By Vanessa Tam
VANCOUVER – While reggae and dancehall music first got started in Jamaica, over time its rich and colourful history has transported itself all over the planet to become a movement that’s loved the world over.
Growing up in New York by way of Montego Bay, Jamaica, Kemar Donaldson is one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in modern reggae dancehall. In just a few short years, Donaldson signed a deal with Atlantic under the stage name Kranium and has already collaborated on tracks with major artists like Ty Dolla Sign, Tory Lanez and, interestingly enough, Ed Sheeran.
“The crazy thing is we first wanted to do the remix,” Donaldson said over the phone, thinking back to how his verse on Ed Sheeran’s hit single “Shape Of You” first came about. “Yeah, it was so amazing that when they reached out to us just like, okay, I have to come good on this record, and that’s what I did. When you’re doing a collab with an international act in such calibre; when you’re contributing you have to make sure that you contribute right.”
As the nephew of the innovative Jamaican reggae artist Screwdriver, Donaldson holds his art and his culture first and foremost in all of the music he makes. “I mean, culture is something we’re—it doesn’t leave at all, you know? Especially in New York,” Donaldson says. “I just stay in tune with everything that’s going on; I feel like it never really leaves us.”
When asked about his thoughts on the current trend of North American artists like Drake making reggae- and dancehall-inspired music, he says he has no problems with it at all. “I feel like people need to understand that we are artists,” he explains. “You understand, an artist’s job is to be artistic and to be artistic you have to try stuff. So if you are a country artist and you say, ‘I wanna jump on a dancehall record,’ by any chance, go ahead and do it because that’s your job. I don’t see nothing wrong with it. I have hip-hop songs in my record, and I have Afrobeat in some of our records. Ain’t nothing wrong with it! Just, like, do it right. If you’re gonna do it, just do it right.”
He goes on to say, “I feel like we’re reaching a point in life where the artist will always get backlashes after a thing that’s not supposed to be done because, as I said, artists are supposed to go out and be creative and extend and reach and try to push different boundaries with music. Show me that you can do some country song and pull it off. Show me [that you] can do some reggaeton with a reggaeton artist and pull it off. Show me [that you] can do some Afrobeat, some dancehall, you know. If you wanna go and explore, then you go and explore.”
Kranium performs on May 20 at Venuekranium, Venue