Throughout world history, whenever anyone wants to spread love or messages of positivity, it seems like they are met with appalled behaviour, they are hated, or eventually murdered.
“The whole reason why we call it ‘Kontraband’ is that I feel like consciousness and positive messages in music [are] treated like contraband in the system. When you think of contraband, you think of banned substances like drugs and things that are illegal. It’s like, the message in the music is not being pushed. It’s like we have to be pushing the contraband, which is the positivity the mind-altering music because I feel like the music is revolutionary. We can change the minds of the people. That’s why they’ve been holding it back. We’ve fused Reggae music with Hip-Hop and Dancehall and presenting it in a way that can’t be denied.”
‘Kontraband’ is the sixteen track LP by Kabaka Pyramid, a Kingston, Jamaican-born superstar. In May, the Reggae artist-producer called me to discuss the socially conscious album. Throughout the full-length, he touches on several topics (politics), but the ones that piqued my interests most were transgender life, the sudden acceptance of [medical] marijuana use in the Americas, and illiteracy. Damian Marley executive produced the album.
According to the artist, ‘Can’t Breathe’ was inspired by the treatment of people today. It’s talking about being stifled and suffocated by the systematic approach to life (whether it is a 9 to 5, the music industry or whatever it is).
“Illiteracy is something that affects us in Jamaica, the lack of education and things like that—and that being the whole prerequisite to the government system. It’s the lack of education of the population that allows for the politics and the politricks to remain. People aren’t educated to stand up for their rights or to demand a better way of life from the government. They sit back and allow it to happen because they feel like somebody has more power over them. It’s observing things like that. We are in a day and age where people are like teenagers. We are like teenagers right now, meaning that we are looking to break away from all of the rules that our parents have set for us, and our forefathers. We are seeking freedom. We want to do whatever we want to do. In seeking that freedom, a lot of us move away from the plan that the creator had for us. We want to change everything. We want to change our body parts, facial features and hair look, rather than accepting that the body we are given is for a reason. It is given for a particular purpose and for you to learn something. Changing it is evading that lesson, you know?”
“Rastas have been talking about marijuana from Peter Tosh days and way before that. It is something that has been stifled and undermined. We’ve been arrested, beaten, and ill-treated for the use of marijuana. Now, it’s becoming decriminalized and legalized. Rich capitalists are benefitting from it.”
As we talked about the album, I couldn’t help to realize that there might have been a theme for the titling of the songs, so I asked, ‘Are these names influenced by what’s going on now in America? ‘Can’t Breathe (Eric Garner) and ‘Borders’ (based on Trump’s idea of building a wall).
“Those issues are definitely part of the inspiration. Those things are definitely in mind. I don’t want it to be all about things, but at the same time, they factor and they symbolize a lot of what’s going on in society.”
Denoting to the unfortunate events that ended Eric Garner’s life, and subsequently, his daughter’s Erica Garner, the title provokes tens of ill-rooted thoughts.
The song “Borders” was inspired by seeing concentration camps in Europe.
“GRUNGECAKE? I have no idea. I don’t even know what the word ‘grunge’ means. It sounds like something grimy. Something underground.”
Watch the incredible music video for ‘Kontraband’ below. In the visual, their tour bus gets pulled over. Next, a police officer searches Kabaka Pyramid and his belongings. If you like what you hear and see, purchase the album through this link.