The young Jamaican star explains how he is triumphing over politics, and maybe even God, with beautiful reggae music.
Chronixx wanted to light some incense. In his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, the 24-year-old Jamaican recording artist leading the so-called “reggae revival” was looking to chill and maybe neutralize the botanical stench that came from the steam chalice sitting on his rumpled bed.
It was noon on Tuesday, two days before he was set to begin his U.S. tour to promote his new album, Chronology, and he had just pulled an all-nighter with his managers, Pierre Bost and Brendon “Daddi Barnz” Sharpe, to mix the album and perfect its riddims.
Since Chronixx (Jamar McNaughton) arrived in New York the week before last, he’s had a whirlwind schedule, including an appearance on The Tonight Show with his band, Zinc Fence Redemption. Host Jimmy Fallon has been a Chronixx fan since hearing his music play non-stop while on a vacation to Jamaica in 2014, and Chronixx increased his international renown after his first appearance on Fallon that summer, with his EP Dread & Terrible returning to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard reggae album chart.
Then, Chronixx’s message, writ large that same year with his global hit “Here Comes Trouble,” was to announce a sea change in Jamaican music away from pervasive dancehall and back to roots music, as soulfully created by followers of the Rastafari movement. On his new album, the bold innovation comes in beats and sounds. The songs “Majesty” and “Likes” both have an ’80s slow-jam vibe that gets alchemized into an up-tempo blend of music from Jamrock over the last half-century. The latter song distills the intent by stressing a commitment to authenticity with the tone of someone who has already arrived and doesn’t need recognition: “Mek dem know substance over hype/ Dweet fi di luv mi nuh dweet fi di likes.”
Dressed in black jeans, an Army green shirt, and a cream infinity scarf, he intermittently sipped from a bottle of Evian as his high-stacked dreads wobbled atop his head. His team downstairs was scrambling to order vegan food from UberEATS so Chronixx could maintain his Rasta ital diet while on the road. He finally located a lighter and pulled a pack of goloka nag champa agarbathi from his suitcase, cracked the window, and ignited a stick in a wooden holder. As the incense slowly burned to embers, we spoke about his early fascination with musical experimentation, his Rasta influences, and the state of Jamaican music today in a complex political environment.
Chronixx – Likes (Official Audio) Chronology
What’s the message you’re aiming at in Chronology?
The message is primarily in the sound of it. I always try to remind myself of how powerful the sound of music is — you know what I mean? We’ve gotten to a place, especially in the business of music, where we think that what we’re saying is more important than how it sounds. On this album, people will love a song because of how it feels and not necessarily because of what I’m saying. I spent a lot of time working on the vibe, because as Jamaicans, not a lot of people will identify with our stories. And not because our stories are weird, but because of how we tell stories. People have to first be drawn to our music and our content by the sound, and then eventually say, “Oh, that’s what he’s saying.” I spent a lot of time trying to stay true to how powerful and how magnetic the sound of music is.