If you love reggae and dancehall music, you love Cham. For 3 decades and counting, the Jamaican recording artist has been creating nothing short of hits in the genres of dancehall, reggae, and hip-hop… and he shows no plans of slowing down. A true music-lover if there ever was one, Cham arrives on the scene with his distinguishable voice, meaningful lyrics, and endless good energy.
Exploding onto the scene in the mid-1990’s, Cham not only introduced the masses to the phenomenon of dancehall, which holds true to this day, but made it his sole purpose to spread that love, aesthetic, and culture to the rest of the world. Formerly going under the moniker Baby Cham, the international superstar is best known for collaborations “Ghetto Story” featuring Alicia Keys and Foxy Brown’s “Tables Will Turn,” working with everyone from Sean Paul to Lil’ Kim and Fat Joe.
Most recently, Cham released his critically-acclaimed new single “Lock Down,” produced by 8x Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. The record is a political anthem to uplift and rejoice his people in Jamaica, encompassing what they’ve been going through for the last year and a half amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The visual is just as raw
Flaunt caught up with Cham via Zoom, who was located in Miami surrounded by beautiful weather, good food, and good people. Read below as we discuss what dancehall means to him, the impact of “Lock Down,” friendship with Usain Bolt, shooting the visual in Jamaica, studio essentials, goals, and more!
“Lock Down” finds the dancehall legend in his element, spitting fiery, conscious-rooted lyrics over iconic bass-knocking beats made to uplift and rejoice. Cham encapsulates what life has been like in Jamaica for almost two years in a cinematically emotive way, using the extraordinary natives of Jamaica as leading stars for his genius real & raw storytelling. For Cham, it’s all about bringing voice to the voiceless.
“‘Lock Down’ means everything to me,” Chams says. The song reflects the past year and a half navigating through the covid pandemic. It’s a hopeful song with the vision of a future where this (Covid-19) is over, and we can get together again and celebrate.” “Music has gotten us through these unprecedented times and will continue to remain prevalent.”
What does dancehall mean to you?
Dancehall means everything. Dancehall is the music and the story of my life. Coming out of high school, especially in a country like Jamaica which is a third world country, life can be really hard. Growing up in a home with 4 siblings, everyone attended college. It was hard for mom; she couldn’t afford to send me to college right after high school, so I had to do the next best thing that I knew, which was music. That’s how I got into dancehall and music. From then to now, I kept doing it and doing it.
Coming up as a little kid, did you think you would be here where you are today?
No. [laughs] I thought I would’ve gotten a contract to play overseas soccer because I was really good at soccer. I used to play for the Nationals Under-14, Nationals Under-15. That’s where I thought my bread and butter was, but everyone has their own journey. This was my journey.
Coming up in Jamaica, who were your biggest influences?
For sure Bob Marley was one, Michael Jackson. We used to listen to a lot of Michael Jackson. I tried to emulate his dancing and do all his dancing. Also, my mom for sure. My mom used to do two jobs from 9 to 5, then from 6 to 11. She used to work in a garment factory that sold to Gap at the time in Jamaica. She’s my biggest influence for how she took everything on; we grew up without my dad from the age of 10 to 11. She took that on without anyone else helping her. She kept grinding. My mom was basically married to her kids. I’ve never seen her with a male counterpart ever since my dad passed away. She’s my motivator when it comes down to the work ethic, I know how hard she worked for everything. It’s good to know that we can directly pay her back by a lot.
“Ghetto Story” was a big moment for you. Fondest memories from that record?
I have a few. One of them was performing with Alicia, live on stage. I got to see her do her thing, live on stage. Normally we’re used to her playing with the keyboards and the grand piano, but this is dancehall so she was actually rocking live. That blew me away, we weren’t expecting that. A good moment at the time.
Apart from that, meeting different people all around the world. I met this promoter in Cyprus, he was coming from a genocide in Africa. He rowed away on a boat from Africa to Europe, because a genocide was taking place in his village. He said the song that kept him alive, kept him going, kept him believing was “Ghetto Story.” He was listening to it all the way over, in the ocean, in a boat, all the way over. Now, he has one of the biggest clubs in Cyprus.
I was the first artist he booked for a concert in his club, because that’s the song that kept him and for me. It was a big thing because we’re in Jamaica writing about our experience, singing about our daily life in Jamaica, yet we have other people on the other side of the world that’s facing the same thing. That shows how connected we all are regardless of the distance. We might think we’re going through the worst situation, when the person next door or the person on a property a million miles away are facing the same situations as themselves and I. That shows we’re all connected in some way or another. That’s a beautiful story for me, to know we made music that actually keeps people going during those times.
Fast forward to now, you released “Lock Down.” How are you feeling?
I’m feeling good, the record’s doing great. Myself and Usain Bolt have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. The fastest man in the world transitioning to music at rapid speed time, and he’s very serious about the project. We’ve been working nonstop to get the record out there and getting as much promotion as we can get for this record.
How long have you and Usain known each other?
We’ve known each other since I was a teenager. Entertainment, music and sports have a way of interconnecting. I met him when he was a kid, running in the high school leagues in Jamaica. They took him to Reggae Sumfest to chill and we met from there. We always keep a connection.
He reached out and said that he’s doing this project and he needed a champion. We went to the studio and gave him a champion, and now it’s the biggest song. It’s the most played song right here on the airwaves in Jamaica. Because of what it’s saying, it’s really knocking on the leaders’ doors. Not just Jamaican leaders, but worldly. We’re telling them we understand the situation. We know the virus is very dangerous and deadly, but we need to find some way to get the world back on track, with some form of balance because we’ve been stuck on a treadmill for the last 2 years.
Was it done in the studio, you and him?
We weren’t in the studio together because of the whole pandemic situation and what’s happening in Jamaica. So I was in my studio and we did it over Zoom. It’s was a different vibe. We recorded it, we posted it online and everyone loved it. The whole pandemic had its good and its bad, but we got some good out of it.
What was the highlight in shooting the video in Jamaica?
The highlight to me was how people wanted to be a part of the video. The song speaks out for them. A lot of people wanted to be a part of it, even when the director was telling them “we have to keep the social distancing.” We tried to do it as best as we could but it’s the people’s song. To them, it’s speaking up for them. They wanted to show love by giving us that back with a video shoot.
Why is it important for you to be a voice for the people?
That’s what dancehall and reggae music has always been. Listen to all of the Bob Marley tracks, he’s always spoken up for people. An artist is a mirror of society. Whatever society reflects, we tend to reflect it back with music, melodies and words. As our creative juices flow we take a look at what’s going on and keep the people in mind. We want the people to have fun, but at the same time it’s whatever society needs. They gave us so much to allow us to live the way that we live. In times like these, you have to give back even if you don’t have it monetarily. We give back with our talent, which is music, melody, and words.
3 things you need in the studio at all times?
I need water for sure, that’s one. Majority of the time, I need Guinness. Hot Guinness. Guinness is a dark-colored stout from Ireland, made from molasses and something else, but smooth at the same time. We have to have some form of a vibe, whether it’s some of my female friends coming through and holding a vibe with us. That’s what we need in the studio.
How would you describe your fashion sense?
My fashion sense is wild, whatever. Now I’m rockin’ Liverpool. Liverpool is my team in England. I’m rockin’ Liverpool with my own hat. Tomorrow, you might see me in something with some crazy color. It’s whatever I’m feeling.
Any goals for yourself at this point in your career?
My goal is to always keep on pushing and making good music. With the “Ghetto Story” album, we were nominated for a Grammy but didn’t win. I thought we deserved the Grammy. No one else saw what we saw at the time, doing what we’re doing. For whatever reason we didn’t win the Grammy, so that’s still one of the goals. I have to keep on pushing and see if we can kick that door down
What’s one thing fans may not know about you?
I’m not a person that likes to go out. I like to be home watching some soccer game or track and field. Or in the backyard shucking coconuts, just chillin’.
What can we expect next from you?
We’re grinding nonstop on “Lock Down.” We have a few fires under the belt coming up. We have a few fires in the studio, which we don’t want to disclose. The visuals and the videos are already done for the fans. That’s coming, the fans will have to wait and anticipate. [laughs]