SPOTLIGHT: Dutty Bookman, Vogue, Hilfiger & The Reggae Revival
This morning I awoke and the first thing on my Facebook feed was the following article written our bredren, Dutty Bookman. He wrote about the unlikely features and hype paying homage to the “New Roots Reggae” Movement. I’m also noticing that the world is “waking up” to Roots and Culture Reggae again and The Reggae Revival Movement in it’s purest essence is a precious chord holding the conscious fibre together. But are elitist fulljoying the highlight and profits of the fruits of OUR labor and downplaying our plight, our mission and our cause for the sake of ad sales, fame and power? Do they look back and to lend a helping hand to the poor when you’ve made our culture and images famous overseas, but give nothing to empower our community? Yet, at the same time you design powerful ad campaigns and use the RasTafari and Indigenous Cultures for inspiration for your next couture fashion week, while behind closed doors you push your ungoldy, anti-life, immoral agendas on our people.
Tommy Hilfiger recently launched his New Spring Fashion line inspired off RasTafari Culture. Part proceeds should benefit the ghetto youth and those in rural areas who can’t pay school fees or visit a clinic. Wishful Thinking?!
To Vogue Magazine, Tommy Hilfiger and other elitist and mainstream moguls, Our Ancient Culture and Heritage is DIVINE is not for sale. It is worth more than gold, cannot be bought, cannot be sold! Our Emperor is more than a man, more than a prophet, more than a monarch. H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I is our Saviour of today who lead us to a higher overstanding of The Godhead, Iyesus Christ The Messiah before he was white-washed and feminized. H.I.M. lead us to the precious knowledge of how to access the golden ladder, The Holy Diadems, One Order and the Ancient Teachings of the Tewahido Faith by the order of Melchesidek is our life, not just our culture. Our Mission is not merely to be cool or to land us on the next page or cover of a magazine. Our Mission to carry on the message, testimony and faith of H.I.M.. This Mission is our daily bread, our reason why we work and a hope in present time of trials. To all our Soul-Jahs holding the torch, the world is watching. It’s truly time to organize and move in ONE ORDER for if you don’t build up your Divine Culture, others who don’t truly know our plight will rule over us and leave us to the vulture!
VOGUE AND OUR REVIVAL
Author: Dutty Bookman (Visit Website)
October 30, 2015
The Reggae Revival continues to be featured by unlikely media entities. In fact, every time I begin to think that the hype is over and that I can now settle properly into other aspects of the mission, I find that I have to think again. Just two days ago, Vogue Magazine launched a noteworthy online campaign, unleashing a flurry of articles paying homage to various aspects of Jamaican culture. The crowning piece, which is causing quite a stir, was titled ‘Reggae Revival.’ By now I am certain that the Vogue team is aware of the mad ants nest that it poked its big mainstream stick inside, and they are ready to pay more than just homage. They are ready to pay themselves.
For my part, I appreciate the article for its literary art. It is truly impressive and the writer approached it with much respect. She wrote passionately about a culture that has obviously impacted her personally and positively, and she acknowledged some of the key people, though not nearly all of us (which is never easy to do). That said, I have some caveats, none of which I have reason to blame her for, and only one that I really feel compelled to address at this time.
Emperor Haile Selassie I is a prophet?
The Reggae Revival, not only a musical and artistic movement, is also highly spiritual and mystical. That spirit and mystic is so intertwined with the Rastafari way of life that the Reggae Revival can reasonably be thought of as a subset of the general Rastafari mission. Just look at all those faces in the article’s pictures and video clips. Did any of them directly say to writer Abby Aguirre (who is also the Culture Editor for the magazine) that Haile Selassie I was not The Almighty or anything less than a divine man? To publish that “the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was a prophet” – to call His Imperial Majesty a mere prophet – almost negates the entire rest of the article, sadly. It says to me that, while people in the wider world may be excited about the Reggae Revival, they may not fully get the Reggae Revival. They understand but they do not overstand.
This underscores the fact that, once again, the foreign perspective is set to stain our narrative, our story, our Revival. The old adage of the hunter telling the tale of the hunt rings true once again, only this time the hunter could have all the good intentions in the world… and the lions could actually be the ones at fault.
My book is on the way. Prepare.
VOGUE MAGAZINE’S HIGHLIGHT ON
THE REGGAE REVIVAL
Meet the Millennial Musicians Behind Jamaica’s New Movement
It’s 4:00 in the morning on a Sunday in Jamaica and I am standing on the edge of Plantation Cove, an open field in St. Ann, the parish along the northern coast where you can find the shore where Columbus landed, and where Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley were born. I am six hours into my second night at a reggae festival called Rebel Salute. Though dancehall has dominated Jamaican radio for going on three decades, reggae festivals are still held year-round, and Rebel Salute is considered the most legit. Jamaicans speak of it the way they might describe a tincture or an extract, as though it contained a higher concentration of some magical, ineffable ingredient than other festivals do. “Rebel Salute?” the hotel manager back in Kingston had told me, eyebrows raised. “There you will see real reggae. I mean, real, real reggae.” He scrunched up his nose as if he were a Frenchman describing a pungent cheese. “I mean real, real, real, roots, roots music.”
Rebel Salute holds the distinction of realest of the real in part because it adheres to Rastafarian tenets: no alcohol or red meat. The food trucks encircling the crowd are largely vegetarian. (And exceptional, it turns out. I had revelatory farm-to-driftwood-stump pizza with grilled squash and a fresh parsley chimichurri.) Of course, what is allowed, sold as openly and abundantly as rainbow chard at a Silver Lake farmers’ market, is ganja. In the parking field, vendors wear baggies of it pinned to their jackets. Inside, whole stalks are on offer at concession stands, arranged into bouquets alongside bags of popcorn. And although I appear to be the only person not chain-smoking spliffs, the mood is beginning to pacify me, too: New York City feels very far away; I have stopped checking my phone.
I’m here for something I have read about but not yet seen. After more than two decades of being dismissed as music for parents and tourists, roots reggae is relevant again in Jamaica. A group of young artists is repopularizing the genre in a new wave that has been named the Reggae Revival. (Revival is a controversial word here, I would learn, but more on that later.) There are enough of them to call it a movement, the best-known being the singers Protoje, a 33-year-old from St. Elizabeth, and Chronixx, 23, from St. Catherine. Chronixx played on Jimmy Fallon last year, and it’s Chronixx I am now waiting to see, amid a transfixing quantity of dreadlocks and knit beanies, bobbing like buoys in a sea of red, gold, and green.
More than 40 acts had performed over the two nights, stacked up in short sets, a little like reggae speed-dating. Third World had played their 1980 hit “96 Degrees in the Shade,” and were now holding court in the Third World merchandise store and café, where one could watch Third World videos, invest in a Third World leather jacket, and sample juices named after Third World songs. (“Roots With Quality”: carrot and beet.)
Between the established acts (Johnny Clarke, Sizzla) were artists from the Revival: Jah9, a vocalist from the western edge of the island; Jesse Royal, a singer from Maroon Town; and Kabaka Pyramid, a songwriter from Kingston. Though they had cultivated lyrical styles all their own, the Revival musicians were marked by an unmistakable restraint, seriousness, and potency not shared by their elder counterparts. When Raging Fyah, a young five-piece band that came up through Edna Manley College’s School of Music in Kingston (“the Juilliard of Jamaica,” as it is often described), had begun to play sometime around 3:00 a.m., the whole crowd was drawn to its feet in a visible wave, like fallen dominoes getting up again.
Chronixx is not on the Rebel Salute lineup, but there is an unkept secret that he would make an appearance with Inner Circle, the roots band with whom he recorded Jacob Miller’s 1976 single “Tenement Yard.” And so the crowd again rises to its feet when, around 6:00, Inner Circle takes the stage. Chronixx comes in after a few verses, first just his voice, then in the flesh, a tall, sinewy figure in all black, the only volume to his silhouette a high ponytail of short dreads. Between sudden eruptions of jumping he delivers the lines slowly and melodically: Dreadlocks can’t live in a tenement yard. Dreadlocks can’t live in a tenement yard. In the distance an old man is feeding logs into a bonfire that, as he had explained to me earlier between prolonged pulls from a pipe, must be kept burning at any proper Rastafarian gathering. Embers swirl into the air and out over the Caribbean. Between the fire and the stage, the ocean of nodding dreadlocks and Rasta caps is now an ocean of tiny glowing phone screens, held high and fixed on Chronixx.
When I first heard that roots reggae was coming back in Jamaica, it made sense to me in that reflex, unthinking way things sometimes do: I believed it before knowing the details, and without knowing why. Maybe because the ’70s were resurgent on the runways. Or because of the way millennials around the world were building new movements for civil rights. What was less immediately fathomable was the idea that reggae had lapsed to begin with. So a few hours after Rebel Salute, a driver and I go to St. Elizabeth, the rural southwest parish, to meet Protoje. Protoje was the first of the new reggae artists to hit in Jamaica, and is often credited with setting the Revival in motion, but he started out in hip-hop. I am eager to hear how he changed course. The route out of St. Ann takes us by a colonial building where a young Marcus Garvey worked in a printing shop, and later by the fortresslike resorts of Montego Bay, then weaves up into verdant hills, around hairpin turns, over unpaved stretches, and past what seems like hundreds of small churches to a country town where Protoje lives with his mother and grandmother.
When we pull onto Main Street, it is exactly noon and very hot and we cannot find the home of Lorna Bennett, Protoje’s mom, who is now a lawyer but in 1972 was known as the singer of a popular reggae cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Breakfast in Bed.” (Protoje’s father, Michael Ollivierre, was also a singer, a calypso king who goes by Lord Have Mercy.) A car rolls up at a stoplight and we ask its driver to point us toward Bennett’s house. “Protoje mom?” the driver clarifies. We nod and in minutes are sipping coconut water out of coconuts on a shaded porch with Protoje, who is slight and soft-spoken and chooses his words prudently.
Foreign versions of the Revival origin story cast it as a rejection of modern dancehall, with its overtly digital sound and emphasis on money and sex, and cite the 2014 murder conviction of that genre’s biggest star, Vybz Kartel, as the final turnoff. But in Protoje’s telling, the beginnings are mysterious, subliminal, something in the air that manifested in different places at the same time. (Things tend to “manifest” in Jamaica.) In his case, Protoje says, “I was running off some tapes from my mother’s studio sessions in the ’70s, and I heard some music and I was captivated by it. And then I really went into research mode on ’70s and ’80s local music, and a whole new world kind of opened up to me.”
Not that he hadn’t heard reggae before. He had just grown up on ’90s hip-hop—the first album he ever owned was Doggystyle—and never paid close attention to the work of early innovators like Lee “Scratch” Perry. Protoje thought he was alone in his pursuit of vintage reggae and dub until 2009, when he began to meet other musicians who were doing the same, among them Jah9, Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid, and Raging Fyah. Many of the introductions took place at Jamnesia, a surf camp east of Kingston at the home of Billy Mystic, the singer of the ’70s reggae band Mystic Revealers. Mystic owned instruments, an expensive rarity to a generation raised on synthesized music, and so the group coalesced around Jamnesia, playing regular jam sessions every other Saturday night. “When something is happening, it’s going to find a way to manifest,” Protoje says. “Jamnesia, at that point in time, was that place.”
They did not find reggae without finding Rastafarianism, which brought about changes in diet and outlook. They went vegetarian. They began to emphasize the positive and the communal. There came, as Protoje puts it, “an overall awareness of self, or at least a beginning to wonder.” These choices made sense as news headlines turned from the global financial crisis to the Arab Spring and then to Occupy. They engaged in “reasoning,” philosophical discussions, with Mystic. There was something else that they embraced: “Social media played an integral part in it, especially for me,” Protoje says. “I was reading this book called Outliers, and it was always saying about, ‘You have to know the time you’re in.’ So we came up with a time that we were able to kind of learn and study before it became the way.”
By 2011 they were all getting radio play, especially Protoje, and it was decided by a young Jamaican writer known as Dutty Bookman that this new movement needed a name. “At the time he was very fascinated with the Harlem Renaissance,” Protoje says of Bookman. “And the reason why he can go and search and look up a document is because it’s called the Harlem Renaissance. He can type ‘Harlem Renaissance’ and he’s going to hear about so much people that were doing something in Harlem at that time.”
“Renaissance” would not do, however. “If there was any Renaissance in reggae music, it was that era of Bob Marley and all of them,” Protoje says. What Bookman saw, rather, was a reawakening. And so, in November 2011, with history and search optimization in mind, Bookman published a post on his blog announcing the Reggae Revival. Some elders bristled at the implication that reggae had previously been lifeless, but no such intimation was intended. “You can’t revive something that’s dead,” Protoje says, adding of Bookman, “It’s always people from outside of Jamaica that come and name stuff. So when he took control of that as a Jamaican writer, I have to respect that.”
It was around this time that Protoje was first contacted by Chronixx. “He wanted to produce,” Protoje says. Protoje did not know Chronixx but could tell he was young, because in the only photos Protoje could find online, Chronixx was in a khaki uniform worn at public schools in Jamaica. (Chronixx was 18.) Protoje invited Chronixx to send some beats, and then to meet with him and Kabaka Pyramid. “And when I heard him sing,” Protoje says, “I was like, ‘This is going to be major.’ ”
It’s midday on a Tuesday and I am sitting on an amp at Grafton, Mikey Bennett’s recording studio in the Vineyard Town section of Kingston. A singer is recording a track in a small sound room. Behind a mixing board in the control room is Bennett, a revered producer who has worked with many of the new reggae artists, who call him “Uncle Mikey.” Bennett made his name producing dancehall, and his gold records hang on the studio walls. He designed the space to replicate the feel of Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio, where he once worked, and Grafton doubles as a neighborhood gathering place. There is a game of dominoes in progress in a courtyard, which connects the studio to a practice room, where the Mystic Revealers are rehearsing, and to a kitchen, where a cook named Jelly is serving up “Good Body Soup,” “Eva Ready Chicken,” and “Wha-Yuh-Feel-Like Fruit Juice.”
Here are some things that have happened since Dutty Bookman’s blog post announcing the Reggae Revival. The video for Protoje’s single “Kingston Be Wise” has become one of the most-viewed YouTube links in Jamaica. Chronixx has been featured on a Major Lazer mixtape, topped the Billboard reggae album chart with his EP Dread & Terrible, and performed a show in Central Park that Mick Jagger flew in to see. And Snoop Dogg has changed his name to Snoop Lion and recorded a reggae album in Jamaica he called Reincarnated, and then, after a public falling-out with Bob Marley’s former bandmate Bunny Wailer, changed his name back to Snoop Dogg. During this time the Reggae Revival name has functioned ingeniously as a hashtag and an umbrella, ensuring that when one new reggae artist is written about, they all are. When I meet most of them at Grafton, almost all are getting ready to go on tour.
First comes Kabaka Pyramid, about to play South by Southwest, tall and thin in fitted camouflage pants, Clarks Wallabee boots, a black tank top that says “Rockers,” and a slouchy knit hat, with an engineer who is introduced as Simon the Expert. Yaadcore, one of the first DJs to play the new artists, arrives next, in black Adidas and a T-shirt that says “Rasta Love,” with a thick, crown-like knot of dreads. Then comes Raging Fyah, the band whose wall of sound woke up Rebel Salute; Kelissa, a reserved and elegant singer wearing a bright, graphic headscarf; Addis Pablo, the son of ’70s reggae musician Augustus Pablo, with his group, Suns of Dub; and Jesse Royal, in a camouflage jacket and shirt that also says “Rockers.” Jah9, the singer who grew up on the island’s west coast, daughter of a Baptist minister and social worker, arrives close to sunset, straight from yoga class, in a black tank top and wide-leg pants, thin dreads pulled into a bun.
With every interview, the question of whether the Reggae Revival is “really happening” is put to rest. Why it is happening is one I have been posing to anyone who will take my calls. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records who produced Bob Marley, enthuses: “I don’t know why it’s happening, it just seems to be happening. It’s like something in the air.” Jimmy Cliff, star of The Harder They Come, reached by phone: “The social climate, the political climate of the world right now, is ready for that kind of music, for that kind of expression in music.” Billy Mystic, at Grafton: “Dancehall music is not as fresh and new.” Mikey Bennett, on the way to Tuff Gong: “Some perfect storms taking place.”
If dancehall offers the dream of material riches, reggae seems to offer an alternative idea of freedom. To Jamaicans and especially to Rastafarians, the music is encoded with cultural and religious references, but the rest of the world has never needed to understand the references, or believe that the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was a prophet, to hear the underlying messages. Get up, stand up. In reggae, it seems, the promise of freedom is fulfilled through awareness itself. Pickin’ up? Are you pickin’ up now?
For their part, the artists of the Reggae Revival cite a global “shift in consciousness” in as matter-of-fact a tone as they might describe a movement of tectonic plates. It seems to follow without need for explanation here that such a shift should make us want to hear reggae, not merely for its lyrics but also for the one-drop, its signature rhythm, which, depending on your vantage point, is about the pace of a heartbeat, or of the slow, incessant drone of manual labor, the kind that builds pyramids, or railroads.
The return to reggae is not just a return to live music but also to band music, and considered against dancehall culture, this aspect is significant. In dancehall, larger-than-life individuals spar to be the biggest game in town, to “win the clash.” Roots reggae is group music: The individual parts that make it up are almost incomprehensively simple; it’s what happens when you put them together that it becomes mind-bendingly complex. There is no superstar instrument in reggae, no show-stealing soloist. Rather, it’s the intricate interaction between the elements that creates what Jamaicans call the vibration. Put another way, you can’t play reggae alone. And in this sense, its form is something like its message.
The Revival artists are intent on rising as a group. They have taken to heart, says Bennett, an old Jamaican proverb: “One tune can’t keep dance.” For this reason, when Chronixx went on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, he sang a portion of a song by Jesse Royal and one by Jah9. “We all felt like we were there,” Jah9 says. “In a moment like that, it is not even about, ‘It’s Chronixx.’ It’s like, ‘We are going to be on Jimmy Fallon.’ ”
It’s late morning and I am at 56 Hope Road, the colonial house in Kingston where Bob Marley lived and recorded from 1975 until his death in 1981. Most of “56” is now the Bob Marley Museum, a place to see his guitars, his Grammys, his bedroom, his backup singers’ costumes, and a life-size, three-dimensional hologram of him at the 1978 One Love Peace Concert, where he had warring politicians Michael Manley and Edward Seaga join hands onstage. But beyond the lines of tourists and Marley Coffee vendors (tagline: “Stir. It. Up.”), behind a second gate and set of security guards, it is also still a private home. I am here to meet with one of Bob Marley’s 11 acknowledged children, Ky-Mani Marley.
A woman leads me past a shaded spot where, a plaque indicates, Bob Marley used to write music, and through the second gate, where she advises me to remove my sunglasses as a show of respect. Ky-Mani Marley is sitting at a folded table in the sun. He is broad-shouldered and tall, with long dreads and a gentle face, and, at 39, three years older than his father lived to be. A man walks out of a second house behind us and with an air of ritual serves Marley a cutting board, butcher knife, and large stalk of ganja, which Marley begins to chop up as casually as if it were cilantro.
Chronixx’s producer is to pick me up at 56 in half an hour, so I waste no time: What does Marley make of the roots reggae revival? “I really love what’s going on,” he says. “You have Chronixx, Protoje, so many of these youths who are really, I would say, standing in the fire and holding the torch. It is necessary because, for quite some time now, the reggae music and the reggae industry have been in quite a state. We had this era where dancehall practically took over, and no one here in Jamaica was really listening to roots reggae. But we are in a different time.”
On a nearby wall is a mural of a man with gray dreads riding a bicycle, underneath which is written, “Georgie keep the fire light.” The lyric is from “No Woman, No Cry,” and it is about the man who kept the bonfire burning when Bob Marley and the Wailers played in Trenchtown. And then Georgie would make the fire light. Log wood burnin’ through the night.
It’s early afternoon and I am sitting on the back terrace of a large house on Skyline Drive, above Kingston, where Chronixx records, overlooking the rugged, impossibly lush ridges of the Blue Mountains. Inside, someone is building rhythms on a computer, and someone else is washing dishes. People are coming in and out, among them Chronixx’s producer, Teflon, and his driver, who is wearing heart-shaped sunglasses. Over a ridge on the other side of the valley is Strawberry Hill, the estate owned by Chris Blackwell where, in 1976, Bob Marley, having been shot in the kitchen of 56 Hope Road two days before, waited to receive clearance by walkie-talkie that it was safe to descend with his motorcade into Kingston to play the historic Smile Jamaica Concert. “Smile Jamaica” is also the name of Chronixx’s first radio hit. Driving up a winding road to get here, we passed Chronixx heading in the opposite direction in a car. Nobody seems to know where he is going or how long he will be gone.
Over four days on the island I had asked many people what it is about Chronixx that is capturing Jamaicans’ imagination. Some pointed to his lyrics. “Chronixx is a conscious youth,” Jimmy Cliff told me. “He’s endeavoring to stay conscious, to not sell out.” Others noted that he is from St. Catherine, where the first Rastafarian community was formed, suggesting that this gave him particular credibility. (“Chronixx” is a play on his childhood nickname, Little Chronicle, given to him because his father is a singer known as Chronicle.) Chris Blackwell spoke of his business team. “They’ve been together since they started,” he said. “Nobody’s changed. A really great sign.” Mikey Bennett, amused by my search for a complex explanation, offered a simple one: “He’s the most melodic.” We have passed an hour on the terrace when Chronixx arrives, in a black shirt, black pants, and orange high-tops, and carrying a to-go container of rice and vegetables. He sits down at a table where I am sitting, and slowly starts to eat. “Any time you’re ready,” he says after a while.
I ask about his start as a producer, then as a singer, and about the Revival’s early days. “It started more with the content and our approach to music,” he says. “We tried to make holistic music, even on our computers, you know? But whenever we performed, we wanted real guitars, real drums, real everything.” During this time, he says, bands shared musicians. “It was really one group of musicians playing for everybody. It was kind of like how Cat Coore was also in Inner Circle,” he says, referring to the guitarist of Third World. “I always look at the ’70s and there’s a lot that these two eras have in common, you know?”
I ask what the two eras have in common. “Well, I think all of this kind of happened already in the ’70s,” Chronixx says. He has finished eating and is now sitting back in his chair, looking me squarely in the face. “You coming to interview me: It already happened in the ’70s. You know what I mean? It’s just kind of a relapse. Like, us reliving these things. All of this media from all over the world coming down to film a group of youths who a couple of years ago were regular youths strumming guitars, singing in venues with three, four people.”
Chronixx begins to monologue, and here the interview takes on a dreamlike quality. He is right, it occurs to me: We have both been here before. Today I am the stiff interviewer from New Zealand, he the young man with dreadlocks and a message about equal rights. The millennial musicians of the Revival are astute students not only of the business deals made by the reggae stars of the ’70s but also of their dealings with “foreign enthusiasts,” as Chronixx has by now put it. “I don’t think the interview is to shed light on what we are doing,” he is saying of the media treatment of the Revival. “The interview is so that them can stay relevant.” He arrives at the subject of the Reggae Revival name. “This thing now with Reggae Revival,” he says, “it kind of divides the music. You know what I mean? And I totally overstand”—Rastafarians do not use the word or prefix under, which carries a negative connotation, and so modify the word understand to overstand—“and embrace the term Reggae Revival.”
“You do?” I ask. “One hundred percent,” he says. “It is the revival of reggae music, whether they like it or not. But I think the overemphasizing of it, the overstatement of the word, it’s very divisive. Because what about those who were making reggae all along? This term might give them a wrong feeling. With those things being the reality, you can’t just, every day, ‘Reggae Revival! Reggae Revival! The new Reggae Revival!’ The new. What is new? Every song that the Reggae Revival records was recorded already in some way. I say, ‘Here comes trouble.’ Ini Kamoze said, ‘Here Comes the Hotstepper.’ It’s his bass line. The whole rhythm is his. Protoje says, ‘Kingston Be Wise.’ Ini Kamoze said, ‘England Be Nice.’ ”
“So what’s new, then?” he goes on. “I don’t glorify newness. And what people call originality. I don’t glorify in that. I glorify in continuity. Progress. Because progress don’t mean new. And continuity don’t mean new.” He continues. “The Revival is not a musical revival. The Revival is a demographic, social revival. You know what I mean? A spiritual revival. It’s not a musical revival, because the music that we are making, somebody was always making that. Just that, a few years ago, nobody was paying attention. And that was for commercial reasons.”
“I don’t know if it was for commercial reasons,” I say. “It was for commercial reasons,” he says. “Commerce goes back and forth. Demand and supply go back and forth. So naturally there are going to be times when people are not demanding reggae music as much.” He goes on: “In economics, I learned something called ostentatious goods. I decided that if I was to ever be a good, if I was ever to be a product, I wanted to be an ostentatious product.” I ask Chronixx what he means by an ostentatious product. “It’s a kind of product that creates its own demand,” he says. “Just by being there. Creates its own demand. It’s not there because people want it. But people want it because it’s there. See?”
“Society is becoming more in need of reality,” he continues. “Some of them don’t even know that they want it, but they do. They just want something real.” Chronixx is now in a direct dialogue in my head with a speech Zadie Smith delivered a couple of years ago, in which she urged millennials to stop worrying about their personal brands; to use their creativity not for filling a pre-existing demand, but rather to transform our notion of what it is we want. “It is not creative,” Smith said, “to let the logic of the market into your mind.” Here is Jamaica’s brightest young reggae star declaring that if the logic of the market is unavoidable, then he would transform our ideas about what we want, and show us that what we want and need is something real.
I ask Chronixx if singing the Jah9 lyric on Jimmy Fallon was a deliberate effort to keep the collective intact. “All the music that we have been releasing, I look at all of those songs as one song,” he says. “A progressive song. Just different verses. Different lines. My songs are just merely lines in that greater song. People understand my music more when they sit and listen to Jah9’s music. I don’t think that’s a thing that me and Jah9 sit and plan. And that, more than anything else, spells out the unity to people. It’s a spiritual connection that comes out in the music. Me and Jah9 are from two different ends of Jamaica. Me and Jesse Royal, two different ends. We literally didn’t know each other until, like, two, three years ago. The only thing we have in common is this music. The very moment we stop having things in common, we’re going to go off doing our own things and then the force gets weak after that. So I’m thinking, if I’m on national TV, I don’t want people to feel like I’m the only one who deserves to be on national TV. I want people to know that I’m not the only one doing this shit. It’s a whole army of us.”
We get up and go inside, where a producer is still reviewing tracks on a computer. Chronixx begins freestyling over the beat, and everyone nods along. In a few months, when Barack Obama visits Jamaica, Chronixx will take to Instagram and call the president a garbage man, a “waste man,” for not pardoning Marcus Garvey. Bob Marley’s granddaughter will come to Chronixx’s defense, saying, “Chronixx said ‘waste man’ out of frustration and youthful exuberance.” Her grandfather was once called a “dutty rasta,” she will remind people, and sang of bombing a church. “He also said he shot the sheriff,” she will say, “and we dance and sing along.” At the moment, though, Chronixx is just a 23-year-old kid goofing around with his friends. After a while some of us get into a car and ride along Skyline Drive, and down into Kingston. I can’t shake the feeling, largely alien to those of us who came of age after 2001, that the future looks bright.