Bob Marley proved that music could move your body and your soul. But it’s been a while since a Jamaican artist truly captivated the masses with conscious music. Kabaka Pyramid is trying to change that.
He got a little closer recently with an impressive Reggae Sumfest debut in his native Jamaica. The young lion from Kingston held his own, exhibiting star quality as well as proving that people were ready for his music. Couple that with recent moves—including an appearance this year at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas; his U.S. tour with a stop at New York City’s SOB’s; and an impressive European touring schedule—and there’s no question that Kabaka Pyramid is gunning for international stardom.
Kabaka, born Keron Salmon, began his musical journey around 2002. A fan of hip-hop, he would recite rap lyrics from the Kingston-born Canibus and Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan fame. He continued performing hip-hop when he moved to Orlando, Fla., finding some encouraging success by landing a track, “Dear Hip-Hop,” as Ronny Pyramid with fellow rapper Young Diction on the DJ Green Lantern mixtape Myspace Invasion Part 2 in 2007.
About six years ago, his music began to evolve, becoming increasingly political as well as more dancehall-reggae-heavy. He chose the name “Kabaka,” which, in the kingdom of Buganda in Uganda, is the title for a king. According to Reggaeville, he believes that the pyramids are the key to the universal laws that govern the creation of the universe, and he wants his music to represent truth and higher knowledge.
His latest single, “Phenomenon,” was just released on iTunes on Friday. The following five songs should serve as a primer for the phenomenon known as Kabaka Pyramid.
1. “Never Gonna Be a Slave”
It’s not hard to hear why this song, released in 2014, has become one of Kabaka’s most popular songs. With uprisings the world over, “I’m never gonna be a slave to the system” is a powerful refrain.
2. “Well Done”
Why there isn’t a proper video for this anthem is a mystery. A hit since its release earlier this year, “Well Done” resonates with many and is especially apt for the political leadership in this country: “Well done Mr. Politician Man/you’ve done a wonderful job to tear down the country/demolition man.”
3. “Free From Chains”
“Kabaka Pyramid, this is my naamme/the game, it will never be the saamme” served as his primary introduction, and it instantly won over conscious-music lovers who wanted to be freed from the chains of music that had nothing to say.
4. “No Capitalist”
Included on 2012’s Tropical Escape Riddim, featuring such contemporary Jamaican stars as Christopher Martin and I-Octane, “No Capitalist” is perhaps Kabaka’s most Bob Marley-esque song. Lyrics like “We don’t want no capitalist … we don’t want no big business plan … poverty is no accident” are definitely words Marley could get behind.
5. “Liberal Opposer”
Hard-core hip-hop fans will be most impressed by Kabaka’s lyricism and impeccable delivery; plus, he makes yoga, which he regularly practices, sound hard here. Some DJs have put the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” underneath it to underscore how hard he rips.
Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.