At age 8, the Indianapolis native was cast as Young Simba in The Lion King, becoming the youngest and longest running actor to play the character on a national tour. He’s also appeared as an actor on numerous TV shows. While shooting the 2012 Disney Channel film Let It Shine, Jackson was introduced to his now-manager Tom Maffei by his friend Kenny Jackson, an assistant to the movie’s star Tyler James Williams. At the time, Jackson was simply seeking career advice––but Maffei was so impressed by Jackson’s array of talents that he signed him as a client. The singer became Maffei’s first artist client on a roster of many songwriters and producers.
“The label I signed with would become my family, so I wanted to make sure I had considered every detail.”
Maffei hooked Jackson up with hitmaking producers the Underdogs (Harvey Mason, Jr. and Damon Thomas) and KC Porter to co-write and record some tracks to help shop the singer to major labels; the one produced by the Underdogs will appear on the finished album.
They met with five labels that showed big-time interest in signing Jackson, including Def Jam, Epic, Universal Music and Atlantic. An off- the-cuff video Jackson made of himself singing “Superman” made the rounds at Atlantic, generating a deeper interest by Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman and VP of A&R Aaron Bay Schuck. They invited Jackson to meet with them in a hotel room in Los Angeles. He sang for them and the label execs said they didn’t want him to leave without signing.
Jackson, however, took his time deciding before ultimately going with Atlantic. “The label I signed with would become my family, so I wanted to make sure I had considered every detail,” he says. “Their passion for what I was doing, and the label’s exciting history was an important part of the deal. I’m a huge fan of old-school soul and Ray Charles in particular. Atlantic artists brought incredible things to the world, and I knew they would help take me to a higher level in my artistry and career.”
– Jonathan Widran