"As soon as you start to interact with your spiritual self, you start to become more interested in life, outside of the limits of time," Chronixx told me on a recent afternoon, immediately making it clear we weren't about to have any sort of run-of-the-mill discussion about his upcoming album, Chronology, out July 7. The 24-year-old Jamaican musician radiated the assured calm of someone twice his age, beaming a smile that would begin hesitantly and rapidly expand across his face as his enthusiasm rose, and it was clear he could not care less about something as meaningless as the narrative around an album. An artist, ultimately, is only a conduit for the world around them. "It's like, you're hearing your radio signal picking up on things," he continued. "It's not you thinking things."
So Chronixx, whose real name is Jamar McNaughton, is waiting to see "what everything really means and what it means to everybody" when it comes to Chronology. In an age where fame and viral success are often just a few clicks away, he is an anomaly, the kind of artist interested in big ideas. He's been touted since he first came out as a revivalist of classic reggae, but that distinction is more a philosophical one than a sonic one: What Chronixx is channeling above all from artists like Dennis Brown and Burning Spear is the idea that music, particularly reggae music however you define it, is something powerful enough to change the world.
"This music, reggae, is the only music that I know right now, that have been surviving for the past 60 years without any major record label," the singer explained, grinning with puckish pride. "Without any major companies and institutions putting resources into it. Reggae music has its own market, its own following… Reggae artists will sell 100,000 CDs that nobody know about, you know what I mean? You never get a plaque for it, but you did it, and your music is popular, and we live forever because it's not the plaque that makes it live forever. It's not the platinum record on the wall. It's the fact that somebody received it. And accepted it." He toyed with this idea a bit more: "We are a part of a very great movement, and we can't ever lose sight of that."
The songs from Chronology are modern, lush compositions that channel smooth 80s rock and breezy contemporary global pop sounds from dancehall and Afrobeats as much as the comforting swing of reggae. They are gentle beach anthems with lyrics that offer a vision of a better world, whether that means recognizing the strength of women, as on "Majesty," celebrating the joy of a vibrant hometown community, as on "Spanish Town Rockin'," or rejecting the promise of fleeting internet connections in favor or human ones, as on "Likes," the video for which, shot by Joachim Maquet during Chronixx's recent UK tour, is premiering above.
"You can't take the human experience out of things," Chronixx explained, pointing to the way that artists have let themselves become too influenced "by algorithms and numbers." Musicians draw too much on social media and streaming statistics to define the value of their music, he suggested, which only reinforces the idea that a musician's job is more about marketing than about making art. "The real touch still means the most to everybody," he explained, adding that "if Justin Bieber has touched one of his fans, that's a different story than to tweet." The bond formed seeing an artist in concert is different than that of liking a stranger's picture on social media. Chronixx echoed the song's mantra of "we do it for the love we no do it for the likes," his favorite theme of what he said were several ideas he had after developing the riddim. "When you check all of these artists, the most influential people are people who actually touch people. You can't be influential over social media, it's not possible. Because it's too rigged. And you can't become legendary over social media, it's not possible, and we'll know ten years from now."
Talking to Chronixx gives the distinct feeling of being in the presence of a legend. Dressed in simple but stylishly fitted earth tones on the afternoon we met, he was quiet and subdued until the moments his interest was piqued, at which point he would almost literally light up with excitement. A coworker's mention of The Abyssinians prompted an enthusiastic high-five, and a tasty falafel sandwich got a similar response. After we'd sat speaking in a room so artificially chilled that the singer had leapt immediately to adjust the thermostat, Chronixx drifted outside and lit a stick of wood, weaving the cleansing smoke around himself and the curly hair of a young woman seated nearby. Everything about his bearing suggests that to be a fan of Chronixx is to understand how to be comfortable just being in the world.
"Most people just want to vibe with some good music, you know?" he mused. "And [if] you can somehow tap into just being a human experiencing vibrations, then that's a good thing. So I try to balance between being a producer and somebody who think about music and conceptualize, and also just being a person who loves music and shit, who wants something good." Ultimately that means tapping into spirituality, stepping out of time to examine: history, "our African experience to our Afro-Caribbean experience to now," humanity, what it will take to survive for 500 years. "In spirituality there is no confusion," he said. "So things that seem like a big deal, to another person you're like yo, that's a easy fix." It's focusing on what you want instead of what you don't want.
"You have to give up all the education you think you have, all the solutions that you think you have, all the knowledge and ego and pride and everything that you think you have," Chronixx continued. "Everything that you hold onto, your traditions, your culture, your race—all of them things that mean so much to us disappear, and it becomes spiritual." He rattled off some of the ideologies of race and religion that divide us as people, then added, "The thing I need to be most is human. You see what I mean? And a steward of life. Spirituality nice, man." He let out a gentle laugh. "Spirituality make life all—less problems, less complications. Things happening is: we, happening to things. It's not really things happening to us."
Chronixx is touring the US and Europe this summer and fall. For tour dates click here.
Kyle Kramer is the features editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.