Most already know Reggae’s mass-marketed big names, the big bees, the heartthrobs, Father Bob, Buju Banton, Beres, Beenie, and Bounty Killer. But among the vibe cartels of the Jamaican music industry, a young lord with a crew on a Vendetta is vying for your prompt attention. His name is Alkaline, his waters are “Ocean Wave,” and his movement is a “Juggernaut.”
Around 2005, in the wake of a skyrocketing Vybz Kartel, “Dutty Wine” and the extreme sports of suggestive dance, “daggering,” a sound movement akin to Hip-hop’s Trap and Drill emerged in the concrete jungles of Kingston. Dancehall artists began relentlessly pushing content boundaries with a rugged and raw brand of Reggae. It was in the wake of this cultural climate change that Earlan Bartley, a University of West Indies media and communications student, cultivated a career as Alkaline.
May 14th saw the release of his sophomore project, Top Prize. The 14-track album is a follow-up to his to Billboard chart-topping 2016 debut, New Level Unlocked. Alkaline sees the album as a full circle reflection of his life experiences and growth. It too has topped the charts and is resonating across the soundscape.
‘It’s definitely something special,” Alkaline tells ESSENCE. “Everybody can win… everybody has goals and things they set out to achieve. Top Prize, in this case, is just like the ultimate goal, the ultimate prize; championship.”
According to legend, Alkaline’s name metaphorically referred to the negative and positive charges we can find on any old Duracell battery. But “it evolved also,” the artist says of his stagename. “Alkaline exists in all of us. We have positive and negative. It’s just what you choose to focus on.”
In the Monopoly game that is the music industry, Alkaline has proven to be adept at moving like chess. Early in his career, he strategically initiated controversies to elevate his profile and distinguish himself from others. As time progressed, the crutches of controversy were replaced with arrows of acute artistry. He remains elusive and mysterious in persona, but his recordings serve as bare bone revelations.
The 27-year-old’s art reflects dualities, contradictions, conflicts, resolutions, struggles and triumphs in extremes and poles. While many artists of recent generations go for sensationalism or “slackness” simply to sell; with Alkaline there is genuine soul and sincerity to complement the brazen barrages of his “boom chunes.”
Alkaline can be rowdy and raunchy while simultaneously symbolizing roots and culture. He straddles streams of topics in a manner akin to greats like Shabba Ranks. Top Prize definitively displays this dexterity on sufferer songs like “More Life,” soothing soundtracks of seduction such as “Ah,” and “Heat A Di Moment” or the Afro beats-laced ganja love lick, “Medicine.”
As with ESSENCE, music festivals are a tradition in Caribbean culture. But Alkaline not only headlines them, he’s created his own — the New Rules Festival which showcases veteran and upcoming talent — joining the likes of the Marley Family with Kaya Fest and Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise and Tony Rebel’s legendary Rebel Salute. While previous concert events geared towards the international format pioneered by Reggae Sunsplash, New Rules Festival is more cutting edge and ear-to-the-street; a modernized “downtown” sound-clash vibe in the tradition of Sting.
“It’s a great look,” says Alkaline. “What me want do right now is just get “Rules” on a bigger scale and have people from all over the world follow and showcase talent.”
Alkaline is not one for virtual performances. As such, he has upcoming US tour dates and the New Rules Festiva has already announced a lineup that includes Elephant Man, Kranium, Aidonia and Gyptian. Rules is set to blast off at Jamaica’s National Stadium in Kingston as soon as Vendetta gets the green light from the government. Check www.alkalinemusic.com for updates.