LargeUp Interview: Five Steez Talks Jamaican Rap

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Words by Nico Simino, Photos by Alique Archer—

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Hailing from Kingston, 25-year-old Peter Wright, better known as Five Steez, has quickly made a name for himself as one of few true hip-hop acts in Jamaica. Armed with beats that recall the classic sounds of hip-hop’s early ’90s Golden Era, with lyrical skills to match, Five Steez is a fresh, welcome addition to the underground rap scene. We recently spoke with the MC, who’s just released his debut LP, War for Peace (hear and sample it here), about where he comes from, the inspirations for his music, and what his future plans are.

LargeUp: Tell us about your background…

Five Steez: I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica all of my life—born here, raised here. [I] came in contact with hip-hop at a very young age. I had older brothers, and they listened to a lot of hip-hop music, from Run DMC to Public Enemy to EPMD. All of that type of stuff from the late 80s I was exposed to from the early 90s, when I was just five years old. I pretty much lived a typical life as a Kingston youth, coming from what you might call an uptown area. I live in a place called Havendale, so definitely a middle-class background, but still kind of working class, ’cause through education my family has been able to make something out of themselves.

I went to a high school called St. Georges College. In Jamaica, we have a lot of ties to our high schools, and that’s where I learned a lot of different things. That’s where I started rapping, and meeting a wide cross section of Jamaicans, made other friends that I used to rap with. We started doing mixtapes, selling them to our friends, doing shows here and there, and from that it just led to getting more serious about the music.

LU: How old where you when you got serious about hip-hop?

FS: I’ve been recording since I was about 13, and I was putting stuff on the computer and Internet message boards when I was 15. Me and my friends had a group called the BP Army, and we started doing shows after a while. It was about three years ago that I really got serious about music. I was working at a corporate job, and I was still recording and planning performances, but being that it was a 9 to 5, I never really had the energy or focus. After that time, I really started making some moves trying to get my name out.

LU: Where were you working?

FS: I was working at this company called Corporate Research and Advertising, which was a PR company, for about 19 months, fresh out of college. I went to the University of the West Indies and studied media and communications.

LU: Tell me a little about your music…

FS: So I’m a genuine hip-hop head, and I came up exposed to hip-hop at it’s best, at a very young age, from the early 90’s on. Even though I was just a child, I could see certain details of what they were talking about. From when I was like nine, I started listening to the Wu-Tang Clan and Rakim. That was the music I gravitated to from that age, so that’s definitely what drove me into the music.

LU: What other types of music do you listen to and enjoy?

FS: Growing up [in Jamaica], naturally you listen to dancehall and reggae. At a young age I was listening to Bounty [Killer], Beenie [Man]—whatever was popular with reggae, I was listening to at the same time. But the older I got, I just started listening to hip-hop more because it was appealing to me in a certain way that dancehall wasn’t. I was hearing a lot of lyricism, diverse perspectives, different stories, different themes. I never thought about writing lyrics until I got more into hip-hop, and I found a way that I could express myself and be comfortable. I didn’t really have to fit into the boxes I saw within reggae or dancehall.

LU: Name some of your influences…

FS: I’ve definitely been influenced by other local rappers, but not really any names that you’d recognize or even the Jamaican public would recognize. There is a rapper that everyone [in Jamaica] knows named Beast because Beast was being played almost every Saturday on Fame FM. A lot of people that grew up in the 90’s would hear this guy on the radio… There are not many other Jamaican rappers out there that are known. Even he himself never really took it much further than that. His claim to fame is that he always got played on Fame FM early on Saturdays. In terms of local rappers that have influenced me, it’s more about my peers. There is a guy named Inztinkz, he produced “Slaving on the Plantation” as well as some other songs on my album and he’s been rapping and making beats from a long time ago.

LU: Has dancehall had any influence in your music?

FS: To some extent, I think… it’s something I’ve thought a lot about, even among us local rappers, there is something about the way we flow and the way we approach a beat, even though it might not sound like dancehall. We try to ride the beat a little more than the average American rapper, that’s one thing, I think. It’s very subtle but it’s something that I’ve pick[ed] up, as a difference between Jamaican rappers and rappers anywhere else. There is also the slang and certain perspectives from our own culture, that are reflected in the music. While it might not seem like dancehall, if you look under it, there is a Jamaican sound and culture that we are trying to bring to the music. It doesn’t really sound like Bounty or Beenie, and we do get criticized for that, but at the same time it’s because we don’t necessarily identify with it, as much as others might and we might not necessarily feel comfortable expressing ourselves like that.

LU: Have American artists had a bigger influence on you, or Jamaican artists?

FS: Well, considering the genre that I’m doing, it’s American artists that have had a bigger influence on my artistic direction, but not necessarily my cultural orientation.

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