As the summer turns to fall, American radio has taken an unexpected trip to a tropical island in the Caribbean. Seeking something exotic and new, Jaicko, a Barbadian native, serves as the perfect musical tour guide.
As the nominee of several Barbados Music Awards, his music is widely known throughout the island. In fact, amongst the country’s 300,000 residents, Jaicko is literally a household name, since his work receives constant rotation on the major Top 40 radio stations. One particular track, “Oh Yeah,” Jaicko hopes will explode on American airwaves really soon.
Upon the release of Can I, Jaicko’s international debut, the artist managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Rihanna, breaking into America, and his professional relationship with his father.
Your father is an accomplished musician as well. In what ways did his passion for music influence your career? As you followed your dream, how did he push you?
I spent a lot of time around my dad, and he had this basement that he’d go rehearse in. I envied him. And when I was little, I wanted to be just like him and start a musical career. As I grew older, he embraced it. He discovered that I could sing and I could rap, so he took me into the studio and was very supportive of my dream. So we just took it from there.
Is there any kind of special advice that he gave you as you were navigating the music industry?
Oh yeah, definitely. Patience and perseverance and knowing that all the adversity is worth it. It was good that he was always there to give me advice and help me keep strong. I had a lot of challenging times. It was a dream for him, as well, for me to become successful. He always wanted it for me.
From time to time, the two of you work together as a songwriting duo. At what point did you start writing together? And is there a particular song that you have written together that has a special memory attached?
It kind of just happened. One day, I was just sitting down trying to write a song and he came and helped me come up with a line. After that, we just kind of started writing together. Our relationship definitely grew from there. Out of the songs we have written, the one that means the most to me is a song called “Can I.” It’s actually the title track of the album. That song explains my life experience, my journey from the bottom to the top. The lyrics help me to stay positive and be strong. Right in that song, I give myself motivation to be successful and get around this.
What life events inspired the lyrics behind “Can I”?
I’ve been pursuing an international career for a very long time now, as early as nine years old. And I have dealt with a lot of disappointment. So a lot of different events inspired me to write “Can I.” But when I watch TV and see Barack Obama, I find inspiration as well. So I think everyone will be able to relate to “Can I” and make the best of their situation.
Do you remember the name of the first song you and your father wrote together?
Yes. It was actually a rock song called “On Fire.” At the time, I was putting together a bunch of songs for an album that I was going to release in Barbados.
Over the years, you have developed a really big fan base in Barbados. As you’ve tried to break into the American market, what do you think is the biggest obstacle you had to overcome? And what does American success mean to you?
Well, this is just the beginning of a long, hard journey. I wouldn’t say that there have been any major obstacles, but the biggest challenge has been putting in my mind that even though I’m from Barbados, I can still do this thing. I have to say that Rihanna’s success has definitely been a source of inspiration. When she broke out, it gave me a lot of motivation. When she came, I followed.
You mention Rihanna, but there are a lot of other up-and-coming artists who have roots in Barbados, too. Why do you think so many Barbadian artists are finally getting their “big break”?
I think it’s all timing, man. I think the people are longing for something different. In the Caribbean, we have a lot to offer and people just want to listen. We’re just bringing something different, a new flavor. That’s what I bring – the whole Caribbean swag with the hair, the accent, and different melodies.
Now, you mention your hair, which is the most distinct part of your image. How long have you been growing it out?
Oh, I have no idea! [laughing] Roughly two years. But I’ve been trimming it and stuff [laughing].
I read an interesting story that said your hair got you expelled from school! How did you respond to that?
During that time, I was going to school in Barbados, and the rules are very strict! Back then, I always knew that my image is very important, and my hair was a part of who I was. So I got my education through home schooling so that I could pursue my career.
Now, there aren’t a lot of details regarding the years before you signed with Capitol. What event or series of events prepared you for signing a major label deal?
During that time, I was still developing as an artist. I went to several record labels and I even met Clive Davis. Each time I went into a record label, something happened – like they said no or didn’t think I was ready. All of those experiences helped me go back to the drawing board and make my songs better and master my craft. Even though they turned me down, those experiences helped make me to be who I am.
How many times did you hear "no" before you got a "yes"?
Oh, a number of times. I’d have to say a good four or five times.
A couple of weeks ago, you left a message on your Twitter account that said “I hope you’re ready for this” was something that you were hearing a lot. What do you say to people when they say to you, “I hope you’re ready for this?”
Actually, I hope I’m ready, too. It’s almost like you can never see what’s ahead of you. It’s a big corner and you can’t see what’s around the corner. I can only say that I hope that I’m prepared for what’s next but I’ve never been there so I don’t know.
I was checking out some of your tracks on YouTube, three in particular – “Will You Be There,” “Dreaming About You” and “Not Trying to Fall in Love.” All of those are beautiful, so how did you go about selecting “Oh Yeah” for the lead track?
“Oh Yeah” – very spontaneously in the weirdest way possible. We already had the album done, and I had already cut all the tracks. Eleven tracks in all. But when I came into the label, they played me “Oh Yeah.” I went crazy over the record and said, “Let’s go cut this!” We ended up taking a song off the album, so that we could put on “Oh Yeah,” which ended up being the first single. It’s funny, because that was the last record we cut for the album.
I just recently heard the remix with Snoop Dogg on it. How did he become attached to the project?
Well the label, they came up to me and said, “How would you feel about Snoop being on your record?” I said, “Oh yeah [laughing].” He had heard the record and he loved it and wanted to put a verse on it. What could I say? Snoop is a legend. He came through and blessed the record and did his thing.
Since you’re from the Caribbean, have you ever felt pressured to modify your sound or fuse your sound in a way that you didn’t feel in your heart?
Not really. A lot of the producers that I worked with were kind enough to include me in all of the decision-making in terms of the melodies. I was very much involved. They all knew that I had to be involved, because I’m the only one that really knows how I want to sound. So I was allowed to get involved with all the different things that made the record.
What American artist has been your greatest musical influence?
Michael Jackson, man.
Michael Jackson is the King of Pop. I think every artist is indirectly influenced by him. My generation usually says, “Oh, I like Ne-Yo.” But Ne-Yo was influenced by Michael Jackson. He’s like the godfather of all of this [laughing].
What Barbadian artist has been the most influential?
Rupee. You should definitely check him out!
Do you ever get a chance to talk with your Barbadian counterparts, Shontelle, Livvi Franc and Dwane Husbands, or share tips about breaking into America?
Yeah. There is a very small community of artists in Barbados. We work very close together, since we all come from the same place. I have pretty much been able to work with all of them. My dad was actually the first person to take Shontelle into the studio. I have tracks with Livvi Franc. I’m very good friends with Dwane Husbands. We definitely share information, and communicate as often as we can.
What pressure do you feel in being one of your country’s main representatives, on the music side at least?
I don’t think of it as pressure. Actually, I feel extremely honored to be able to represent my country.
For more information on Jaicko, visit his official MySpace page.