Kabaka Pyramid interview: "Reggae is the spirit of Jamaican culture"

Following a run of sold out dates across the UK, political lyricist and rebel soul Kabaka Pyramid returns to perform his blend of reggae and hip hop. We give him a call to talk about what he loves about the genres.

Lorna Gray

Last updated: 9th May 2017.
Originally published: 8th May 2017

Image: Kabaka Pyramid 

Taking influence and inspirations from his Kingston roots as well as classic nineties hip hop, Kabaka Pyramid's genre merge has made him one of the most stand out artists of the contemporary reggae scene. Having sold out shows in the UK only three years ago, Pyramid's politically charged and conscious sound proves to be as poignant and popular as ever. 

With a new album set for release imminently, Pyramid will return to the UK accompanied by the Bebble Rockers Band. They'll be treating audiences in cities across the country to high energy performances of typical reggae beats and not-so-typical lyrical bars flowing over. 

We caught up with Kabaka as he prepares for his cross-Atlantic journey and subsequent live shows in his hometown of Jamaica. 

You fuse together quite a number of musical genres, was this a conscious decision or a bit of experimentation that paid off? 

A little bit of both. While there's been experimentation with reggae, dancehall and hip hop, the conscious decision was to not do them separately and sound like two two different artists - one doing reggae and one doing hip hop. I decided to fuse them together and bring all the hip hop elements into the reggae music, it's something I've been doing since about 2010 you could say. 

The reggae elements can be put down to your Kingston hometown, how do you feel your Jamaican upbringing influenced your sound?  

Being in Jamaica, reggae music is the pinnacle sound around here. Hearing so much of that music growing up, with my father listening to Bob Marley and Dennis Brown, I grew up on that music. The influence was always there. I'm definitely proud of my culture and I want to represent Jamaica. It's a no-brainer. 

For people outside of Jamaica, it's definitely a view that reggae is the sole musical creation to come out of the country, given your previous answer, does this ring true? 

Yeah, I mean there's definitely other types of music being made. The thing is, we sum up all of our music as reggae, but of course, you have ska, you have rocksteady you have dancehall, you have ragga. You have all of these different aspects of music that came out of Jamaica but once the term of reggae became the prominent thing, everything just got sort of summed up under reggae. Like an umbrella.

There are many different variations of it, there's dub which came out of Jamaica too. The UK has been instrumental in marketing the music too, providing an outlet as well as an income for many Jamaican artists over here. The UK definitely played a huge part in the whole establishment of the genre. 

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Where do your hip hop influences come from?

I love Wu-Tang, Roots, Common, I really loved Dead Prez. Definitely more East Coast US influences, I didn't really listen to a lot of West Coast. Obviously, I know about 2pac and them guys, but I wasn't really too into that scene, I'm more boom bap. 

There are several artists you've cited as influences and you've worked with Chronixx - and you both say influence each other's sound. Is it important that your collaborations come from those who inspire you personally?

For sure, I definitely like to collaborate with artists that bring a different aspect from what I can bring. Naturally, when you collaborate with an artist, you want it to be mutually beneficial. You want it to be with somebody who has a good audience as well.

Chronixx has done so much for the movement, there weren't a lot of young reggae artists coming out since 2010 so it just made sense. He's very talented in bringing a different aspect to the music with the singing and the melodies as well as his lyrics. I always want to pair up with artists that can bring something different. 

Are there any artists you're yet to work with but would like to? 

Steve Marley. I worked with Damian on production, I'm yet to work with Steve. I worked with Raekwon from the Wu-Tang but there are a couple of other members that I'd like to work with, like RZA and GZA. I'd also love to work with Nas, and there's also the more contemporary artists like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole.

I'm kind of old school with my hip hop stuff, I look to the nineties, but there are some really talented people out there. I'd love to work with Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill - one of those kinds, you know? The nineties, the hip hop and soul artists. 

Since you mentioned Kendrick, what are your thoughts on the new album?

You know, I haven't listened to it all the way through! I started listening and I got interrupted. I mean, Kendrick is someone I've got a lot of respect for, his lyricism is different, it's so creative and ingenious and I love that he's not afraid to experiment with new styles.

Sometimes in certain styles - because I'm a nineties man - I like a certain kind of arrangement of lyrics. So, sometimes he loses me with the flow but I respect what he's bringing. Even if I'm not really feeling the groove of it sometimes, I respect the lyricism and the intelligence in it. 

What does the reggae movement mean to you personally? 

It's still a kind of diamond in the rough, that Jamaica's rough in terms of the world. Reggae is the spirit of Jamaican culture and Jamaicans definitely need to do more to highlight it and embrace it. It's a very divided place and a heavily Christian nation. I think a lot of people don't embrace aspects of the culture due to their religious alignments - aspects that are universal of the culture. I think because of that, we hold ourselves back.

I think reggae music needs to be at the forefront of our marketing for tourism and all of those things. Sometimes, reggae music gets left behind - like a side note - when all around the world, everyone knows Jamaica for reggae. They see a reggae band with locks, there's Rastafari's here as well, and there's that association.

I think Jamaica need to embrace these things, it's a powerful thing, it's one of the only genres that consistently provides message music. It's a real thing. The vibrations in the music coming from the heart of Africa, fine-tuned in Jamaica and then spread out to the world. It's amazing. 

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Your music has consistently been politically charged, do you think messages within music is important? 

For me, I can't really listen to music unless it accesses my feelings somehow. That's how I want my music to be. I could write normal reggae songs all day but that doesn't give me any joy, it wouldn't give me any fulfilment. It teaches and it inspires at the same time, it's witty, it's lyrical. That's the ideal thing for me, music wise. 

Who or what inspired you to write political lyrics? 

My musical journey was mainly inspired by Sizzla, my entire journey through Rastafari and spirituality began through Sizzla's music, because of that identity, my own music went down that road, it took on that form.

No matter what, there will always be that spiritual and political awareness, consciousness, vibration within the music. I would say that around 2001 and 2002, Sizzla's music was it for me. 

A few years ago you sold out several UK shows, what do you think it is about your music that makes it universally appreciated around the world? 

I think people like the creativity with the blend of the genres, people like the lyrics and the inspiration that it brings. The messages in the music, I think that's what people want from me, more than anything else. I'm not afraid to speak out about things that regular people won't speak about. 

My album that's coming, I'm definitely looking to address certain things that I think people need to be aware of. Honestly, people want the fire and the energy that we bring as a band, too. Sometimes I get the feeling that people don't even want us to sing any songs for the ladies, they just want straight fire. It's a high energy thing, that's what it's all about. 

What do you most look forward to about coming to the UK? 

London is great. the last two times I performed in London, they were two very special shows. I'm going to Manchester for the first time so I'm looking forward to that. I'm an Arsenal fan, and Manchester United has been a big rival over the years - although they're kind of struggling lately. I'm definitely pleased to see that! I'm looking forward to it, I know it's going to be good. 

Kabaka Pyramid heads over to the UK this June, including dates at Bristol's The Fleece venue and Manchester's Sound Control.   

You can get Kabaka Pyramid tickets for his UK dates below. 

Bristol - The Fleece, Sunday 18th June

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Manchester - 

" class="bordered bold">Sound Control, Friday 23rd June

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