Throughout his nearly decade-long recording career, which accelerated into high gear in 2010, Jamaican sing-jay I-Octane has amassed a hit-filled catalog rife with vigorous dancehall anthems recorded on the latest digitized rhythms, as well as some of contemporary roots reggae’s most heartfelt observations reflecting the cries of the sufferers. It is his command of both expressions that has rendered the 29-year-old artist, born Byoime Muir, a consistent hit maker.
“It is like a balanced equation,” I-Octane said in a recent interview with Billboard in Kingston, Jamaica. “People that follow I-Octane embrace my reggae and dancehall songs, so I am trying to master both sides and want people to accept me as a balancer in reggae music.”
Putting aside his animated dancehall bashment identity, I-Octane was instead celebrated as a thoughtful reggae troubadour by a capacity crowd at the March 6 release party for his sophomore album “My Journey” (Tads Record), held at Kingston’s Triple Century 333 Sports Bar and Restaurant, owned by Chris Gayle, famed batsmen for the West Indies cricket team.
Backed by the Ruff Cut band, I-Octane performed several of the album’s tracks, including a moving tribute to his mother (“Mamma”) whose hard work to sustain her children, despite extreme poverty, has been a source of inspiration throughout his career ascent. I-Octane was joined onstage by Bob Marley’s son Ky-Mani for a lively rendition of their duet “A Yah Wi Deh” (meaning: yes, we’re there), an affirmation of their commitment to keep the faith and fight injustices. “A Yah Wi Deh” feels more hip-hop than one drop but its uplifting sentiment aligns with a conscious reggae realm; the song’s video, filmed in Kingston three weeks ago, debuts here:
Primarily a one-drop reggae release with tracks such as “Time Will Come” and “Babylon” showcasing the nuanced skills of Kingston’s finest musicians, I-Octane’s coarse yet surprisingly supple vocals bringing gut-wrenching urgency to numerous social critiques including “Pressure,” “My Journey” premieres on the Reggae Albums chart this week at No. 4; its predecessor “Crying to the Nation” (VP Records/Scikron) debuted at No. 6.
“I-Octane is one of the artists who is comfortable in both one drop reggae and dancehall and not many artists can do that,” observes Tads Record founder Tad A. Dawkins, who has annually featured I-Octane on his Kingston/Miami based label’s Phantom compilation series, developed in 2010 to showcase younger artists. “In today’s music industry you can’t just do one thing, and I think he should just continue the way he is going and try to break on both fronts."
“My Journey” is also the first artist album produced by DJ Frass (b. Andre Gordon) 27, who made his name producing dancehall hits by Mavado; in 2013 he produced the Mavado-DJ Khaled collaboration “Weed And Hennessey,” a bonus track on Khaled’s album “Suffering from Success” (Cash Money/Republic/We The Best). Frass also produced previous hits for I-Octane including the somber “Lose A Friend” and “My Story,” a poignant salute to those who are struggling to make ends meet.
Having toured Europe as Mavado’s deejay, DJ Frass experienced first hand the vast audience drum and bass driven roots reggae commands in comparison to the fan base for hardcore dancehall, which prompted a shift in his musical direction. “Live reggae music is the best, it comes with a good feeling, lasts longer and more people around the world listen to it,” Frass said. “Since we have gone in this direction with this record, we have attracted more fans from all over the world.”
Within the dancehall genre, which has recently seen some of its biggest stars felled by incarcerations, criminal trials and convictions, I-Octane’s reasonably clean-cut image is a welcomed change; in Jamaica it’s a corporate godsend. He has held the role of brand ambassador for telecommunications company Digicel since 2010; he is also the brand ambassador for Busta Soft Drinks and is the voice of Guinness Stout. All three companies were sponsors of the “My Journey” release party alongside Tads Record, DJ Frass Productions and Octane’s own Conquer The Globe Productions, which handles many of his day-to-day career responsibilities including his various social media accounts, where he has a total of 600,000 followers.
“I-Octane has been such a great ambassador for Digicel, he is a very wholesome brand and 'My Journey' is a testament to that," Tahnida Nunes, Digicel's special project manager, said. "Children can listen to it; it is good wholesome music." (Some parents, however, may object to their children hearing the marijuana-championing track “Burn It.”)
To coincide with the Jamaica release party, Digicel sent out a download link of I-Octane’s track “Stepping In The Name of Love” to 400,000 of its subscribers.
Despite his renown throughout the Caribbean, I-Octane has had only minor flirtations with the U.S. mainstream. He performed at New York City’s Hot 97 (WQHT FM) “Who’s Next” series in April 2013 at SOBs and in September at the station’s annually sold-out concert “On Da Reggae Tip” at midtown Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
In the days leading up to each event, he was interviewed on the station and a few of his songs received limited airplay, something he hopes increases with the release of “My Journey”.
“My dream is to get a song that the major stations pump alongside the pop and hip-hop artists,” he said. “I want to make the right links and maybe the right deal so we can get that level of respect and rotation. As a reggae artist, if you are not thinking that way, then you will always be stuck in the same little circle.”
The U.S. release party for “My Journey” will be held at SOBs nightclub in lower Manhattan on April 9, followed by a 20-date European tour in support of the album.