NJ Reggae Fest Artist Spotlight: Cham

Jamaican-born Dancehall artist Cham earned international attention with his single “Ghetto Story,” a gritty autobiographic tale of growing up on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica’s urban jungle. Featuring remixes with both R&B siren Alicia Keys and Hip Hop star Akon, “Ghetto Story” peaked at  #77 on the Billboard Top 100, #15 on Billboard Hot Hip Hop and R&B Singles, and the video, featuring Keys, peaked at #5 on BET’s 106 & Park countdown in 2006. On Sunday, August 15th, Cham will be one of the Dancehall and Reggae music giants to hit the stage at the Edison Park Complex for the 10th Anniversary staging of the New Jersey International Reggae Fest in Newark.

Cham’s journey from the harsh streets of downtown Kingston to international fame is one that resonates with every rising star. Damian Beckett was born and raised in the rough Sherlock Crescent and Waterhouse sections of Kingston. Like the lyrics of “Ghetto Story” Cham grew up poor, watching his mother struggle to support five children. He witnessed the murder of his best friend at age 12, and had to survive in the bullet pocked neighborhoods fueled by political tribalism and turmoil.

His love and talent for music led him off the street and into the studio with the Mad People Gang, later known as Madhouse Productions. Working closely with uber talented hit-maker Dave Kelly, Cham blazed a trail of hit singles in the mid- to late-90s, like “Many Many,” “Boom Tune,” “Ghetto Pledge,” and “Babylon Bwoy. “  His first album, 2000’s Wow: The Story, was heralded as the ‘most anticipated album in many years from any Reggae artist.” Despite high anticipation for the album, American music’s limited view of Dancehall was sobering and affected the mainstream success of the album.

In 2003, Cham, then known as Baby Cham, broke Dancehall’s glass ceiling when his boisterous bedroom romp “Vitamin S,” jumped from Jamaican sound systems and local airwaves to worldwide radio and club play. Soon after, Cham inked a deal with American music label Atlantic Records.

2005 marked one of the bloodiest years in Jamaica’s history, with an astounding 1,600 people felled by violence. Released late that year, “Ghetto Story,” a vivid street narrative and political analysis driven by Cham’s emotional delivery, became an instant classic, summing up the pain, loss, and overall mood of the country.

The international success of the single and album of the same name led to much collaboration with mainstream American pop artists like M.I.A., Mario, T-Pain, Foxy Brown, DJ Khaled, and Rick Ross.  His 2007 remix to Hip Hop star Mim’s “This is Why I’m Hot” with Reggae singer Junior Reid, scored Cham another radio zinger, gaining regular rotation on America’s mainstream urban and pop radio.

At the 10th Anniversary NJ Reggae Fest, Cham will be joining Reggae legend Marcia Griffiths, Dancehall superstar Gyptian, classic Reggae masters Freddie McGregor, Cocoa Tea, and Jamaica’s ‘Stevie Wonder’ Frankie Paul, Roots Reggae’s shining soldier Tarrus Riley, Dancehall lyrical wonder Assassin, Gramps Morgan of Morgan Heritage fame, prodigious producer/artist Stephen McGregor, pioneering female Dancehall deejay Lady G, and rising Reggae/Dancehall stars Chino, Laden, Duane Stephenson, and Romain Virgo.

“Cham is one of Dancehall’s international success stories,” states Kacy ‘G-City’ Rankine, founder, promoter and producer of the New Jersey Reggae Fest. “There are some many Caribbean artists who have overcome so many obstacles, namely poverty and violence, to become huge international stars. That’s what Reggae Fest is about, providing a platform for New Jersey and the Tri-state area residents to see our stars, to hear our music, and to know our story,” Rankine, also a native of Jamaica, concludes.

The 10th Annual New Jersey International Reggae Fest will be held on Sunday, August 15th at the Edison Park Complex (located at the Prudential Arena) – 162 Mulberry Street in Newark, NJ. Featured Acts include Marcia Griffiths, Cocoa Tea, Freddie McGregor, Frankie Paul, Gyptian, Cham, Duane Stephenson, Gramps Morgan, Lady G, Stephen McGregor, Assassin, Chino, Laden, and Romain Virgo. Limited $39.99 early bird tickets are available until August 9th. General Admission is $54.99.