As Musashi Xero, Tyler Jackson Raps His Grief, Anger Over Friend's Death By Overdose

Oct 24, 2019

Tyler Jackson shares a West Asheville home where, on a sunny and warm midday afternoon, every window is open and so is the front door, all without screens. Jackson tends to about eight houseplants in his bedroom and it’s all very chill.

The environment contrasts his musical alter ego, whom he calls Musashi Xero (pronounced moo-SAH-shee ZEE-row), and the lyrical content of his new record, titled “Self-Hate as a Viable Currency.” Jackson said the album comes from a place of personal desolation.

“It’s a literal time capsule of where I was this time last year,” he said.

Tyler Jackson performs and records as Musashi Xero.
Credit Mike White

This time a year ago, Jackson was grieving over a close friend who died a few months earlier from a fentanyl overdose. They were only two days apart in age, and Jackson, now 29, considered his friend a brother. The song “No Entry No Escape” speaks directly to his loss and grief.

Musashi Xero is opening the album-release show for the Asheville band Natural Born Leaders Nov. 2 at the Mothlight in West Asheville.

“I wrote the record to be very deliberate, and very transparent and raw,” he said. “I needed to use my music as a place where I could just freely speak my mind and say all the things I wasn’t getting out and saying to other people, really. The anxiety of it all, the anger of it all, the frustration, the confusion of it all, just the complicated misery loop you get stuck in. I was new to it. I was a bit of a mess.”

Jackson grew up in Sharpsburg, Md. His father is a fulltime blues-rock musician, and Jackson started playing drums as an 8-year-old. Spoken word poetry was his doorway to self-expression and, as a lyricist, he styled himself more as an emotive rapper than as a humorist, a rapper who delivers what he calls ‘quotables’ as opposed to punchlines. 

“Especially with something like my new project, you can print those lyrics out on paper and, within them, there may be specific lines that stand out that have an emotional impact,” he said.

When he moved to Asheville, about seven years ago, Jackson sought out people throughout the southeast who create beats, rather than looking to meet other rappers.

“I like to write, and if you’re in with the producers, it gives me more pallets to work with, different kinds of beats, different things to express,” he said. “I might hear a beat and not like it at all and not ever want to rap to it, and three months later, I might flip back to it and it’s exactly what I want.”

His deep voice and staccato delivery are stylistic distinctions. Another is the use of certain curse words that, at times, seem gratuitously peppered in. 

“Saying ‘bitch,’ saying ‘damn,’ It’s never gendered,” he said. “It’s more of an exclamation.”

Jackson adopted the name Musashi Xero, in part, from a 17th century Japanese Samurai and writer named Miyamoto Musashi. The homage to the samurai makes it all the more glaring that, in all his songs, Jackson has never written about the random comments he said routinely come his way—many of them demeaning—over his Asian facial features. Jackson is one-quarter Japanese descent.

“I haven’t really felt compelled to write a whole album about my racial identity,” he said. “I guess it’s a part of myself I just keep to myself.”

As it is, Jackson wants his music to speak to a broader audience.

“There’s no weakness in vulnerability,” he said. “It takes strength to be honest and to be transparent and to speak freely because there is a tendency to want to hide these things and just portray yourself as someone that is indestructible or strong enough to handle it all. But persistence, patience, determination and the things it takes to get the reins and get control of those situations are great displays of strength.”

 

NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the location where Jackson grew up.