Baby Cham: The Medium is the Message

Baby Cham: The Medium is the Message

Special Alert: What you are about to read includes some terms with which you may not be familiar. They are not typos, but are in fact real words used in the course of an everyday Caribbean conversation. To aid you in your reading, however, a brief key has been provided:

(“DJ”=music artist/performer, “selector”=disc jockey, “hype man”=someone who’s job is to introduce tracks and get partygoers in the mood, “tune”=song, “West-Indian”=Caribbean, “wine”=dance move characterized by a sensual rotation of the hips, “gal”=girl, “riddim”=a beat to which various artists create different songs, “tru”=through, “ting”=thing ).

Straight out of Kingston, Jamaica, Baby Cham has known success since the age of 17, when he released his first hit with Madhouse Records. He’s wowed audiences around the world, for nearly a decade. His energetic performances, catchy lyrics and booming baritone voice, emanating from an otherwise “baby face”, have taken the world of dancehall by storm, inspiring fans to come out in large numbers just to catch a glimpse of him in action.

Friday, December 9, 2005 was more of the same. With temperatures below freezing, Baby Cham’s loyal followers made the trek to ‘Pinnacle Nite Club’ in Philadelphia, eagerly awaiting what they hoped would be the performance of a lifetime. All left very much satisfied.

The night began with Vybz Xpress, a group of local selectors, setting the mood, with special guest Father Bentley taking the spotlight as the hype man. Tune after tune brought the crowd to their feet, vying for a chance to show off the latest dancehall move. And then the concert began, making the place even that much hotter.

The audience loved each and every opening performance leading up to the main course. However, none of the performers garnered the spectacle with which Baby Cham was greeted. With his signature “Wow wow”, he came to the stage dancing, giving the crowd hit after hit, from his collaboration ‘Another Level’ to 2004’s chart-topping ‘Vitamin S’. Fellas flashed their lighters, while ladies screamed, many pushing to the front and reaching out to grab hold of him. Everyone eagerly anticipated what he’d sing out next.

Then Baby Cham launched into one of his most controversial songs to date. He told his ‘Ghetto Story’ from the newly released, “Eighty-Five” riddim:

I remember those days when Hell was my home;
When Me and Mama bed was a big piece a foam.
An mi never like bathe and my hair never comb;
When Mama gone a work me go street go roam.
I remember when Danny dem tek me snow cone
An mek him likkle bredda dem kick up Jerome.
I remember when we visit dem wid pure big stone
An the boy Danny pop out something weh full chrome…

At a time when the music industry is still dealing with the issue of violence being blamed on the works of its artists, ‘Ghetto Story’ has far from escaped criticism. Cham doesn’t deny that there are instances of violence in his song. In fact, “something weh full chrome” refers to a gun. And passages full of the same follow. Cham goes on to talk about his friend Richie who was shot, turning his area into a war zone. He also talks about holding up a shop and dumping a ballot box during election time. But as Cham tells it, his song isn’t meant to incite violence.

Stopping to relax a bit before the concert, he offered up his thoughts on the violence in music dilemma. “My thought is like everything they try to blame on the music,” says Cham, reclining in a private lounge area at Enforcer Music and Art Galley on Philly’s Market Street.

“Music never ever made someone come and gun someone down. You notice, where we grow up, we grow up in Jamaica where we have a history of slaves and all of that. A book…told me about England…and how they took over Port Royal and how much people they killed. And you can still go back to it and read about it in the library; can get cassettes that document it; can watch movies and all of that. And yet still all of those violent.”

“What I did is a story”, says Cham. “The song ‘Ghetto Story’ is a real story. So you cannot rewrite it or try to water it down or draw a curtain on it. You have to describe it as it is. It’s stating, “I remember those days. It’s not something that I’m doing now.”

What Cham is doing now is performing two or three shows each weekend. In fact, after his concert in Philly, he was due to fly out to Jamaica for another. And during the week, he and street teams are out in full force promoting the new album in Jamaica. And guess what? It’s free!

“Madhouse, on its own, don’t release like five riddim albums a year,” explains Cham. “Sometimes, in two years they release like one or two. And for the fans to support us like that, it’s like we telling them thanks. Telling them to have a Merry Christmas.”

Cham’s ‘Ghetto Story’ is already a hit in Jamaica, as is his song ‘Bring It On’, from the same album. And the other tracks on Madhouse’s “Eighty-Five” riddim album have also met with great acclaim, though only released weeks ago. However, Cham’s not resting just yet. In between concerts and weekly promotion, he’s in the studio preparing his next solo album for release in the first quarter of 2006. And if the verses that he graced his Philly fans with are any indication, Madhouse is going to have another hit on its hands.

Getting the new album into major stores in the U.S. shouldn’t pose too much of a problem, due to a deal with Atlantic Records inked in 2004. “It’s good for me because this upcoming album, I’m sure they will have no problem getting it into major stores”, he says, explaining one of the benefits of the deal. “They are like a bigger vehicle than Madhouse,” Baby Cham explains. “But Madhouse is where my heart is. Without Madhouse, you probably wouldn’t have a Baby Cham.”

Born Dameon Dean Beckett in Kingston, Jamaica, Baby Cham had early aspirations of becoming a commercial pilot. “So goin tru school, I had no idea that I was going to become a major entertainer,” said Cham. “But monetary funding wouldn’t allow it.” Cham’s father passed away at the age of 30, leaving his mom to care for four children in a country where getting by was hard enough on a two-parent household. “So for me to leave high school and go to college, that would be like too much pressure. My last year in high school, that’s when I decided to do this. This was the route I was gonna take.”

Cham got his break when he linked up with trend setting Madhouse Records producer Dave Kelly. He went to see him around 1993, when Kelly was still with Penthouse Recording Studio. “But at that time I was still attending school,” said Cham. “I went to see him with a song that I had written… but he wouldn’t record me because he said that he didn’t record ‘schoolers’. You would have to wait until you finished school and then he would think about recording you.”

By the time Cham had finished high school, two years later, Kelly had gone on to form his own label, Madhouse Records. Cham approached him again. And from there, “It’s history,” said Cham.

To Baby Cham, Dave Kelly is a big brother and mentor, providing practical and lyrical guidance.
“When you come into the business, you have an idea how you want to sound and what you want to write about. But he has been doing it so long, that everything that he has learned over the years he passed down…so I would know how to structure a sound, structure a presentation for appeal.”

It’s not surprising that, through the years and hit after hit, Baby Cham and Madhouse Records have been inseparable. What is surprising is that they remain so without a binding contract. How Dave Kelly earned such loyalty is history in itself.

Dave Kelly has had a hand in the careers of numerous reggae icons, from Terror Fabulous and Buju Banton to Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. However, according to Cham, he doesn’t believe in signing an artist.

“Dave is the kind of person who believes in chemistry and trust in each,” Cham explains. “He looks out for you and he’s giving you his 100, so he asks that you look out for his. You feel like you want to move on tomorrow, that’s it. It’s just up to you. See, if someone’s showing you that loyalty and he’s working so hard to get the public of Jamaica or dancehall music or all over the world to know you as a musician, but yet he still don’t sign you, what does that tell you about that individual? That individual is real. In this world, especially in this business, it’s hard to find…real people. So when you find someone that’s real, you have to give him back loyalty 100%.”

Evidently, the match is paying off. Once again, the Madhouse camp has found a chart topper in the “Eighty-Five” riddim, despite the controversy surrounding it’s number one hit.

But controversy is nothing new to Baby Cham. Aside from his party anthems, Cham’s choices of songs have sometimes wandered into the political arena.

“It’s your vibe and what’s going on in society,” Cham says to describe his lyrical choices. “You go into the studio and try to paint a reflection of what’s going on in society. So sometimes you might hear a happy fun song and sometime you might hear a political issue song.”

Indeed, politics has played a major part in Cham’s life. Having grown up in Jamaica, he feels that politics is more in-house than in the U.S. He also wants to let the younger generation know about some of the stupid things that have taken place in the name of politics in the past, some of which he supported, and what he’s learned from it all.

In fact, he believes that the youth should be aware of what politicians are about, especially in Jamaica. “It’s not something you should die for,” he said. “In Jamaica you can’t live in a “Jamaica Labor Party” area and vote for the “People’s National Party”, and that’s stupid. These are politicians who go to meetings, have dinners, shake hands, and yet they laugh at the ghetto people when they fighting over politicians. So those political issue songs are really telling kids that it don’t make no sense.”

Politics also played an essential role in the development of his signature phrase, “wow wow”. Heard in numerous songs and echoed by both fans and contemporaries, “wow wow” was a spin-off of the word “show”. Growing up, “show” was a term used to recognize fellow JLP-ers. At the time, however, many of the youth used the expression without understanding its impact. When he realized how serious adults took it, he changed his phrase to “wow”, and later to “wow, wow”. Then one day, Dave Kelly suggested he try to implement it in song, and history was made once again.

However, Baby Cham’s appeal is due to much more than his signature phrase. There’s also the catchy lyrics and baritone presentation. As his inspiration growing up, he looked to several artists. “I used to listen to Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, and Beenie Man. But of all of dem, there’s dis DJ by the name of Major Worries. He died like long time ago, but he’s the one that started the big baritone DJ ting.”

And while he likes to listen to everyone, Cham says that he and his contemporaries now set the trends.
“We don’t follow no more,” said Cham. “Before, when we were attending like high school, we used to follow Buju; we used to follow Bounty Killer; we used to follow Beenie man. Now, we just create and be available. That’s what it’s all about.”

These days, he’s definitely doing a lot of creating. Besides writing his own lyrics, Baby Cham admits to writing the lyrics for a number of other artists. “If it’s not me, it’s me and Dave.” He explains. “We sit and write like seven songs for a beat and pick the engineers the song suits the best and put them on the beat.”
But Cham, rather than hype himself, won’t confess to which hits he’s had a hand in.

“Firstly, to me it’s like a job because Madhouse is always at the same time. So it’s coming out on Madhouse label. So, if it’s #1, but the one that I [sang] is not #1, we still benefit. I’m not even talking monetary. It’s still getting the label out there, doin’ what’s supposed to be done. It’s about music, the beats and that’s it. You’re supposed to be in the studio having fun and if you’re not having fun then people are going to feel that in the music.”

At the same time, Baby Cham is intent on staying grounded, having seen the ill effects of getting caught up in the hype. He attributes his ability to leave his performing side on the stage to a good upbringing.

He also channels his energy in other ways, such as his work with charitable organizations at home. Cham and the Madhouse camp support Children’s Charities in Jamaica, as well as their past schools, making donations and erecting parks.

But at the end of the day, it all comes back to the music. “Money will come”, he says. “Me personally, I just try to keep it … where you just doing it for love. I just want to be on the stage; I just want to be in the studio writing. Just being in the studio and being part of the vibe.”

His love of his art goes so deep that he counts each and every song as his baby. “Each song is special and each song has a special place in ya heart. There are so many songs that I really love and appreciate and give thanks for, at the same time.”

But never looking to hog all the glory, Baby Cham asks that all of his fans look out for one of Madhouse’s newest artists. Her name is Spice and, according to Cham, she is currently the hottest female DJ in Jamaica, period. More information on Baby Cham and his latest releases, Spice and upcoming tours can be found at www.MadHouseRecords.com.

For Hi-Res Pictures of Baby Cham, use this link: http://www.madhouserecords.com/promo/promopics.htm

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