You recently released your long-awaited debut ‘Tropics Vol.1’, how has the reaction been so far and how does it feel to have your first project out?
Honestly, it feels kind of surreal. It’s been years of actually wanting to put out a body of work but I’ve always wanted the right timing and for it to be a full body of work that I’m actually proud of. I didn’t want any filler tracks or putting something in there that didn’t need to be there, which is why the project is so short because I really wanted to put my best foot forward.
Last year was a crazy year for everybody, so a lot of plans got switched and things change but just the fact that I was able to put something out before the end of the year in the way that I wanted to is great and the reception has been great and people seem to be loving it and people are diving into the whole project and not just the singles.
How was the process of creating this project?
It was a little bit strange, just because there are things that I wish I could have done but at the same time it’s not too far from home because a lot of things are done virtually, anyway.
A lot of the collaborations I had done beforehand. I think the biggest part of it was more the switch in terms of how we released it because we planned to release it while I was on tour. So, it was like ‘Ok, we don’t have that anymore’ and then just figuring out the other content we could do and how we were going to market this and get this video done, stuff like that.
What were the initial inspirations and main themes you wanted to explore within the album?
So, I think my main goal was to give people a full understanding of who I am, as an artist. When my music is on a project you can listen through and understand the different variations and the main roots of the style. If you might have heard one of those songs on their own, it might have been confusing for you.
‘Pine and Ginger’ was my first big single and that was one lane and then ‘I Learnt Some Jazz Today’ was my next big single and that was a completely different theme. So, I really wanted to bridge the gap with that. Even creating the project, it wasn’t a project that was created in terms of ‘I’m doing a project and I’m making songs for this project’, it was more like a project that was compiled of work. It was like, I have these songs, so let’s pick my favourite and put them together in a way that can make sense.
It’s more like an EP than an album. When I do my first album, I definitely want to do a story from beginning to end but for this I just wanted a showcase to give to people so they can be like ‘Ok, I get this guy’.
"... it’s hard to be inauthentic because I’m just being genuine with what I love and what I want to create ..."
As a project that takes on a range of sounds, how do you go about maintaining your authenticity within a range of genres?
I think it more so comes from the mentality behind it. So I know that in myself, that anytime I’m exploring an inspiration or a different style that’s not necessarily native to me, it’s coming from a place of genuine love of that sound and culture. For example, in the song with Protoje - it’s a very Cuban-Latin influenced song and I’m giving full credit to that. I’m giving props to that culture, I’m not trying to claim it as my own and acknowledging that I’m diving into this.
So, just from that mindset, it’s hard to be inauthentic because I’m just being genuine with what I love and what I want to create, it doesn’t have anything to do with what’s popping, it’s just about the music. I think people can feel that whereas when people are trying to jump on a wave for popularity or commercial success it’s very apparent.
How does being an instrumentalist aid you as a writer and allow you to execute ideas as close as possible to your vision?
I’m not like a master instrumentalist - I’m definitely a jack of all trades when it comes to instruments, which I’m cool with. I think, honestly, because I’m around so many people and have been around so many people who are master’s of their craft, I haven’t even considered myself that good at instruments. It was actually more in recent years (because I’ve been playing instruments since I was like five years old) those foundational elements of understanding music and understanding it on a basic level and being able to communicate with it has improved my production in a really strong way.
I have my band and most of the things that are on my tracks, I will compose the basic level of it and have them play it out better. Even that has allowed me the ability to communicate, so I definitely think that’s been … not pun intended, instrumental.
How important is it for you to bring together both live instrumentation with experimental production?
I think the two different sides of my musical journey have come together to become what it is now. I started playing instruments when I was younger and that was all that I knew, in regards to music - I didn’t compose, I just played in little bands and orchestra type things. Then when I was in my mid-teens, I picked up production but I was doing more electronic stuff and things were very dubstep and house inspired, so that’s where that experimental production comes from. I entered production from the more instrumental side of it so then, eventually, I think so two influences merged as I developed. so it still has that experimental nature with the production but then it collided with this very acoustic, old-school, raw instrument sound.
"I feel like nowadays music is so much more than just music and the visuals are an essential part to the overall art form, right?"
I was super dope to have them. I’m a massive fan of both of their music, it’s always a pleasure to have someone you’re a fan of and especially when they’re the homies as well - it makes it even better.
They came about in a very different ways. Protoje, has been a supporter for many years - even before I was singing and just producing. He supports a lot of people in the Jamaican industry. The verse that he wrote for ‘Sweeter’ is actually a verse he wrote for another song from like three years ago that ended up getting scrapped. It ended up coming about again so we just re-recorded, so that was cool.
For Crayon, it was actually the opposite. I made ‘No Ansa’ when I was in London in 2019, in Notting Hill time. I knew I needed a Nigerian artist on this but I didn’t know who. Then in 2020, right before the song came out I got a connection to Mavin Records and they ended up connecting me with Crayon like ‘this guy is super dope, if you want to do something’, so I sent the song over and he loved it and then it was just a couple of days and he sent it over and that was that.
I think they're two people that are doing, in their own regards, some very interesting things - it’s dope to be able to have them feature on my project at the same time.
How important was the release of ‘Pine and Ginger’ to your breakout and how did that track come about?
I definitely think it was the most important song in my career, thus far. It definitely launched a platform for me and changed me from being somebody who was doing music and trying to get into the industry to actually allowing me to provide for myself off of music full-time. It was a big change and a turning point. That song was a very interesting experience, it was almost a completely digital thing, just like the Crayon one, where it was through the internet and sending things back and forth. So, yeah very internet, grassroots vibes which is how a lot of things come about these days - we can make things anywhere in the world.
"I’m kind of selective about who I collaborate with ... I really want to collaborate with people who I can call friends, genuinely ... It’s kind of like a sacred thing ..."
That was crazy, too. Naturally, Popcaan and Kranium are heavyweights in the Jamaican dancehall industry. They don’t even do features for that many people but I think it was just the music, they really liked it. We pushed it to them and they said ‘yeah, let’s do it' ... the fact that I can say that I have a song with both of them on it, is kind of wild.
How important do you find collaboration is for musical growth?
I think collaboration is amazing and it’s one of the most amazing things when it can be done in the right way. I’m kind of selective about who I collaborate with because for me, I really want to collaborate with people who I can call friends, genuinely, and whose company I enjoy. It’s kind of like a sacred thing, so there’s a lot of people whose music I really love and I admire them from a distance but just because of their energy, I can’t get along with them to collaborate. I even have friends who are genuine friends but on a collaboration ting, it doesn’t work. So, when there's people who you can share something with and you can vibe on a creative level and flow, it’s crazy.
So, Jesse the co-director is a good bredrin - this is now the fourth video I’ve worked on with him. He’s a super cool person and he’s always down to help me execute the vision that I want to and at the same time keep it as a 50/50, it’s never one person or the other person. Also, this is the first video since ‘Pine and Ginger’ that I’ve shot in Jamaica and I had full creative control. We shot in some spots that were close to home for me and also I had my friends in the video that I’ve literally known since I was three or four years old - it was dope to get that authentic energy in the video.
How important are visuals to your music?
In general, visuals are very important to me. I feel like nowadays music is so much more than just music and the visuals are an essential part to the overall art form, right? A visual can change somebody's perception of the music and how it’s interpreted and people can see you or the culture associated with it, so I think for me, I try to put just as much effort into the visuals as I do into the music itself because you can have the most amazing song but if it has a very lackluster visual, it can almost water down the song.
What’s been your favourite visual to make, so far?
I think that’s one of my favourites, so far [‘Tropics’]. It was really fun and also a lot of confusion and making things work. We were like we have this budget and we want to make this happen, realistically, we needed double the budget to make it happen. But, because we were in Jamaica - it’s my place and I know how to finesse things. For instance, we shot the Jetski shot but we needed a boat to put the camera on - so, I called up some bredrins and they had a boat ready for us to use, they didn’t charge anything whereas in LA … all of the budget would’ve been gone on the boat. One of my best friends did the art direction for it, my cousin actually produced the video, so it was a really nice experience.
Being from Kingston and being based in LA, who are some local artists you would recommend to your listeners?
There’s a lot of good things going on down here. So, I would say Lila Ike, Sevana, PRG Kid … yeah there’s so many people coming out of Jamaica, if you search those people, you’ll start to find everyone as we all collaborate with each other. It’s definitely very tight-knit as it’s smaller and everyone kind of knows each other but those people are the homies. Everybody is aware of each other and supports each other, which is really amazing.
LA has a lot of people who are in LA but aren’t really LA artists. Ralph Castelli, he’s actually from Alaska but he’s based in LA right now.
Sonn, he’s a really dope, experimental artist like lo-fi vibes, he’s actually from the UK but he’s in between the two places.
One of my favourite artists of last year was Dominic Fike, he’s from Florida but he’s in LA.
I listen to a lot of indie-rock at the moment, when I’m not listening to Jamaican or African things. Honestly, I think it’s because the instrumentation kind of sits with me, more than certain other things.
Which artists first inspired you to get into music and who is inspiring you today?
The people that inspired me to get into music on a creation level are more electronic artists. So, Major Lazer are the biggest one, Martin Garrix, Loudpvck, those were some of the inspirations at the time because when I got into music as a creator, I really wanted to be a DJ.
Nowadays, the list is crazy because so many people are inspiring me in different respects. So, for example Mura Masa is a big inspiration to me because of his production style. The way he manages to do things that are very out of the box and still have those Pop and commercial sounds without being corny is brilliant.
People like Jacob Collier, when it comes to raw composition, raw musical talent and just being good at instruments, he’s on a whole other level.
Smino, he’s probably my favourite rapper when it comes to flow and doing different things. How many times can a person do something but still have it in their unique style, yet each one is different from the other? So, he’s just a master of having his own pocket.
I’m inspired by James Blake, he’s super fire, when it comes to the midpoint between raw composition, commercial music and R&B, that’s a vibe.
Tobi Lou, when it comes to being consistent and creating a world for your music to live within between songs and albums, that kind of thing.
There’s so many new artists from Jazz and Bossa Nova, I'm inspired from all over.
If you guys had to recommend five artists to your listeners, who would they be?
Stevie Wonder - naturally. Jacob Collier. Rema, he is vibing. J Hus - ‘Big Conspiracy’ was the album of 2020, for me. Then, one more … it’s difficult, maybe Anderson .Paak - I think he has a very unique kind of sound.
What’s coming up for the rest of 2021?
I definitely have some more visuals for the project that I’ll be dropping. Some virtual performances too, I’ll be performing for Jamaica Jazz and Blues and a couple of secret ones I can’t announce. Hopefully, later in the year there’ll be some real performances, but we’ll see how that goes. Definitely there will be some more music towards the middle of the year because there’s a lot more coming out and I’m doing some production and collaborations with other artists in Jamaica and internationally - just more of what you’ve seen already.