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‘I Changed the Whole Narrative’: Dancehall and Reggae Artist Kranium Dishes on Famous Family Ties and Musical Interests

Dancehall and reggae artist Kranium gained popularity in 2013 with his international hit single “Nobody Has to Know.” A year later, the track, which also has a remix featuring Ty Dolla $ign, landed him a music deal with Atlantic Records.

Since then, the 27-year-old, whose real name is Kemar Donaldson, has been steadily creating a solid presence with his unique sound that blends authentic reggae tunes with a melodic flow. Earlier this year he celebrated the release of his latest project, a five-track EP titled “Toxic.”

Kranium performs on stage at The Ends festival at Lloyd Park on May 31, 2019, in Croydon, England. (Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

Atlanta Black Star recently chatted with the burgeoning star, when he discussed his musical influences, his ties to legendary reggae star Screwdriver, and which entertainers he’d like to see go head to head on the popular social media event, “Verzuz.”

Born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1991, Kranium moved to Miami, Florida, in 2005 but only stayed roughly a year before heading to the Jamaica district of Queens, New York. Kranium’s fan base is global, with supporters in Germany, the Caribbean, Australia, and various African countries. And much like his audience reach, Kranium’s musical influences span over a wide range. 

“I listen to mostly old-school music, anything old-school — old-school soul, old-school R&B,” he revealed. “Sam Cooke is one of my favorite artists of all time. I listen to Beach Boys, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. I just listen to old stuff.”

Kranium also comes from a musical background, being the nephew of reggae legend Screwdriver, whose own roster of hits include “No Mama (Sharon Yuh Pregnant?)” and “Family Counsellor.” Before moving to New York to focus on his music career, Kranium was staying with his uncle for a bit in Miami.

When asked if he ever felt pressured into achieving certain goals because of his ties to otherwise famous people or how they may reflect on him as an artist, Kranium explained that he doesn’t allow outside forces to dictate his creative journey. “I never feel pressured to do anything when I’m creating or trying to create,” he said. “I just do whatever I feel like in the sense — I go with however I feel. I feel it’s right, it’s right. It’s that type of vibe. I never put myself in that type of situation. A lot of people know, or for those who don’t know … Like me, breaking as a dancehall artist in America, it doesn’t really happen much. It’s like one in a million chances of it happening. And when I came in the game, I changed the whole narrative of overseas artists breaking in dancehall not being Jamaican. You have so many artists now who aren’t even from America. Who live here and don’t feel they have to rush back home to get that love.”

He continued, “I think when you don’t think about the acknowledgments or the pressures of trying to do it [get a hit single], I feel like that’s when things fall naturally. But for me, I’ve never [felt] pressured. I’ve never panicked once. I always make good music that gives me enough time to create something new again.”

Kranium’s plain-sailing approach to his career is reflective in his stance in other aspects of the music industry. Award shows such as the Grammys were created to honor some of today’s top acts. However, in recent years, they have faced intense backlash over the lack of diversity amongst the award gatekeepers. That in turn affects the type of acts chosen each year, ultimately leading to the very same range missing up top. 

Kranium believes artists are too wrapped in the glitz and glamour of award ceremonies when there are other areas of artistry that should take precedence, telling ABS straightforwardly that he doesn’t care about award shows. 

“I don’t really care about awards. Everybody’s different. I don’t’ really care about awards. I feel like a kid when I get an award,” he said. “Acknowledgement is great. I’m with acknowledgment. I feel like that is more important to me than an award.”

He continued, “I do believe that it is no different than from being in school. At the end of the day, everybody needs their report card to see what they did and what they need to push for. I’m with awards if it’s done properly. Let’s just put that out there. If it’s properly done, then, yes, I’m 100 percent in. I think award shows for me is less of fear, for me, if you’re an artist that already made it big. I think it’s more so of exposure for new artists.”

The singer revealed he enjoyed watching newer acts perform on the smaller stages at ceremonies. “I remember the first day I discovered Lucky Daye when I watching these awards,” he said. “Even though I didn’t know who he was, now I know who he is. I’m more into the what’s new, what’s fresh. I feel like we’re all introduced to each other without even knowing it.”

Kranium continues to work on expanding his exposure and that of the genre. Music lovers got a chance last year to tap into the world of dancehall and reggae when two of the  most prominent figures from the genre, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, went against each other during a special edition of “Verzuz.” The star rated it as one of the best matchups for the event thus far before noting that he would’ve loved to see Mariah Carey and the late Whitney Houston go up against each other.   

Kranium, who is proud of not only the accomplishments he’s made so far in his career but also of his heritage and the music it encompasses, leaves fans with a simple message: “Continue to support dancehall music. Even if you’re not a fan of Kranium, find the best dancehall artist that you think is good to you and support them.”

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