Jamaican music is in the midst of a modern renaissance, and Jesse Royal is one of its brightest new stars. Royal came up under the late, great producer Fatis Burrell and then got a major boost with 2014's Major Lazer's Walshy Fire Presents: Jesse Royal—Royally Speaking. With several singles and tens of millions of YouTube views to his name, Royal made his official debut in October 2017 with Lily of da Valley, a 14-track album released by Easy Star Records that channels the reggae greats via a more contemporary sound and style.
You released several singles in the past few years, but Lily of da Valley is your first official album. What does the album says about your range as an artist that's more difficult to convey in a single?
The album is the perfect opportunity to develop confidence in our creativity and introduce the world to the variety of songs that play in our minds all the time. A full-length project lets me have you for an hour and gives me the chance to introduce my perspective of music. I'm truly grateful to be able to present new material in such a pleasant manner, you dig?
For sure. "Always Be Around" was the first single. What made it the right choice to introduce the new album?
It sets the tone sonically. We used a couple different sounds while maintaining the reggae backbone, and it says we're young, we're fresh, and we're hearing and seeing different things. From a message perspective, the song shows my willingness to stick around. We come from a community where the conversation is always about the male figure running away, but the reality is that there are so many more men who stick around. It's a little song for my daughter to remove that [stigma]. No matter what is going on in this world, there is always somebody who's going be around.
"Generation" is the current single. What do you hope to communicate with this song?
The song is that vibration where we feel this is the generation of change in more ways than one. We need to start putting people over money and love over hate and peace over war, and it's starting now, you dig? We're trying to change the train of thought, the mentality, the approach to the fight, what we're fighting for and the angle that you're going to take in this battle. The outcome is a better world. It's easy to say you want a better world, but there are a lot more intricacies to really manifest this vision.
Stephen Marley's son is on the track.
Yeah man, Jo Mersa [Marley]. We're all childhood friends. Ziggy Marley's first son, Daniel Bambaata, who is also a very brilliant musician, is a very good friend. He's like my brother from another mother. We've been friends since 10 years old, and we've been making music together since we were 14, 15 years old. Jo Mersa was a little cousin, so we were all in each other's space, energy, vibration. We are making music together and vibing so it was just natural. For this particular song and the flow pattern, we knew Jo would deliver.
Songs like "Modern Day Judas" are older. Even though the songs were written over years, did you find that certain themes connected them all together?
Yeah, man. A lot of these songs honestly came within a year and a half. Most everything is fresh material where some of it wasn't even written on paper. Organic vibrations brought the creations forward. The theme of the project took on its own life and decided the direction. I don't think we made some songs and then tried to put it together and name it. From inception, the direction was Lily of da Valley.
The song "Finally" tackles herb. What was the most important aspect of cannabis culture that you wanted to get across?
First of all, there are so many benefits to this plant. We as a people entertain and investigate every plant and living material on this Earth. The fact that this plant is being hindered for whatever reason is very sad. When we said "Finally," it's like saying," Finally we can start moving in a different light." Smoking herb is one thing, but we feel marijuana itself is so much greater than we ourselves have any idea about. We have to start more research, and we really have to start living with marijuana as something normal to explore its benefits. We come from a place in Jamaica where we know the benefits. A Rastaman could tell you about the benefits of marijuana from a long time ago.
We also live in a system where those who are independent aren't really sovereign. A lot of "our" decisions weren't really being made by our people. If the decisions were being made by our people, we would be utilizing our resources. Where we have oil, [the government] ensures we get it together in a manner where it can provide oil to the world. We have culture, we have music, we have art, we have science—all of these people utilize—but we haven't been able to explore the real depths of this beautiful plant. When we say "Finally," everybody in Jamaica could relate because everybody uses herb. Some grandmothers use herb, not only for smoking, but for baking, for steaming, for rubbing, for certain medicines since a long time ago. When we say "Finally," it was like taking a monkey off our back, like finally we are doing something and moving in a direction determined by us.
In 2015, Jamaica decriminalized cannabis. Has it made a difference, or are the police still cracking down on smokers?
It's made a huge difference because a lot of these officers themselves smoke marijuana, but then you put them in a position where they have to enforce the law and behave in a manner that is appropriate to their commander. This sets up people to abuse power. Definitely, the decriminalization of the herb has been a very progressive step for Jamaica, and it gives the police more time to focus on the real crimes affecting us in these times.
For those who only smoke for medical or recreational reasons, how would you describe herb as a spiritual sacrament?
Well, I feel like you can't really describe it, but it definitely takes you to a place of peace. Some way, somehow, it allows you to step through a door that was always there, but because the world is so busy around you, you don't get the chance to see the door. Also, that door has to come with consciousness because it's not just smoking the herb. The level of consciousness helps determine what kind of door you see in front of you. From a spiritual perspective, the herb simply allows people to open certain doors by closing other doors.
Is there a particular setting that helps a person tap into the spiritual side of cannabis more effectively?
You definitely need a quiet place because it's not about looking out, it's about looking in, and meditation is a key part to heighten that vibration and kickstart the spiritual experience. You can be extremely spiritual without herb, but herb simply gives your mind a chance to silence the noise around you so you can hear yourself and see yourself and be yourself. Spirituality is simply getting that connection with the spirit. It's not something outside of you. The spirit is already there.
Your family, and your grandmother in particular, was involved in the Baptist church. Do you think herb and Christianity are compatible?
They're very, very compatible. Even the scripture itself—the same scriptures people read that tell them about Christ—say, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah" [in Genesis 49:10]. The same scriptures show that Haile Selassie I, the rightful ruler of Earth, is the same in Genesis 1:29 that tells us about the herbs provided for the healing of the nation. The compatibility of Christianity and herb is oneness, and if we understand and truly believe in a creator, we would understand that the creator has never created anything that is unholy, for a lack of a better term. Now things can be used for good and things can be used for bad, but everything the creator creates is perfect. It's the same creator that created you and me, that created the mango and the coconut, and if all of these things are perfect, the same with herb.
A lot of Christians who condemn cannabis quote a verse from Psalms that says we should be of sober mind. Do you think you can smoke and be of sober mind at the same time?
Yes you can. If you drink too much water and eat too much food, you can get sick. Anything that is done outside a manageable proportion can definitely be harmful. We will never doubt that, but the only harm that marijuana can really do is put you to sleep and make you eat more food. When the scripture says "sober mind," I don't disagree because you need to be thinking clearly, but there are also times where you need to think outside of the box because the world is filled with problems that desperately need solutions.
Clinical research is currently exploring the medical benefits of cannabis. Personally, how have you seen cannabis help people?
I'm simply watching the research unfold in front of my eyes, but I see the benefits it has for cancer patients. We've known about the benefits for glaucoma before, and we hear about the benefits in opening people's appetite, but we simply have not been researching long enough to even begin to understand the depth of these plants.
I get the pleasure of living in a place called Jamaica where you can still find a leaf that's better for your stomach ache than any prescription pill you can get in the pharmacy. We understand that nature is still greater than we understand, and these are little plants and leaves that we walk past every day: sarsaparilla, eucalyptus, aloe vera. We have aloe vera by the ton load in our front yard. In Jamaica you drink aloe vera every now and then to purge your system. As we say, it's not just things they put in supermarkets and put labels on and put prices on because you still can drink tea from our backyard. We don't have to go to the supermarket to get tea.
Do you have any personal preferences in terms of strains or between sativa and indica?
Indica puts you right. We love the indica, and in terms of strains, I like God's Gift and Master Kush.
You were born on the same date as your mother. How did that work on birthdays?
Well, we shower her with love, and she showers us with love, and we need nothing more than that. For me, it's a rare and special thing to be one of the few who can say they truly were their mother's gift on her birthday. I feel honored, and only the universe could align such things. When we try to tell people of the greatness that is to come, they can't fully understand because they can't see. But from my inception, the universe has been pumped for my success. Just watch the ride.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photo credits: Rugged Youth, YouTube and Twitter.