Jacob Espinoza, aka “The Kid Espi”, a hip-hop recording artist that would do it all over again if he went back. I’m proud to say that he is my son, and he was also my mentor when I started writing books. Jake also designs all of my book covers with his computer graphic skills. We have a great father-son relationship – a true blessing.
Jake was born in Salem, Oregon, and is the son of David (me) and Candi. His wife is Jennifer and his two sons, Tyson and Kaleb. He now has a step-mom, Loni. He has a brother, Matt, and two step-sisters, Darci and Kalin. All, brother and sisters have their own families too -- I love them all.
Jake grew up in the suburbs of Salem. He attended Scott Elementary School through the third grade and then Haysville Elementary for his fourth and fifth-grade years.
“I remember sports being a big part of my life. My dad built a basketball court in our backyard. We had friends in the neighborhood – we played a lot of two-on-two. It was convenient having that hoop in the backyard. My dad would spend a lot of time in developing our skills,” Jake said.
At school, Jake was a leader among his peers – physically always one of the tallest kids. Teachers were excited to have him in the classroom. His grades were always at the top of his class. His mom, Candi, was his teacher at home – he pretty much knew what they were teaching him at school beforehand. He was an outstanding reader and mathematician. He once made it to the Math 24 Challenge finals – a math competition.
“I love my mom, she was the first person I talked to after school – I always told her about my day. She volunteered a lot at our school while my dad was at work,” Jake said.
Jake was the type of kid that always looked to help others become better at things. He was a natural leader among his peers.
“Teachers would enjoy having me in their class because I was always trying to show kids how to become better people instead of disrupting the classroom,” Jake said.
Jake was a dominate force in basketball because of his coordination and height. Put that together with skills training on a regular basis, and you have progress. His younger brother, Matt, was always hanging around him and trying to keep up. Jake won so many awards that it was hard keeping up – his biggest being the Elks Hoop Shoot Contest. He advanced to the state and regional finals placing second at the regional completion. Another one, believe it or not, is he won a guessing count of pumpkin seeds in a huge jar. And, an M&M's count in a big box. Both handed out a nice prize for him.
During his younger years, Jake played basketball for the Boys and Girls Club League, Adam Stephens Middle School team, and an AAU traveling team. He was a major contributor on all of his teams.
“Dad was always there for me – even when I played baseball which is a sport he wasn’t too excited about. He would help me practice on my pitching in our backyard,” Jake said.
The Espinoza family was enjoying life and everything was going as planned with family, school, sports, and church. The everyday routine of practices and meals became part of life – whether it was soccer, basketball, track and field, or baseball.
His mom, Candi, had been battling headaches for years but the doctors never thought of scheduling an MRI, “It’s just a migraine,” they would say. In 1986 she started having more severe symptoms. They scheduled an MRI and she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
She went through surgery and it was discovered that the tumor was malignant. Candi went on remission for five years – I even wrote a story on her beating cancer. We actually thought it was over. In 1991 we were driving to the grocery store. Candi looked at me – she was trying to talk but you could only hear a constant stutter. That really scared me.
“I was so young, but I remember being scared when she couldn’t talk. It’s a tough thing to see as a little kid. We found out the tumor was back,” Jake said.
After a long hard battle – including a more aggressive chemotherapy treatment at OHSU (Oregon Health Science University), Candi died in 1994. It was like a huge downhearted feeling. This only happens in movies, not to us. All I had to hang on to was her pillow and her scent that got me through many lonely nights. 13 years of marriage – she was only 32 years old and the boys were 11 and 9.
“My dad took over a huge role – he took care of me and my brother. He was always there protecting us and taking care of whatever we needed. When I was little I didn’t understand the impact it would have on me. As I grew older I realized that all the kids I knew had a mom,” Jake said.
Jake faced a huge challenge when he lost his mom – he was really close to her and probably remembers her more than Matt. He was always full of smiles and very ambitious – always explaining rules of the games he created to play with his friends. All of that changed – I could see it in him.
Jake would always assure me that it was going to be okay. He would see me in tears for days. He started helping me by doing his own laundry. With a job that took intense thinking, making out bills, keeping the house clean, keeping up with their school activities, and coaching their teams, it got to be a bit overwhelming. I prayed every night for the Lord to guide me through all of this.
Things were never the same. We adjusted the best we could – I did the best I could to keep our boys going on the right path. We were building a new home in Salem and the boys attended Sacred Heart School – we rented a room from my brother, Richard, and his family for a year. My mother-in-law, Elaine, and my sister-in-law, Julie, helped me out with the boys many times. I’m so grateful to them.
No mom for the first day of high school, birthdays, games they played in, awards they received, graduations, etc. I can’t imagine what Jake and Matt must have felt like.
Jake started listening to hip-hop music. I remember as a young kid he had a Kris Kross tape which was good – maybe some Will Smith. I wasn’t comfortable about him listening to the foul-language rap but the clean stuff I didn’t mind.
“I think I fell into hip-hop music with a rebellious attitude. My parents didn’t want me listening to it, so naturally I listened to it more,” Jake said.
I had a tough time getting Jake to clean his room, so I cleaned it some of the times. I would always find stacks of paper with rhymes – you could see the amount of thought he had put into this. Some of the lyrics were more mature then what you’d think a high school kid would write.
I wasn’t going to complain because he was a straight A student his freshman year at McNary High School. He was also one of the best players on the basketball team. As a parent I was so proud of him.
Jake’s sophomore year things started going downhill as far as grades – but I was unaware of the situation. Every time I asked about his grades and school, he would tell me that everything was good. Based on conversations I had with Jake in the late evenings, he was missing his mom and dealing with a lot of emotional pain. We cried together a few times.
“We had moved to the McNary High School boundaries. I really didn’t know many kids there except for the ones that were on the basketball team. I got to know a few and my priority started being with my friends – hanging out with them. On occasion we skipped class. I just did enough to get by as far as grade – not having my mom around I lost motivation,” Jake said.
I was the dad that found out what my child was up to and who he was hanging around. I called his friends’ parents to touch base with them on where my son was. I didn’t want Jake to get into trouble. There were times when I embarrassed him by coming to pick him up when it was past midnight. I grew a few gray hairs during Jake’s sophomore and junior years. I loved my son so much that I was willing to do whatever it took to keep him safe and out of trouble.
“I would never say that I was hanging out with the wrong crowds – I formed great friendships during high school – I enjoyed the social life. I can’t say I would do it any different if I went back. I don’t think my dad had any problems with my friends but maybe the activities we were engaged in,” Jake said.
Jake realizes that those years were a setback for him and that he could have been a better student and athlete had he focused more on those things. It was fun for him to go through those experiences, and he did learn from mistakes, and that’s okay.
“My junior year the coaches had a meeting with my dad and I. They were threatening to kick me off the basketball team because of my social life and bad grades. That would have torn my dad. I started putting more effort into my grades and focused on becoming a huge impact on our team” Jake said.
By the end of his junior year, Jake had received the "Comeback Kid Award". I was so proud to read that in the school newspaper. I couldn’t have asked for more from my son. I know his mom would have been so proud as well.
His senior year, McNary had a pool of talent that no one really expected. Jake Espinoza, Ryan Medford, Brian Zielinski, Clark Ellison, Chad Harms, Trevor Cross, and Drew Miller. Jake helped his team make it to the 2001 OSAA State Basketball Tournament.
“We really didn’t have one superstar on our team. Everybody played a role and we executed. It was a lot of fun to be part of that. We all went on to play college ball after high school. That was a lot of players from one team, which is very rare these days,” Jake said.
Jake graduated high school and continued listening to rap music and writing lyrics. More stacks of papers with thousands of words – it was difficult reading his writing but I had no idea how someone could come up with rhymes like that. Writing came natural to Jake. I remember once he brought home a note from his teacher. It was in red ink. A+ Wow! You have weathered such a huge storm – you’re a true survivor. I posted that on our refrigerator for months.
I knew that Jake didn’t have the passion for basketball like his brother Matt. I thanked Jake for following through and taking care of his high school responsibilities in the classroom and on the basketball court. I also told him to think about playing college ball – this could pay for his college education. At 6’ 4 and 3/4” and how talented he was, he could do it, I had that confidence in him.
“I started working for a warehouse in Woodburn. After a few months I received a letter from North Seattle Community College. They were very interested in me playing for them and wanted me to come for a recruiting trip. I also decided I didn’t want to work in a warehouse the rest of my life,” Jake said.
Jake was playing in a pickup game when he came down on his ankle and broke it. This was right before the recruiting trip to Seattle – he had to sit out for a year. Although he was very disappointed, this was a blessing in disguise because when he recovered he ended up getting a scholarship to play at Linn-Benton Community College. Not only that, but this was about the same time that his brother was headed to play for Southwestern Oregon Community College – the same conference as Linn-Benton CC.
“My favorite moment of all time was playing college ball against my brother – that was a lot of fun. You don’t see brothers playing against each other too often. It was a big deal and I remember all the newspapers writing an article on us. Matt had a very successful college basketball career – two years at SWOCC and then two years at SOU,” Jake said.
Jake helped Linn-Benton CC advance to the NWAAC Championships – the first time the college had ever made it there.
“I always wanted to be a news reporter, and then I started studying advertising and marketing. I was the sports editor for the Linn-Benton Commuter. I also wrote articles on entertainment. That’s when I first started getting serious about becoming a hip-hop artist,” Jake said.
Jake had a friend, Jim Hauge, who was getting into the real estate business. Jim had sold a house and with the commission he purchased all kinds of recording equipment – to create beats and record. Jake started traveling to Jim’s house in Portland while attending the University of Oregon. He was beginning to put together songs – he was writing his own material.
“To get better at anything you have to create good habits of hard work. You have to put in the time and focus on what you want to accomplish. I now know so many things that I didn’t know back in high school,” Jake said.
Jake was thinking about a stage name and tried different ones. But the one he liked the best was “The Kid Espi”. It’s the first part of his last name. And in one of his songs he says, “E for the Excellent, S for Significant, P for the Progress, I for the Intellect”.
In a few months Jake had put out his first EP, “Moments of Clarity”. He teamed up with T-Dubb in a couple of the songs. The producers were, Grand Raps, The Developer, and Animal. He performed in his first show in 2006 at the Ike Box in Salem, Oregon. He later did another EP, “Capitol City Hip-Hop”.
Jake established relationships with business owners – he made it possible for Salem to start having hip-hop venues.
“I feel that I made a huge impact in the community. I really wanted Salem to have hip-hop shows and I wanted the owners to feel that it would be a safe environment for everyone,” Jake said.
As an independent rapper he wrote and recorded his first full album, “The First Book”. There were 19 songs in this album and the local area was pumped to preorder this one. Tony was the producer at Apollo Sound Production’s Studio. Songs were mastered by John McDonald. This album includes a song he wrote about his mom “Not the Same Acoustic” – his brother Matt sang the chorus and played the guitar.
Jake teamed up with other artists he met during shows. They had the same driven goal and they blended well together – Jason Gundlach (JG), Lyndon Hansen (Middle but now Abolish), and Gabe Van Eikeren (Amsterdam). The album was “Healthy Portions”. Several producers like Grand Raps, Terminill, Shay, Anno Domini, Mo Pounds, and Sapient took a great role in the mixes.
Jake wrote the lyrics to a song that has received worldwide attention and continues to this day. I’d have to say that this song put Oregon on the map. “Oregon Homeboy” produced by Sapient. You can find this song in his second solo album “True Love + High Adventure”. There are 17 songs and the producers were Terminill, Cheddy, G-force, Sapient, and Goodwill. Kid Espi recorded this one at Momentum Studios.
“I really can’t remember why I wrote the lyrics to this song – it’s been so long. I guess because of how proud I am to be an Oregonian. I wanted to share Oregon with the rest of the world. And at the same time I added some humor to the song,” Jake said.
In the song he talks about Bend, Seaside, Salem, and more ... lines like “We picked Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan?” He describes him self as a 6’ 4” chunky slim vegetarian. He also talks about the Professor and Napoleon Dynamite being from Oregon. There is so much truth in his lyrics that people took it all in. I’d have to say that this song put Oregon on the map and continues to be his bestseller.
Another full album he recorded at Momentum Studios was, “The Wright Family the World’s Happiest Gremlin”. Kid Espi teamed up with JG and L. Barnhart (singer). The producers were Terminill, Goodwill, and the mixer was Zebulon Dak.
The last album Jake (Kid Espi) recorded was “Sweatshirt Dinner Party”. The lyrics were written by Jake mostly. This album features Pigeon John, Debra Arlene, Gray Skull, Geo of Blue Scholars, Amsterdam, and Deshaun. This album was produced by Sapient and Terminill.
Jake designed all of his CD covers. He took classes at University of Oregon on computer graphic arts. His albums are all available on iTunes.
Jake was performing in a lot of shows. Every Friday after work he was on the road to another town in Oregon – from Seattle to Bend, and sometimes Ashland. Everyone wanted to hear his songs and especially “Oregon Homeboy”. He got the audience involved and made every show special with something different. But he speaks about how difficult it was getting up to go to work on Mondays. He had a day job while performing.
“Probably the biggest show I ever performed in was when we opened for E40 and Twista at the Eugene Fairgrounds – there must have been 5,000 people there. We sold 200 CDs to the crowd waiting in a long line outside. I don’t recommend this for anyone, but it worked for us,” Jake said.
When the tickets went on sale through Ticket Master, I saw Kid Espi printed on them as one of the performers. I have to say that I was really proud of my son and what he had accomplished through his hard-driven work in the music industry.
The Kid Espi was for real. He took great pride in his lyrics and music. When someone wanted to manage him or encourage him to sign with a major label, it always came down to what was important to him. He wanted to be sure it was his music that was going to be recorded.
I remember the first time I heard “Oregon Homeboy” on the radio. I pulled over and listened to the entire song. I don’t remember the radio station – a hip-hop station. I have to say that it was such a great feeling and I was very blessed to be his father. I would do anything to support what his passion was.
“I toured a lot including two west coast tours. It’s amazing the amount of time that artists spend on the road away from home. At the time I had a fiancé and I started realizing that I wasn’t quite sure about continuing my music career. Undoubtedly I could have gone on to become very successful. I’m not sure that I wanted to live a life like that. All of the hard work I put into this was all worth it. I had a lot of fun and met some amazing people that I still keep in touch with. I’m now married to Jennifer and have two sons, Tyson and Kaleb. I love these kids so much that my priority is for my wife and them. I stopped performing and I’m now trying to change my image. With a mortgage and family, I want to be home for them – that’s the life I want,” Jake said.