Published Jul 06, 2017It's fair to say that with the new album Chronology (out now on Soul Circle/Universal), Chronixx is doing his part to guarantee that the future of reggae music is secure. But the man born Jamar McNaughton tells Exclaim! that despite coming from a strong musical background — his father is veteran reggae singer Chronicle — the 24-year-old doesn't see himself as an ambassador for the genre, but someone who is taking an experimental approach to shaping how reggae is perceived in the new millennium.
"I'm at a point where I can just play the music and grow and learn from it," he says. "To understand a deeper level of musicality: Am I going to just play reggae music, or play a new kind of reggae music? I think this project is experimental in the sense of trying to look into where music is going — it's not something futuristic, but timely."
Indeed, the artist stands at a peculiar junction for the genre, where its tastiest elements have been rebranded and repackaged into global EDM-pop hits by Western artists. And as part of a new guard of roots reggae artists that focus on more socially aware themes of love, anti-war and empowerment — Protoje, Jesse Royal, Jah9 — the genre in his home country is shifting away from dancehall dominance.
Recorded in Brooklyn, London, Chicago and Kingston, the 16-track Chronology is a careful balance of country rock, R&B and pop influences while maintaining a heavy focus on the genre's traditional roots sounds. The artist who is previously best known for his "Smile Jamaica" anthem cites collaborations with France-based EDM duo Picard Brothers, UK drum & bass band Rudimental, and NYC-based Federation Sound on this effort, as helping to create a project rooted in reggae while weaving in international pop and electronic sounds.
1. Collaborations, like with Diplo, were "organic" in nature and part of his mission to be more experimental.
"It was very organic, very organic. I think that is why this stage of my career and musical journey, collaborating with artists has to feel organic at all times. It's not: I have a song and I want you to be on it. It starts with a vibe and I let it lead to things. When I'm with the Picard Brothers, I was there vibing. It's just a natural thing of me bumping into the same bunch of people."
2. Chronixx sees himself as part of a new wave of reggae music artists.
"I just want to play a very important role in the evolution for Jamaican music. It's a very beautiful feeling to be on a journey. It's like you are now just designing your own destiny. I feel that it a very great thing for me as a young 24-year-old musician. I feel very comfortable within the powers of the universe that these things are happening."
3. Chronixx is more concerned with making good music and speaking to his reality than worrying about politics.
"I tell stories and just try to let people know things as an artist. Not be too political — I'm a musician and artist so I just present ideas and energies and sounds to people. People can feel it and talk about it based on who they are. I was trying to tell real life stories and real life situations, whether from my life or just real life that's taking place. That's what I want to show people, real realities. No matter which side you are on, there is a reality. No matter if you are black or white, rich or poor, you can't deny reality and that things are happening. That's what the music is about.
"People aren't going to find everything on Instagram. As a musician, I have to paint the pictures that social media can't paint. Creating pictures that preachers and politicians and leaders can't paint. As musicians we have to do what the politicians and leaders can't do — which is show people the truth in a way that they see it in different eyes. Music is a very honest thing and allows people to access their own honesty and feel how they really feel, not how they are conditioned to feel."
4. In the face of "tropical house" and faux dancehall populating the airwaves, Chronixx doesn't think genre authenticity is being threatened.
"Artists that create reggae music shouldn't need to feel that respect needs to come from external sources. It comes from within ourselves. I have to respect the music to the utmost. I'm not going to apologize or feel that I need to explain anything about the music. To truly understand reggae music, you have to respect it for what it is — reggae is a very long and interesting story of Jamaican music history. From the era of ska to rocksteady to dub, you have different eras and cultures within the music. It's a different style of dance and singing that influences a different style of play. Some people really don't take it for what it is. Some people try to give it a brand and try to market it — and there is nothing wrong with that. But at the end of the day, the music doesn't need marketing."
5. True reggae music will always endure and it's not his job to educate listeners about the genre.
"Not everyone makes music. Not everyone needs to go to Juilliard to learn the history of pop music and the history of jazz. Not everyone needs to know that. Some people are hard working people and just want a nice song to listen to. I don't feel that I need to educate people on the history of Jamaican music. That's for us musicians to know and appreciate. But some people just want good music to listen to at the end of a very long day."