On his sophomore album, Jesse Royal is giving us a true look at himself.
The reggae singer says it is the most vulnerable he has been in music.
That is why the album is called Royal, a play on his name, yes, but a declaration that it is an insight into his emotions and thoughts.
“It is an offering where I talk about love, the good side and bad side, me a talk bout me missing my daughter and not having enough time with her during a period where the world is so shaky and me a talk bout friendships in a real way, it is the most vulnerable I have been. So when I really check it I say yo, this look like a Royal them really getting,” he said to Loop News.
The album contains personal songs such as “Home”, an ode to his two daughters, and “Differences”, in which he sings about the ups and downs of love. The themes of the album are varied too, with empowerment messages in "Rich Forever" and "Black" and social commentary on songs such as "Natty Pablo" which was released this week and "Lion Order"
Although he began working on the album since 2019, Jesse said the pandemic affected his creativity in a good way, forcing him to be more introspective.
“I definitely looked more inside, that is where the vulnerability came from because we weren’t going to parties and having stage shows. We weren’t singing to make people wave them hands in the air, and to make people jump up and down, it was like healing myself,” he said, expressing pride of the body of work he created.
He is also proud of the features on the album, stating that this is the most collaborative project he has done.
The album features vocal collaborations with Vybz Kartel, Protoje, rising stars Kumar, Samory I, Runkus and Ghanian singer Stonebwoy.
He said while his first album, the Billboard-charting Lily of Da Valley, featured some collabs especially from a musical standpoint, he got a lot of beef from his friends for not featuring them so he decided with this album to feature those who inspire him musically.
“It’s people who I respect and I listen to like Samori, I think he is one of the greatest voices outta Jamaica. When he sings, it comes in like a trumpet. So I had to have somebody like Samori and we were very deliberate with the message and the song and the beat,” he explained.
Asked if he has a favourite collab on the album, Royal identified “Dirty Money” featuring Stonebwoy.
“It is just a different tempo, a different movement, a very unexpected sound,” he said.
His first single off the album was “Rich Forever” featuring Kartel.
Jesse said that collab was possible through an aligning of the stars, noting that Kartel is someone he has admired for years.
“Kartel will go down in history as one of, if not the greatest, dancehall artistes to ever live,” he said.
In his verse on “Rich Forever”, Kartel sings: “Rich Forever, family mi treasure in a system that breeds depression, who will ease the tension, everyman for themself, cheese intention greens that evil intention, matter how e teach dem need detention."
Stating that Kartel is a Godly being, Jesse said: “There is nobody who could have delivered that message like him. Him know really the richness now, don’t you get it twisted. He have to talk to the youth in a way cause they look pon rasta like we holier than thou, it take one of their own to talk to them.”
A man of many sounds
Like so many of his contemporaries, Royal taps into many genres for this album.
The messages possess the fervour of reggae and Rastafari at its core while mixing in elements of dancehall, dub, afrobeats, jazz and hip-hop.
Royal said he is a vehicle for the message which can manifest itself in any form.
“Reggae is the expression and that can be expressed in any way. Let’s get that out of the way,” he said, addressing the debate over the changing sound of Jamaican music.
“Being Jamaican now comes with a whole heap of things, the good, the bad, the ugly. Jamaica being so small too, is like the richest man still know a poor man, a poor man still know a rich man, the pastor still know a murderer, the murderer mother is still a Christian, it is a whole chain. Me a show you the reality we live with and then the expression of that comes out in many different ways but we must remember we are the same people who give you the vibes. We never stop at ska, we never stop at rock steady,” he said.
He said music is always evolving and the likes of artists such as Bob Marley always brought new sounds to the fore.
The Marley Influence
Jesse spent his formative years growing up in the hills of Maroon Town and the District of Orange in St. James before moving in the late 90s with his mother and brother to join his father in Kingston.
In school, at the age of eight, he developed a close friendship with Daniel ‘Bambaata’ Marley, Ziggy Marley’s first son.
As a result of that friendship, Jesse was able to sit in Ziggy and the Melody Makers’ rehearsals and on studio sessions which inspired his own musical journey.
“Uncle Ziggy and Uncle Steve (Stephen Marley) them a definitely some of the biggest inspirations in terms of direction with music, how they approach the music, the reverence they give to the stage, the honour we give to the work we were bestowed, it is more than yo, we want to be famous, with them it’s a mission, we do this for a reason. Bob set the thing to the highest degree so there is no shaking and them thing is so important to me,” he said.
It was Stephen, he said, who helped him to make up his mind about pursuing music.
“He literally look me in the eye and said a whole heap of people going to be vex, your parents going to be confused, but God give you a talent, he give you a blessing and what you need to do is be you…just trust your creator,” he recalled.
Even though he is an avid ambassador of dancehall and reggae, soca is another genre of music that Jesse has recently become a fan of thanks to his girlfriend Kandi King, known as the Carnival Queen of Jamaica.
“I going to whisper, she convert me likkle,” he said with a laugh.
“Me start listen the music a lil deeper, love soca, the man them upful, the man them joyful… Bunji is my brother in a real life, so is a whole overstanding of respecting other’s talents and other’s craft and other’s genres.”