Reasoning with Cham: ”No! We never pay! We lawless.”
Whenever the artist who gave us classic cuts like “Ghetto Story” connects with his year-to-year sparring partner Dave Kelly of Madhouse Records, you can expect something wicked. The second official track (after the boasy “Money Wine“) off Cham’s Lawless album just premiered on MASS APPEAL. “Get Drunk” is a sexy, fun, flirtatious tune that Cham describes as “a fusion of dancehall and world music.” It’s also the long-awaited return of Miss O, whose previous collabs with Cham—”Back Way,” “Tun Up” and “Wine“—were straight bangers. “She had been kinda staying away from the recording booth for a minute,” says Cham “but I got her to grace her presence on this track which is a good thing.” Cham says he made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, which judging by the song may have involved some strong liquor and a few acrobatic positions. Audio & Interview After The Jump…
As usual this Dave Kelly production is all about the details—check out how the bass notes tweak slightly just after they hit. Notice the layered harmonies and subtle sound effects. The Stranger basically invented the modern dancehall sound, so nobody does it better. Which makes it kinda strange that his music doesn’t flood the radio waves more than it does. Cham explains the politricks: “Jamaica has changed in terms of how music is promoted you have to be paying a lot of selectors to be playin’ music and thats how ‘Lawless’ came about. We were like, ‘No, we never pay! So thats how ‘Lawless’ came about. We stay lawless.”
“Mi wan’ get drunk an’ wine up meself” Run That…
“Me Trojan buss, me haffi get a new pack
We ah sex all night till about four o’clock
Mama ah complain say we ah disturb the block
So me haffi tek a break an’ suspend the act
Caw the screaming ah wake up the whole ah Sherlock“
RESHMA B: Sorry we missed you in Miami but when this single turned up in my inbox I was like OMG. Lets just talk about that: It’s called “Get Drunk.” I’ve heard it but I need to get your version of whats going on…
CHAM: Get drunk is the second official track off the new album Lawless, which drops next month. ‘Get drunk’ is a sexy, flirtatious, ahhh smooth [laughter]… Just one of those songs that are fun tracks and really a fusion of dancehall and world music. The bassline is crazy funk dancehall.
I hear that. And do I also hear Miss “O” on the track?
Yeah [laughs] “O” is on the track so it’s fire. I got her to record. She had been kinda staying away from the recording booth for a minute, but I got her to grace her presence on this track which is a good thing.
I see that! So what did you have to do to get the return of the “O”?[laughs] I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
I’m not gonna ask what that was. I think I pretty much got the idea from the song.[More laughter]
Well it’s great to hear her again. When you both came out together with tracks like “Wine Up Mi Body” and “Tun Up” they became instant hits. Everyone was on that.
Yeah, she has a sound. She has a nice sound and you find that her lyrics kinda complement her and the females took to it.
I remember speaking to you both at the time and you mentioned that it was kind of a mistake finding “O” because you had just used her to do a demo track where another artist would have replaced her voice but then you ended up rocking with her.
Yeah we wanted to do a demo and it turned out to be the perfect demo basically that then became the single.
Yes, and now she’s an artist in her own right. Has she become demanding as an artist?[laughs] Nah, she basically loves music, but she doesn’t love to perform live or to go on tour. She just loves music and she’s been around it for so long so you can get her in the booth. But you can’t get her in the tour bus. So it’s not a matter of demanding, it’s just her figuring out herself. And ever since her songs get big people wanted to see her and see her on stage. We will do a few collabs here and there but that’s it for now.
Well look—I’m not mad at “O”… The last time I spoke to her she said she gets paid either way, whether she’s on a track or not![laughs] It’s true. that thing!
I’m sure you know all about that.
It’s only right.
Of course. So as they say behind every good man there is a good woman but in your case it might be on top or in front.[laughs] “Give me some liquor mek mi wine up meself”! That’s what it’s about.
Over the last couple of years, as you have been gearing up to release the album Lawless, I’ve seen that word has really become associated with you. When someone says “Lawless” we pretty much know that’s Cham.
Yeah, we kinda been working on it for a while, just promoting the brand. When we went to Jamaica to do a promotion we were getting all kind of people from radio saying that we need to edit this edit that. Then a lot of people turn around and say Jamaica has changed in terms of how music is promoted. You have to be paying a lot of selectors to be playin’ music and that’s how “Lawless” came about. We were like, ”No! We never pay! We lawless.”
So we went to the streets, playing music on the streets and not going straight to the disc jockeys on the radio. “Whine” got huge, “Tun Up” got huge, “Back Way” got huge. That’s when we started to put in some more vision and time into the brand “Lawless.” We started a clothing line because people start wearing the T-shirts, and we had people in Jamaica asking where they can buy it. So we basically just started doing mass production. We got the hats, the T-shirts, the batty riders for the females—now we coming with the swimsuit which is the one-piece swimsuit. And it’s been growing ever since. So it’s only right that the title of the album that comes after that has to be Lawless.
That’s amazing! I didn’t know the back story about that. I’ve seen you on the “Welcome To Jamrock Reggae Cruise” a few times and I have to say I’m sure your merch is the one that sells the most. I see everyone wearing it.
Yeah, I give thanks for it.
It kind of makes sense as yo say it you’ve always been connected to the streets like that. Amazing that you don’t have to get involved in the payola system
No, that’s the thing in music everyone has their part to play and when you get into the payola you are taking away from the music so at the end of the day the most powerful source is the music so if we give the music to the people and let them decide and not let a bunch of disc jockeys who are trying to manipulate the business, profiting off payola and sticking up artists and trying to make artists feel like without them playing the music it wont be big, which thats so far from the case. You got so much ways out there to get the song big, without going through these payola roads so thats how Lawless came about. we stay lawless
Well that’s big respect to you. As you say if you have talent you shouldn’t have to be squeezed to put your stuff out there. And one thing that everyone is attracted to about Jamaican music is that it’s music that comes from real youths. But once you say “no” does that put you in a category? Do you get shunned by the big radio stations?
At the end of the day they have to play what the people want to hear, so it’s letting the people get used to it, putting it to the mass, putting the record out there. Doing your best to service the streets so the people start wanting to hear your song.
It’s like with “Ghetto Story.” They had banned it like a week after it came out off every station in Jamaica—and that’s the only place it’s ever been banned. And like 4 days after they had to release it because people are calling the radio stations and saying if they’re not playing it they will go to another radio station.
Jamaica has so much politics. They were trying to put me behind “Mi get the ting dem”—you understand. “Rrrrah! Rrrrah!” But it’s real. It’s just that politicians just don’t like to hear the truth, and “Ghetto Story” didn’t hide the truth of what was going on in Jamaica at the time—and before then. So basically they were trying to smother it and draw the curtains on it.
So you’re familiar with knowing how to go around these situations. “Ghetto Story” is one of the biggest songs out of Jamaica ever. On the topic of “Ghetto Story, I was able to have a nice long conversation with Dave Kelly on the cruise. Really Dave is like your Dr Dre to Snoop Dogg. We always think of you two together.
Dave to me is more than a producer. He’s like a brother. And we’ve worked together so long in the studio we have a phenomenal chemistry. I would think of something and I will know he’s thinking of the same line when we are writing and it’s one of those things when we are in the studio the magic works. They say what hasn’t been broken you don’t need to fix it. For us it’s never about hype, ego or individual. Sometimes money can get between so much good musical chemistry in the world and we haven’t even come close to that that in our relationship. We just stick to the music and just have fun. It’s like family. I’ve known him for so long he’s one of those talented individuals that don’t even like to do interviews, or take pictures or get in the spotlight. He’s just about the music and that’s what I love about him.
Yes I’ve yet to see a Dave Kelly video interview [laughs]. I remember I was taking a selfie on the cruise and he was like, “You know I don’t take photos.” Just in case I got him in the pic. I respect that. He knows what he wants and it works for him. Clearly it’s worked for you both, deciding to stick together has brought you longevity as opposed to moving from producer to producer. Anytime people hear a production from you two they know its going to be worth listening to and money can’t buy that I guess.
Yeah. Thank you very much. We try our best and you find that sometimes when a creative situation has gotten bad the fans suffer. That chemistry was so good with that artist and that producer so when it’s ruined the fans really suffer. I’m just grateful that we have maintained our friendship and that family value which is really missing in the industry. “Loyalty’s Royalty.”
Coming back to the success of “Ghetto Story,” when I was chatting with Dave he was reminding me about how that song led to you signing with a big label, correct?
Yeah. We did the deal probably late 2004 off the success of “Vitamin S,” and then we took a time to get in the studio and make the album and that’s when “Ghetto Story” came about. We did “Ghetto Story” 2005, September or October and was released by November 2005. But then it got international popularity in 2006.
I understand you guys were in talks of doing an album?
We were putting together the album. We weren’t sure of the title of the album because “Ghetto Story” was the last song that was made on the album itself. And we decided to go with that name and it worked. And we have to give thanks for that.
Lawlessness is obviously embedded in you. Whatever happened with Atlantic records, you guys still stuck together and it’s not affected your career at all. You just went out and made more hits.
Yes, that’s it. We hold firm to what we believe in, and what we want to do. At the time we weren’t seeing eye to eye with Atlantic, and then Capital came along because Ronnie Johnson, who was at Atlantic at the time, had moved over to Capitol Records. And we were right about to sign with Capitol because of Ronnie and the works that he was putting in with us over by Atlantic. And he had moved over to Capitol and one month after Ronnie Johnson passed away .tTen we decided that the route that Capitol were going in, we decided we’d rather stay by ourselves and do what we do and we kinda backed out of that as well.
If they take away your creativity and your artistry you’re no longer an artist. So you have to fight for that.
But it’s all good. It’s all about music and not about what those record labels try and pin you with—and try to take away that creativity that you want to do. At the end of the day we want to make sure we have control over all creativity, because this is our music and this is what we want to do.
Seems you have to make the right decisions at the right time. Is that a very difficult thing? I’m sure that’s something that artists have to think about all the time. Everyone wants to get signed but sometimes it’s not what you think it will be.
Yeah, you find that at the end of the day it’s all about you putting together your team and not worrying about a label per se. You understand? Just making the best of your situation and keeping your surroundings the right way. When you really think about it, labels will come and go but if you have your team and they are your team they are all building towards what you are doing. To a record label Ghetto Story was just a next project. To us “Ghetto Story” was our life, what we do and what we stand for.
So if that was 2005 its been over a decade that you haven’t released an album?
Yeah!! That’s why I’m now on album onslaught. You’ll be getting a brand new album every summer, every single year. Basically I’m already three tracks into the next album. Hopefully I can finish it by December because I will be working on it on the road while I’m promoting Lawless. It will be 10 songs on each album with skits and of that but with 10 mega tracks. Lawless is done and tomorrow we fly to California to start the promotional tour for the west coast.
So we’ve heard “Get Drunk”—what can we expect from the rest of the album?
When you describe the word Lawless it means you can’t box us in. Like, you cant put us in a category. Music on a whole have so much fusion and Dave has always been that individual that pushes the envelope, so you find there is a fusion of word/sound. If you listen to “Fighter” with me and Damian Marley you have so much different sound in that song. But also the real root dancehall bass—boom boom boom boom—which you can’t deny is authentic. And that’s what the album is really about.
If you listen to “Get Drunk” it has that real cold bass from the dancehall reggae world that will shake your core, but at the same time it has world sound. The piano that’s playing in it, the orchestra and all of those is world sounds.
On the subject of world sound, we are going through a phase where dancehall sounds and style are dominating the mainstream. Lots of mainstream artists—Drake, Ed Shereen, Beyoncé, Rihanna—are working with sounds that you and Dave pioneered. How does it feel to see that adopted by the mainstream?
It’s a good thing for dancehall on a whole because even if some of those mainstream artists don’t want to come out and give the credit, people around the world know what time it is. So without even giving credit the are giving credit. And now is the time to reap, focus and keep the music consistent and keeping the standard high so we can directly push down these walls and knock down these doors with our music. Cause you can see there is love for it out there in this world.
You say “push down the walls and knock down the doors.” Do you still feel there is boundaries set up for dancehall?
Yeah, there’s always gonna be. because if you think about it, there is so much talent in the dancehall, but most of these record labels don’t look towards dancehall. They would rather pinch here and there, like take a hook from one of Cham’s songs or whichever artist in dancehall that’s hot. [sings] “Everyone falls in love sometimes.” You can hear it. They’re taking it. But at the same time that producer wouldn’t pick up the phone and say, “Let me hit one of these dancehall artists to do a hook.” They bite here and there, but it’s all good we understand what’s going on.
It seems everyone loves reggae & dancehall and really most popular new genres originate from sound systems. You can trace it back through the UK underground —that’s all from sound system. Hip Hop stems from the same place.
If you really think about it how many of them have you seen at an award shows or even paying homage or givign credit? Saying “Without dancehall I couldn’t have done this”? They don’t do that. They try to keep it like they basically found something. Like some form of genius formula, which it’s not. [Laughs] Like I said, we understand what time it is. It’s just for us to keep making good music, keeping the standard as high as possible and keep on working hard.
Why do yo u think this happens to Jamaican music?
I think it happens to our music because of the lack of unity within the culture. If we had enough unity our music and our movement would be so powerful. Our music is already the most powerful music in the world, but the unity would have made the whole movement and the entire genre powerful. I mean, no matter how small that artist’s name is, when he puts out a record it would guarantee to sell. I can guarantee you that. If you look at all the radio stations throughout America, how much dancehall and reggae tracks are in rotation? We should have a lot more—and artists from Jamaica I’m not talking about from other genres that are basically tapping into our genre—which nothings wrong with that. Music has no boundaries. But we should have more. But because the unity is not there we don’t force these radio stations to pay respect to our genre of music. It’s the same thing with the Grammys. We remain Lawless and do what we have to do: “Bruk down the barrier and pull off the door” [sings] Can you hear me?
I’d like to go back to “Get Drunk.” When I was listening to it there is a lyric about how “She doesn’t mind head” Did I get it right?
Yeah, you got it right [laughs].
I think that’s one reason your music’s felt by so many people. Because at the end of the day everybody likes sex, right?
Yep! It’s a part of life.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard Ishawna’s new track “Equal Rights,” that’s causing a huge debate in the dancehall world with oral sex still being such a taboo subject. People do get flared up about it. How do you guys deal with it in your situation?
Well each to their own you know. I can’t go against anyone’s wish on what they want to do. Life is about having fun, and if that’s fun for you go and have your fun. I know my fun.