Jamalski is an internationally known MC who helped pioneer the reggae/hip-hop crossover genre both as a member of the Boogie Down Productions crew and as a prolific solo artist with hits such as “Jump, Spread Out.” His accomplished beats cover the gamut of hip-hop and dance styles. As long as it’s an underground scene, Jamalski’s into it. After spending most of the past decade living and playing in Europe, last year Jamalski moved his headquarters back to his hometown, New York City, and has adopted Albuquerque as his secondary base of U.S. operations. The Alibi spoke with him over the phone.
Tell me how you got started in music.
Let’s see, my dad was a jazz musician. He played with Chet Baker, he played with Stan Getz. You know, a jazzhead. I grew up around that, wasn’t really so big on jazz. ... As I got in my teenage years, definitely going through the stages: classic rock and roll, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath. I’m not into The Dead but I have no problem with a Dead tour—those people are just buck wild. [Laughs.] Then I went through my whole punk rock stage: Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains.
When was that?
That was in the ’80s. It’s the one time where it’s all rebel music. Hip-hop, punk rock and reggae—they were all connected. And that was the perfect thing for me—hanging out Downtown at CBGB’s, being around the pioneering stages of hip-hop as a small B-boy break-dancing, writing graffiti—it all just came together. Going through my dub stage—Augustus Pablo, King Tubby and stuff like that—I just started listening to it. You know, I’m American. My mom is white, my dad is black—I just started singing in [Jamaican] patois and it just built and built.
So that’s when you picked up the Jamaican accent?
Exactly. It’s a worldwide thing now. Even in Germany, all my friends aren’t German, they’re Germaicans. So I just started going to clubs and ripping things up. My thing was fusing the reggae and the hip-hop, rhyming reggae style but over hip-hop beats. Eventually, KRS-One saw me and he linked up with me and, uh, he lost my phone number, but I saw him walking down 42nd Street and he said, Hey, come to the studio, and I ended up recording with him.
What year was that?
That was like 1990, ’91. Eventually he put me down in the crew and I sang on this record he had called Edutainment that had D-Nice and Ms. Melodie and Harmony. Then I did a BDP live record, which also had a video that went out with it. He really helped my career in a lot of ways, but we eventually parted ways due to business factors because I didn’t know anything about the music business. From there I just kept rocking. I had one hit and it just blew up, an underground hit, and it sparked a bidding war.
Was that the “Jump, Spread Out” single?
Yeah! From there Russell Simmons signed me. He said, “I don’t know about reggae,” but he sent it off and [my solo career] started from there. From then to now I’ve been doing reggae/hip-hop and I’m also deeply involved with the drum and bass / jungle scene and dubstep.
You had a song in the film Happy Feet.
With the Brand New Heavies, called “Jump and Move.” They used it in the movie, the trailer, the commercial, and they called and said they wanted to use it in the video game—but then [Speaks in an excited, conspiratorial voice.], then they called me and said we’re making toys and 10 of the toys have your song in them. So I have these three different penguins that walk around and sing my song. There’s an electronic dancing mat for kids that plays my song, and these giant penguin-feet slippers. And they sing my song, too. So if I die tomorrow, I can say at least I had a toy!
How would you describe your style now?
All-together. Reggae, hip-hop, electro hip-hop, dubstep, jungle, and we’re trying to launch “pungalism:” punk rock and jungle. [Laughs.] I’m always anti-pop music. I’m all about the underground. The radio’s just a shame. My main thing’s consciousness and positive lyrics, energy lyrics; I’m always about the fast-talk, like Daddy Freddy, Shinehead and General Levy—some of my teachers.
Yeah, you’re fast.
What are you listening to now?
I’m basically just listening to beats people send me. I like raw music, hard music and dark music. Not to say I don’t like happy music. It’s just gotta sound real—not plastic and synthetic and superficial like most of these MCs.
Why did you move back to the States?
The last 10 years I’ve been based in France, touring all over Europe. Everywhere in Europe the dancehall business is just out of control. There’s kids going to giant festivals all the time, so it’s a good scene out there in a lot of ways. Now I’m back in the States just trying to crank out music and get it together. I’m based in New York and New Mexico right now, that’s why fools need to come out [to the Moonlight Lounge] and see what’s gonna happen. [Laughs.]
How do you like New Mexico?
I’m loving New Mexico. I’m working with some kids out here. I went to the Breakin’ Hearts festival. It was good to see all the Native Americans and Mexicans. There were 5-year-old kids dancing in zoot suits—there’s some mad hip-hop culture here. I went to the Real Kings Graffiti Art exhibit and met a lot of incredible artists. So all New Mexico crew: Big ups from Jamalski—which stands for Joyful Altruistic Metaphysical Ageless Lover Seeks Knowledge Internally.
What should we expect at your show?
There’s not gonna be any Hula-Hoops or people on stilts. It’ll basically be me, the microphone and beats. Some classic dancehall and raga, because this particular party is with Brotherhood Sound, but I’m gonna drop some underground, bizarre beats as well—more hip-hop oriented, dubstep and jungle. I’m trying to shock people when I play the music. The lyrics are going to be Jamalski lyrics, whatever they’re about. Party lyrics, battle lyrics. No gun lyrics, no extremely overt punani lyrics.
[Possibly tokes something.] Always possible.