Jun 24, 2022
Steamboat FREE Summer Concerts
“On this album you will hear elements of hip-hop, jazz, blues, Afrobeats and dancehall but reggae is the backbone that holds everything in place. We can’t run from the authentic energy and vibes bestowed upon us by the Most High because that is what makes us great; there are things that you learn along the way, but greatness is when you know yourself.” –Jesse Royal speaking about his sophomore album Royal.
Renowned for his numerous 21st century reggae anthems including “Modern Day Judas,” which rails against bad minded people and 2015’s “Finally,” which was written in recognition of the long overdue decriminalization of marijuana in Jamaica, Rastafarian singer/songwriter/musician Jesse Royal is one of the island’s most charismatic young talents.
The title of Jesse’s sophomore album Royal (due June 11, Easy Star Records) describes the quality of music he’s making but also offers a succinct definition of Jamaica’s signature beat. “Reggae is a different tone, a different feeling, a different mood. It speaks to you in different ways, it is definitely royal music,” says Jesse. Jesse adopted a new approach for creating the songs on Royal, collaborating with like-minded colleagues and just letting the creativity flow. “We connect with a lot of artists around the world and are influenced by many different genres so in putting this album together we basically just vibed, had writing sessions via Facetime and Zoom, saw what we came up with and let that be the inspiration for where we wanted to go.” The result is 11 tracks that incorporate live instrumentation and programmed riffs, experimental and traditional sounds, all of which contribute to Jesse’s most impressive body of work to date.
From “Natty Pablo,” a riveting true story about a Rasta man who spends his money to improve his community and send children to school (“He’s singlehandedly doing what the government should be doing” notes Jesse) set to an indelible reggae bassline, to the impassioned ballad “Differences,” which references Romeo and Juliet while recounting a relationship that just wasn’t meant to be, Jesse’s spectacular vocals vacillate between spoken and sung verses and patois-inflected deejayed and rapped phrases delivered in varying cadences that complement his lyrical versatility. “I was way tamer of an individual on my previous album,” says Jesse of his 2017 debut set, Lily of Da Valley (Easy Star Records). “This album is much freer. We tried interesting melodies that I probably didn’t trust before and I expressed things that I typically wouldn’t, so that’s also why we called this project Royal. Because reggae is truth music –we burn certain fire, but we don’t want to be labeled as people who only do one thing because music doesn’t really have a specific language, mood or a message, the artist imparts that.”
One of Royal’s standout tracks is “Home,” produced by Dretegs, which Jesse wrote about the difficulties of pursuing a career that often takes him away from his two young daughters, a sentiment summed up by the heart wrenching lyrics: ‘You are the very best part of me, it’s deeper than biology/I hope you accept my apology cause everything I do is for the family.’ “I don’t think there has been a reggae song that is honest about our roles as musicians. The world needs us to keep them fueled, energized, but we’re also daddies and that’s a conversation that is never really had; for my daughters, if daddy is in Paris performing for 5,000 people, it’s just daddy is not home. All of my brothers who have heard that song have gotten to the point of tears and I’ve gotten to the point of tears a couple of times, too,” offers Jesse. Although he has been grounded since the start of the pandemic, in the years leading up to 2020, Jesse headlined tours in the US, Europe, Japan, South America and performed on every major festival in Jamaica.
Jesse reaffirms African excellence with a spellbinding succession of rapid-fire rhymes on “Black,” produced by Yared Lee, featuring the fluttering trombone stylings of Nemanja “Hornsman Coyote” Kojic. Over a sturdy one drop reggae groove Jesse celebrates his woman who is ‘willing fi ride or die like I’ma Honda 50,’ on “Natty Dread,” produced by Sean Alaric, but questions what went wrong during a previous union on the trap influenced “Like Dat” featuring rising Jamaican sing-jay Runkus, who produced the song.
Runkus is one of six guest artists on Royal, each carefully chosen to highlight an aspect of Jesse’s multifaceted artistry. “The vibrations had to be right for us to write something that we feel could stand the test of time,” says Jesse of Royal’s guest artists. Jesse originally wrote “High Tide or Low,” featuring dynamic roots singer Samory I, and produced by Jamaica’s Natural High (Jordan Armond, Blaise Davis) as a self-reminder that each of us is carefully created. “The song’s direction changed as I worked on it with Natural High,” noted Jesse, prior to reciting the lyrics, ‘Love Christ bad but nuh palm to mi cheek/Cah mi come fi realize the earth inherit the meek,’ which he followed with a further explanation. “This means we are no longer the cowardly Rasta that you can step ‘pon or disrespect and we are more than prepared for the battle ahead.”
Likewise, since the 2019 release of “LionOrder” featuring GRAMMY nominated sing-jay Protoje, another Sean Alaric production, the song has become an empowering, unifying Rasta reggae anthem delivered with a melodic hip hop flow. “Some little division did try to creep in, and we had to nip it in the bud early; we are also dispelling the idea of change being something bad or reclaiming glory is selling out. We want to ensure that the message of reggae music connects with today’s youth, so we reminded dem that what we a deal with is unity, so ‘me and the lion dem good.’”
Jesse also teams up with Ghanian Afrobeat/dancehall star Stonebwoy for “Dirty Money,” where a lilting African-influenced rhythm track propels the lyrics’ unrelenting condemnation of political greed: ‘If education is key, why you can’t make it free for we? Or is it because you profit from poverty? When you look at me do you see a man or do you see another vote for your party? Not even holy water can clean your dirty money.”
Money has turned many friends into foes but “Strongest Link,” featuring Kumar (former lead singer of GRAMMY nominated band Raging Fyah), produced by Wayne “Unga” Thompson, honors ‘friends who want to see you make it/friends who sight the risk and take it.’
“That is one of dem songs where people know reggae is the root of the de ting and Kumar dances over it so eloquently; I love the song and the vibration we a push,” Jesse states.
Royal provides a brilliant soundtrack that reflects Jesse’s current views on life, a perspective that is most clearly expressed, he says, on “Rich Forever,” a trap, hip hop, reggae fusion featuring perhaps the album’s most surprising collaborator, incarcerated dancehall superstar Vybz Kartel. “The concept for that song came to me one Sunday when I was cruising down the highway in Miami. I thought, wow, my life has really grown; you see the manifestation of things that used to be dreams so now you have bigger dreams,” Jesse acknowledges. Produced by rising talent Iotosh Poyser, who helped flesh out the song’s concept, Jesse says “the song is a conversation about the restoration of our royalty, reclaiming dignity, and it gave me such a warm feeling to present a side of Di Teacha (Kartel) that many people out there don’t know. We must always be our brothers’ keeper and you don’t leave your brother in the mud you remind your brother of who he is, not who they tell him to be, not who he sometimes might want to be. But who he is! We are all carefully crafted creatures of the universe and there’s nothing that can hold us back. We’re rich forever.”
The messages delivered throughout Royal are militant yet divinely inspired, profoundly moving and politically provocative, while the album’s multitextured sonics are rooted in reggae but also incorporate a 21st century burnished palette of influences. “What a reggae fan is today is not particularly the same thing as it was yesterday, that’s why it’s important to mix the music because we are dealing with individuals who listen to everything,” notes Jesse. “Royal has musical elements that they love but also has new sounds that are happening. We understand that streaming platforms make it so easy to bounce between genres, but we also understand that there is something so special about reggae and we need to hold on to it.”
Steamboat FREE Summer Concerts
Jun 24 - Sep 4, 2022
The Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series returns this summer after being canceled in 2020 and an abbreviated line-up in 2021. Thanks to an amazing effort to look out for each other over the past two years, we are easing back to a sense of normalcy in the Yampa Valley, and that includes bringing back one of the most beloved local events in Steamboat Springs - The Steamboat FREE Summer Concerts!