OAJ caught up with ‘Sunshine City’-born multihyphenate creative Blvk H3ro to discuss artistic developments across his eclectic tapestry of art, including his notably diverse yet succinctly distinct musical enterprising. One such undertaking involves internationally renowned many-times Grammy-nominated British reggae band UB40. So…
How did that collaboration with UB40 come about?
Firstly, I wanna say thanks for sharing this moment and these questions, I’ve been following your ‘inner-views’ for a while so really glad for the connection.
Well, the collaborations with UB40 happened around mid-2019 when their manager, Matt Campbell, reached out and was just sharing how much the band was excited by a performance I done for Toddla T from BBC 1Xtra along with Shenseea, Leno Banton and Lila Iké. They were really feeling my freestyle vibes and wanted to send some ‘riddims’ over to hear the direction they were working out for a few upcoming projects, and possibly think of ways we could collaborate.
Honestly, at first, I wasn’t that familiar with UB40 but I reasoned with my mom and my manager and they shared some really epic ‘chunes’ from the band that, it turns out, I had been hearing all my life. I was blown away; and, so, although they sent like half a dozen ‘riddims’ for me to pick one from; being Blvk H3ro, and feeling the vibe, I ended up heading into studio with my engineer Shotta Biggs and we created four ‘bangers’. The band was shocked, but also impressed. They loved the ‘chunes’ so much they ended up putting one on their dub album, in 2019, and then placed the other three on this new album, due for release any day now. So, yeah, that was really how the connection came about, just one thing led to another, very organically.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into the makings of Blvk H3ro. Firstly, why are you “Blvk H3ro,” and how would you describe your musical style?
The words “black hero” in it self, if you would ever type it in [a search engine] and try to look for it you’d find like Marcus Garvey and all of the legends that pave the way [for me]… So, to get more specific, I had to spell it that way to have a uniqueness about it… the types of characters that I put in the spelling goes back to who I am…the number 3 in H3ro, I was born on the third day. Things always happen to me in threes; I notice that. The “V” is a new way of speech, just a current generation thing…invert the “A” to be a “V”…just like you’d see [producer] Rvssian…instead of (another vowel) “U” he uses the “V.” So, it (the unique spelling and name choice) both has a spiritual and a rational new-generation meaning behind it.
My musical style is just an eclectic take on Jamaican music. So, it has the foundations of dub, nyahbinghi, mento, ska, dancehall and reggae, but I, also, infuse it with our musical offsprings like hip-hop, dubstep, EDM, and reggaeton, and all the other current sounds within the creative universe. I’ve called it many things from ‘bussweh,’ to reggae soul, but right now it’s ‘ragga rock,’ that’s my musical gumbo or sonic collage.
Is there a specific moment or thing that convinced you to seriously pursue music? When did you know?
So many moments led me to that moment. But, the one that sealed the deal was one of my first major performances, at a show held at The Philip Sherlock Centre [for the Creative Arts] at UWI (University of West Indies, Mona). I think it was called Reggae Riot, and it was a real energetic and exciting night organised by the students. It had the freshest lineup of the brand new acts but still had veterans like Beres Hammond, Sizzla, Beenie Man, Agent Sasco, and so many others that passed through.
Even with all those big names, I still gave a commanding set and topped it off by inviting Protoje to share the stage with me as a surprise guest. Needless to say, the crowd went wild. That was a moment I’ll never forget. It was crazy. That experience really showed me that I was made for this, and from then ’til now it’s been full throttle.
Multiple acts were honoured at that event. Notably, Hammond – who has been in the industry for several decades – was feted for his influence and contribution to Jamaica’s music. How long have you been pursuing music, and who are your influences?
Professionally, I’ve been in music for almost five years now, but I’ve been developing myself and my skills as a recording artiste from 2012.
My influences are all genre-benders, like I am. So, people like Kirk Franklin, Michael Jackson, Sizzla, Vybz Kartel, D’Angelo, and a few others for sure. But, those I listed are the artistes that made me look at music in a whole different light, long before I even knew this was my path.
That is most certainly an extraordinarily diverse group of creatives, if ever we’ve seen one. What informs your creative process?
To be honest, I’m not even sure sometimes if I have a process, ’cause I find I really am serving as a vessel or a conduit or, better yet, a gateway for energy to flow through; sometimes, in an instant. And, that’s when you get those ‘sick’ freestyles. And, then, some other times, for whatever reason, it can take days, or even months, to develop an idea; especially if there’s added pressure like a project deadline.
Yes, those pesky deadlines; great segue into the elbow grease that drives the actual process. How do you approach songwriting, production, recording, etc?
I’m very hands-on, like I have a very sensitive and specific ear for music so my beat selection is always peculiar…when it comes to songwriting, now, I no longer write my lyrics down, I’ve finally reached the point of free-flow and being at one with the music. So, I can just pull inspiration directly from the source, at the moment I need to. I pick a specific set of people to be around me while recording, ’cause I hate creating around people who don’t really know how the process works; plus, you know, good spirits and energy are important when creating, so I can really tap in.
You’ve got an upcoming project, titled New Millennium, how would you describe it?
Well, just as the name says, it’s a New Millennium, a new era within Earth and also the music industry. So, this project showcases the present and future of Jamaican music culture to the fullest. You’re gonna hear dancehall like you’ve never heard it before, and even if you think you’ve heard it like this before we make it in a way that you won’t have to hide it from your kids because of the message or the content. We make music that can be be played, unedited, on the airways, but still not lose the essence of what it means to make Jamaican music.
The artwork from the project lists Wayne J in multiple instances. How did that collaborative effort come about?
This collaboration happened thanks to COVID. It really slowed things down for us and allowed us to focus on the things that truly matter like family, friends and your squad. So, in this case, Wayne J‘s manager Dennis ‘Greatest’ Hamilton is part of my core team of producers and is also my best friend, from even before I became Blvk H3ro…so it was that connection from like six years ago, that is still there today. If you check my early work, like the video for Kush & Schweppes, we shot that on Wayne J‘s block in Waterhouse…it’s really a foundation link with his whole family, from then ’til now. So, it’s only natural that we would make music together.
You spoke about the project coming together because COVID-19 hit. How have you adjusted to doing your music during the global pandemic?
From a creative standpoint, so far, I’ve been staying productive during this time of the ‘plandemic.’ The real hit for the music industry was the halt on the shows, which basically is our main bread in Jamaica as musicians, but it’s also so weird because this is probably my best year musically, so far, in regards to placements, streams, sales and even performances, despite them becoming more and more virtual. So, in some sense, yeah, I might have missed a few ‘bags,’ but the journey of my music and brand has kept progressing to the point that now I can’t go anywhere in Jamaica and not hear a Blvk H3ro song playing somewhere or for someone to mention that they’ve been watching my journey. So, yeah, it’s a weird time, but we are still pressing on.
The novel coronavirus has, indeed, pushed creatives across the globe to evolve and tap into their imaginations. Regarding your own creative pursuits, what would you identify as Blvk H3ro’s most gratifying career milestone(s), so far?
I’m blessed to say I now have so many moments in this experience, as a performing artist and musician, that I cherish. From working with Levi’s and Carhartt as a model to sharing the stage with some of the artistes that were my influences growing up. But, I would have to say moving through the United States with the legendary Bunny Wailer, as his brand ambassador and musical protégé, was really eye-opening and I got a glimpse of what the future, I dream about, could maybe look like.
Many more of those milestones are, undoubtedly, on the horizon. So, what’s next for Blvk H3ro?
There’s so much in store. Obviously, more music, visuals, albums and more collabs; especially with international artistes from the UK, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the USA…but, for the moment, all my attention is on the #NewMillennium project that, I feel, is really about to ‘kick off’ the snowball effect on my career.