchy type of guy. I don’t know how he explained it to him, but whatever he had to do, I know my dad was probably like, “Ah, nah, go ahead, man. Go do it.” [Jadakiss laugh].