Interviews

A Conversation with Jamaican Rapper Five Steez

Written by Xavier Murphy

This week we interview Jamaican Rapper  Five Steez. He is a true MC that has surprisingly risen through an obscure Hip Hop scene in Jamaica, the land of Reggae, to capture ears and minds all over the world through years of mixtape releases, performances and televised music videos. With the city of Kingston as his backdrop, he expresses a reality that exemplifies Hip Hop’s role as the ‘voice of the voiceless’. Here is our conversation with Five Steez.

How did you get started doing hip-hop and rap in Jamaica?
– Well, I pretty much grew up around Hip Hop since my brothers, who were 7 and 9 years older, were heavily into the genre. So from as early as 6 years old, I can remember certain songs or music videos. By as early as 11 years old, I had my own Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan and KRS-One albums. I believe I dabbled in rhyme writing on and off but it wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 years old that I considered myself an “MC”. I used to write rhymes on occasion and eventually began posting them on internet message boards, which then led to me doing my own home recordings on the computer. Over time, I stuck with the craft and was part of a local crew that released mixtapes and performed at shows up until 2008.

What is you favorite rap song you remember growing up?
– This is such a hard question but right now, I’d say Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype”. I can remember really loving that song.

What has been some of the challenges of doing rap in Jamaica where dancehall is very dominant?
– The biggest challenge is the lack of opportunities. There is no space given to us in the industry by the producers, on the airwaves by the radio jocks or on the stageshows by promoters. Jamaicans, in general, have a bias against their own people making Hip Hop but I’ve found that the people aren’t the problem as much as it is the actual industry that has blocked us out because not everyone holds that view or holds it strongly anyway. Given the circumstances, I have had to create my own outlets locally and use the internet to connect with various people globally.

What are the comparisons you see with dancehall?
– Hip Hop and Dancehall are very similar ideas and come from the same sound system tradition of toasting. There are many differences between the genres and their respective cultures but it is the same concept of someone speaking over a beat.

Do you think Jamaicans are aware of the role toasting from the dancehall played in laying the foundation for rap?
– I think only a minority is aware of this and many of them still don’t know the details of the connection. If they did, I think they’d be more inclined to identify Hip Hop as our own creation and embrace it the way I do.

How would you describe your sound?
– I describe my sound as new millennium true-school Hip Hop. It’s very reminiscent of what people may call “old school” or “boom bap” Hip Hop and that’s because I feel that was the best era of Hip Hop and the creative spirit of that era is lacking much today.

Tell how about your song my “Rebel Music”?  What was your inspiration to write the song?
– “Rebel Music” was inspired by everything I see going on in Jamaica… the poverty, poor social services, high unemployment, extrajudicial killings, high crime rate, government corruption and more. I wanted to highlight all of that but challenge it at the same time as well the audience to rise up against it.

What is the best compliment you have gotten in Jamaica about your music?
– Just yesterday, someone said my album, “War for Peace”, will be one of the most credible Hip Hop releases to ever come from Jamaica. Also, I always liked the following excerpt from a feature the YouthLink did on me:-

As a rapper, Five Steez’s distinguishing trait is his ability to embody a multiplicity of personalities in his songs and performances, alternately coming off as technical, poetic, intimidating or amusing. His lyrical flow is both relentlessly hostile and astonishingly imaginative, making him a standout candidate destined to propel the Jamaican hip hop scene to new heights. Love him or not, it doesn’t seem as though Steez will let up any time soon before making his name a global phenomenon. – Biko Kennedy, YouthLink

I know it is early in your career but what is your proudest moment so far?
– I think my proudest moment may be the present moment. I’m more proud about the entire journey and where I am now rather than any single event. While it wasn’t an artistic achievement, it was fulfilling to meet Rakim last year because he’s been a major influence on my music and many of my favourite Hip Hop artistes.

You have a few singles out there. When can we expect your album to be released?
– Tuesday, August 21. And it will be available for pre-order on July 24 at http://www.fivesteez.com. It will also be on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and all other popular digital outlets. Physical copies will ship worldwide also.

Have you being doing anything else in the entertainment field?
– For the past two years, I’ve been working with the non-profit youth organization, ManifestoJamaica, and we’ve held dozens of musical and arts events, including our annual Festival of ART’ical Empowerment in 2010 and 2011.

What projects are you working on right now?
– Musically, I’m focused on the release and promotion of “War for Peace”. While I am still working on new music, I don’t have any project planned right now. Aside from my own music, I am working on building alliances that will ensure Jamaica is recognized in the global Hip Hop community.

If you were stuck on a desert island and given the choice of 2 albums to put on your ipod which artist would it be?
– Rakim’s “18th Letter” & Wu-Tang Clan’s “Wu Tang Forever”. Those albums changed my life.

Growing up my hero was…
– Malcolm X

A movie I never get tired of watching is…
– Malcolm X. Also, Braveheart.

Thanks for your time. Do you any closing thoughts?
– Yes. Thanks for the opportunity to share my story. I really appreciate it. And I sincerely hope that whoever reads this will check out the music and support if if they’re feeling it. Much respect.

About the author

Xavier Murphy