Jamaica has long been known for its rich and diverse musical traditions, but no style of Jamaican music has attracted as much attention as reggae. The genre has evolved significantly since Bob Marley began to slow his rhythms down in the ʼ60s, and at the cutting edge of today’s reggae movement is Hempress Sativa. The self-proclaimed Queen of Cannabis hails from Kingston, the capital of Jamaica and the city that came to shape her unique approach to reggae music.
Although she’s been making music for years, Hempress Sativa just released her first full-length album, Unconquerebel, earlier this year. PRØHBTD caught up with the Unconquerable Lioness to talk rasta and cannabis before she departed for a major European tour.
How did you get started in music?
My musical background begins with my father. He was a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel Organization, and that's where my love for music began. Just watching how he would operate and the type of songs he played. That's where I really began to unconditionally love music. Naturally, when I was going up, dancing came easier for me. It was after he started giving us the mic and saying sing a song. I watched my sisters rehearse songs and perform those on stage. That's where it all began.
How does cannabis influence your music?
I'm a rasta woman, and we look to marijuana as a holy sacrament that’s supposed to bring its user to a higher state of consciousness. Plus, your body already has certain cannabinoid systems that support the cannabis. So for me it was only natural. I love marijuana, and I really see how the negative connotation that you associate with hemp, cannabis [is based in falsehood]. For me it's really important to speak truth, and I have the platform of music, so what better place to speak truth than through music. That is why I keep speaking about herbs and the blessing it gives to the human race. It's the healing of the nations. It's imperative to speak on these qualities.
Do you think the U.S. will ever legalize cannabis?
I think it will, but I think there's a whole system as to why they don't want to fully legalize it. I'm not necessarily for the legalization, I'm more for the decriminalization. When it's legalized, governments often times tend to regulate all of the cannabis industry, what you can and can't do. I'm more for the decriminalization. In Jamaica right now, it's decriminalized, but the farmers who have been incarcerated don't benefit much. It's only those who are able to buy a license, which is probably like $500,000. It's a joke. In America, I'm for the decriminalization and looking at the medicinal benefits of marijuana because it is scientifically evident that it helps epilepsy, certain cancers and other ailments we don't need pharmaceutical drugs for.
How does rasta influence your music?
Rasta livity is very important to me because I can separate it from spirituality. We have an ital diet, and we push the message of peace and love, overall equal rights and justice. We defend the liberation of black people worldwide. I keep speaking about these things because, as time passes, I realize that people will put their own meaning to what rasta is.
You list Haile Selassie [the emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974] as one of your main influences. How do you try to apply his ideas today?
To me he is the most high, the imperial majesty, the representation of the perfect Christ in flesh. For me to look up to him is to live a life that is awesome. It is for me to live a life that is right. That is why we keep speaking about his imperial majesty, to make it familiar. Sure we speak about his teaching, but it's always important for the ones to read for themselves and to even further this research and to find truth for themselves. I can't tell you everything about how his imperial majesty affected my life and how he's influenced me. You might not understand until you actually seek the truth for yourself.
Your music can be quite political. Do people ever get upset about your message?
A lot of people think we're here to further the race war. We're not here for that—we're here to end it. So when we speak of inequality, it's not us perpetuating it further. It's for us to teach that it's not okay to sweep it under the rug and to pretend like it doesn't exist.
We're speaking about issues that affect everyone, not only black people. Even though I'm pro-black, it doesn't mean that I'm anti-white. It doesn't mean that I can't have compassion for a white person. It simply means I see where the black race has been diminished and how we've been targeted and how we've been taught to think of ourselves as underlings, as lesser beings. It's important to me to teach the generation after me the fullest of what is happening.
We're not here to retaliate, we're here to make it better by teaching. With knowledge. We see how in America black people are being murdered by the police. It's okay to speak on the issues, and the only person that should be offended are those who are racist, not those who are here to make change. You should listen to a person tell their story and their experience, you shouldn't be fighting them on it. They're victims already, you don't need to make it any worse. That's what I see happening especially for the black race. You can't speak on any issue without being asked, "Why you gotta play the race card?" It's like you're being told not to speak about what is happening. That's why I have to be a voice and will always be a voice.
Do you think there is a reggae revival going on right now?
I don't think there is a reggae revival going on. I don't think about things like time in a cycle and it just resurfaces. What the youth are saying right now is much different than what their elders were saying.
You just put out your first full-length album earlier this year. What was the process like?
It's always difficult. You're compiling a body of work to put out there for everyone to judge and criticize. It's not just as easy as recording and going to mix a song. But to put it out there and see the love and reception that it's gotten has been awesome.