Catch Paley Martin practicing social distancing in the drum circle.
On a late Monday evening, in the basement of Harman audio store in midtown Manhattan, Jamaican artist Chronixx spoke to a small audience about the end of the world. “The world has ended many times,” he told us.
Launching into a wise and winding narrative about the constant endings and beginnings of life as we know it, his point was clear: we’re never not adjusting to a new normal. In the weeks following this talk, his words have echoed in my mind as I, and our global society at large, have experienced one of our most dramatic adjustments yet.
At that point in the COVID-19 timeline, New York City residents were just starting to incessantly wash hands and wear masks, and the early trendsetters were even beginning to bump elbows. In the days that followed, Purrell dispensers multiplied, trains grew emptier, offices and institutions shut down, major events got cancelled, and the world as we knew it, until further notice, started to end for a while.
With each shift, big or small, I thought of Chronixx’s calm and declarative statement.
That Monday night, to a crowd of writers and industry folk, the 27-year-old artist was fresh off of playing his sophomore album, Dela Splash, and revealing the stunning, Nabil Elderkin-directed visuals for its lead single, “Dela Move.” Like the doomsday topic at hand, the album, Chronixx confessed, is “darker” than its ’17 predecessor, Chronology — “but not in a negative way.” It’s reflective of the headspace he’s been in over the last three years, splitting time between touring the world and nurturing a newborn daughter.
Anything but dark, Chronology was a milestone album for Chronixx. The Grammy-nominated LP touched upon the traditional reggae sound with songs like “Spanish Town Rockin’” (a reimagining of the Barrington Levy classic “Prison Oval Rock”), expounded on the politics resistant to the Rastafari lifestyle with “Selassie Children,” and basked in Jamaican appreciation with “Smile Jamaica” — and yet, Chronixx told the room, “it’s not a reggae album.” In fact, he adds that the only thing cohesively reggae about the project (give or take a few straightforward reggae tracks) and him as an artist, is his inherently Jamaican voice. As far as he’s concerned, the rest is, well, feel good, genre-free, consciousness-raising music for the people.
Before Chronology and in the years since, this global appeal is what has drawn fans worldwide to Chronixx’s music. From his ’13 hit “Here Comes Trouble” to collaborations with dance heavyweights Major Lazer, Afropop star Mr. Eazi, rapper Joey Bada$$, and pop A-listers Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran, there’s no arena in which his universal message does not resonate.
As one of Jamaica’s biggest contemporary artists and leaders of the Reggae Revival Movement, he’s spent the last decade breathing new life into his country’s music and paving the way for generations to follow. Working alongside contemporaries such as Protoje, he’s opened the door for up-and-comers like Lila Iké, Sevana, Naomi Cowan, and fellow Spanish Town native-turned-global superstar Koffee. He’s shown that the Jamaican sound is not restricted to the era of Bob Marley, and more importantly, that to be a Jamaican artist is to be a global artist.
Yet, while Chronixx’s message never fizzled and his collaborations never stopped, fans have grown more anxious to hear his next original release. By industry standards, three years is a long window to wait, but Chronixx is on his own timeline. “I can’t keep up,” he confessed. So, three years, one child, and over 100 tour stops later, he returns as a darker, more pensive version of the artist he’s always been.
On the J.L.L.-produced “Dela Move,” a suspenseful intro layers calculated nyabinghi drumming with ominous flutes and trumpets. As Chronixx enters, he rhymes about his journey to the top. “Jah would never give the power to a bald head man,” he sings in between bars. Like a mantra that’s helped him keep focus, the lyric references Bob Marley’s ’78 “Time Will Tell” and the anti-materialism way of life it promotes. In “Dela Move,” we understand the complexities that have made Chronixx into the singular artist he is today. He compares himself to a crab in a barrel who found his way to the top, paving his own path through lyrical ammunition, spirituality, and an undying dedication to his craft.
The Nabil-directed visuals flash between Chronixx and a boy who presumably symbolizes a younger version of himself. In the video, we meet Chronixx at a drumming ceremony, dancing in front of a fire, as he literally shifts the moon and sun above him. The younger boy, meanwhile, feels a shift taking place within. The hot Jamaican sun beats down on him as he journeys through his town, into his home, and to the mirror where his own image stares back at him. Here, he raps to himself and develops a confidence and flow that literally has him spitting fire. The fire carries him throughout the streets, past the townsfolk who watch curiously, and into a barren field in which he finds Chronixx. The moon and sun shift again, and the feeling of chaos subsides. The calm after the storm finds Chronixx and the young boy looking back at one another, surrounded by a barren field and the glorious Jamaican mountains.
The closing image answers Chronixx’s question at the beginning of the song: “What’s this prophecy revealing when you really pree the signs?” “You’ve got to creep before you walk,” he says, and “you’ve got to live before you die.” To the younger boy standing in front of him and to the youth still finding their place in the world, Chronixx is the prophecy’s revelation: a champion of his life’s journey and its spectrum of struggles and victories.
On “Dela Move,” we get a taste of the thought-provoking material that comprises Dela Splash as a whole. The album, due out this summer, is named after an annual concert in his Dela Vega stomping grounds in which Chronixx and a number of would-be stars (his father Chronicle, Koffee, Papa San, and Prince Far I, to name a few) have performed at over the years.
Contrasting from its Chronology predecessor, Dela Splash is more reflective, more personal. It’s not the sunny music that might meet the expectations of the older generation, he says, but rather the music he wants to make. It’s an album “for the youth,” he adds, noting the depth and wisdom of children.
It’s only right — and not to mention, timely — that Chronixx return to the mic a darker reflection of the world around him. As the planet shifting in his video conveys, there is, after all, no dark without light.
As I reflect on that night in the basement of midtown Manhattan’s Harman audio store where I first saw the video, I’m transported back to those last few moments of the screening and the Q&A session that followed. Sitting on an ottoman in the front of us, Chronixx answered our questions diligently. A photographer leapt around the dim-lit room, snapping photos of him and illuminating his figure with each flash. With every question asked, Chronixx’s response flowed like a philosophical tributary, headed towards a river of timeless and universal wisdom. From marijuana to music and, of course, the many endings of the world, no subject was neglected.
When the conversation was over and lights turned back on, Chronixx, his team, and the audience mingled for a minute and soon carried on with their evenings. The streets swept on as usual that night, but slowly shifted as the sun came up the next day and in the days to follow.
Like the young boy in “Dela Move,” we are and always have experienced each moment with its own unique batch of circumstances. Each day represents a new unknown, Chronixx reminds us, and in the present, we may not know what the prophecy’s revealing.
Of course, “Dela Move” is not a song about the end of the world, at least not in the way most tend to think about it. Instead, Chronixx provides an opportunity to zoom out and reveal an always changing world, full of conflicts and dualities, and, however mysterious, a great purpose for it all.