“Who loves reggae music in here?” Jamaican sing-jay Chronixx rhetorically asks the sold out house at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza. Dissatisfied with the audience’s response, his questioning becomes more detailed. “You waited outside in the cold to get in here tonight so you must love the music so tell me now, who loves reggae music?” Predictably, the crowd erupts into loud cheers, their cell phones raised, as if on cue, to capture the moment. Pleased, Chronixx returns to the music.
Drawing from his impressive catalog of hit songs amassed over the past six years alongside previously unheard tracks from his long-awaited debut album Chronology, Chronixx — backed by his band Zinc Fence Redemption — earned sustained roars of approval from the audience in his much-anticipated return to New York City in early March following a nearly two-year absence. With his seamlessly interwoven sung and chanted vocals, agile dancing, occasional joke telling and hype man antics, Chronixx emerged as an assured, riveting performer, fully engaging his audience throughout his 90-minute set.
Chronology, the initial release on Chronixx’s Soul Circle label, distributed by Virgin Records (Universal), will drop on June 30, two months after the conclusion of the 44-date North American leg of the Chronology tour. Boasting several sold-out dates, including three in New York City, the Chronology tour also featured Brooklyn-based selector Max Glazer/Federation Sound, powerful Jamaican singer Kelissa, Chronixx’s father, veteran singer Chronicle (“the man who first taught me how to hold a mic and rock a crowd when I was six”), and on select dates, rising reggae stars Jah9 and Jesse Royal. During a recent interview with Billboard at his lower Manhattan hotel, Chronixx explained his reasons for releasing Chronology after his North American tour’s conclusion. “As you navigate the music industry and the business of entertainment, sometimes you just have to trust your instincts, go with the flow — and releasing the album after the tour is just us going with the flow,” he stated.
Going with the flow has yielded some extraordinary career results for Chronixx, 24, born Jamar McNaughton in Spanish Town, Jamaica. His headlining performance at a free Central Park SummerStage concert in July 2014 attracted an overflow crowd of 5,500 (including Mick Jagger) with several daring fans sitting in trees to get a view of the stage. He has appeared twice on Jimmy Fallon’s late night shows, and he begins a six-date U.K. tour on May 19 and returns to the U.S. in July for five additional east coast shows. The Rastafarian artist has also secured an endorsement deal as the face of Adidas’s new Spring/Summer 2017 Spezial Collection, which presents 1970s-Jamaica inspired tracksuits (think Bob Marley, Peter Tosh), polo shirts, team jerseys, and sneakers. Chronixx has attained all of this without a (mainstream) radio hit and despite unexceptional sales: his previous EP, 2014’s critically acclaimed The Dread and Terrible Project (Chronixx Music) soared to the top of the Reggae Album chart, but peaked at No. 179 on the Billboard 200. Still, Chronixx is gratified by Dread and Terrible‘s performance. “I was very much overwhelmed by the sales of Dread and Terrible, I was just 21, just figuring out how to navigate the musical space,” he says. “But I don’t really think too much about sales because sales will never reflect what our (Jamaican) music is doing in the world.”
Chronology follows Chronixx’s numerous hit singles in the Jamaican and international reggae markets (including “Smile Jamaica” released in 2013 and 2015’s “Spanish Town Rocking,” both included on Chronology) and several mixtapes, 2012’s Start A Fyah, produced by Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire (which brought initial widespread attention to Chronixx) and 2016’s Roots and Chalice, produced by Max Glazer. “I call Chronology my first album because I love albums; Chronology shows my appreciation for a great body of work by creating, hopefully, what feels like a great body of work,” offers Chronixx, who produced or co-produced the bulk of Chronology‘s 16 tracks.
Two new singles have already been released: The sultry, retro R&B flavored “Majesty” and the dancehall-fueled “Likes.” Chronology‘s third single “Skankin’ Sweet,” produced by French duo Bost & Bim, possesses a richly textured one drop groove over which Chronixx’s remarkably supple vocals — steadily arcing into a guttural cry for spiritual strength — compel the listener to forget their troubles and dance.
“Skankin’ Sweet,” which drops on May 19, debuts here:
Chronology was recorded in studios in Brooklyn, Kingston, London and Chicago, where Chronixx recruited blues guitar legend Donald Kinsey, (whose stellar credits include albums/tours with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh) for the tracks “Country Boy” and “Christina.” The majority of the album’s tracks were mixed at Circle House Studios, Miami and at Manhattan Center, New York City. “A mixture of talent and facilities took me to these various places to create a sound that can sonically cross more borders,” Chronixx observes. “Many great songs are out there that sonically are not as appealing as they could be, that’s what makes a mixing engineer and a proper recording studio so important, otherwise you can just do everything from your yard.”
“I love what Chronixx is doing, it’s not a new style of music but it’s not a rehash of old music, either,” comments Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, whose work with Marley, among other Jamaican acts, helped break reggae internationally in the 1970s. Blackwell signed Chronixx to his Blue Mountain Publishing in 2014; Blue Mountain/Cobalt now handles Chronixx’s publishing. “I signed Chronixx because I was so impressed with the phrasing and timing in his songs. That is something you are born with, it’s not something you can really learn,” Blackwell continued. “Also, I like the way he goes about things; he is very grounded and very gifted.”
Far more adventurous than Chronixx’s previous recordings, Chronology offers a co-mingling of inspirations that have shaped his evolving artistic identity. The country rock flavor and choral backing on the spectacular “Legend” and the ’70s soul inflections on the stirring Rastafari anthem “Selassie Children,” like all of Chronology‘s tracks, are skillfully interwoven with various Jamaican strands that ultimately expand reggae’s parameters. “We are all influenced by different sounds, some people would rather hide it, and untruthfully stick to one thing, but for me it is all about connecting the dots,” Chronixx acknowledges. “I am proud to have this album called reggae because anyone who can successfully make that mystical reggae sound must be a diligent, bright musician. But I don’t sit and ponder what kind of genre to make or try to contain it because then you won’t experience the spiritual part where the music is making itself.”
Chronology Track List
1. Spanish Town Rocking
2. Big Bad Sound featuring Chronicle
3. Skankin’ Sweet
4. Ghetto Paradise
5. Country Boy
6. Smile Jamaica
7. I Can
8. Selassie Children
9. Black is Beautiful
13. Tell Me Now
16. I Know Love [Bonus Track]