Chronixx: Solid As A Rock

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Words by FRIDA BANKS
Photography by CHE KOTHARI

Jamar Rolando McNaughton Jr is sitting on a solitary park bench, directly across from the entrance to G98 studios on an overcast morning in Scarborough, a large suburb east of Downtown Toronto. The current background seems rather dull in comparison to the subject who is widely known as Chronixx. Most probably the unimpressive tree behind him or the subdued sky highlighting the drab of the industrial parking lot. Awaiting the dampness of the air to turn into rain, Chronixx looks down at his hands and observes the lines in his palms. Anyone who knows about this young artist also must note he is anything but boring, even in his stillness. He moves with an ease, with the confidence of his predecessors: Tosh, Cliff, Isaacs, Levy. And like most good musicians, he says a lot in his music avoiding any overextension that may deter from just that.

Daddy Barnz, his poker-faced manager made me wait an hour for the go-ahead, studying my questions to get a sense of what I could contribute. What became obvious was the unstated sentiment that many American interviewers repeatedly asked mundane questions, conjuring island stereotypes I’m sure Rolling Stone already covered in 1976 with Bob Marley. I observed Chronixx politely deflect, explain why he prefers to steam instead of smoke maintaining his integrity amidst their weak approaches.

Chronixx is an old soul. However, a youthful exuberance shines through his, at times, ‘Nina Simonesque’ nature; this likeness to the late singer can be seen in his critical commentary of Jamaican politics, as he’s not one to smile for the cameras or the politicians. Chronixx is acutely aware of his truths. Truth that he is a Jamaican, truth that he is an African, representing peoples and places that hold no passport; he’s not liable to hold anything back.

When I sat with him last August, coming off the leg of his Dread & Terrible tour, I immediately wanted to ask him about home. The place where he was born, in which months later, Chronixx would then record “Spanish Town Rocking” released on his most recent mixtape, Roots & Chalice with DJ Max Glazer.

And mi naval string cut ova Spanish town hospital
To mi mumma name Nana a Spanish Town original
And mi puppa name Chronicle Spanish Town original

The corners of his mouth rise in fondness when I mention Spanish Town, the former colonial capital of Jamaica where indigenous Taino had been living in the area for approximately a millennium before. “When I was in church, I wasn’t the best singer, definitely. I wasn’t even close,” Chronixx explains.

“Even when I was in school I was in a band and I got one of the lowest grades out of my class. Music was very hard because I had to sight-read, sight-play, all of dem tings, write scores . . . To know that there were students way ahead of myself, it just goes to show you that where I come from everyone talented, everyone have a gift, the only difference between myself and everyone else is time and destiny.”

This is more truth than modesty as Jamaica’s impact on the world is incontestable. Similar to a hyena, it can cleverly strike predators twice its size and even with a debt of J$2 trillion, the island’s greatest asset by far seems to be its culture and our addiction to it. Jamaicans have produced everything from Marcus Garvey and the Rastafari movement to reggae and dancehall music, not to mention impossible dance moves, track stars, and of course marijuana cultivation.

Although the political situation of the country is staggering, tourism and its subsequent commercialization (you know the fake ‘Rasta’ wigs with horribly woven dreads attached to a red, gold and green beanie), haven’t yielded much results for the growing twenty percent of the population who is living under the poverty line. Jamaica, as most countries in the Global South is a paradox. What was once lush and self-sustainable becomes like a bastard child, brought forth from the perverse relationship between the World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund). Like a child in any loveless exchange, procuring handouts keeps the population lamenting in their past lacerations.

With the flood of the Reggae Revival, a term coined by Jamaican writer, Dutty Bookman, Revivalists for the past five years have been ushering in a movement built on the roots of Garveyism and the foundation of Rastafari. There is an ironic flair as reggae has never left, making the Revival a circling back to the musical resistance that was once popular amongst youth, more than forty years ago. It is the synergy of cultural and spiritual consciousness that is re-emerging in young Jamaicans; they are the new content creators of the genre. Artists like Chronixx, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, Jesse Royal, and Jah9 are among many artists changing the country’s sonic landscape through sophisticated promotional campaigns and social media accounts that boast quite the global allure.

It was almost four years ago when I first watched Chronixx perform at Skyline Levels up in Jacks Hill, on the northern outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica. Already high from just the elation of scenery as the appropriately titled, Skyline was my version of “The Starry Night” and Van Gogh, straight up had to hold this loss. Driving up from around Half Way Tree, the busiest and most central hub in the capital, its hustle becoming further away. The whole of Kingston lit in the most romantic way, which only the night and distance could bring. This was a part of Jamaica I had yet to see. Coming from the more simple living of Mama’s house just a little east in the hills of Portland Parish, I now felt like I was rolling in a Beamer about to kick it with Biggs and Wayne, maybe even Teddy Bruk Shot.

In actuality the Beamer was a tough-looking rustic green Honda CR-V that my girl Sabriya drove, a well-known photographer and yogi in the movement. Standard of course, somehow managing all the tight corners and turns without stalling even once. And, instead of the decadence and insatiable drama that comes with films like Shottas and BELLY, Skyline Levels was the Rasta version of success. An intimate performance space constructed literally in the back of the McDonald family’s home in St. Andrew, a landmark passed from the lead members of Chakula, an international reggae band from the nineties, to their children Kelissa and Keznamdi who are also musicians in the Revival, as well as their sister, TV personality and beauty queen Kamila. Walking past the large steel gates into a compound selling books, bottled water and veggie treats. Draping red, gold and green fabrics gracing the stage and heightened railings, Jah Cure casually chilling in the back, a yard full of people devoting not just their attention, but their dreams. The momentum was heavy. Watching the houses get more elaborate as we drove upwards into Stoney Hill, it became easy to see this as the proverbial dream, the same one Chronixx boasts on his track with Walshy Fire of Major Lazer entitled “Where I Come From”.

Me and Teflon fi have house to kill
Upon di hill
Grandma want the house fi build
When we say hill
Me a talk about close to Jill, whoa

The “Get Free” riddim is persuasive and mixed with his melodic attack, made the original featuring Amber of the Dirty Projectors, go from good to unforgettable, not to mention made my nights in Portland more palatable. As mosquitoes ate my face into a frenzy, hearing the song on the radio gave me a sense of relief that change was coming. Jamaican radio was finally catching on to tracks like, “Behind Curtain” already popular overseas especially in Kenya, where Chronixx visited and performed as a Peace Ambassador during the 2013 general elections.

Lusting for the typical dancehall sound had reached a new place. While an incarcerated Vybez Kartel still remains the reigning ‘World Boss,’ young people across the island were feeling too complacent in what Jamaicans describe as slackness. The definition is exactly what the word sounds like, a more vulgar-brash-don’t-give-no-F’s attitude, also attributed to the dancehall music and lifestyle that has become like a voice for ghetto defiance and government neglect. Many young people distrust even the electoral process making the dancehall aesthetic that much more hypnotizing in the past three decades. Manufacturing much needed spaces for youth to forget their problems, as well as attract them.

Chronixx, of course is not a stranger to dancehall music especially having grown up in his father Chronicle’s musical footsteps. He cares little about what genre his music is labeled as his tastes span anywhere from the Bee Gees to Jah Cure, jazz, as well as the blues. “Mi is a hip hop person, mi is a dancehall person. I can’t see myself without that type of music,” Chronixx declares with his hands gesturing towards his heart, his eyelids starting to focus in ensuring that connection is clear. “Then regular Burning Spear, mi is a walking Burning Spear.” Truncating his personality to the fit the typical “conscious” reggae mould is something Chronixx evades. Social media and carefully groomed branding is a part of the territory, making fans even more fickle than before appraising each and every move made by their favourite artist; Chronixx appears not to be concerned at this point in his career.

The certainty from which he speaks leaves little room to doubt his future. Witnessing the Skyline stage that night, Chronixx only a couple months into his twentieth year aligned with the Zincfence Redemption Band, it was simple, the stage became his. His stride alone made a slender frame seem twice its size, his dreadlocks just past his ears like antennas connecting him to the sky. Even then, he was in full control, a few fans shouting out certain song titles and Chronixx refusing, instead playing new content challenging the audience.

He did the same last year in Toronto as Zincfence began to play an impromptu dub session for fifteen minutes teasing the crowd. “All dem songs we just play was fi you,” Chronixx remarks. “Now this likkle time is for us” he slyly laughs. There was nothing to forgive as an audience member. My friend Shelley from London Town, who has somehow managed never to catch a reggae show was mesmerized, just by his ability to dance. Unaware of most his catalogue, watching Chronixx in a self-possessed trance was electrifying enough. His almost two-hour set was a lesson in endurance watching him leap across stage, whine down, and close with the song “Iyah Walk” ultimately jumping like a Masai, kicking his legs up so high, his finger tips could meet his sneakers.

You have expectations and then you have reality,
and as much as people’s expectations determine your reality,
it is left to how much you allow it to.

Militance is unwaveringly important to Chronixx whose career has soared in the last five years. The Dread & Terrible EP has topped the Billboard reggae charts, Mick Jagger flew out just to catch his set in Central Park, he later performed at Glastonbury in 2015 and alongside Protoje at Coachella 2016. “If you don’t learn how to manipulate the energies and convert it into creativity, it’s hard to get out of a situation,” Chronixx explains.

“Why did you name your most recent tour Reparations? I ask, “I think immediately to all those reggae artists, black artists, who didn’t get their fair share, didn’t receive what they were worth.”

“The way I see it music is my reparations. Yeah. I don’t need no handout from no queen, no king or nobody in the world to tell you the truth. No president, no prime minister, dem don’t owe me nothing. The only thing dem owe humanity is the truth.”

When asked the right question, Chronixx pursues the answer like an ambitious scholar. “At the end of the day for the black population, the African diaspora, if Europe is supposed to pay [us] billions . . . How would we utilize it? What is the first thing we would do? Reparations in my opinion, basically, is overstanding wealth. We have a great portion of our wealth in our music and our culture. You know what I mean, so that was what the whole tour was about, establishing wealth worldwide.”

Chronixx has a flair for indulging in the anti-narrative, playing with conventions, using irony to question the logic and structure of what exists. A self-declared trend setter in “Odd Ras,” he crafts catchy dancehall backdrops and nursery-rhyme hooks for some of his most didactic work. Breaking down verbatim how to live holistically. In “Spirulina” a tribute to the blue-green algae, the song is more so taught like an intimate lesson.

 

To yute… If you nuh get it you wi lose
Mek you food be yuh medicine, yuh medicine yuh food
Blend up i carrot wid i lettuce inna juice
Nuh fraid fi mix i vegetable with i fruits.

One of his most recent singles, “Sell My Gun” produced by longtime collaborator, Teflon, follows a similar formula as Chronixx assures people he knows a “whole heap of badman”. Outwardly protesting their methods to escape poverty, “If I were you, uh, me woulda sell my gun / And buy a old Corolla / Taxi me run and buy mi daughter strolla.” Strict polarization in the music draws attention to the message making it highly intelligible and aggressive at the same time. Chronixx is not suggesting, he’s calling his countrymen out and I’m sure not everyone is thrilled, the same way you roll your eyes when your big brother criticizes your desperate attempts. To ’bun out’ what is deemed as negative or taboo has become common practice in reggae music, as it must simultaneously contend with the loudness of mainstream messaging.

The song boldly denounces the further victimization of poor people at the hands of other poor people, directing communities to vent their frustration not at each other, but to the source: “Tell the rich man a foreign and the politician / Ghetto yutes don’t need no more gunz.” Explicitly stating to local politicians what is needed in a country oozing cultural richness: ‘computers and homework centres, MacBooks, hard drives and projectors, dumper trucks, lawn mower and tractor.” Chronixx isn’t drunk off the saviour complex, he knows he is making music in a state of urgency. While some musicians grown into their politics, he is self-assured and wastes no time. Aware that people spend less hours not plugged into something, Chronixx uncomplicates his music and visuals with messages that ultimately talk to us in a way that is well, accessible, especially for the ‘yutes’ of Jamaica.

“We have to overstand our wealth,” returning back to Chronixx the academic, “we can’t anticipate wealth to come from an external place. We is our own wealth, our music. Reparations in my opinion is how we go about repairing ourselves, repairing our hearts and our spirits, after a very gloomy history, and it’s a recent history too. It’s just how you repair, it’s just how you rise from the ashes that counts. Music is my rising from the ashes, my reparations. I take that very seriously.” In the wake of shootings, natural disasters and persistent civil wars, at twenty-three years old, his words ring truth. After the interview is done, he smiles, shakes my hand hurriedly and runs off. Chronixx has much more work to do.

It’s just how you repair,
it’s just how you rise from the ashes that counts.
Music is my rising from the ashes, my reparations.
I take that very seriously.

Abundunce: Total Panic

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Photography WADE HUDSON
Foreword by KENDRA GOMES

Special thanks to 1903: A HARLEY-DAVIDSON CAFÉ

In a world where brands seem to be continuously playing it safe, recycling the same SKU’s over and over again, it is with great pleasure that we highlight Chee Maduekwe’s “Abundunce” collection. This young designer perfectly embodies the vibrant nature of Toronto’s underground culture through his clothing. He consistently illustrates the grittiness, the drama, and the aesthetic of his city’s surroundings through cryptic messages and political graphics. Chee’s fearlessness and ability to maintain originality in his designs plays a large part in why so many tastemakers in Toronto’s creative scene have embraced his brand.

Abundunce is charging into the market with vigor and inventiveness, making the brand a force to be reckoned with within streetwear — not to mention the streetwear category itself blossoming into an array of sub-genres, such as high-end street. Without a doubt Abundunce will flourish to become a mainstay amongst some of your favourite brands.

What makes Abundunce stand out in this competitive industry next to brands such as Supreme, Dime, or Cav Empt?

What makes Abundunce standout is first and foremost, it’s from Toronto. There hasn’t been any brand in recent history that has done what I’m trying to do. Even those brands you mentioned, although I look up to them, the themes and the social commentary come from a different place than the world has grown accustomed to. It’s streetwear/menswear from a downtown Toronto lens.

How was Abundunce evolved since it first started back in 2011?

Abundunce has evolved a lot since I started in 2011. I actually started off with a partner, which didn’t last very long. Since then, I’ve seen a lot, and been through even more, so my perspective on a lot of things has changed and grown and you can see it my work. To start I began exclusively with T-shirts and hoodies but eventually I was able to spend a year and half in fashion school. Being there I learned a lot about how to actually design clothes and also how to sew, so from there I began adding cut and sew pieces into my collections, and that continues to grow with each collection.

I want people to feel the brand and what it represents.
That’s the most important thing for me.

How has Toronto responded to Abundunce? In regards to audience and popularity?

So far I think people have responded well to the brand. I think for the most part people get it, and understand the vibe and the mood the brand offers. That understanding will only grow with each collection I put out.

What are some issues you run into as a designer starting from the ground up? How do you usually build a budget around a collection?

Money and time management are two of the biggest issues that I run into the most. Money for obvious reasons, but time management also because starting a brand involves so much work and running around, and it’s on you alone to manage everything and do it right. Also, really just being disciplined, it’s pretty cliché but it’s one of the things that will fuck you up if your not. Nobody is above watching over you making sure you get things done so it’s up to you.

Tell us about the manufacturing and production of your clothing?

What’s important about all this is really finding the right people to make your stuff. I’ve had so many different sorts of horror stories in regards to production. So be aware, try to be as hands on as possible, especially in the infant stages of your brand.

Why is it so important to build a culture around a brand, specifically yours? How has the experience been trying to build an audience?

It’s important to build culture especially for my brand because not only do I want to make nice clothes aesthetically, I want people to feel the brand and what it represents. That’s the most important thing for me. That comes with the building an audience. I feel it’s important for people to have a connection with the brand beyond aesthetics and how it looks, but more of what it means and stands for. My experience has been great, meeting new people and finding out more from them helps me understand my demographic better, but it’s still a work in progress.

So be aware, try to be as hands on as possible,
especially in the infant stages of your brand.

What are some of your inspirations in your designs? What are you influenced by?

My design inspirations range. I’m often inspired by what’s going on in the world. Theres so many fucked up/funny/crazy/sad things in this world and I use them to relate how I and the people around me feel about certain issues. Also, a big inspiration is just simply being downtown and the people around me. I’ve been able to experience a lot and have met a lot of cool people; it’s opened my eyes to a lot of new things and ideas which have helped me grow as a designer.

Tell us about your last collection drop? What are you working on next?

My last collection released was from Spring Summer 2016, called “Still Waiting”. The name really comes from the struggles of being young designers and artists in this generation. And really the collection just outlines some of the themes that surround me. Next coming up for me is prepping my fall collection that’s going to be titled “Total Panic”. I’m excited for it and I plan on taking a major stride as a designer.

Keep up with Abundunce on Instagram for purchase info and future releases.

Jonathan Mannion: Eye Contact

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Photography JONATHAN MANNION
Interview by CHE KOTHARI
Recorded by JAWN TABOIKA

2013 marked 40 years since Hip Hop’s inception in The Bronx. To pay respect, as part of the Contact Photography Festival, Che Kothari reached out to 13 photographers who have focused their lens on documenting artists in the culture and presented an exhibition at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto — one of them was Jonathan Mannion.

2016 marks another milestone. 20 years of Mannion. A student of photography who has earned the title of world renowned. Surviving the test of time is no easy feat, but Mannion does it with the same passion and hunger he started with; still shooting today among the culture’s changing tides. As part of the exhibition’s opening night, Kothari had the chance to sit with Mannion and talk about everything from his parents and upbringing, his early apprenticeships, loading 8 x 10 film, and capturing some of the most legendary images in the game – while also providing a space for him to flex Jay-Z and Shabba impressions. Stream the conversation below.

 

 

“20% of what I do is technical, and 80% is psychological.”

“I threw myself in the deep end, just to see if I could do it.”

“I’m really about the elevation of culture.”

Gone Platinum Vol.1

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Photography PAOLO AZARRAGA
Creative Direction SEAN BROWN
Styling BOBBY BOWEN, SARAH VEE, SEAN BROWN
Hair & Makeup MILA VICTORIA, INDIE HALSTEAD

Special Thanks
YAZMIN BUTCHER, MICHELLE VELASQUEZ,
HANGLOOSE MEDIA, BURMAN & CO, JOEL LEE,
WARREN CREDO, ERIN ASHLEY, DANIEL TAL, CHE KOTHARI, RYAN PATERSON

For as long as hip hop culture has existed, every generation has made their claim as to what made that one unforgettable decade of their youth so impactful. Whether it was the music, the fashion, or the slang, hip hop culture has embedded itself into our individual histories, bringing us back to moments that shaped our lives to come.

The transition into the millennium was rooted in confident artistry and unique personalities, subsequently launching a multi-billion dollar industry. As the era of shiny suits and big budget fish-eyed videos flourished, hip hop culture quickly became a global phenomenon, translating its once-coded sounds and expressions into pop culture.

While we still vividly recall the term “bling” entering our lexicon following the premiere of The Hot Boyz “Bling, Bling” as Rap City’s ‘New Joint of the Day,’ today, all you have to do is look it up in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. While these are massive steps for rap music, the culture’s growth is still, unfortunately, stunted by those unwilling to grow with it — however, hip hop culture lives in the essence of paying homage to the past and preparing for the future. Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill and OutKast hadn’t just gone platinum, they transcended the boundaries of popular music, broke down corporate barriers, and still continue to influence an entire generation today.

TIKA SIMONE as MISSY ELLIOT

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS as NOTORIOUS B.I.G.

HANAD BANDZ as PUFF DADDY

MECHA MURDOCH as LIL KIM

ASHELEY TURNER as AALIYAH

BAMBII as LAURYN HILL

BRENDAN PHILIP as ANDRE 3000

KEITA JUMA as BIG BOI

THEO GIBSON as JAY-Z

JAZZ CARTIER as BUSTA RHYMES