Murda She Wrote: January 2021

New Year, new style. 2021 kicked off with crucial new music from Usain Bolt, Aidonia, Runkus and Chronic Law.

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Usain Bolt (left) and NJ. Credit: Jason Palmer.

If the past year didn’t open your eyes and bring forth some personal teachings, then you’ve definitely been living under a rock. The rest of us have witnessed some of the worst things to happen to the human race in modern times. Millions have lost their lives and millions more have had their lives turned upside down. On top of that, we’ve seen politricks and racial tension explode. For those of us still standing, the only thing to do now is move forward and, as Beres Hammond would say, keep on “putting up a resistance” — we “gonna work it out.”

If you’ve been a lover of reggae, the music has been preparing you for such dire situations. Born out of struggle, reggae’s very nature is about learning to survive, getting through the rough times, dealing with political turmoil and walking your true path. In a couple of days we’ll celebrate Reggae Month’s first homepage campaign here on TIDAL, and the timing couldn’t be better.

Be sure to check in for some specially curated content to honor the history of this music that has captivated the world for decades. If you’re a fan of Dennis Brown, then you’re in for a real treat, as we kick off his birthday celebration on Feb. 1 with a never-before-heard song from the late, great “Crown Prince of Reggae,” featured in the film Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes, which will be available to watch for the first time in the U.S. The film features music and interviews with many great legends of reggae — artists and producers alike. TIDAL subscribers can find it on the homepage and in the video section between Feb. 1-7. But for now let’s check out what tunes buss in the dance this month.

Usain Bolt
“Living the Dream”

This year starts with a musical lightning Bolt. When the fastest man on the planet drops a dancehall track, everyone tunes in. “Never give up,” sings Usain Bolt alongside his executive manager, Nugent “NJ” Walker. “When life get heavy keep pushing it up.” It’s a mantra that can be used by most of us in these crucial times, and one that Bolt has needed himself. (The icon tested positive for the coronavirus last August, after which he reportedly self-quarantined with no symptoms.)

Over the years the Jamaican world-record holder and Olympic Gold Medalist has always shown his love for reggae and dancehall — wining and singing along to bashment hits on his socials, and even celebrating some of his wins on the running track with the latest dancehall moves. Bolt also owns a famous sports bar, Tracks & Records, where he’s known for his partying persona, organizing big events and transforming into a reggae DJ from time to time.

Born and raised in Sherwood Content, a rural town in the Jamaican parish of Trelawny, Usain Bolt is definitely an example of living the dream. The commitment to never give up is a part of any competitive nature, but becoming one of the greatest sprinters of all time is no small feat. “Believe in yourself. Anything’s possible,” the song goes. “Work hard every day/Never change up the routine.” The inspirational song encourages the youths to keep going despite whatever conditions may arise. Reggae sensation Koffee, for one, has attributed her success to Bolt, who reposted a video of Koffee playing the guitar and singing his praises when she was first starting out.

“Living the Dream” isn’t Bolt’s first dancehall project; he’s also produced riddims featuring other artists and dabbled in soca. “Anyone that knows me and followed my career will tell you how much I love music,” Bolt said. “I have always wanted to get involved in the music business, as I believe I can use my platform to further highlight dancehall/reggae music.” The recently released song made news when dancehall artist Popcaan addressed the champion on social media, advising him to support other talented youths. His comments were easy to interpret as a criticism of Bolt’s choice to collaborate with NJ. Besides being a lifelong friend to Bolt as well as a professional partner, NJ actually wrote the song as a demo, intending for Bolt to sing it. “When I heard it,” Bolt said, “I thought his vocals were perfect on it.”  

The social-media outburst over Popcaan’s comments inspired Bolt’s fans to rise up in his and NJ’s defense. Whatever you may think about the pair’s musical talents, it’s hard to argue with the message and vibe of the song. For many of us locked down and struggling to get through dark times, music is a great way to spread love and shine a little light.

Aidonia
“Dat Eazy”

The Genna Boss kicks off the New Year by hopping on Chimney Records’ red-hot “Style a Style” riddim. The action-packed juggling from A-list producers Jordan McClure and David Hayle dropped late last year and features vocals by the likes of Stylo G, Sean Paul, Shenseea and Moyann. Aidonia was one of the last to voice on the hard-hitting track, but he makes a powerful impact. “You know say Jordan call me,” the artist says at the top of his tune. “Didi dog, Jah know — the riddim need you nuh dawg.”

It’s no wonder that Jordan made that call. Aidonia’s booming voice has helped define the sound of modern dancehall. Having maintained his standing as one of the game’s top shottas for well over a decade, Aidonia can confidently state that it’s easy for him to make hits. After all, he learned from the best. Didi clearly remembers the inspiration he felt watching the legendary Sting clash between Bounty Killer and Beenie Man. “That was when I said I wanted to become an artist,” Aidonia told me the last time we spoke. “Bounty is the general, my main influence and the reason I came into the music. Him show me personally how to put my lyrics together. He’s a great teacher and somebody who wants to help youths and see youths do great.” 

Though making music may come easy to him, Aidonia isn’t afraid to face the hard realities of life. But he’s not sure that his fellow artists are built for those types of challenges. “Most of the man, them afraid of the road,” Aidonia told me. “Them coward. Them stay them yard, stay a studio, hide from the people and the people just see them pon stage show. And you can hear it also in the music.” Just listen and see for yourself — it’s easy.

Runkus
“The Mask: 2nd Wave”

“This project came about simply from the times,” says the Jamaican producer and vocalist Runkus about his new album, IN:SIDE. “Being locked down in my home city, Portmore, under order of the government,” he says, “I took to the only thing I knew, music. In a trying time, it was my salvation.” Born Romario Sebastian Anthony Bennett, Runkus grew up in a musical household. His father is the dancehall artist Determine and his mother, Paula Francis, works in the music industry as well. The 10-track project includes the hit single “5Gs,” a dazzling posse cut featuring a flurry of lyrics courtesy of Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid and Munga Honorable, as well as rising star Royal Blu. Elsewhere on the album, Tarrus Riley appears on the song “Make It Breathe” and Naomi Cowan links up with Runkus on “Everybody Going Live.”

But no song speaks to the vibes of the Covid era more directly than “The Mask: 2nd Wave.” The ominous beat and the syncopated rapid-fire flow capture the threat of the virus and the pandemic paranoia it’s created. “Get the mask on,” Runkus sings on the chorus. “Me careful ’cause them coulda pull a fast one. Them cover up we mouth until we talk.” The verses are filled with images of panic, interspersed with musings on the ways of Babylon. “The world is collectively going through the same thing, at the same time,” Runkus says. “So this is me urging everyone, while we’re stuck inside, that we take care of IN:SIDE [ourselves]. It’s a special time, a renewal if you may, of the earth, of spirit and so forth. And this project was inspired by that.”

Chronic Law
“Love Gamble”

Ever since the birth of the reggae industry, most of the action has been centered in Kingston. But over the last few years, Montego Bay has made a strong impact with the rise of TeeJay, Rygin King and Squash. More recently the Eastern parish of St. Thomas has risen to the forefront, led by Popcaan, Skillibeng and Jada Kingdom. The latest star to arrive from the East Syde is Chronic Law, a melodic singer with a street edge.

Born Ackeme Campbell, Chronic Law grew up listening to a wide range of artists, from Bob Marley to Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg. Early hits like “Hill Top Badness” and “Government” showcased the gangster side of his persona, but on his latest release, “Love Gamble,” he reveals another side. “Me spread out me heart like red carpet and give people fe walk pon,” he sings with slow-burning pain over a Shabdon riddim track. Chronic Law is not the first to note that love triangles are painful situations. “You have a man, just talk if you no lef’ him,” he sings.

The artist himself acknowledges that this is a new direction for him musically. “Me only build pain and war songs,” he sings. “Of course me try love thing more than once bredda, but it never last long.” This song is about the part where the “love thing” comes to an end. “My heart fully bruck. Fuck love.” 

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