Khia Jackson
Photo: Grant Sylvester

Hey, You’re Cool! Khia Jackson

Anyone who’s ever played a competitive game of Spades knows the word “competitive” is redundant. Often times things get testy, trash talk ensues, egos are bruised and maybe someone gets excommunicated for reneging. But imagine if those playing cards had literal faces that depict your favorite mid ’90s rappers—if you could top someone’s Busta Rhymes-donned Jack of Clubs with Lil’ Kim afront the Queen of Spades…

Graphic designer Khia Jackson decided to add a hip-hop twist to your favorite card game—from Solitaire to Go Fish—with The 1998 Deck, a set of playing cards that nod to the days of Biggie vs. Tupac, OutKast’s anomalous reign, and the ultimate hip-hop jokers, Red and Meth. The golden era-inspired deck depicts the qualities of iconic MCs to make them Poker-friendly.

“Snoop Dogg is a pimp, so I made him Shakespearean with the curls that he used to wear back in the day,” says Jackson, a former illustrator for Vibe magazine. “And I look at Nas like a soldier, so I made him a gladiator with the armor on.”

MASS APPEAL jumped on a call with the wonderfully ambitious entrepreneur to kick it about her artistic beginnings, the inspiration behind The 1998 Deck (which you can buy here), and which artists would be in her 2017 fantasy deck.

Video: Ali Muhammad

How did your graphic design journey start?

When I was a little kid, I had an after-school art class. My teacher showed me how to draw a palm tree, and I went nuts. As I grew up, I just tried [different] ways to be creative, At one point I was a makeup artist, then I wanted to be a clothing designer, and finally I saw a Vibe magazine and it was the first thing from our culture that had us looking like royalty. I just wanted to work for that magazine—that’s what made me do graphics.

On the hip hop side of things, what was your first experience with the genre?

Ok, so I’ma tell my age with this [laughs].

No judgement.

Growing up, you go through periods of insecurity and trying to find yourself, right? So I was drawn to boom-bap. All my favorite people in [The 1998 Deck] are hard-hitting, like Busta [Rhymes], Redman, Lil’ Kim. The ones that are the loudest.

The rowdy ones.

Yeah, I like the rah-rah ones. I loved Public Enemy and those powerful political musicians. EPMD. That was the shit.

So you took to hip hop the way you fell for art. Your first taste of it had you hooked.

Yeah, I mean hip hop has so many languages and messages. There’s just so much that can be in a hip hop song. You can get what you need from it.

Photo: Grant Sylvester

What sparked the idea of designing a deck of cards?

A couple of things: The cards combine a lot of things that I love—cooking, having my friends over, playing cards, and talking smack. I love good conversation. And when I went to Hampton University, all we did was play Spades. At the time, I was really following the beef between Nicki and Kim, and I prob shouldn’t say this…

Nah, let it out.

I didn’t like the way Kim was being treated. I felt like it was an attack on my generation a little bit. It was a shame that people didn’t see the beauty of hip hop the way that I did. Because my generation knows everything our parents listened to.

And loved it.

Right! I know Marvin Gaye, Beres Hammond, and all the older artists. So that respect for artists who paved the way was already in me, the love of Spades and the love of hip hop. So one day I saw a painting of Tupac and Biggie. It wasn’t very good, but I thought it would be really dope if we could play out East vs. West coast beef with rappers on cards. And there you go.

Explain the idea behind some of these designs?

Well, Biggie has always been looked at as excess and opulence, so I put the Coogi sweater on him and made him in the image of Henry VIII. Lil’ Kim is Queen Bee, so she’s sending the bees out to attack and wearing the two different colored wigs. Snoop Dogg is a pimp, so I made him Shakespearean with the curls that he used to wear back in the day. And I look at Nas like a soldier, so I made him a gladiator with the armor on and all that.

Photo: Grant Sylvester

When did you first learn how to play Spades?

The first time I played was senior year in high school. I got verbally abused by my partner [laughs]. He was screaming at me. But college is when I really got into it. But you know something, a lot of people got abused trying to play so they’re scared to learn.

It gets crazy. People will fight.

Yeah, families break up over Spades. I play now, but I don’t go crazy. I’m just there to have fun and enjoy myself. So if my partner can’t play, I’ll figure it out.

But are you good, though.

I’m aight. [Laughs]

The subtext of these cards is that black people are kings and queens. Why do you feel that message is important?

I’ve heard that there is no good hip hop, and I really do not agree with that. You can’t hear Earl Sweatshirt and J. Cole and Ab-Soul and Kendrick and say that. It’s also a little unfair to go hard on these “mumble rappers.” We act like Biz Markie didn’t happen and other wild stuff that drove our parents and aunts and uncles crazy. But I do feel that hip hop has gotten a little bit commercial. There’s so much money in it that it has become a pattern, whereas back in that golden era, everyone was unique. Now we have four different versions of Future.

Photo: Grant Sylvester

Four different Drakes.

Exactly. So, I just want our faces in our hands. I want to remind people that Biggie might’ve been talkin’ about selling rock, but dude was a genius. JAY-Z is literally a genius. These people are talented and quality. I want the idea of talent in our culture to be a norm, and this is a normal item. I want it to be part of that subconscious like, Yeah, we’re brilliant and we have character.

You make a good point. So many people will argue you down that hip hop is dead.

Yeah, but Odd Future, Goldlink—there’s a lot of good music. And I can understand that you may want songs to bump on the radio, but there’s always been good music. So talk about the industry, don’t down the musicians. And let’s be honest: there’s talent in the way that Future presents music. And what Fetty Wap is doing with his voice is operatic. So stop giving these kids a hard time.

Now if you could do a 2017 deck, who would you put in it.

Alright, we have to put in Drake, Kendrick and J. Cole. Dreezy, 3D Na’Tee and Sharaya J—I love her and I don’t understand why she’s not big. ScHoolBoy Q. I think I like Vince Staples, but I need to hear some more music before I stamp him. Um…

It’s hard to think of everyone.

JAY-Z would go right back in there. Meek Mill—he just dropped a good album. And people are gonna jump on me if I don’t say Nicki Minaj. [Laughs]


You can buy The 1998 Deck (and donate to its Kickstarter!) here.

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