Five Questions with Kabaka Pyramid
Kabaka Pyramid is one of the next generation of players in the reggae narrative dubbed 'reggae revival'. Even if you don’t have your finger on reggae’s pulse, the rhythmical heartbeat that is signature of the sub-genre pervades his music. And, if you’ve followed Kabaka’s journey before his locks touched his shoulders, there’s a good chance you are familiar with his soundscape — where melodies are stacked strategically on top of melodies and there is always a message within a message.
“Most definitely, my music has evolved,” Kabaka tells The Gleaner. “I was very limited vocally at the start of my recording career, and there’s still a lot more to grow, but the melodies, tone and delivery of my music has grown. My writing style evolved too, I am trying to be more conversational and less abstract while doing it in a way everybody can overstand.”
In 2018, Kontraband, Kabaka’s official full-length debut album, a joint release between his independent label Bebble Rock Music and Ghetto Youths International had people tipping him as a sure Grammy contender, not only because the executive producer is multiple Grammy Award-winner Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley, but for its relatability and originality.
He returned home this year from a crazy tour schedule which had him on the road for about five months straight to unwind and then September decided to go to his second home in Florida to stay with his mother. He is currently working on a second album with the Gong. He’s also been making rounds on several tracks like Chronixx’s Same Prayer; Agent Sasco’s Loco Remix, alongside Bounty Killer; Change The World with Bugle and Jesse Royal and Jamaica Wah Gwaan with Zagga.
Kabaka created quite a stir with his update to Michigan and Smiley’s 1979 rub-a-dub classic Nice Up The Dance which he balanced out with another hard-hitting solo, his latest single Tribulation. The song was written collaboration with Grammy-winning songwriter Medisun, and recorded on Young Pow’s juggling rhythm, the Turn It Up 'riddim' and has amassed close to 40,000 views on YouTube since its release last week.
Ever-evolving, the artiste has always been an envoi of 'rebel music' which was actually the title of his debut project in 2010 but now, he’s all grown up, and he has ambitions to be the consummate entertainer and believes that star quality does not only come from talent alone but the ability to empathise, and, “is a strong mind you haffi have fi revolute,” as he sings about rising above in Tribulation.
“We not seeing improvement in the standards of living for poorer communities, that’s the perspective. I am always looking into business opportunities, like the stock market, to see what we can get outta fi dem system so we can funnel back money into the communities that need it and development,” Kabaka expressed. In between recording, making beats and brushing up on his Spanish, Kabaka took a moment to answer five questions in Five Questions With.
1. Having dabbled in hip-hop and R&B, do you have any dreams of creating music with any artiste in those genres?
Hip-hop is always a thing weh me love, and I’ve had the opportunity to do songs with Raekwon (a member of the Wu-Tang Clan) and several other rappers over the years. There are hip-hop songs or songs on hip-hop beats even on my album. I always try to represent that side of my creativity, but quite a few people out deh me woulda love fi work wid still. On the R&B side, I really like Jorja Smith and H.E.R., them is two female artistes weh me really rate, and me know people close to J Cole, so me ah try organise sup’m. You know, every time me get this question my mind goes blank, and then next week me ah guh seh why me never mention dah artiste yah. I plan to do a full project at some point inna my career that will have a strong hip-hop base, always with elements of reggae, probably some sample ting and ting.
2. As an artiste who has embraced the mixtape culture, do you believe that the art is dying or is it re-emerging? Should recording artistes consider collaborating more with disc jockeys doing mixtapes, outside of creating an EP or album?
I am actually working on a mixtape right now, and I firmly believe it is a good way, especially if there’s a collection of songs you want to get out, but the time is not right to release a full album. That helps to keep up with fans and the momentum. EPs are good, too, when working with one or two producers and in going for a particular sound within a shortlist of say, five songs. An album, for me, is definitely when your career reach somewhere, with a good fanbase that you can service with a good project; yeah, that’s when yuh fi drop an album. I don’t feel persons should drop albums too early in them career, when them don’t have the platform. EPs are best to build the buzz around your name.
3. You mentioned on social media your recording of approximately 100 songs within the past year. How many of those have you released to date?
Well, for 2020 alone, about 50 songs have been released between myself and the other persons I worked with; taking into account labels and doing features, I would say about 15 to 20 of them are out on the airwaves. A lot of them are collaborations, and we do these to give people a strength and where you feel like you can benefit from the exposure to a different set of fans. I feel like the way people are consuming music nowadays and the way the digital streaming platforms [are] growing, it is definitely about momentum. I don’t feel like it is the age where you can focus on one song for two years unless, obviously, if a song blow up and its streaming maximises to hundreds of millions of plays, then an artiste can afford to kick back and gwaan push dah song deh to get the most out of it. But within the normal cycle of songs, music is being consumed fast; you find people not listening to one song for more than six months. And you’re not the only artiste putting out songs.
4. ‘ Nice Up The Dance’ was a refreshing take on what life after the pandemic with look like. Tell us, how does Kabaka Pyramid plan to nice up the dance at home when the doors are reopened for the entertainment industry?
I mean, Nice Up The Dance has been a great refreshing song for me, too. People know me for the deep, the conscious lyrics and the messages of fighting the system, so to hear a song like that from me, bringing back a classic within reggae and dancehall music and my take on it, is different and invigorating. I definitely look forward to sharing that vibe with people on the road, and it is a song that I have freestyled within my set on tour, which is one of the reasons I wanted to record it officially. But yeah, a whole heap a options; I could definitely keep an event with that name, fi highlight an event around the success of the song.
5. Speaking of parties, what types does Kabaka Pyramid enjoy? What’s your idea of a nice time at a party?
Party-wise, I like a little variety, still. I would touch the street dance dem every now and then, do some promotion and hol’ a vibe with the people in the streets because your listeners have to see you, and want to see you. So, more time we have to touch the streets in some dance and show we face. For the most part, live shows to mi ting! Like the Dubwise and Dub School. Those events are where I get a variety of music, some culture, some roots; we like fi deh a dem ting deh with we circle. Every now and then, I will touch an all-inclusive party and kinda get the nostalgia from when we did young and inna school, because more time yuh guh dem party and yuh see yuh bredrin dem from schooldays, so I like to do that, too.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story referred to Kontraband by Kabaka Pyramid as Grammy-nominated. While the album was tipped to be a Grammy contender, a reference made in the full version of the article, it was not nominated.