Chronixx Takes Reggae Back to Its Roots

By Daniel Oberhaus on July 20, 2017

When someone throws on some reggae tunes, it’s nearly impossible to keep yourself from moving to the beat. Although any variant of this Jamaican genre lends itself perfectly to dancing, its style and focus have changed considerably since its emergence in the 1960s. What began as a musical movement that crystallized around Rastafari culture and a focus on social ills—known as roots reggae—soon gave way to a more hedonistic variety of reggae called dancehall in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Today, reggae is experiencing something of a revival thanks to a new generation of artists who are taking the genre back to its roots with socially progressive lyrics and analog instruments. Although the term "reggae revival" is a bit contentious—after all, something needs to die before it can be revived—there is no question that a 24-year old named Jamar McNaughton is at the forefront of the movement.

McNaughton, better known by his stage name Chronixx, began attracting attention in Jamaica in 2012 when he was just 20 years old. The increasing airplay on the island drew the attention of Major Lazer—the musical triumvirate featuring Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire—which earned him a spot on the Start a Fire mixtape put out later that year.

Since then, Chronixx has been unstoppable. He’s toured the world playing in front of huge audiences, performed on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show and won numerous high profile awards for his tunes. Amazingly, Chronixx has managed to accomplish all of this without putting out a full-length record.

This finally changed in 2017 when Chronixx released his long-anticipated debut LP, Chronology, on Soul Circle Music. PRØHBTD caught up with the roots prodigy after he performed a benefit show with U2 to talk reggae, rebellion and records.

Hey man, how was the U2 show?

It was good—they are the perfect mix of human beings and rock stars. The ceremony was to honor Adam Clayton, the bass player in U2, for his contribution to the MusiCares foundation. They help people in the music industry who suffer from addiction and stuff. It was a cool cause, cool people. 

How did that gig come about?

I was talking to Adam last night, and he was saying the way he got introduced to my music was when he came to Jamaica, and Chris Blackwell [the founder of Island Records] showed him my music. So they ended up considering us for the event. 

You’ve already put out several mixtapes, and you just released your debut album, Chronology. How does this record compare to your mixtapes?

[It involved] very in-depth involvement in terms of the great opportunity for me to flourish and showcase my talents as a singer, writer and producer. At the same time I collaborated with a lot of great and talented musicians and engineers. It's my most in-depth and precise work in terms of the fine-tuning. I wouldn't say my most polished work, but this is the most effort and the most people that have been involved in a project I've done. 

How long have you been working on Chronology?

I started working on it in 2010. As far as writing songs is concerned, I started writing these songs five or six years ago when I just started recording music. All the projects I've released since I started doing music all come from the same motivation, the same vision, I had when I just started. It's a very relieving thing to know that you'll soon be able to move on to new things, greater things. It's a great experience. 

You’re often billed as a leader of the reggae revival. What does this movement mean to you?

To me, the reggae revival is a movement of young people practicing the culture and music of Jamaica. That's a very important thing to be a part of. I'm very happy that my life is now being spent creating music that will eventually be involved with Jamaican music, forever. The reggae revival is young people trying to evolve the music in a positive way so that the coming generations can understand where the music is coming from and where it is now. It's a very important work and a very delightful feeling to be a part of something as special as what we're doing now. 

How would you describe the music of the reggae revival? Is it all roots, or is dancehall still a part of it?

All of us love dancehall music, [and] we love hip hop. The words "reggae revival" are not there for people to take too seriously. I personally don't take it too serious as I feel a lot of people imagine it to be. I don’t even think about the reggae revival when I'm making music. I don't feel like I’m reviving reggae music. I feel like I'm evolving the music. This music needs to survive. It’s survival music because our music doesn't really have the great support of any big resourceful institution. Our only resource is the actual people of the world who support reggae music and buy tickets to go to reggae festivals and shows. These people support Jamaican music, not just reggae alone. 

I think a lot of people don’t realize that there’s a ton of other musical styles coming out of Jamaica besides reggae.

Reggae music is Jamaican music, but Jamaican music is not reggae. Reggae music was sensationalized in the media during the ʼ70s and ʼ80s, so a lot of people in the international space tend to miss out on the evolutionary process by which reggae music was born and conceived. I try to use a little bit of patience so I can kind of explain it to people. It’s very important for them to appreciate the different phases and different forms of music that come out of Jamaica. 

Recently, there has been a noticeable Jamaican influence in international pop, though. Drake draws on a lot of dancehall elements, for instance….

In some form, it was always like that. I feel like now a lot the younger people are seeing it for the first time. Drake is at the top of his game right now in terms of his pop music career. Now’s the time when he's performing dancehall music. I think that's kind of a unique thing. I don’t think I've ever seen anyone at the top of the popular music in America have a dancehall song. 

Do you find time to get back to Jamaica often during your busy touring schedule?

I try to get back at the end of every tour as much as I can to connect with family, connect with people, keep my active relationships with my family and the people I'm closest to. I try to go home and nurture those relationships. Keep things real, you know? 

Is the weed in Jamaica really better?

In Jamaica I have a clearer idea of how good the herb is. In America I just have to hope it’s good, you know? In America, you know what strain it is, but you can't tell for sure how they grow it or other things. In Jamaica my friends grow the herb. I know for sure how it’s processed, I know that it's clean and organic and all of these things. The climate and temperature of Jamaica is naturally built for the kind of herb that I like, which is the more sativa-dominant strains. That’s the kind of herb that grows in Jamaica naturally because of the climate and just the energy of the place. 

Main photo by Che Kothari; live shot by Joachim Maquet.

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