The title is not a statement about Chronixx. It is a statement to Chronixx.
Few have been placed in the position he finds himself in right now. Even fewer have faced such impossible odds, such lofty expectations, and the level of hype placed on the artist by friends, fans, and some irresponsible reporters in the Jamaican press, which has become a well-oiled Chronixx hype machine.
Although hype has been building around Chronixx (born Jamar McNaughton) for several years, it hit Ini Kamoze level last summer in New York City when legendary Channel One canary Barrington Levy crowned him king on-stage in front of a sell-out crowd at S.O.B.’s. Chronixx had arrived. The ensuing vocal volley between the two gifted singers set the place on fire, as it was clearly evident to everyone in attendance that the young artist could not only keep up with the veteran performer, but looked as if he was right at home in front of a tuff, foreign crowd.
Like Kamoze did in ’81-’83, Chronixx has made a name for himself by releasing a steady string of exceptional singles and performing throughout his native Jamaica to any crowd that will gather. Whether on the street corner, the Kingston night club circuit, or at the world reggae stages in Melkweg, London, and Wuppertal, Chronixx and the ever-steady Zinc Fence Redemption are bringing a new fire to conscious roots music the likes of which we have not seen since Kamoze hit the stage at Sunsplash ’84 in Jamaica and again at Sunsplash ’85 in London. As with Kamoze, Chronixx is an electric performer with a commanding, almost ferocious stage presence and an uncanny ability to connect with his audience during live performances.
In 1984, Kamoze released his self-titled debut album, a six-track EP produced by Sly and Robbie, mainly comprised of his successfull vinyl singles. Thirty years later, on April 1, 2014, Chronixx released his debut titled Dread & Terrible, an album which draws mainly from his string of successful singles – seven tracks plus three dub versions. It is a formula that has been used by many of reggae’s finest artists including Black Uhuru, Barrington Levy, Eek-A-Mouse, and many more.
For Kamoze the flame was short-lived, extinguished when he alienated the mighty “Riddim Twinz” in ’86 and by 1988 the fickle reggae massive had moved on, most embracing the pre-packaged, manufactured sound of dancehall. Hopes are high for Chronixx, as his style and sound embody more pop elements, making his brand of reggae more radio-friendly than the heavier vibes that were characteristic of Kamoze. There are other stark differences as well. While Kamoze possessed the talent and drive, it took the help and guidance of a respected radio broadcaster and buy-in from the greatest rhythm section since the Barrett brothers to jump start his career. Chronixx on the other hand has worked hard for many years to hone his talent and develop his voice, emerging as part of a larger movement by other like-minded artists to reclaim and reform the music they were raised on. In short order, he has become the defacto name and face of the ‘reggae revival.’
While Dread & Terrible is as strong a debut for Chronixx as one would expect based on the quality of his popular singles, it fails to make the definitive statement that many reggae fans and followers were hoping for from the promising singer. It is an unspoken, almost subconscious statement made by the music. One that says “from this point forward the sound and vibe of reggae will not be the same.” It is a statement that forces other artists into backstage bathrooms before shows to take a long, hard look into the mirror. “This sound is a new sound, a unique sound. This sound is the top ranking sound.”
It is a statement that has been made by the most promising artists to ever emerge in reggae: The Wailers made it with Catch A Fire, Black Uhuru with Showcase, Barrington Levy with Englishman, Yellowman with Mister Yellowman, Ziggy Marley with Conscious Party, Shaggy with Pure Pleasure, Midnite with Unpolished, Damian Marley with Halfway Tree.
Don’t get me wrong, Dread & Terrible is an exceptional debut for Chronixx and one that places him among, if not atop, the elite in his game. While some have compared his voice to that of Hugh Mundell, or even I-Wayne, in my opinion there is no apt comparison with any reggae artist I’m familiar with. His voice is refreshing and unique, and one that is easily distinguishable from every other artist in the game. His DIY attitude and ‘backpacker’ swagger and style is reminiscent of the Native Tongues movement which emerged on the east coast of the US in the late ’80s, a direct response to the negativity and hopelessness that had taken over hip-hop. Not to mention his mature yet charismatic personality and obvious intellect, all of which will serve him well on the world stage.
Like very few who came before him, Chronixx possesses all the gifts that could make him the next global voice of reggae, however, he must overcome the near-impossible odds, hype, praise and lofty expectations placed upon him by everyone around him, including his fans, the Jamaican press, and his contemporaries in the business. His star will continue to soar, and he could be the chosen one – that rare transitional figure who can appeal to both the deepest dub heads and the average pop music fan. But he must be willing to learn from the hard lessons of those who came before him. Those who dared believe their own hype. Those who filled themselves with the praise of others, only to lose the passion and hunger they once had. Yes, the streets are littered with the bodies of the most promising Jamaican music artists who refused to shadowbox with destiny.
So for all of the goodwill wished this talented young man, for all the forum fanatics who have already declared his greatness, for all in the reggae music press who long for another dreadlocked savior to rescue our beloved reggae music, perhaps it’s time to level the vibes and reduce the rhetoric.
Like many who came before him, Jamar McNaughton is just a kid with a voice and a dream who needs space and time to realize his full potential. Let’s not cripple him at the starting line.
I was planning to write a review of the Dread & Terrible EP, however, my friend Angus Taylor already penned a great one so read it here.