Below, the talented 20-something-year-old talks about working with reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Ernie Ranglin, and the success of his hit song Cheerleader.
Cheerleader is one of the biggest reggae songs of the year so far and in the past nine months, the video has accumulated over 750,000 Youtube views. Why do you think it’s been so popular?
Because it has a catchy melody and breaks down the communication barrier; people can sing along and understand what it it’s about. I guess the topic has relevance and that’s what has made it such a hit.
Your singles Cheerleader and Fireworks fuse old-skool genres such as ska and rocksteady with contemporary sounds. What made you take this approach?
On Cheerleader, we incorporated a lot of the sounds indigenous to Jamaican culture such as mento, ska and rocksteady, and embrace the dancehall culture on other songs such as Standing on All Threes.
The reality is: the international markets don’t want us to pretend like we come from overseas. When they come to see us perform, they want to see and hear our culture and music. They don’t want us to be them; they want us to share something different.
Guitarist Ernest Ranglin, one of reggae’s founding fathers (above), appears in the video for Fireworks. Did he play on the track?
Yes. Sir Ernie came to the studio, gave me some words of encouragement and we had a little vibe for a brief moment. From hanging around with and talking to veteran musicians; I’ve learned that you have to remember the past to ensure the future.
At some point, you have to go back to your roots because the truth is; the business is crazy [laughs]. And you can get lost if you don’t know your roots or have a sense of direction.
Is it true that you’ve also worked with legendary drummer Sly Dunbar?
Mr Dunbar played drums on most of my tracks. He has knowledge, is very professional and encouraging too. To be sitting in a session with Sly Dunbar is a privilege.
You’re a protégé of Clifton ‘Specialist’ Dillon, one of dancehall’s most successful producers (above). What’s he like to work with?
To say working with him is a privilege would be an understatement. It motivates me when I see how many people come to him for help and guidance, and makes me recognise just how fortunate I am to be working with a man of his calibre.
He is similar to me in terms of beliefs, perspective and ethics, which is one of the reasons we have such as good working relationship. He is my mentor.
He is coming from the days of Shang Muzik and his new company, Oufah Media, operates under that umbrella so his portfolio is huge. He has managed and produced luminaries such as Shabba Ranks and Lady Patra so I trust his judgement and never doubt his capability, not for a second.
How did you come up with the concept for your latest single, Take It Easy, which has a very tropical vibe?
That song is magical because the instrumental was brought to me while I was in the studio and after listening to the first four bars, the whole song jumped into my head. That was one of my quickest ever productions.
Tarrus Riley, Ikaya, my label mate Alborosie, Chronixx and I like how Tanya Stephens (above) writes. Of course, Bob Marley is an icon and in terms of breaking down the communication barrier, he executed that perfectly and really paved the way.
If you had the power, what’s the one thing you’d most like to change about Jamaica’s music industry?
Appreciation. I think we need to appreciate good music and think about longevity. It doesn’t make sense running with something just because it’s hot today. All the songs that were created in Jamaica years ago are still relevant today because they had longevity in mind. I think we need to get back to that level of creativity.
When can we expect your debut album?
A release date hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it’s going to be crazy. The topics are wide, varied and interesting, and the production is off the hook. It’s coming together nicely. When you have really good songs it makes the selection process for the album much harder.
Traditionally, when it comes to albums, a reggae artist may have one hit single and whatever other songs they’ve recorded are just flung onto the project as filler…
You hit the nail right on the head, and that’s what we want to avoid. We don’t want people to be listening to the album and skipping tracks to get to their favourite song; they should be interested all the way through.
What advice would you give an aspiring singer-songwriter?
First of all, think about the business aspect before anything else. Think about developing your craft and how to groom yourself into becoming a businessman because part of sustaining a career in music is about the relationships you build with people.
How do people view you and do they like working with you? These things create windows of opportunity and help cross oceans and break down barriers; people will see and appreciate you based on that.