In the middle of a global tour you’d expect to feel slightly stressed or tired or at the very least wanting to use every available minute to rest. That might be so for the majority but not for the Jamaican artist, Jamar McNaughton, popularly known as Chronixx – the new poster boy of reggae, whose fans range from Usain Bolt (his Tracks & Records restaurant housed Chronixx’s first live show) through to Mick Jagger (who celebrated his birthday side of stage at Chornixx’s Summerstage Central Park show) and Major Lazer (who curated and released Chronixx’s first mixtape).
McNaughton is remarkably relaxed as I speak to him about the growing popularity of reggae in pop music, his debut album Chronology and even Arsenal’s chances of keeping hold of Alexis Sanchez.
“Things are good, we’ve had a really good tour so far, really good turnouts, the biggest was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, probably because it was a free show.” McNaughton laughs. This sense of humility is apparent throughout our conversation. The rising star of reggae he may be, but this is a man that has his feet firmly on the ground. Finishing up the North American leg of his tour, McNaughton is taking some time out before heading to Japan. “We’ve played big venues, small venues in around 40 different states. I enjoyed Dallas, and Maryland was really good, it’s all been good. There’s a huge east African community there and the African people, they bring the special vibes.”
Reggae is and has always been a popular genre amongst music fans, however that popularity was historically attributed to Bob Marley, whose discography makes up the bulk of top ten reggae charts year in year out. Times are changing however, and a new wave of artists are reclaiming the genre and showing there is more to reggae than the name Marley. McNaughton says: “Everyone is doing well at the moment, a lot of young artists are breaking through, the likes of Protéjé, Kabaka Pyramid, Dre Island and Popcaan. Then Damian Marley is about to release a new album and Queen Ifrica is getting bigger and bigger, it’s all going well right now.”Chronixx is part of a new wave of artists showing there’s more to reggae than the name Marley (Joachim Maquet)
When pressed a little further on who in particular is destined for bigger things McNaughton, whilst laughing, reluctantly concedes (he doesn’t want to pick favourites): “Popcaan has a very bright future, he’s very enigmatic, he pulls people from all around the world, he’s a light spirited person with good energy.”
Perhaps it’s the increased exposure to reggae and “tropical house” we’ve seen infiltrate the charts as of late that has led to this increased popularity; the likes of Justin Bieber, Drake and Calvin Harris have made millions borrowing the sound. McNaughton puts it quite aptly: “It’s weird, pop music feeds off culture, pop music is the popular music at that time. It’s just like fashion, it’s the trend of the moment, at this moment it seems as though reggae is in fashion, (he takes a moment to laugh here) the whole Jamaican thing is a trend.”
McNaughton previously went by the name Little Chronicle before switching to the moniker Chronixx. This was an ode to his father, who was also a musician and went by the name Chronicle. Having a musical influence in his family meant that McNaughton’s own passion for reggae, song-writing and sound was developed and nurtured from an early age. “I’ve always wanted to be a musician, ever since I was a child – whether that’s as a guitarist, a singer, a music engineer, anything, dependent at what stage of my life I was at – but I’ve always wanted to do something in music. I want to create music that makes people happy, that has a good energy.”
The feeling that music transcends to its listeners is always front of mind for McNaughton, and from listening to his work you can tell that his relationship with music and sound is one that is intense, close and somewhat special. “Music brings peoples together; it helps you perceive things that cannot be perceived outside of music. If I wanted to say what I thought about the world, to help people truly feel what I feel, music is a very powerful medium. What people perceive from music is imprinted on their subconscious, listen to a song enough and even your children will subconsciously know it!”
McNaughton is known to use his work to relay his feelings on the likes of social issues and politics. However his latest release, debut LP Chronology, has a more personal touch.“With this album I thought a lot about what I personally wanted to put across. This album didn’t focus on politics; it was more me putting my feelings and emotions on record,” he explains. “That was the whole purpose. Earlier in my journey I did a lot of political stuff and focused on different social issues. This, the album, I’ll leave in the archive of Jamaican history. Only time will tell what message it gets across.”
The 16-track collection brings together songs from his surprisingly storied archive, some songs dating back to 2010. It tells stories of McNaughton’s past, his views on black empowerment, himself and the history of Jamaica; it’s a positive story about him and his life and it works. However, this isn’t something that is taken for granted, and the production of Chronology has uncovered a new understanding in McNaughton’s craft. “Working on this album has made me more humble, it’s given me a greater understanding of the dedication it takes to make work like this,” he tells me. “It made me appreciate the likes of Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley and understand the level of work and what it takes to release music like they did. It made me respect their discipline, humility and patience, so much goes in to [creating an album] to get it right.”
McNaughton continues: “It’s a never-ending journey to get what you want. To produce an album, a good album, requires discipline fused with genius. That’s what Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley had, there were people with better voices than them, perhaps even more talented than them, but they didn’t have the discipline fused with the genius that those guys had. That’s why they stand out.”
This discipline that he so admirably vocalises is apparent in his way of being; even when on a short break from a tour he wants to continue to learn, develop, hone and improve. When asked about what he plans to do next McNaughton says: “I’m lucky in my career that I get to travel. I take every opportunity to travel and see music from around the world, it helps hone what I do, I always make music, I’m always recording on the go, I don’t like the feeling of being distant from my craft. I like to study; I spend a lot of time studying and learning new things – I like looking into the origins of different cultures. I am a student of the world; I’ll always be a student.”
The desire to perfect your craft is an admirable quality to have, it’s even better when that craft is also the thing you are passionate about. But having downtime is also important, and McNaughton’s other passion, much like a former legend of the genre, Bob Marley, is football. “I like football, I always watch it when I can. I’m an Arsenal fan, always go to the Emirates (Stadium) when I’m in the UK.
And he’s not just a plastic fan – he has his opinions on the current squad, his fears during the transfer window and his predictions for the season; “Hector Bellerin and Alexis Sanchez are my two favourite players, they’re both great. I think Sanchez will stay, although he was linked with Bayern Munich and that’s even more of a possibility now with Douglas Costa going to Juventus. We’ve just got a new striker [Alexandre Lacazette] though, that’s what we needed. It’s looking very promising. Let’s see what this season brings.”
This love for football however isn’t purely for the competition and somewhat raw tribalism that is often associated with following a team. It’s the artistry of the sport that McNaughton resonates with. “I enjoy football because it’s another form of art. Winning is a good thing, yes, but that’s just how we’re conditioned – conditioned to only want to win,” he continues. “But to me, the main thing about football is how it brings people together. That’s why I like the South American players, they play rhythmic football, players like Neymar, Suarez, Messi. I of course have appreciation for Ronaldo too – his discipline to maintain a constant level is impressive.”
Alongside music and football, McNaughton has his finger on the cultural pulse of another industry: fashion. If the combination of music, football and fashion is one that is familiar to you, the chances are you are familiar with Adidas Spezial, the brainchild of Gary Aspden. The Spezial collections has gone from strength to strength from season to season with the likes of Stormzy, Liam Gallagher and even Jose Mourinho known to be fans. For the latest collection release, Aspden turned to his good friend Chronixx to help launch the range.
“My friend Gary Aspden is a fan of Jamaican music culture, we’ve always been supportive of each other’s projects. That’s why I got involved in the Spezial collection,” he says. “I met Gary when he brought Ian Brown down to one of my shows at London’s Somerset House. After that I ended up opening for the Stone Roses in Manchester which was incredible. Hopefully Gary and I will be able to work together again soon – be it with food, music, fashion, anything. We’re culture people.”