Jamaican singjay I-Octane has put out a veritable hit cavalcade for the last two years. Now he has signed with reggae giant VP Records and his debut album Crying to the Nation is scheduled for release in February. Reggaemani got a chat with him about his upcoming album.
The reggae industry is still largely based on singles rather than albums, and I-Octane is a proof that you don’t need an album to score huge success around the globe. Singles such as Nuh Ramp Wid We, False Pretenders, Puff It, Lose a Friend and Mama You Alone have made I-Octane a household name in both reggae and dancehall circuits.
Considered becoming an architect
Byiome Muir, better known as I-Octane, grew up in Sandy Bay in the parish of Clarendon in Jamaica. Just like many other Jamaican artists his passion for music started at an early age and he often sang at home or in school, where he could be found beating out a rhythm on the school desk. No schoolyard clash or concert was complete without an appearance from the aspiring singjay.
“It was an energetic thing,” says I-Octane on the phone from Jamaica.
Even though a career in music was an appealing choice for I-Octane, he didn’t neglect his studies and waited to venture into singing full-time.
“Mama said education comes first,” he explains on the poor and crackling phone line.
Initially he considered becoming an architect, partly because he had an affinity for sciences, but had no money to finish a degree.
“Instead of sitting at home and be a non-progressive element, I got into music,” he says, and adds that he might get into architecture later on to have something to do outside the music business.
Working with Donovan Germain
I-Octane started performing under the name of Richie Rich, and just like Buju Banton he started singing hardcore dancehall lyrics, but later switched to a more cultural approach.
“I grew with the music and I grew as an artist and found out the best side of me,” he explains, and adds:
“It’s my own flavor.”
I-Octane was picked up early by veteran producer Donovan Germain, and while working with the Penthouse label he decided to change his name to something more representative.
He chose his name because of the high energy level in high octane gas, and personalized it by substituting the “high” for “I”. And a star was born.
After three years he left Penthouse and signed with Arrows Recording, a label for which he had his first hit single – Stab Vampire. The single served as a catalyst for his career, and he was suddenly approached by several notable and established producers, something that broadened his repertoire.
“It’s very important to work with established producers. They pave the way,” he explains, and lines up a veritable who’s who in the contemporary Jamaican music scene for whom he has worked with:
Signing with VP
Today I-Octane is independent. He has started his own label, moderately named Conquer the Globe Productions.
But he has also signed a joint venture deal with VP and Scikron. The latter is a label owned and operated by Robert Livingston, a name that might not ring a bell for the broader public, but he is the man behind multi-platinum artist Shaggy and hits such as Oh Carolina, It Wasn’t Me and Boombastic. He has also worked with artists such as Super Cat and Tiger.
Blends reggae and dancehall
On Crying to the Nation I-Octane smoothly blends roots reggae with dancehall energy. And this is where he wants to be.
“I’m a fuse between reggae and dancehall. I’m a new version of reggae and dancehall in one,” he says, and describes the album’s theme:
“It’s about what’s happening in the streets and what’s going on in the world. It’s about keeping the Almighty close, keeping Jah close.”
“The music speaks for itself”
I-Octane has become known for his haunting crackling voice, frank lyrics with cultural topics and simple sing-a-long hooks. On Crying to the Nation he is set to continue in the same vein, which is communicated in the title.
“It’s a global topic, and a global title. It’s not only Jamaican. People across the globe can relate to it and feel the struggle. Crying to the Nation is the whole entire globe – America, Japan, Canada,” he says, and praises the musicians he has worked with:
“It’s a great album, and you can hear each and every person in there. You can hear the time and effort they put in. It’s one of the best albums I know of in this age, and the music speaks for itself. Any individual that comes in contact with it will like one song. It’s a great work, and I have great expectations on it.”