When I meet with Kranium at his hotel in Melbourne, he arrives dripped out in gold and in good spirits. The 26-year-old Jamaican born, New York raised dancehall artist got his start in Florida under the mentorship of his uncle and reggae icon Screwdriver and has since toured the world, racking up over 1.5 million monthly streams and working with huge acts like Ty Dolla Sign, WizKid, Major Lazer, and Tory Lanez, just to name a few. As we sat inside the hotel suite with the thumping Melbourne rain on the window, we got to chatting about all things dancehall, an unforgettable encounter with Usher, and Kranium’s true love—melody.
So you were born in Jamaica and then eventually relocated to New York City, how old were you when you made the move?
I was 12 or 13, my parents decided to move.
Did you experience culture shock when you first moved to America?
Yeah I did actually. Because I went to high school in New York. So that’s when I met—you know what I mean—different races of people. In terms of Carribbean, African people. I had Trinidadian friends, Indian friends. It was a shock for me, it wasn’t something I was exposed to prior to moving but it was cool.
Did you start making music when you got to America?
I started writing songs when I was younger, but as far as wrapping my mind around creating an actual record it started out in Florida with my uncle, who is a veteran in reggae music. His name is Screwdriver. That’s where I developed my first skill of like, trying to find melodies and stuff like that.
I was going to ask about your uncle, what sort of things did he teach you about making music?
It’s weird because I just looked at him as a prophet in some sense. I remember when I was living with him, he used to tell me that music won’t be about words anymore, it’s going to be about melodies and gimmicks. He saw it 15 years ago, it’s so weird, that’s what he told me. It won’t be about music, it will be about melodies with simplicity and it’s so true. You have two types of artists in music, you have those who respect the craft of it, and those who mimic it, and they mimic it very well. I learned that from him.
So have you applied that knowledge to your songwriting?
100%. I am an artist truly, I take music serious. Music is something that I really love, if you listen to a Kranium record you can tell that this is someone who truly loves music. But in terms of making an income off music I try to incorporate what’s going on but still stay true to myself and it’s like a really hard thing to balance.
Between what people might want and what you want as an artist?
Exactly. Because the artist’s favourite record isn’t always the favourite of the people.
So if you were going to take an artist under your wing the same way your uncle did for you, what advice would you give them?
Be yourself and never chase the money, chase the music. You have to try and stay in tune with what is going on now, and try to lead and not to follow. The worst mistake an artist can make is trying to follow and work with what’s going on, rather than taking [a] piece of going on and making it their own. Everybody under the moon is influenced by someone else, but it’s about how much you take from them and what you take as well as what you can add that is your own.
And then on the other side of that people can see when it’s not authentic.
Yeah, you can listen to somebody and just know that’s not them. Sometimes I hear music and [I] think, Yeah it’s cool, it’s dope, but then they try it again and you know it’s not them, because how many times can you really mimic something?
Tell me about your latest single ‘In Charge’, how did the track come together?
It was produced and co-written by a guy named Sketch from The Bahamas. I am a melody person, I love melodies, even my IG bio is ‘Melody Gad’ because I love melody. I feel like when you hear it, it’s just like an ABC. I like to sing about my experiences on the road, encounters with females and that kind of thing, so it’s really just about life experiences and that’s what inspired ‘In Charge’.
What can you tell me about your upcoming album Midnight Sparks?
Midnight Sparks is basically a more grown Kranium, musically. I’ve been in it for a minute now where I have more control over what I want to sound like, what direction I want to take on. On Midnight Sparks, I take on different topics of me like how I want to sekkle down this time, or I’m still confused or talking about how I’m proud of my girl, or saying I don’t like how society is moving. All of it is talking about relationships, ideally about what [a] young, cool couple goes through on a regular basis. That’s what Midnight Sparks is all about, being young and carefree but being careful and wise at the same time.
We’re seeing more and more these days that dancehall and afrobeats are two genres that are starting to become one. I know you’ve worked with Wizkid before so I wanted to ask; why do you think that Jamaican and African music complement each other so well?
You know what? I look at afrobeats and dancehall as brothers and sisters at the end of the day, because we are musical people. For years, we’ve been hearing pop music and ting that are controlled, but you can’t stop realness you know what I mean? I feel like when you listen to an authentic dancehall record it’s something where you’re like, “Yo what’s that?” When you hear afrobeat you’re like “Oh my god, what is that?” Because we’re using similar terms and topics sometimes, some person hears an afrobeat song [and] he doesn’t know if he’s a dancehall artist or an afrobeat artist. I just look at it like we are brothers and sisters and those are the two genres you’ll hear in the club right now. I think it’s just the rawness of it, it doesn’t sound too mixed or mastered, it doesn’t sound too complicated like you had 13 person working on it. It just sound like two guys being like, “Yo. Drop this.”
They touch the ear in the same way almost, huh?
Yeah they touch the ear the same, I can’t explain why! We were in the club the other night and we heard a record and my DJ was like “Yo this is bad! Who is this?” [Laughs] Because it just sounds so cool! It doesn’t sound like something that was built up too much.
Are there any dancehall artists you are a fan of that you’d recommend?
Yes of course, I’m a big fan of Chronixx, I’m a big fan of Koffee, Masicka, Dexta Daps. I’m going to be honest with you, I listen to everybody man. I’m not one of those artists who, when they do interviews they try to keep it about themselves and their friends. I like who I like.
What about more old school dancehall, who are some of the artists that influenced you originally?
Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Richie Spice, Gregory Issacs. There’s so much. Super Cat, Shabba Ranks. For me personally, the artists I think put us on the map are between Maxi Priest and Wayne Wonder, that’s for singers—because you have guys who DJ, who could be considered as a rapper. In Jamaica, instead of a rapper, we call them a DJ—in America they call the person who spins the record a DJ but I mean it how we call it in Jamaica. So as far as singers are concerned my three favourite singers are Maxi Priest, Wayne Wonder, and my father.
What about outside of Jamaican artists, I know you’ve worked with people like Ty Dolla Sign and Tory Lanez, is there anybody you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
I love Rihanna, I’ve never worked with her personally. I’ve worked with Usher—he brought me on stage with The Roots before too, actually. That was one of the biggest moments for me, personally. It was so weird, I was going through something at the time that I met Usher and he just gave me the best advice as an artist. I told him what I was going through and he just looked at me like, “Relax, that’s nothing compared to what we go through”, and he gave me some advice. As far as working together, we never put out a record before but I will never ever forget that experience of working with Usher. To sit and talk and be cool with someone like that is a different experience, you can’t pay for that so I would say definitely who I wanted to work with was Usher and I did work with him.
Last question, where is your favourite city to perform?
I think it’s Melbourne actually. [Laughs]
You had to say it! [Laughs]
I have two favourite places to perform; I love Ghana and I love London. I would die if I couldn’t go to New York City but for performance, I love London.
For more Kranium, follow him here and stream his new album Midnight Sparks below.