The chant “Ra! Ra! Ra! Ra!” is set to be the new street anthem, all thanks to Cham and his new single “Ghetto Story,” which you can hear blaring from any radio at any given time. Telling the tale of growing up in the streets of Jamaica and the hardships that ensued, “Ghetto Story” is not what you typically expect from a dancehall artist – but Cham isn’t your typical dancehall artist.
The only mainstream dancehall artist not signed to VP Records, Cham is making his official American debut with his album Cham later this Summer. He took the independent route by pairing with David Kelly, one of the biggest dancehall producers, to form Madhouse Records. Through his new label situation with Atlantic Records, Cham is now poised to take over the American market.
Known more for his social commentary on Jamaican politics than for any new dance move his song is introducing, Cham gives you a different side of dancehall and what Jamaica is all about. We recently spoke with Cham about his upcoming album, politics and some of his questionable lyrics, and he had plenty to say about all of it.
Allhiphop.com Alternatives: Where did Baby Cham come from?
Cham: I got it from a friend of mine sister. At the time we were searching for names, this was like 1989. My real name is Damian Dean Beckett, my mom use to call me Deanie. So my friends started calling me Deanie, and when I use on stage and I use to free style for them, they use to call me Deanie Man – but Deanie Man was too close to Beenie Man. So we were searching for names, because there was this talent concert and we were searching for names, because I wanted to come up with the new name. So my friends came up with Baby Champagne.
AHHA: What made you decide to drop the Baby and just go with Cham?
Cham: Nah I didn’t, that’s just the album. When I just got signed to Atlantic in 2003, and we released Vitamin S in Europe there was some problems with a company over there that claimed they had the name from like ’95 or ’94, but we had proof that we had it from before. Just for this album we titled it Cham, but we own the name Baby Cham Baby Cham is for the females, and Cham is for the rude bwoys.
AHHA: You are the only dancehall that’s not on VP Records, how does that work?
Cham: Its because we have our own label, and for me to go sign with VP Records I would have to go through VP to get to Atlantic Records. I’m seeing the bigger picture, I wanted Atlantic to come straight to us. So its Madhouse Records, and Atlantic came to Madhouse Records.
AHHA: You are usually the first one to get on the riddim, working with David Kelly, so how does it feel to always be the first one to drop?
Cham: I don’t think its first. I just always have the most catchiest songs on the beat. I’m just lucky, but it’s good though.
AHHA: Can you breakdown Jamaican riddims? Most Americans hear it and just think it’s the same song – but there is reasoning behind it?
Cham: Its hard to tell you the breakdown, but I think that some of the drum patterns are the same. Which if you listen over here the drum patterns are the same. Listen to a Neptunes beat – if you take out the lyrics it’s the same riddim. But I think its changed over the years. If you listen to “Ghetto Story,” that beat don’t sound like normal dancehall beat. Dancehall is normally like a two-beat, but you know ’85 jump button changed totally, but its very different.
I think the reason why they think that way is because they hear one song, and then they hear sing more six songs on the same beat. But that’s our way of making a juggle, because in Jamaica we do it you have one song on the beat and then you have five more artists on the same beat, but that’s the juggling to keep the dancehall session just juggling, instead of playing one song from one riddim and changing, you have like six or five songs on one riddim and you can keep that groove for 15 or 10 minutes, and then the groove changes.
AHHA: You’re a dancehall artist, but you’re one of the few that isn’t really associated with dancing.
Cham: I appreciate dancing, I love it, love to see it. But that’s not me. I’m more like a realist. I write about what I’ve been through, what I face, what my friends are going through. Just to me art is like a mirror of society whatever society reflects I try to reflect it back with words and melodies with music. Sometimes its dancing but that’s just not me, so I choose to mix it with social commentary.
AHHA: Is “Ghetto Story” autobiographical?
Cham: 75% of it is my life and the next 25% is just what I’ve read, what I’ve seen on the TV, growing up in Jamaica, what I’ve witnessed in the streets. Fun but hard. Now when you look back on it you have to give thanks, because if you don’t have those experiences there is no way you would be the person you are today. But when we growing up it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t something that we laugh about.
AHHA: But you appreciate it?
Cham: Yeah, you have to, because without that you would have never been. There’s no way you would get a song like Babylon Boy or Vitamin S or Ghetto Story, so you have to appreciate that.
AHHA: How do you feel about the politics in Jamaica?
Cham: Man, I hate politicians, h-a-t-e. Where I’m from we use to do, like chores for politicians. Over here it’s different, way different. Where I’m from we use to get money from politicians to like clean the gully or to whitewash the sidewalks. When you whitewash the sidewalk on the edge you have a five-inch thick that shows you that it’s the end of the sidewalk, you going on the road now. In Jamaica you whitewash that, you paint it white and the politicians pay us to do it. That’s the main reason for most wars in the Jamaican communities, in every area that starts the most violence.
This politician is going to pay me, and then I’m supposed to pay everyone else that worked, but I’m going to look out for my friends. And then how many of his friends is going to say that they got messed over by us? That’s how wars start – which if you look at in next way, thats supposed to be a job for someone else. They not suppose to just come to the ghetto and say, Yo, here’s 50,000 Jamaican dollars, clean the gully. They know that’s going to start a war, like real war. The people not even learning, they not even grasping. They know that that whats politician are doing, they separating everyone and having everyone is go against each other, but its just a poor empty dollar.
AHHA: Do you feel that your music is making an impact and are you trying to make an impact?
Cham: You know I’m trying, but at the same time you have some real fears. Because to him the politicians is paying the bill, so he’s going to be like, Hey Cham, you out of here, – you can’t tell me that right now, this guy is me paying my bill. I got cars, I got money. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make this politician win the seat.
AHHA: “Ghetto Story” is the fastest growing record in dancehall history, but it hasn’t really broken the American market yet.
Cham: I love it; it’s a good feeling to know that its so huge so quick. We knew that it was going to be big but not so quick. I knew that it would be big, but what I’m seeing it doing over here, on this side thats strange to me. Because its so big, I didn’t know that people get it but we have straight white people coming up to us with Ra! Ra! Ra! But people get it they get it for real.
AHHA: You’re on the cover of The Fader, which is a very hipster magazine. How does that feel?
Cham: That’s a good look though, I love it. It’s a good feeling because at the same time you are working and you trying to get as much promotion as you can get. So at the same time when I heard that it came true I was like there’s higher beings than just use humans here, because if it was just for like human beings I wouldn’t be here now.
AHHA: What are you trying to do in the American market?
Cham: I want to take it over. I’m dead serious. To me its music and music has no boundaries. Over here you have timing and luck, but over the years we knew that we made some of the best song in dancehalls. But some artists they getting them before use over here. So some people are thinking that Cham is a new artist, which we’ve been doing this for 11 years, since 16-years-old. Its just timing and think this is the right time.
AHHA: I went to a show and you performed the song “Tic Toc” and I’ve been looking for everywhere. When are you going to let the masses hear it?
Cham: You have to wait for the album, because the second single is “Rude Bwoy.” “Tic Toc” is very special, but I was telling them is like no other song, everywhere I perform that song its like crazy. This album you’re going to love it. The album, I think shooting for July but I wanted it to come out on August first, because that’s Jamaica’s independence and emancipation day.
AHHA: Are you doing any touring?
Cham: We going to a promotional tour right before the album drops, but right now I’m always on tour four days a week.
AHHA: Why do you only mess with the girls with the “big knocka dem” but not “the girls cock blocka dem”
Cham: When you cock blocka dem, those is the girls that know they aren’t that hot, but they rolling with these hot girls. Because you not calling to them they telling they friend they shouldn’t say hi to you back. But the girl that big knock a dem [laughing] every man loves breast, we love to see dem big knockers.
AHHA: You’ve done a lot of collaborations in the past years, is anyone featured on your album?
Cham: We have females by the name of Toi and Trinity, both within the camp, Rihanna, Lady Saw. One rude bwoy, but I can’t tell you because that’s the remix [of 'Ghetto Story'] and I’ll give it away. But the remix is coming out soon, and its off the chain.