A report by Patricia Meschino for Billboard.
Throughout 2017, Jamaican reggae artist Chronixx has experienced a tremendous surge in his career fortunes. In late February, Chronixx and his band Zinc Fence Redemption made their second appearance on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; in March, Chronixx became the face of the Adidas Spezial Spring Summer ’17 collection, a 1970s Jamaica-inspired sneaker and clothing line; and his 44-date tour through March and April in anticipation of his debut album Chronology, released July 7, (the first title issued on his Soul Circle Music label) boasted numerous sold out dates across the U.S., including three nights in New York City.
In late June, Bono requested Chronixx perform at a benefit concert for the Recording Academy’s charity MusiCares, honoring U2 bassist Adam Clayton. The day after Chronology dropped, Chronixx headlined Celebrate Brooklyn, a free show in the city’s Prospect Park, and pulled 8,000 people. He ended July by flying to Japan where he was the sole reggae act at the 21st annual Fuji Rock Festival, then flew directly to Europe, embarking on a month-long tour booked by WME. He performed in Tel Aviv, Israel, for the first time on Aug. 31 then returned to the U.S. where he hit the road again on Sept. 7 as the opening act on Lauryn Hill and Nas’ Powernomics Tour (presented by Live Nation).
As his globetrotting itinerary affirms, the demand for the 24-year old sing-jay — whose sincere lyrics and compelling vocals, an amalgam of roots reggae’s urgency and dancehall’s rapid fire rhymes — extends far beyond Jamaica’s shores. Five years after attaining his initial recognition outside of the Caribbean, how has Chronixx surpassed other promising Jamaican acts to become reggae’s most talked about artist?
In an interview with Billboard in New York City, Chronixx offered a self-effacing explanation for his popularity. “For many people, my music brings a positive element into their lives,”he says. “That is where the love of it springs from, but for most reggae artists, what we receive as success is not necessarily ours, but the success of Jamaican music over an extended period. What we are experiencing now is the benefit of the hard work of Bob Marley and Burning Spear.”
“Chronixx fans are invested in his talent; that’s led to where he is now,” says DJ Max Glazer, who has toured with some of music’s biggest names, including Rihanna, and is a co-founder of Federation Sound, a New York City-based dancehall/reggae sound system that teamed up with Chronixx on his 2016 Roots and Chalice mixtape. “His fans support him, whether sharing his music online or buying concert tickets, which is a sign of their engagement because the live reggae concert circuit, except for a handful of artists, has been very tough for many years. I’ve noticed that in smaller venues or in cities where there’s not a lot of reggae — like Chronixx’s first time in Detroit with just 300 people — I swear, he goes harder. It’s as if he’s saying, ‘Even though it’s Tuesday night in middle America, I’m going to give you even more than what you came here for.’ Then those fans tell everyone how amazing the Chronixx show was and more people turn out the next time.”
The son of dancehall singer Chronicle, (who is featured on the Chronology track “Big Bad Sound”) Chronixx was born Jamar Rolando McNaughton in Spanish Town, about 10 minutes outside of Jamaica’s capital Kingston. Chronixx initially gained island-wide attention in 2012 with his dancehall-inflected hits including “Behind Curtain” and “Warrior,” released on Zinc Fence Records, the label Chronixx co-founded with producer Romaine “Teflon” Arnett and co-producer/engineer Ricardo “Shadyz” Lynch. Chronixx reached an even wider audience with the late 2012 release Major Lazer Presents: Chronixx & Walshy Fire-Start A Fyah Mixtape.
At the time of Chronixx’s emergence in Jamaica, dancehall reggae was beleaguered internationally by headline-grabbing protests against a few artists whose lyrics were deemed homophobic, which obscured the numerous acts whose inspiring music held reggae’s banner aloft. Additionally, several of Jamaica’s biggest artists lacked U.S. visas and work permits due to various circumstances, including criminal charges, which further tarnished the genre’s image and impeded its growth. Among them, dancehall icon Buju Banton was found guilty of attempting to acquire and distribute cocaine in June 2011 (he’s scheduled for release in 2018) and Vybz Kartel, who, following years of seemingly-indomitable supremacy in the genre, was arrested in September 2011, jailed, found guilty of murder in 2014, and is now serving a life sentence.
Reggae’s compromised image prompted Chronixx’s management team — Pierre Bost, Brendon “Daddi Barnz” Sharpe and Zion “Keke” Tomlinson — to apply alternative strategies as they presented their artist to the world. “I had worked at VP Records [in London] for five years before I met Chronixx and during that time, reggae had a terrible image within the mainstream media,” says the London-based Bost, a former European marketing manager for New York-based reggae indie VP/Greensleeves Records. “It was seen as very uncool and violent, so we decided to be independent with Chronixx and do as much as we could ourselves, or with people who weren’t previously involved with the music. That was our way of reintroducing reggae with a new face.
“We decided that Chronixx would headline his own shows and only perform with his band, so people can see his value,” Bost continues. “It was rough at first, but that set Chronixx apart from other artists. People saw him differently. And for him to come from the ground up as now the most buzzed about act in reggae, without a major label, he has already changed the game.”
Sharpe and Tomlinson went to college together in Jamaica; despite their lack of experience their confidence in the then-unknown but prodigiously-talented teenager prompted an early departure from school to take on his managerial duties. “Chronixx said, ‘I am going to let you guys try management with my career and it’s either we create history or we fail. But I am not in the failing aspect of things, so let me know what you are up to,'” Daddi Barnz recalls in an interview with Billboard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Alongside Tomlinson and McNaughton, he formed Chronixx Music Ltd., registered in Jamaica (Chronixx Music Jamaica) in 2012 and in America (Chronixx Music America) in 2013. Bost is their business partner, and together they collaborate with a network of team players throughout the world to propel Chronixx’s career forward.
“What is making Chronixx’s career different is that his management team understands the person, the brand they are working with and they want to see his business prosper,” offers Daddi Barnz. “Every day I speak to everyone on the team to hear what they’re thinking and then we conceptualize the next move, whether from the marketing or touring aspect, planning two to three years in advance. Some artists stagnate because comfort sets in, but we would never allow that to happen. It’s all about what’s to come: How are we going to gain new fans?”
If there’s a disconcerting element within Chronixx’s steadily-climbing career trajectory, it’s the modest sales — even by reggae’s consistently and inexplicably low sales numbers, considering the music’s pervasive influence and the numerous platforms available for obtaining free music — for Chronology, an expressive, sophisticated display of Chronixx’s versatility as vocalist, songwriter and producer. Following his successful U.S. tour, Chronology, distributed by Virgin worldwide (except in Japan and the Caribbean) sold just 2,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Music, but still debuted at No. 1 on the Reggae Albums chart. As of mid-September, Chronology has moved just over 4,500 units after 10 weeks on the reggae tally.
“There’s a disconnect with Jamaican music from the consumer standpoint; technology has put a damper on the genre’s sales, so the number is not an accurate measurement of what an album is really doing,” says Ruddy Rock, a Chronixx team member whose various roles accomplish “whatever’s needed,” he says. Rock introduced Chronixx to his U.S. booking agent, WME’s Peter Schwartz, and to Island Records’ legendary founder Chris Blackwell. Blackwell signed Chronixx to his Blue Mountain Publishing (his publishing is now handled by Blue Mountain/Cobalt); Fallon and Bono were each introduced to Chronixx’s music at Blackwell’s stunning Golden Eye resort in Oracabessa, Jamaica. “Chronixx is a global artist who’s been touring the world since 2013, so it’s not the same as an urban artist where everything is based around U.S. numbers,” adds Rock.
Each night on the Chronology Tour, Glazer, the DJ, witnessed Chronixx fans across the U.S. cram into sold out venues, singing along to each song he performed then buying Chronixx merchandise on their way out. Understandably, Glazer is “mystified” by the album’s sluggish sales. “No one has really gotten a handle on how people consume reggae; for whatever reasons, the sales metric doesn’t quantify a reggae artist or reggae album’s success,” he says. “I don’t know what reggae’s magical mark of success is, but I can unequivocally say Chronixx has reached it.”
“Certain stats will show you the inconsistencies where, over time, we will figure out how to fill these gaps,” Chronixx acknowledges. “We are growing and even when we have passed and gone, the music will continue to grow. We live in the generation where we look for sales in the same month or year. But music has its time, and that time will come.”