“I was playing football and totally lost track of time!” he says.
Cham’s new album Lawless, his first since that smash hit Ghetto Story with Alicia Keys has been out for a few weeks and he says, “I'm sitting on top of the world. The song is at #5 on the Billboard reggae charts. And after not having a full album out in so long, I'm just grateful the fans are still here for me.”
So what happened over the last 12 years, what took so long? Cham says he and the record label had major “creative differences”.
“My original A&R passed away so someone else was assigned to me and I didn't like the direction they wanted me to go in. Basically they wanted to remake Ghetto Story and for me when you make a classic like that you can't remake it. You have to try something new. Otherwise we wouldn't have gotten hits like Tables Will Turn (with Foxy Brown) or Vitamin S. So we fought over that for a long time and now we're finally free and we can do whatever we want to do.
You're Lawless, then?
“That's right. Lawless to me means no one can put you in a box, no one can tell you how things ‘should’ be. You know back in 2013 when we were promoting “Wine” (ft. Miss O) the radio wanted us to edit out words like “bumpa” which was ridiculous. We said we're not gonna let the radio determine whether our music is hot or not. So we started promoting the Lawless brand from then with t shirts and hats, and it took off into a clothing line. The radio was forced to play our songs because the people loved it. So that's what Lawless is for me… define your own destiny.”
You worked with your wife Miss O on this album (Get Drunk), what's it like working with her?
“It never feels like work with her. We are just bugging out and having fun. When we did “Wine “it was just an experiment. It was actually a demo meant for another artist but it took off and was a huge #1 hit. I love working with her.
You're also a dad of two boys (age 16 and 11), what’s a day in the life like for Cham the father?
I almost missed another interview today actually. I went to soccer with Elijah, my younger son and the coach needed one more player so I got my cleats and joined the game. That's how it is for the life of a parent, you get so caught up you forget about work. They're a blessing, they keep me sharp. What I've learned from them most is patience and how to treat people. I've learned you can't treat everyone the same. You have to treat people based on their unique personalities.
Your music can get pretty raw, how much do you share with the boys?
They know every one of my songs. If I want your kid to listen to my music, why can't mine right? But my kids also know this is entertainment, and it's separate from real life. I don't hide stuff from them, I don't shelter them. Whatever they do with their friends I want them to be able to do around me. No pretense.
When did they realize you were famous?
My youngest one, we were at the mall once (and I never go to the mall but that day I just decided to go with him) and people just kept coming up to me and he said, Dad, I didn't know you were famous. Then him and his friends started watching the videos and all that. For the older one, it's normal because he grew up in Jamaica and I couldn't go no where without people stopping me so he's used to that.
You had him at a young age, just 16. What was your childhood like growing up in Jamaica?
I grew up in Sherlock Crescent, in poverty. Sometimes we didn't have basics like toothpaste. We would use baking soda or soap and oh.. it was the worst taste! Just the other day I was at the movies with my son and I told him this was something my mom could never afford to do with us. But we knew she was doing her best. My dad died when I was 11 and she paid every bill on her own. We all went to good high schools. My siblings and I were among few kids from the neighborhood who went to good schools. My brother went to Wolmers, I went to Calabar. But that experience did two things, it made us stronger and it made us scared of poverty. So from an early age I realized you have to work really hard for anything you want. The first money I made, I bought my mom a house.
What was it like finding out you were going to be a father at 16?
I was prepared, financially. By that time, I had already been putting music out and I was making good money. By 16 I had already bought a house but I didn’t live in it, because it was just too big for me alone! So I was ready. But I worried about what kind of Dad I would be. But everything I’ve experienced has kept me grounded. So no matter how much private jets I take, or caviar and champagne and suits I wear, I learned to separate Cham from Damian.
How did you even get onto the path of music?
My uncle and my dad had a sound system called Studio Mix. Big artists like Super Cat and Beenie Man used to perform in my backyard. Then I started hanging out at Penthouse Records where my uncle was recording songs. That’s where I met producer Dave Kelly and auditioned for him, and it’s history from there.
You mentioned your dad died when you were just 11, what do you remember about him?
He was very strict. And he was a carpenter by trade. So right now if I had the materials, I could build you a bed. He gave me that skill, yeah. But Dave Kelly actually became like a father figure to me. He is also a family man, and I watched him balance that with work and learned from him.
You've had huge success.. performing all over the world, what’s the craziest experience you've had on stage?
The craziest thing was being in Japan, where the fans can’t hold a conversation with you in English but they are singing every word of every song. It’s amazing. But there are so many places that have a special place in my heart you know. Like Canada, that was the first place I performed in, outside of the Caribbean. I wasn’t getting no calls from the U.S. or anywhere but Canada was the first to say, yeah we want you. So I will never forget that and it’s one of my favourite places to perform.
How do you feel about dancehall now and where it's going?
It’s a good look, so many international artists are tapping into dancehall, and that must be a good thing... even if they’re not giving the credit, the world knows where it’s coming from. The world knows about dancehall. I mean, they should give credit, because at the end of the day you’re taking something and you’re profiting from it. But you’ll never hear me attacking them, because to each his own, you know. But the thing is, the very fact that they are using dancehall is credit in itself. We know what time it is, and so does the rest of the world.
Cham is performing at YOWronto on Saturday July 1 at Woodbine Mall Outdoor, 500 Rexdale Blvd., Etobicoke.