Kingston’s Kemetic bass commentator finds the golden mean of hip-hop/reggae fusion.
Despite growing up in a middle-class district of Kingston, Jamaica, Keron Salmon was a hip-hop head for much of his youth. “Music needs to be thought-provoking for me to enjoy it and really find value in it,” he explains, “and hip-hop music, just like reggae, has its conscious side as well as its secular side. I used to listen to a lot of Dead Presidents, Wu Tang, Nas and Rakim, who deal with conscious issues in their music, even if they might touch upon some things we might not consider conscious.” Part-way through his teens, he experienced something of an epiphany via exposure to Rasta-oriented performers whose firebrand deliveries held hip-hop undercurrents. “It’s not until I got to soak in some of [uncompromising Rasta sing-jay] Sizzla Kalonji’s music that it really transformed my life completely; it transformed my outlook, my identity, and I really started to see myself as an African, as a Rastafari youth.” Re-emerging in 2010 as Kabaka Pyramid (Kabaka means ‘King’ in the east African Buganda language; ‘Pyramid’ for its cosmological associations), he shifted to an Afrocentric worldview informed by the Kemetic history of ancient Egypt, his budding locks revealing a non-standard Rastafari influence and his music now using an unprecedented blend
of hip-hop and reggae to deliver songs of social commentary and black pride. The debut Kabaka Pyramid EP, The Sound, surfaced on his own Bebble Rock label in 2011, the roots reggae backing contrasting sharply with the hip-hop styling of his vocal flow. Like Jah9’s ‘jazz
on dub’ sub-genre, Kabaka’s newly-anointed hybrid style was very much his own, and collaboration with leading ‘reggae revival’ vocalist Protoje on the outstanding single Warrior, on which Kabaka declares himself a “black version” of both freedom fighter Che Guevara and TV action hero MacGyver, helped bring him to the wider notice of reggae fans; Mi Alright, voiced with rising reggae star Chronixx, highlighted Kabaka’s ability to incorporate a hard-edged rap flow, even on the poppiest of reggae rhythms. Last year, Kabaka teamed up with Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley for the castigating single Well Done, taking world leaders to task for their nefarious wrong-doings. An album, co-produced by Marley, is now in the works while a second single, Can’t Breathe, pushes against the pressures of modern urban life. “It’s been a great pleasure working with him, as he’s a genius,” says Pyramid of Marley. “He’s always working, sometimes to the wee hours of the morning, and the music that we’ve done, I’m very proud of it.” Ultimately, Kabaka sees reggae and rap as alternate forms of inspiration. “I think hip-hop has been more about wittiness, intellect and lyrical ability, but reggae music has always been the spiritual contribution, and the bass line sometimes just transforms me to a different place.” David Katz
Leading the way: Kabaka Pyramid, warrior at the hip-hop/reggae interface.