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It’s clear that Fyah Roiall stands out, even when he’s in Kingston video chatting with a Reggae nerd in Philly. He doesn’t look like other Jamaican musicians. He’s the only one that pairs dreadlocks with facial piercings, lobe spacers, and painted fingernails. He doesn’t talk like an artist from Kingston. He punctuates his sentences with equal parts Dancehall and Hip Hop slang, but he generally speaks more like an American dude than a Jamaican yute.
Roiall’s interview style also stands out because he starts this conversation the same way he starts most of his songs, by lighting a spliff, which is great if you happen to be a journalist who is looking for an in-depth interview. To steal a line from Dave Chappelle’s character in Half Baked, “Smokalot opened up to me like I was Barbara Walters. It was ridiculous.”
Release Date: March 12, 2019
Label: Roiall Music
Copyright: 2019 Roiall Music
Total Length: 3:11
Total Tracks: 1
Genre: Reggae, Rap & Hip Hop
The title of Fyah Roiall’s new EP, Underrated, is inspired by the frustration he feels as an artist who doesn’t fit into any one scene, especially in his hometown. Always introspective and ever confident, Roiall says of the title, “It just come from asking myself, What am I doing wrong? What am I not doing enough of? What should I be doing that I am not doing the right way or am I doing it TOO right?”
He pauses to draw smoke from his spiff and as he exhales he says, “And then I was like, I’m just fucking UNDERRATED. I’m fucking awesome.”
Underrated is Roiall’s first official long-form release, but he has been putting in work for years, boasting a long list of singles, remixes, and videos on his Youtube and Soundcloud channels. He released another R&B flavored EP, Audio Therapy, through his Soundcloud in 2016, but Roiall is ready to take it to another level with Underrated. He is turning away from R&B and settling into a more aggressive, Rap-inspired sound. “The whole Hip Hop thing as it relates to being a movement in Jamaica, it’s not happening. Not yet. And that’s what I’m on. I want to start that shit.”
He has been captivated by music since his youth, but Roiall was never one to make distinctions. Whether it was American Hip Hop and R&B, Reggae and Dancehall, or something else entirely, “I didn’t know the difference until I was like 13 or 14. Up until that point, everything was just the same to me. It was just music.”
Roiall didn’t learn about his family’s historic interest in music – his grandfather’s stint as a sound system singer, his father’s vocal talents, and his mother’s dreams of being involved in music – until after he had chosen music as his vocation. His family has been supportive of his career choice, but he arrived there on his own, free from anyone else’s secondhand tastes or vicarious dreaming.
Since Roiall’s grandfather’s generation, Jamaican music has typically been rather conservative, at least in the artists’ and producers’ willingness to take creative chances and stray from Kingston’s status quo. But this insular approach is hurting Jamaican artists in the current global market, as they are generally failing to capitalize on progressive niches and popular movements that are heavily-influenced by Reggae and Dancehall. Pop artists in the U.S. and Latin America are monopolizing many of the most innovative producers from Jamaica – Stephen McGregor, Don Corleone, Supa Dups, and Rvssian – and making huge global hits. Dancehall-derived genres like Grime and Afrobeats have largely surpassed current Jamaican music in terms of worldwide popularity. Moombahton and Future Dancehall repurpose Dancehall songs for the EDM crowd, but the American and European producers are the ones to profit, not the Jamaican artist. Whether Jamaica likes it or not, Dancehall has become a dynamic global movement, and Jamaican producers and artists no longer have control over the fate of their music as they once did. Even with its imperfections, the future of this new, global Dancehall looks bright, but Jamaican artists will continue to get shut out of the global market as long as they let their traditional approach get in the way.
“The place traditional AS FUCK. They stick to their tradition. You’re not supposed to be this way or look like that. FUCK THAT. I’m gonna do what I fucking want.”
Roiall’s dreadlocks, nose rings, painted nails, and stretched earlobes may be a common look for baristas and punk bands from the States, but his aesthetic stand out in a conservative place like Jamaica. He clearly doesn’t give a damn about what people think about him, but the way people feel about his unorthodox vibe does place a nearly insurmountable obstacle between Roiall and success through traditional music channels in Jamaica. The only Jamaican artist to have swayed public opinion about these kind of things in recent years is Vybz Kartel, who built an unrivalled legion of fiercely loyal Jamaican fans through traditional means before flipping the script and making headway in Dancehall’s acceptance of tattoos and blow jobs, two previously frowned upon subjects in Jamaica. Roiall has bypassed the traditional Jamaican channels, so his best chance of getting his home country to embrace his unconventional look, sound, and general drive to be different is to prove his vision abroad.
“I’m trying to be that guy that puts Jamaica on the map for another reason. When you hear Jamaica, you think Fyah Roiall in the same way you think about Peter Tosh or Bob Marley, but for another reason, in the same way you think about Sean Paul or Shaggy, but for another reason,” says Roiall through wisps of smoke. “And, on a global scale, I’m trying to be compared to Eminem and Kendrick and them.”
Underrated is Roiall’s first big push to become Jamaica’s Hip Hop ambassador, and he closely controlled nearly every step of the process. “It’s basically me being picky and not trusting people enough to execute exactly the way that I envisioned,” Roiall says. “So I want to be there and be hands on.” He wrote the songs. He either built the beats himself or worked closely with the producers who did. He sat in on every mixing session for every song. He even designed the cover art, and every upcoming music video from Underrated will be directed and edited by Roiall as well.
Roiall’s musical vision for Underrated covers a lot of territory, even beyond Hip Hop, but listeners will be hard pressed to find much evidence of a direct Jamaican influence, other than the deejay’s native patois. While his beats tend to reflect the prevailing trends in the US and the UK, Roiall’s vocals are unmistakably Jamaican, and they stand out on the world stage in an extremely good way, at least within the context he presents them. Roiall builds on classic and contemporary Dancehall cadences, incorporating a further arsenal of rhythms associated with Hip Hop and Trap. The most notable weapon in his collection is the triplet-based Gucci flow, which is commonly utilized by mainstream Trap artists like Future and Migos. Roiall also displays his impressive stylistic range on experimental tunes like 3 AM in Kingston and Demigod, an EDM-style song laced with hair metal guitar samples.
When leading Hip Hop curator and Hot 97 DJ, Ebro, premiered the cannabis-themed lead single from Underrated, Spaced Out, on Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio, he described the young artist as a Champion Freestyler and used the word Grimehall to characterize his unique vibe. With hard hitting bass and a repetitive, catchy hook, Spaced Out is one of several tunes on this project with the potential to crack Pop and Urban markets in the US. Roiall also takes the Trap flavor in another, slightly more Jamaican direction on the Teflon Zinc Fence produced Amun Ra, which generated buzz when the artist performed it on a BBC 1Xtra showcase at Big Yard in 2017. The main instrumental element that ties these two songs and the rest of Underrated together is the 808 drum kit.
“I’m a bass junky,” says Roiall as he relights his spliff, “and Hip Hop bass – the 808 bass & the 808 drums – when that shit drops, it’s like magic, bruh.”
Roiall has chosen a path that couldn’t be more Jamaican, even though his music doesn’t sound like any other artist’s music in Jamaica. His adherence to tradition is more of a philosophical one. “I’m not the type of nigga who is going to mirror the ACT of a man,” says Roiall. “I’m going to mirror the EXAMPLE of the man.”
Like his musical forefathers, he has looked abroad for inspiration and then put his own personal, and clearly Jamaican stamp on it. His ability to step into multiple creative roles is directly inherited from a long tradition of ingenuity in Jamaican music, usually born from a lack of resources. Roiall’s instinct to break the rules of Jamaican music and maintain creative autonomy is in line with a defiant streak that runs through Jamaican culture, as evidenced by the rebellious lyrics of Roots Reggae and the long held Jamaican appreciation for outlaws. Even Roiall’s choice to blend Dancehall and Rap can be traced to at least the early 90’s when, for a brief moment, Hip Hop and Dancehall were so intertwined, they were almost indistinguishable.
Roiall is in a unique position to bring the legacy of Hip Hop and Bass music back to the tiny island where it all began decades ago. He is more in touch with the current global market than his Dancehall-centric Jamaican contemporaries, and he is more authentic than the foreign producers and artists that capitalize on the trendiness of Jamaican-derived genres. Jamaica may not be comfortable with his look or creative freedom yet, but, with this new project, Underrated, it won’t be long before the entire world realizes how underrated Fyah Roiall is.
Spotify Playlist | IRIE on SPOTIFY – April 2019