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Interview: Kabaka Pyramid

Interview: Kabaka Pyramid

Interview: Kabaka Pyramid

By on - Photos by Sabriya Simon Photography - 5 comments

"I have always been musically a split personality"


Keron Salmon AKA Kabaka Pyramid created seismic waves with the release of his free to download Rebel Music EP last summer. Combining roots reggae and conscious hip hop as seamlessly as Nas and Damian, and featuring a guest appearance from man of the moment Protoje, the EP issued via his Bebble Rock label seemed to unite reggae fans across the world. Bebble Rock is a musical, social and familial community that grew up around Salmon, his brother and their friends in the Hope Pastures/College Green area of St Andrew. In 2002, after completing high school Salmon left Jamaica for Fort Lauderdale where he began rapping and making beats, finding the Bebble Rock crew had set up their own studio for him to work in on his return. At about this time he chose the name Kabaka Pyramid, bringing together the name of a former Ugandan king and the iconic polyhedron. Several hip hop mix tapes followed until another trip to the states in 2004 led to a meeting with fellow rapper Young Diction who introduced him to the producer Danger. Their collaboration single Dear Hip Hop was chosen to feature on a myspace invasion mixtape by DJ Green Lantern. In 2009 following two more hip hop mixtapes the Transition Volume 1 and Volume 2 Kabaka and his management team decided to fuse his hip hop and reggae heritage as one - and the rest was history. Six months after the dust had settled Angus Taylor caught up with Kabaka Pyramid to discuss his many sided talents...

Kabaka Pyramid

Your rebel music EP really took off last year. Why do you think it created such a buzz?

A few reasons. I think the sound isn't necessarily unique because it's often compared to Junior Gong and Protoje and such. But I think the sound blended in the way it was with the reggae and hip hop mix and the content - the level of information - that had a major impact on the reaction from people. I've been overwhelmed, trust me. It's a blessing.

I'm glad you mentioned Junior Gong. People compared Rebel Music to Distant Relatives - is this a flattering or superficial comparison?

Definitely flattering because those two are artists I look up to. Junior Gong and Stephen Marley's productions I look up to as a producer as well. I have no problem with when people say "You sound like somebody else" because I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. You have to use your influences and mould them into your sound.

We put our EP out there free and it's not a problem because we do it for the love of it

You've really embraced the mixtape culture in the same way hip hop and rnb have been to get mainstream interest. Is this the way to build a buzz when people won't buy albums? How has the response to the EP translated into mainstream radio play or big show bookings?

That was the approach from the outset. This was promotion for people who don't know Kabaka Pyramid and are wondering "Why should I pay for it if I don't know it?" So we put it out there free and it's not a problem because we do it for the love of it. Radio stations are playing it, some less known  than others, but a couple of disc jocks on major stations have been supporting me ever since and a few new ones logging on since the EP. I'll be doing a show here in Kingston called Plug 'n' Play that Dubtonic puts on every Friday at Jonkanoo Lounge. I'll be there along with other acts like ChronixX and Kelissa that I link with. I'll be doing JARIA - the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association - they're keeping  a series of shows in February for Reggae Month. I'll be on either the fusion night or the reggae night! Because my stuff is kind of... (laughs)

You are an mc, producer, engineer - how did you get into each one?

Kabaka PyramidMc-ing just began from my high school days. Just me and my brethren just listening to a lot of rap and a lot of dancehall and then trying it out for ourselves. That just grew into building a home studio. I used to watch my brother Supanova producing a lot and he taught me how to use FruityLoops and make beats, and how to use Acid Pro and record. I had a background in using those programs from having a sound where we'd make mix cds and remixes. I've always been into computers and into music so these things come naturally. I'm always eager to learn every time I go to a big studio, picking their brains to see what compressors they use, reverb, when to do this and that. My production has been an evolution. I have the mindset that if I can't get something done for me I'll just learn to do it myself. I like an old school sound with hip hop drum loops and old school sounds in reggae instrumentation. So I will sample some old reggae, create a drum loop, add some more instruments whether some keys, guitar or some horns. I use Ableton Live right now, big up to Suwandi for showing me that program which revolutionized my production. So it's a lot of sampling and a lot of getting live instruments and musicians to come in the studio.

Tell me about how you became part of the Bebble Rock Family?

Bebble Rock started mainly with youths I went to high school with and from other high schools in Hope Pastures, College Green. Man like AJ they have always been around, man like Grabba Smallz I went to school with, my two managers Abi and Duanie, my brother Supanova - so it's always been a family thing. We'd always had a studio which has been a central link up point. Right now the studio is at Abi's house. These are not just musical relationships - these are brethrens where it's more like family. Taiwo was a key member when we focussed more on the hip hop and passed away in late 2007. But that kind of galvanised the unit again and we built this studio here and it was just constant music from there - albums and mixtapes and this sort of thing. Bebble means "Sharp" and the rock signifies the solidity. So the rock will always stay sharp and the music will always keep the direction one pointed while it's always solid content and solid music.

These are not just musical relationships - these are brethrens where it's more like family

Your previous two mixtapes - the transition 1 and 2 were hip hop. Was your plan to focus on hip hop then?

Definitely - I was still doing a lot of reggae songs then but it was still in a developmental stage. But the hip hop we were more confident with and considered ready for the streets and for the underground vibe and thing. Hip hop is just something that comes natural to me as well and that spurred our confidence that we should put out some music. We put out the Transition 1 while I was still in Orlando and then after we did the Bebble album in Jamaica when I came back in '08-'09 we released Transition Volume 2 which got a lot of good support.

What is the Jamaican hip hop scene like?

It's a very underground scene. A lot of the rappers are from different communities. There's no real showcase for them so you will have rappers out in Portmore who don't really know what's going on in Kingston. We hear there are rappers in Mandevillle and it's like the connections are not really being bridged as they should be. But hip hop is huge in Jamaica. Everybody knows from Biggie and Tupac straight up to Wu Tang and Nas to the mainstream stuff like Little Wayne and Rick Ross. You have a lot of rappers but the thing about it is that Jamaicans for the most part are not comfortable with people rapping - particularly rapping with a foreign accent. That's why there's pretty much no radio support for local rappers. Boyd from Alric and Boyd used to play local rappers back in the day with Holocaust and Beast and those guys but he's not on the radio any more. My disc jock brethren named ZJ Rush, me and him are close so he will play some of my hip hop tracks here and there, but for the most part it doesn't get supported in the mainstream.

Jamaicans for the most part are not comfortable with people rapping - particularly rapping with a foreign accent

Who are your all time favourite hip hop artists? And your favourite reggae artists?

Gza and Raekwon from Wu Tang, Common, Nas and Canibus. Talking about Sizzla, Dennis Brown, Peter Tosh, Ini Kamoze, and Junior Gong. Those are my all time favourites.

You talk in your lyrics about doing music for the love of it. Do you have to find other ways to make a living? Is music something you do in your spare time?

I'm just reaching a stage in the last few months where if I got an offer for a 9 to 5 job I'd probably turn it down. Things are rough in Jamaica. My family have been going through a rough patch for the last few years. But we still give thanks for a place to stay and right now I don't have to worry about too many bills and things and we have the studio. It rolls around my mind but I don't really stress about that still. The music, just even getting dubplates and keeping those things in circulation, gives me a good income and doing little shows here and there - hopefully we can line up some tours... I do some side hustles like selling football jerseys. We have our duplication thing in the studio, cd duplication with Lightscribe, and studio time where I work as an engineer, so I have to supplement.

How do your spiritual political and artistic beliefs express themselves through your music?

The main motivation for me to do music is to bring across a message. The message might be different due to the vibe of the production or just my vibe at the time but I try to stand out with a level of content in my lyrics. I find that a lot of the type of information given in certain songs I listen to - particularly in hip hop - I don't find those messages being brought across in reggae. So I try to go as deep as I can with my spirituality and my Rastafarian faith. Because there is an evolution going on in consciousness right now and people are rising so I think the music needs to rise with that consciousness. People need to know about yoga, about Tai Chi, about energy, about chakras, about meditation. Not just saying these things but actually doing and talking about them from experience.

There is an evolution going on in consciousness right now

Tell me about your Kemetic Yoga. Is it complementary to your music?

Yoga is something I try to do every day. Yoga is about balancing and unification. Unifying the higher to the lower, unifying yourself to the creator. If I can keep a balanced heart and mentality then my music will be balanced and beneficial for people. Yoga keeps me level and with the deep breathing as well it enhances my breathing and ability to project my voice and even with abdominals and things like that so it's very much a part of the process.

Tell me about what the relationship between reggae and hip hop and what it means to you?

(pauses) For me it comes out of the same milieu, the same energy source. African people come from Africa. Some of us came to the Caribbean, some of us went to the States. All were taken and brought to these places. And the same revolutionary energy that was being cultivated in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, it just manifested in two different ways. A lot of the same things being spoken of, the fight for freedom, the fight for liberation, the struggle of poverty against oppression, but it just manifested in a different bounce, a different groove. So what I try to do is just fuse the grooves together and there are so many different styles with this type of music that I just love and appreciate it when someone does something unique. Like Ini Kamoze, the man just has style, and he is another one who did what I am doing now in fusing the reggae and the hip hop. So I kind of look to him as the prototype, and I know Protoje does as well.

I kind of look to Ini Kamoze as the prototype

People complain about hip hop infiltrating reggae but you make a kind of roots hip hop that no one seems to be complaining about.

It's kind of funny because I was literally expecting more people to give that kind of review! But I think it's because it's more rootsy and a lot of the complaints now about hip hop fusing into dancehall is this new more modern sound of hip hop. That synthesizer and that one drum loop, where you find all the rhythms just sound the same and sound flat. So when you come with the roots now and you add that hip hop bounce to it, it's a different sound altogether. It's still soulful music from the heart.

Tell me about the genesis of this hybrid project.

Kabaka PyramidI have always been musically a split personality. There was Ini Kabaka who does reggae and there was Ronnie Pyramid who does hip hop. And if you listened to the two of them you'd have no idea it was the same person. But me and my management team sat down around September of 2009 and said "We have three different paths. We can stick to reggae, stick to hip hop or we can fuse them". We did a song called Betta Mus Come with me and Koro-Fyah shortly after I watched the movie of the same name and it was like the beginning of a transition point. We realized we found the sound, the delivery, the lyricism and the groove which started a progression. Then I did Free From Chains which fully manifested the sound because it had the roots, the hip hop and the lyricism. I actually wrote that song on Common's Resurrection - I actually wrote it to the that beat. I was writing it with the mindset of writing a hip hop song but I did it in a way where it could be sung as a reggae song with the melodies. I built a beat sampling Ini Kamoze and I sang it on it and the man them said it sounded good so we realized we needed to do a project on this. Protoje linked me too and said "You need to put out some music" and when he heard that song he was overwhelmed and it just sprung forward from there!

Which producers apart from yourself contributed to the project?

Julian King Biggs Morrison did the first track The Sound - from the moment I heard it it had to be the in-track! Louis Plant or LP did Feel Di Vibes, me and Proto were supposed to do a combination on it but then we ended up doing the Warrior track. That was produced by Zinc Fence which is ChronixX and Teflon. They also produced I Alone and Real Music. Pay Check is a producer from California who I linked through Vicious Automatic which is my manager's cousin, he gave Vicious a beat and I recorded Prophecy on it. We did the hip hop version first and the reggae version after. All other tracks were my productions.

Protoje, Dubtonic Kru, yourself - do you see yourselves as part of a new movement in music in Jamaica?

There is a renaissance going on right now. I know it's in alignment with this whole 2012 shift that's going on and it's manifesting in Jamaica in this way. The music is definitely having a revival with Uprising Roots, Dubtonic, Raging Fyah, Jah9, Proto, ChronixX, Kelissa, Cen'C Love, and I definitely consider myself a part of it. I'm proud to share stages with these people - the talent is overwhelming right now.

The music is definitely having a revival with Uprising Roots, Dubtonic, Raging Fyah, Jah9, Proto, ChronixX, Kelissa, Cen'C Love, and I definitely consider myself a part of it

We've talked about a lot of positive things but in the interests of balance I have to ask you about something that a lot of people are quite frightened of. Are you going to release an album which people have to pay for? (laughs)

(Laughing) I think we're looking towards next year for an album. I want to release some singles that we plan to put on iTunes. I'm doing a lot of work with some outside producers that linked me since the EP was released and like the music. I've been working mainly with Urban Tree Music from Germany. I've been working with Cornadoor. He sends me beats all the time. The links are building but definitely Urban Tree family and some others around Europe and California and things. I want to spread out the music as much as possible but we don't have much resources here so if I can do work with other producers and get the name out there, hopefully we can sell some songs on iTunes. I might put together another EP, it might be free, we'll just see what happens, but I'm just going with the flow right now. It's still in an exposure stage. I'm trying to get on more shows, trying to do a small tour in Europe this year and just keep it moving.

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Read comments (5)

Posted by Strongtree on 01.19.2012
"Great Story United Reggae." Kabaka Pyramid fusion of Roots Reggae and Hip Hop consciousness is a evolution in the making!!! I'm very excited in the direction this evolutionary music is going and the new generation of talented artists involved in this movement. I agree, the Jamaican Hip Hop Roots scene definitely needs more exposure and support! I would purchase a album by this revolutionary artist no doubt about that, hopefuly it gets released on CD! Stay Strong to the Roots, Bless!

Posted by Rozwood on 01.19.2012
Great interview thanks. Bigup KP!!!

Posted by Get Right Music on 01.19.2012
Great interview. Keep doing your thing Kabaka! You can upload your videos and future mixtapes to our site for free. Get a little added exposure.

Posted by Kafiri on 03.16.2012
Kabaka East Afreeka Waiting fe you Straight.. Bless.

Posted by Peter wasswa on 12.15.2012
Kabaka nice stuff... I've got a chance to watch you on Splash host by Donisha.

The name Kabaka means King here in my country Uganda and specificaly in our kingdom Buganda from the Bantu speaking people (Bantu) meanin' people sharin common charatoristics... I'm very proud of you.

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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