Bounty Killer and Baby Cham – two undisputable music legends who have pushed Jamaican dancehall music to the forefront in their own individually valid ways.
Bounty Killer has performed at the Super Bowl – the first Jamaican to achieve this feat, won a Grammy alongside Gwen Stefani for “Hey Baby”, and helped to mould the artistry and early careers of many including Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Elephant Man and Busy Signal. In 2023, fellow music peer Shaggy suggested that Bounty Killer be given a national award for his contribution to Jamaican music, saying that the artist deserved an Order of Distinction.
Cham burst into the global mainstream with his smash single “Ghetto Story” back in 2006 and has an extensive list of collaborations with many global megastars including Alicia Keys, Akon, Rihanna, MiMS, Foxy Brown as well as the UK’s own Mis-Teeq and WSTRN. Cham is one of dancehall’s most embraced and collaborated artists.
The seven-year age gap between the two means that when Cham was still in school uniform and beginning to hone his music talents with the support of older mentors, Bounty Killer was one of the influential figures in the young artist’s realm who helped to mould and support him.
Meeting in 1993, practically living together and sharing exercise regimes, cars, and food, the two formed a longstanding relationship back then that has survived the rollercoaster of life and growing pains.
Now in 2023, Bounty Killer and Baby Cham have gone back to basics, calling on iconic producer Dave Kelly, who is responsible for works such as Beenie Man’s “Dude”, Nadine Sutherland and Terror Fabolous’s “Action” and of course Cham’s global hit “Ghetto Story”, for his help in producing a new joint EP called Time Bomb.
Visiting the UK for the first time in over a decade, the two artists embarked on an extensive press tour and sat down with GRM Daily to talk about the EP, Jamaica’s cultural dominance and the state of the dancehall genre.
“I’m enjoying this trip. Artists don’t do these things anymore,” said Bounty, “Since the internet’s come, a man doesn’t think he has to go physically but we want to look into your eyes, we want to feel your essence and your aura and feel your vibes. We had to touch the ground and make the people know we are here and show some gratitude and love”.
Aside from making surprise appearances at local dancehall venues in London and radio stations, the duo haven’t had much time to see the sights apart from taking a now viral photo in a red phone box and their busy schedule doesn’t leave them with much opportunity to look around London.
Prioritising their professional duties is nothing new to the established artists and their shared notion of this is one of the things that keeps them in high regard with each other.
Reflecting on their meeting back in 1993 and what drew a young Cham to the music of Bounty Killer who in that year would clash with Beenie Man at Sting and release tracks like “Kill Fi Fun”, Cham told GRM, “Vocally, his music, just the whole vibe that he came with at the time, it was just new and fresh. A new sound. It was similar to Shabba (Ranks) but different. The same tone that Buju (Banton) used but different. Me and my peers gravitated to that.”
The two built a strong working relationship as well as a brotherhood – “We drove the same car. In the morning we’d be on the sands together, jogging. By the time we finished, we ended up at the dubplate studio then wi gone to our studio. In the night, we’re out partying with each other”, explained Cham with Bounty Killer adding, “We used to do most things together.”
With dancehall rivalries such as Vybz Kartel’s infamous battle with Mavado and of course Bounty Killer’s own past dispute with Beenie Man often dominating the dancehall narrative, Cham and Killer explained the importance of showcasing the power of brotherhood and unity in dancehall.
Bounty Killer said, “In today’s world, most of the young artists that are coming up are rivals amongst their peers. It’s important to reassure them that togetherness and unity works better. It’s good to work together. Collaborative effort is needed more in dancehall. If all of us were pulling in the right direction or in one direction, I’m sure the music would be in a better state right now.”
Cham added, “Nothing at all could stop dancehall and reggae music if everyone started pulling together.”
Many artists including Bounty Killer have long been outspoken about the state of dancehall and its place in the mainstream, especially after America’s Billboard scrapped the Reggae Digital Song Sales chart back in 2020.
Explaining his stance, Killer said, “The problem with dancehall now is nobody wants to listen, they think they know it all. It’s only when we start to listen and follow the right print, we’re gonna reach to the right place at the top.”
The right print for dancehall starts with the instrumentals according to Killer with the deejay adding, “Jamaican music is Drum and Bass and the moment you lose the drum and the bass, you lose the girl’s dem waist! Just listen to slow motion to have di girls dem move like the ocean!”
Accompanying the release of the Time Bomb EP was the My Brother’s Keeper documentary which chronicled the growth of Cham and Bounty’s brotherhood and working relationship. Throughout the 20-minute-long film, viewers are offered a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the project as well as retellings of the most significant moments in their working relationship.
The artist’s set up shop in the Bahamas to work on the project and their set up was reminiscent of their roots with the two moving in with each other again and spending their time focusing on just making music.
Sharing a studio as well as the kitchen, the teamwork of the two artists isn’t limited to just on riddims with Bounty Killer describing Cham as the “rice man, nice man” thanks to his cooking talents and Cham attesting to Bounty Killer being the best of the two when it comes to cooking meat and fish dishes.
Describing the Bahamas work-cation as “hibernation”, Bounty said, “Recharging – you have to do that. I needed that. I need a plug out regularly.”
Cham added, “He needed that because Killer is a man always in active mode. Me personally, I hibernate a lot. I’m always at the beach. I’m always away from people. Serenity is needed. It was needed for us to put out this body of work and focus on what we needed to get done.”
The documentary made it clear that these two push and learn from each other and the two added further detail on this, explaining some of the most important advice and inspiration that they have taken from each other.
Cham said, “Rodney (Bounty Killer) might not know this cos it ah nuh something weh mi tell him but we knew each other from ‘93 but when we started hitting the streets together, it was probably ‘97 going into ‘98 and his thing was, ‘Yo your songs dem big but people are not seeing you. You need to go in the trenches, you need to start going to different garrisons, ghetto areas and just perform for the people dem’. We started that campaign and it has always stuck with me – that’s how I’ve worked over the years promoting my music. Ever since I hit the ground in Jamaica, every time we have a new project, I’m always going to different garrisons, different holes in the wall, no matter how small it is, I take it to the streets.”
Reflecting on Cham’s influence on him, Bounty Killer said, “I’m more like the adviser, I’m the elder one, you understand? But there’s example that I learn from Cham because you don’t have to tell people things, you just do them and be the example. When it comes to discipline and professionalism, Cham is a big influence on me. To know that this is a young man that you advised how to bring and carry himself and then he’s carrying himself in a way that impresses you and impacts you – that is awesome. That’s why one hand washes the other. That’s why they say a child can lead the world. There’s a lot of example that we took from Cham.
“He has groomed himself into such a professional and he has taken all the lessons with him that he has learned along the way and he has the whole toolkit and he’s using it to his advantage. Out of all the artists that we have brought to prominence, Cham is the most rounded one. Everything that a artist should do is what he does and has been doing and keeps on doing. Most of them come up and then reach a certain stage and they might drop a few of the lessons, Cham never drop none of the lessons. Everybody that comes across Cham can look at him today and know seh, Damien has all of these qualities, same way. Most prudent student.”
One of the biggest moments for Bounty Killer in recent times was his 2020 Verzuz alongside Beenie Man. With the two having one of music’s most notorious feuds, their united front was an important moment for dancehall and marked the first Verzuz to place artists in the same room for their battle.
Using a soundclash format, the Verzuz brought joy, happiness, and good vibes to millions across the world as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to wreak havoc.
Reflecting on the viral historic moment and bringing people joy, Bounty Killer said, “That’s my job, I’m an entertainer so it wasn’t anything extraordinary for me, but it was an escape for me also because we couldn’t get to perform. It was a joy for me to perform for my fans. To know that everyone was at home and stuck and isolated, it was a joy to know that we could touch people across the world like that. It was one of my best virtual performances.”
As a dancehall giant himself, Cham revealed his match for a hypothetical Verzuz, saying, “Myself and Swizz had this conversation and he was saying Elephant Man but it would still be a little bit hard because of the amount of hits and crossover records but whoever, you know? It’s fun, it’s not a win or lose, it’s a win-win situation for our genre. So whenever they’re ready, I’m ready.”
Giving kudos to Bounty, Cham added, “Looking from the outside in, to see how we broke the internet that night tells me that dancehall, reggae music and the Caribbean as a whole, Caribbean bloodlines, can do the same thing. It showed you that our thing is the most powerful genre in the world, we just need to come together. Everyone needs to start supporting, start buying records. Don’t just like the artists and listen on YouTube – support it, buy the record. That’s why the other genres look like they are ahead of us right now because their fan bases are really buying the records.”
Bounty shared the same sentiment and said, “Don’t just comment and commend us and conversate about us, purchase the music, support the music, help to put back the music where it belongs, where it used to be.”
Expanding further, Bounty told GRM, “A lot of the producers and the younger musicians, they are not helping the artists – they are not helping artists to develop. They are using artists to really just establish their production but they need to play a part. A producer needs to produce artists. Don’t just record him – produce him and that’s what the problem is.
“Mixing and mastering is another problem and managers need to advise artists how to carry themselves, how to conduct themselves, how to go up on stage… They need to send them voice training too. Some of them have speech impaired problems and they’re singers, You’re supposed to speak clearly with transparency. These things are issues, but most people don’t see it because if you buss with likkle mediocre, they think you’re hot and now on the internet any likkle ting can trend on TikTok but it nuh mean yuh ah do it good and from mi buss, mi a do it good!”
With Jamaican Soundsystem culture inspiring or directly birthing several black music genres, patois dominating inner city UK and Canadian slang and Magnum tonic wine increasingly entering the hands of hipsters, Jamaica’s continued cultural influence is undisputed and undeniable but why do Bounty Killer and Cham think their homeland is so culturally influential?
Bounty Killer said, “I can’t even tell why Jamaican culture is so powerful, I just know that it is” before calling for Cham’s opinion who shared, “Jamaicans are really fun-going people and you’ll notice people throughout the world just love anything that seems like fun. A lot of them love our accent because it sounds nice, it makes them smile. I think the fun about Jamaicans, the natural fun that comes out of us, people tend to draw to that.”
Despite its worldwide influence and admiration, some people still misunderstand Jamaican culture and attribute some of dancehall music’s sexualised lyrics and dancing to being a representation of Jamaican culture in its entirety. Despite holding the world record for the greatest number of churches per square mile, Jamaica’s conservative laws and general culture where even speaking profanity in a public space can lead to legal consequences can be overshadowed by some of the moments captured at dancehall parties that have gone viral on social media.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand it,” explains Cham, “So they will see something in the dancehall and they will think that you’re degrading women but they’re enjoying themselves and you are taking it differently. When you see someone daggering, lifting up a female and you’re saying, ‘Why is he treating her like that?’ It’s not really degrading. It’s just an act they’re putting on for that moment and that time. They’re entertaining.”
“It’s not a way of life!” adds Killer.
Cham continued his point and added, “They think that what they see in the dance is every minute of the day. No. When it’s dance time, it’s dance time. That’s the dancehall, you know what I mean? Action, non-stop action, we stay active but then you have the next side. The morals are still there, the principles. Jamaicans are raised really proper – don’t tek it fi joke.”
Both rising to notoriety before the age of social media and viral hits, Cham and Bounty Killer utilise the platforms that are available now to their advantage – making sure to continue to keep their fans updated with new music and personal content. Despite the temptation to chase virality over substance and authenticity – the two expressed their commitment to staying true to their artistry.
Cham said, “We have always kept everything authentic from day one, so no label can push us to do nothing that we don’t want to do. You can have something that goes viral but it’s gone next week. There’s a reason why Bounty Killer is a legend, there’s a reason why Baby Cham is a legend, these songs have stood the test of time and for it to stand the test of time, that tells you that it has longevity, that tells you that we’ve put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes and in front of the people. We have to keep on doing that, maximising the social media but at the same time don’t let it control how we go about our careers.”
Playfully referencing the influx of now-viral songs about the gross recent news story about the crab vendor who was filmed defecating into a bucket, Cham said, “No one is going to remember that a month from now.”
With Bounty Killer adding, “Dem fuckery dem ah deal with and there are more important issues and dem nah sing bout it. Likkle foolishness!”
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At 7 tracks long, the Time Bomb EP houses just two collaborations with Dexta Daps on “Slow Motion” – personal favourites of Cham and Killer as well as “Badman Ting” which features UK icon Idris Elba.
Cham explained, “Dave Kelly made a beat. He wanted to capture the English heart, the UK heart but with the dancehall feel and he wanted someone from the English background to be on that record. Monique Blake is the one that suggested Idris Elba and Dave Kelly loves when it’s different, something that no one would expect. No one in Dancehall or reggae field or even here in the UK would have thought of us pulling for Idris. It worked out perfectly – that’s the English killer!”
Wrapping up their press tour, Bounty Killer and Baby Cham performed at their EP launch party in front of DJs, dancehall peers and artists who owe their early musical inspirations to the two. Calling for support for the EP, support for dancehall music in general and authenticity, the two also shared that they will bring the 876 music tour to the UK in 2024.
To end our chat, Bounty Killer and Cham shared one song from their catalogue that they’d describe as integral to their legacies. Bounty Killer chose his 1999 release “Look Into My Eyes” and Cham went for his iconic collaboration with Bounty Killer, “Another Level”. With the Time Bomb EP housing quality music that is destined to eventually rank highly in their discographies, perhaps on their next visit to the UK, Cham and Bounty Killer might answer with a track from this project.
Stream Time Bomb below.