Hip-Hop

Kranium on What Dancehall Has Been Missing: 'Unity Is the Key in This Thing'

Kranium
Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic

Kranium performs on stage during the Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2017 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on Oct. 26, 2017 in New York City. 

Dancehall remains a strong force to reckon with in music, and the genre is only becoming more mainstream as artists like Kranium achieve international stardom.

The singer has been wooing the ladies for years with singles like "We Can" with Tory Lanez, "Can't Believe" with Ty Dolla $ign and Wizkid and "No Odda." His newest single, "Last Night," finds Kranium fully diving into a naughty realm that he's perfected ever since his debut in 2013.

The Jamaican native, who recently performed on Hot 97's Summer Jam stage, spoke to Billboard about his sexual nature, his upcoming EP release and what he wants from the dancehall community.

I saw on Instagram that a lot of promoters were upset that Summer Jam placed all the dancehall artists at the end of the show.

To be honest, no one would be happy in that situation. At the end of the day, it’s a hip-hop show, and we were a flavor added to the show. It’s just unfortunate that it went down the way it did. We as artists have to make sure that next time we specify the time we’re set to perform and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

It surprised me because Hot 97 plays dancehall all the time, so I thought they’d give you guys more of a boost.

Yeah, it can be better and a bit more organized. But as I said, things happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it now. We just have to do better and move forward.

So your “Last Night” single is popping. I’ve noticed you love to talk about sex!

Mmhmm, because I like to fuck. It wasn’t necessarily [inspired by anyone]. But it was one of them records where I had the hook and I just needed the right beat to bring it to life. “Last night, one piece ah sumn..." I think the wording of it is sick. That’s what makes it special.

What was the best sexual experience you’ve had?

It’s too much...I can’t say it [Laughs.] I’ve had good times, weird times and wild times. But the best? I’d rather not say it because I’d piss off a lot of people. But the craziest place I’ve had sex was in high school. You know the steps that go down? There’s always that part in between those steps where you can sneak in.

Your recent songs have more of a calmer, radio-friendly appeal. Is that intentional?

That’s the thing, I never ever do anything intentional. I just go into the studio and record. It’s not like I take out a pen, listen to the beat and write. I’ve never done that in my life. So I just go into the booth and sing whatever is on my mind. I always pick my beats very specifically, from “Nobody Haffi Know” to “We Can” with Tory Lanez and “Can’t Believe.” I pick those beats because they’re easy to flow on. I think we’re moving into a time where it’s more about the groove. My tone is very mellow and I think that’s what makes the records sound the way they are.

I remember when we spoke last time, you said you want people to see more of your musical versatility. Do you plan on switching up the sound to maybe more hardcore, bad mon songs soon?

I don’t do bad mon songs, to be honest. That’s not me -- I stick to what I’m good at. A lot of people are not real bad mon, they just have a dope voice so it fits that style. But they cannot do what I’m doing. Yuh undastand? I always choose beats that complement my voice. You ever some songs where the beat throws you off? Or there’s some songs where the beat throws the actual artist off because he sounds better on a more subtle beat. So it all depends on the mood and the vibe that I’m in. Whatever the beat tells me to do, I just follow it.

Are there any other sounds you’d like to explore?

As an artist, you have to grow and try new things because an artist’s job is to be artistic. In due time, I feel like I’d try some pop records or some more roots reggae. It’ll happen, because it all boils down to me liking a beat.

You previously said you were working on the Sparks EP last year. Is that still the name?

Nah, we’re going to change the name. And I don’t even think we have a name as yet. I still feel like there’s certain records that need to be changed because I don’t think I’ve ever made an average song. And I’m not even being cocky or anything! I feel like that has a lot to do with quality control, because I don’t really drop much [music] if you realize.

You’re very selective with what you put out, and I think that works in your favor. Even from following you since “Nobody Haffi Know,” it’s been quality over quantity.

100 percent. To have these records sound on the level as the last record, they have to be well done. Honestly, I get my drive from reading comments like “Yo, dis yute is one of the best artists on the planet. Di man nuh normal!” Sometimes people get blinded by the hype, but hype can be good. Sometimes you have artists who have been doing this for five years, and in the sixth year they get the push that they need. So for now, I have to make sure everything that I drop is at least at [level] eight or above.

Well you do have a lot of hype around you, but you’ve remained a humble person. How do you stay focused?

Just knowing my real purpose, what I’m here for and where I’m coming from. A lot of artists get carried away and I see it a lot. You know what my new thing is? A lot of artists that I’ve met and know personally, they flirt with music. They don’t love it, they flirt with it. You knew when a man sees a girl and him like the girl, but him ah just flirt with her. Him have no true intention -- him just like weh him see. So artists like what they get outta music, they don’t really love it. Me is ah passionate man, and I love music naturally. I don’t flirt with it.

So what can we expect to hear from the EP?

To be honest, I don’t even know if the songs that I recorded...if I really want to drop those records. Because this year I’ve been on the road. I’ve been to Israel, Dubai, Africa, Australia. So my brain has seen a lot of stuff so I’m really inspired. I need to go back in [the studio] and record some fresh stuff.

I’m sure you gained a lot of inspiration since you’ve been traveling so much.

South Africa was like the clique for me. People who are artistic are influenced by the smallest things. It’s like a writer: if a person is writing a book, he’d probably be inspired by just the nature. With me, I like scenery and South Africa’s scenery was sick! When I was there, I was like, “Yo, I can do some dope things!” I’ve seen too much things this year and last year to not have the project sound very universal.

Is there anything else that drives your inspiration?

Just the clubs. I don’t really like to party anymore, because when I party I feel like I’m working. I used to go to Seafood Tuesday every week, and it’s one of the most popping spots in Queens, in New York’s dancehall scene. When you go to those places, you get inspired by the least things. If you hear a new slang, you put it in a record and it might work, depending on how you word it. So I get inspired by being in the club, conversations, Twitter, Instagram. And certain sexual things that people ‘fraid fi seh, but I’m gonna say it because I don’t care. So I just let it out and find a way to edit it for the radio.

Are there any artists whose success you aspire to?

Sean Paul and Shaggy. For dancehall and reggae music on an international level, I feel like they set the bar so high. If you ask an average kid who they really know in dancehall, it’s always Sean Paul and Shaggy. And of course Vybz Kartel mek a huge mark inna di world. Shaggy? Dat Diamond supm deh? A lot of people will never go Diamond in their life. It’s a hard thing fi break, but it’s always good. Anything is possible.

Because you’re signed to a major label -- you’re with Atlantic -- how do you plan to maintain authenticity?

I just do me, because they can’t change that because yuh never sign that. You have to deal with what you sign. There’s millions of artists you’re scouting and yet you signed me because you see something special in the sound that I have. So I don’t think I would change, that would be stupid. For example, my first project Rumors -- every song on there is done by us. The label is the machine, but you have to make the artist be the artist. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, which is fine because you can adjust and compromise.

But the majority of my work is done by me. You have times where you hear records that you know isn’t you, and [the label] tries to convince you that it is you. But to make everybody happy, you go on the record and when you listen to it, you’re like, “It sounds like shit.” But I’ve never had the pressure of anyone telling me what to do.

There’s so many men killing it in dancehall right now: you, Popcaan, Alkaline. But it’s time for the women to get some shine. And I think it’s happening with Shenseea, Hood Celebrityy and now Spice is on Love & Hip-Hop.

Of course mon, we need more of that you know. Like I tell everybody, you need a 100 of every artist that is doing good. You need 10 Kranium, 10 Popcaan, 10 Alkaline. That’s what’s gonna help the culture move forward. But until some man understand themselves and realize we don’t have to be friends, yuh undastand? But we definitely have to be supportive. So a man haffi know seh if he’s doing an event and you’re invited to the event, you have to put your differences aside. But as I said, a lot of men do not love it -- they love themselves. So with the females dem, I just hope they can come in and mek fi dem mark, ‘cause reggae music is worldwide.

I’ve been to some places and you have to see it fi really understand. The way dem act and di way they talk about who have a Jamaican boyfriend and who else love di culture. Anywhere I go in the world, there’s always someone who comes up to me and says, “Man it’s my dream to go to Jamaica.” And that’s huge. There’s a lot of places in the world and people come here. I wish artists can see it the way I see it. I don’t really care for the ego stuff. Unity is the key in this thing. And I would never say it’s too late because anything can be fixed. But at the rate we’re going, now we need to adjust and realize there needs to be more unity. Nobody nuh want do nuh features.

That’s what I was gonna ask you, because every time there is a new dancehall song out, there’s only one person on it. There’s so much talent out there…

Nuh body wan share their hype. That’s the thing. I reach out to them and says ,“Let’s do some features” and they say, “Yo mon, mi soon link yuh.” From yuh tell mi dat, there’s no need to talk.

It’s hindering the genre, because there can be more hit records.

It does man. I can’t even tell you the last time I heard a feature. The features that we want to hear, we’re not gonna hear them. So who we really like, and be like “Dem mon yah bad, let’s see him and him together.” It’s not gonna happen.

The only feature I can remember off the top of my head is Vybz Kartel and Masicka’s “Infrared.”

And look how big that was. And those artists are friends. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard a feature that was big in mainstream in a while. I haven’t even thought about that, Jesus Christ. I work with anybody. Once I like a record, I’ll include anybody -- big or small.

What can we expect from Kranium for the rest of this year?

Just making good music and realize this thing is not a game. But you have to have fun with it. You can’t be too tense. And I’m having fun, I’m enjoying life. I want to start acting and do some more stuff. But as time goes on, the transition comes naturally. I’ve always been patient, you’ve known me for years. I don’t rush anything. What is for me will be mine.