Wayne Wonder: Island Star

While hardcore dancehall was a mainstay of music in the early to mid ‘90s, its presence began to wean with the emergence of new artistic expressions of music, such as neo-soul and reggaeton. Yet, somewhere between the sheets, Jamaican born Wayne Wonder found a niche and introduced the world to reggae music with an R&B feel. Since recording his first song in 1988, Wayne Wonder has made a solid, yet subtle, statement of his ability to cross genres and make quality music. In 2003, he struck Gold with the Billboard hit “No Letting Go.”With no pressure to be anyone but himself and a soft spot for the ladies, Wayne Wonder is back with a new album, Foreva, to prove that reggae music, like all other forms, can be anything you want it to be. On his visit to New York, Wayne Wonder shared with us his love and appreciation of women, how much he admired Alicia Keys, and the pressure of being yourself, musically, in Jamaica.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You’ve been at this for many years. What keeps you motivated to keep at it when music is evolving so drastically?Wayne Wonder: I guess I love it. I always put my heart into it. I’m always finding ways to reinvent myself by getting inspired. My creative juices flow in whatever direction they flow, like a river, you know? And I guess that’s inspired by the love of the music.AHHA: Now part of your creativity, once upon a time, was your alter-ego Surprize. Wayne Wonder: He’s still a part of it. My alter-ego is a part of my creative flow. It’s the surprise of it. So at times you'll hear me open a song saying, “Wayne Wonder, featuring Suprize.” That’s the part that surprises and motivates me. Even still, Surprize is that inner energy that pushes me. AHHA: You’re considered a dancehall artist, yet, you are very unconventional in your approach. Why do you prefer the ballads and mid-tempo songs to the harder, raunchier style of most dancehall artists?Wayne Wonder: That's where my energy lies. That’s how I was inspired. My inspiration and encouragement come from [ballads and soul music]. I could get a hardcore dancehall beat, but I'd still be able to apply a nice melody to it and make it plain at the same time. You could take away the beat, later, and apply nice R&B chords around it and it would make a nice R&B record too. So that’s how I make my music, you know? It’s for everybody.AHHA: You have a unique, easily recognizable voice. Who were some of your musical influences?Wayne Wonder: Musical influences came from early on. I grew up in a house with my mother listening to Mahalia Jackson. We grew up on that and Beres Hammond, Barrington Levy, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson. Listening to them was like, yo, such remarkable talent, you know? We found ourselves gravitating to the people with that talent. Like, I listened to R. Kelly in the early days…Honey Love and 12 Play.AHHA: The first song I had ever heard from you was “No Letting Go,” which was infectious here in the States. Where were you when you wrote that song and what was going through your mind?Wayne Wonder: I was actually in Queens, New York, in the basement and I was listening to the track. And I was just jamming to the song and playing some additional chords to it to let it compliment a song. It’s just about a girl…my relationship, you know? Me wanting to tell her how much I appreciate her, how I’m going to stick by her. It’s just a song of appreciation so all the ladies can appreciate it.AHHA: Do you think you’ll ever be able to top the success of that single?Wayne Wonder: Well I don’t even think about it that way. I treat it the same as any song that has good content and quality, that's coming from the heart. I'm sure Jah will bless me and people will gravitate towards it. AHHA: Speaking of writing, for the early part of your career, you did mostly cover songs. Why?Wayne Wonder: In Jamaica it’s really hard to write, as producers don’t really believe in spending time to develop a writer. Like if I’m sitting down writing a song that needed a little more arrangement, they didn’t have time to do that, so they would be like, “Why don’t you sing something that people know?” Then I realized that it was time and it was okay to be myself. And Beres Hammond was the one that told me to write my own song and it will sound like a cover song. I did, and since ‘93 I haven't turned back. It paid off for me.AHHA: After hearing some songs off your new LP Foreva, I am reminded of authentic R&B with a reggae tinge. Do you ever feel pressure to please both the people in the States by making your music more generic, and the people in Jamaica, by making your music rawer?Wayne Wonder: I just know that sometimes you have to let the music make itself, and that’s my philosophy. If I'm sad, I'm gonna sing about that. If I'm happy, I'm gonna sing about joy riding. If I had a bad night last night or I run into some cats that pissed me off, I might sing about something defensive, like enemies or struggle. It’s all about the feel, not so much thought into the pressure of it. I know that dancehall music is more DJ dominated, but as a singer I know there’s a place for me to fit in. Like you said, I’ve been doing this for so long. People must feel the music in some way and appreciate what I’m doing.AHHA: True. So tell me about this album. What are your top three favorite tracks and why?Wayne Wonder: “Again” is one of my favorites. You know, I'm a personal person, so when I put my pen to my paper or I hold a guitar to write a song, it’s gotta be something true. My work is time consuming. Sometimes I’m on the road and I tell my wife I’m going to call her and I don’t call her. I’m supposed to be calling and checking in, you know? So “Again” is just really saying, whenever I touch the road again, I’ll be taking you, so don’t cry. I like “Gonna Love You” also. It’s another one of those songs that let’s a lady know she’s appreciated, you know? And then there’s a song called, “L.O.V.E.,” inspired by all the war I see going on, and we need it. So those are my three favorites on the album.AHHA: Well we can never have too many of those songs, showing love to the ladies.Wayne Wonder: Yeah, because I learned one thing- love is lovely and war is ugly.AHHA: I couldn’t have said it better. I’m going to have to use that. Now on this album you collaborated with Trina, but in the future, who would you like collaborate with?Wayne Wonder: My dream is to do something with Alicia Keys, but then Baby Cham already got that chance, but I’ve always been such a big fan of hers. I actually read that she was a fan of my music as well, and that was surprising because I didn’t know that. So definitely Alicia Keys.AHHA: Ya’ll should make that happen. Have you heard her new song “No One?” It has a reggae feel to it.Wayne Wonder: No, I haven’t heard that. But I’d like to hear it. I know I think her father was Jamaican, so it’s in her blood, you know? Maybe I should go by J Records and wait for her. [laughs]AHHA: Now reggae music has become a thriving force in the music pool over the past few years. What direction would you like to see it go in the next five years?Wayne Wonder: Straight to the top, with people to represent it the proper way, as one ofthe top forms of music.