“There may soon be a time when the general public completely forgets that reggae music comes from Jamaica,” said the British reggae journalist Reshma B.
Without the benefit of major-label backing or even a mainstream hit song, Chronixx has quietly built his own movement that has positioned him as more than just the next big thing out of Jamaica. Not content simply to reclaim reggae as a Jamaican art form, his stated goal is to push the music further than its founders did.
“Marley still ah lead pon iTunes,” he sings on his recent single “Likes,” which also mentions how Drake and Rihanna are playing major roles in the dancehall scene, an art form from Kingston’s sound-system culture. “Simply mean we nuh ready yet.”
Rather than following the usual formula of radio promo shows and reggae festivals, Chronixx and his band have played international festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella, appeared twice on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and been featured in an Adidas ad campaign. Most recently, he was tapped as the opening act for Nas and Lauryn Hill’s United States tour that begins in September.
By breaking the rules of business as usual, he has positioned himself to compete on the global playing field. His mostly self-produced debut album, “Chronology,” was released on Friday and topped the iTunes reggae charts in every country except for Germany, where it reached No. 2. The album debuted at No. 12 in the United States iTunes chart overall.
“The younger generation has gravitated to Chronixx,” said Bobby Konders of Massive B Records, whose weekend show on New York’s Hot 97 radio station has been a mainstay of the New York reggae scene. Mr. Konders produced many records with Chronixx’s father, the dancehall singer Chronicle, and met Chronixx as a youngster. “I remember he told me he was a beatmaker,” Mr. Konders recalled. “The tracks he was making at that time sounded like hip-hop to me.”
As he recounts in his song “Spanish Town Rockin,’” Chronixx was born Jamar McNaughton in De La Vega City in Spanish Town, Jamaica, also the birthplace of Grace Jones. His father exposed him to music at an early age, and he took an interest in production, inspired both by reggae artists and hip-hop producers including Kanye West. During the past five years, Chronixx and a handful of associated artists — Protoje, Jesse Royal, Jah9 and Kabaka Pyramid — have become known as members of the reggae revival movement. They have sought to integrate modern dancehall with the foundations of Jamaican roots music sonically, and to highlight cultural themes in their lyrics.
Mr. Konders described Chronixx’s audiences as less acquainted with reggae history. “The kids that follow Chronixx are not familiar with Luciano and Anthony B and Sizzla and Capleton,” he said, referring to Jamaican recording artists who rose to prominence in the 1990s. “They’re kids my daughter’s age. The hip-hop generation,” he said. “Chronixx is for their generation, for their era.”
Mr. Konders added: “He understands the younger generation that’s into social media. He’ll come to town and sell 1,000 tickets without a flyer.”
Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records and credited with helping Bob Marley reach international acclaim, signed Chronixx to his Blue Mountain Music company. “What got to me was his phrasing, how he sang and also his sense of timing,” he said, “which are two things you can’t really learn. You’re gifted with that.”
He compared Chronixx’s natural talents to those of Frank Sinatra: “When he would sing a song, he’d just move the song with his lyric, and in so doing you were kind of glued to the words. You heard every word he was saying. And in his own way, Chronixx is doing the same thing. As well as the music having its groove and everything, he flows above it with his voice. He’s special.”
Mr. Blackwell added that he had faith in Chronixx’s unconventional path. “Bob Marley didn’t have radio hits either,” he said. “He built up the following from the street, from the shows.” Mr. Blackwell called this approach “more solid,” noting: “A radio hit can be a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. But you create a solid base when you do it with touring.”
Onstage in Brooklyn, Chronixx spoke of the spiritual power of reggae, referring to dancehall as “our church” and sound systems as having been created by God. Later in his set, he spoke of his goals for Jamaican music with equal fervor.
“We want to put reggae music back on the top of music again,” he said. “And I believe we can do that on this day, in 2017. All we want the people them do, just like how you support the hip-hop music that you love. Support the jazz music that you love. Go and buy some reggae music tonight. Seen? Listen some reggae music tonight. And put your music upon the top. What you say about that?”
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