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Hoops to Hip-Hop: How HBK Jachi Swapped Basketball for the Mic

The 24-year-old rapper talks about sacrifice and success following his latest release, Better Me

HBK Jachi, a young Black man with medium length hair styled in tight curls, poses with his arms outstretched facing upward with Mz Free. He is wearing a black hoodie with red lettering and a black and white photo of a person on it with white sunglasses. Mz Free, a young Black woman with long black hair, stands to the right of the frame. She is smiling and wearing gold hoops, a gold necklace and a pink shirt.

Los Angeles native HBK Jachi (pronounced Ja-Chee) is a 24-year-old rapper from South Central. On a nice spring day I met with him at Rbaron Studios in Hollywood to talk about how he’s been spicing up the LA music scene for the last three years with his “shit talking” freestyles and laid back demeanor. With Jachi being so comfortable in his rap persona, one might find it hard to believe that he started off as an athlete, long before he ever made a rap song. 

Born and raised in South LA, Jachi describes growing up in his neighborhood as being busy and fun, but dangerous. “When I was a kid, I grew up and it was a gangbang environment,” he says. “Everything was cool in my household, everything was straight like me coming up. I just seen a lot of stuff around my neighborhood. Cuz of what neighborhood I grew up in, shootings, killings, gangbanging, stuff like… But my mom and my peoples, they was trying they best to try to keep us from not getting involved with that type of stuff. But we was around it for sure. But I didn’t struggle or nothing like that, I had both my parents.” 

Despite his environment, Jachi dedicated a lot of his time playing basketball, selling candy, and going to school, “like every other kid, in a neighborhood like me.” 

He didn’t allow himself to get wrapped up in gangs of the area or the gang politics — instead he focused on playing basketball. “It was easy for me to stir away from that cuz I really wanted to play basketball. I would see all the members and all that, I knew all the members, but they knew me for one thing and that was basketball. So I would just go do me and go to my practices and my games and shit.” 

Jachi wasn’t perfect growing up, but overall was a good kid and enjoyed playing sports. He started playing basketball around four years old and played all through high school until graduation. Jachi was distracted during his last year and wasn’t able to pursue basketball in college. “I really only wanted to go to college for basketball, so when I graduated and I noticed I ain’t really have the grades like that, I was like ‘I’m going to have to do something else.’” 

Although Jachi had a love for sports before he started rapping, he always had a passion for music. “Even though sports was before music. My mom used to have me go to church, so I always had that ear for it. My mom introduced me to music, because she used to always play Tupac, so I would hear Tupac, Mary J. Blige…” 

His second introduction to music was around age 12 or 13, when his cousin showed him a song he made on his computer. “Then I figured out I could make the music too … like before that I used to just keep it to myself, like rap to myself.” After graduating from high school, he decided to make his first song. “I was just doing music. I was running around, prolly tryna work a couple jobs. I worked at 7-Eleven, Smart & Final, Jersey Mike’s and probably a couple warehouses.” 

Watching his parents grind and hustle for everything they had while growing up is what made Jachi want to go out and get it for himself. “That’s where my drive comes from, just seeing my parents. They instilled that in me since I was younger, so I always been like that.” 

Jachi would rap and kick off ideas with his homies before he actually ever made a song. “This where the motivation came from, my homies for real.” He had been looking on Instagram and saw that LA producer Ron Ron, who was engineering at the time, had an open studio session. 

“I went in there, met Ron Ron, loaded up the little YouTube beat. I was doing YouTube beats, I didn’t have no producer or none of that. I prolly made a couple songs on the phone, but I never actually recorded none,” he explains. “This was around the time I used to write too — I had some stuff written up. It came out good, I remember it was called ‘Ain’t Have Shit.’ I made two tracks that day, I made one with my cousin too.” 

Jachi got a good reaction from his supporters, which encouraged him to keep pursuing music. “They was actually fucking with it — that’s what made me like, ‘Damn, y’all fuck with this? Alright bet, ima just keep it going then.’” Jachi went on to drop several different projects and singles that earned him more exposure and attention in the LA music world. “I dropped like four, five songs on SoundCloud first, and then I started figuring out the Apple Music stuff and started putting my music on there. My fanbase started growing after that.” 

In 2021 he put out a song called “Can’t Say No” along with a music video he directed. “That actually did good: it got like 2,000 views in like the first week, which was like, pretty big to me at the time,” he recalls. ”It motivated me more and more. Everyone around me was like, ‘Yeah, this hard.’”  

Jachi continued to chase his music dream and made several different sacrifices to get where he is today. He stopped playing sports, and sometimes spent time alone focusing on finding himself. “There’s stuff you can’t do no more when you start focusing on music… I’m on a different path.” 

He even says it’s hard for him to see his family from time to time because he’s constantly chasing his rap dream. “I put a lot of money into the music, like on studios, videos. I sacrificed a lot, sleeping on the floor. Even though I could go home to my mom’s shit, I’m so on go. N***a not eating sometime, N***a not sleeping sometime, sometimes going through depression — I done wanted to quit sometime.”

Every young independent creator in the music industry has been faced with different trials and tribulations, causing them to want to quit their craft. Jachi says he is able to refocus himself when those thoughts come up. 

“I just find that motivation again. I’ll like, go to the studio or just go be around my homies or something. Something to help me find that motivation again quick. I’ll think like, ‘I want to quit, but I gotta go do something.’ I can’t just sit there, you get me, so I gotta go try to make some music or do something for somebody else, make them feel good, that will at least make me feel good.” Jachi and I both agree that “you can prevail, you just gotta keep going, for real.” 

No matter what Jachi had seen or been through, he continued to keep pushing and grinding for what he deserved. He prides himself on being around his people and the ones that made him feel happy. “You know when you get around your people, you get that reality. I go back and be around my folks, get some time to myself.” 

He continued to gain more traction after dropping his first project, Love or Hate Me, which featured his hit song “Shady Freestyle.” All together he’s dropped five projects. Jachi also made several different freestyle videos rapping on Instagram and later dropped a few popular singles, such as “Vanilla Cream Soda” and “Greedy.” He’s also been featured on collaborative tracks like “Grown Man Business” off of LA rapper Ralfy the Plug’s new album No Bloopers. He also has a single with LA rapper Kalan.FrFr scheduled to drop sometime this year. In May, he dropped his new project Better Me, which included his new single and video “Can’t Relate.” 

Jachi hopes to do more shows this year and wants to branch out in the future to things like acting. Jachi’s story is proof that no matter what cards you are dealt, there’s always a way to win the game. He strives to motivate younger generations to stay on their grind and never lose sight of the prize, even if it’s not your first choice. 

“Stay consistent. I’m not gone lie, you gone have ups and downs for one. I’ma tell you that right now. You not gone always get shit handed to you. But it’s really on you to really push through and keep going. You gotta stay consistent, you gotta be dedicated, you gotta really sacrifice a lot of stuff and really chase whatever it is. You gotta really be dedicated and put your all into it. And don’t care about what other people say about you. Stay on your path, cuz God already got a plan for you — it’s already written. So you gotta do what you gotta do to keep progressing.”