SOJA and the American Reggae Movement

by Patricia Meschino
BILLBOARD

“I wanted to be Bob Marley since the first time I saw a picture of him and I still do; what I mean by that is conscious music needs to have a spotlight on it and he did that bigger than anyone who ever lived,” explained Jacob Hemphill, lead singer/songwriter of the Washington D.C. based American reggae band SOJA, in a late July interview with Billboard following their performance at Manhattan’s Pier 97, as part of the Michael Franti/Spearhead led Soulshine tour.

“I’m not mad that all I hear on the radio are songs about strippers and planes to Ibiza,” Hemphill added, “I just want conscious music to have a place at the table, too.”

If contemporary reggae with a forthright social conscience has a chance of impacting mainstream radio, SOJA is likely the band to accomplish that feat. On August 12th, the eight-piece outfit released their sixth album, Amid The Noise and Haste (ATO Records), and scored their highest chart debut position to date, No. 20 on the Billboard 200, selling 12,213 copies according to Nielsen Soundscan, slightly less than debut week sales for their 2012 set Strength to Survive. Like its predecessor, Amid The Noise and Haste premiered at No. 1 on the Reggae Albums chart. Hemphill’s impassioned delivery of topical lyrics include a compelling rebuke of the American system’s negligence towards soldiers returning home from war (“Promises and Pills” featuring Alfred The MC of the DC go-go group Mambo Sauce), supported by the band’s multilayered sonic montage, firmly anchored in reggae’s drum-and-bass-driven pulse. The subtly polished enhancements courtesy of Jamaica born producer Dwayne ‘Supa Dups’ Chin-Quee (whose credits includes Bruno Mars and Rihanna) facilitates the band’s broader aspirations.

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