Building A New Genre: Byron Messia Interviewed

Clash sits down with the St Kitts phenomenon...

As Byron Messia and I pull up our seats to conduct the interview in an East London studio, I ask about the parts of London he’s visited on his trip thus far. He tells me about a brief encounter that took place in Brixton. “This girl ran up to me and she was like, ‘Oh my days!’ I was like, ‘Do you know me?’ And she said, ‘yeah, you’re Messia!'”

That’s international recognition for the St Kitts bred artist, whose song ‘Talibans’ is an early contender for song of the summer. You can class each of Messia’s lyrics in the song as a threat, a warning or a bet that any hostility he receives will be returned in kind and with interest. Somehow though, Messia wraps his chest-puffing badman-isms in warm, swaying melodies so well that ‘Talibans’ feels far more like a call to raise your drink than it does a call to arms. 

Having grown up in St Kitts (which has a population of roughly 47,000), Messia was inspired by the Dancehall artists of his island; “ Growing up I was listening to a lot of infamous Nicha B, you have an artist named Highlight, I-Mark. Yeah, I really used to look up to them as a yout”. Messia recounts reaching out to some of his earliest inspirations but not hearing back and details the inadvertently positive consequence that it had. “I just said you know what, I’m going do it on my own! Shetty Stainless; that’s the producer that I hooked up with. He gave me a beat to actually do my first Dancehall track on” [a track called ‘Dropped A Letter’ from 2017].

It wasn’t long before Messia found himself as a signed artist, which resulted in him relocating to Trinidad to work with label head and fellow artist, Prince Swanny. Although it wasn’t a move actually predicated on bettering his prospects at making it as an artist, it definitely helped. “We are from a country that don’t have the resources that the musical pattern like, everywhere else is, you know, has its big influence”, he explains. “For example, we have America with the hip-hop. We have the UK with the drill. We have Jamaica with the reggae, dancehall. We don’t have our own genre of ourselves. We don’t have a name of our own. It was definitely challenging because you have to put in more labour and more work than the average artist.”

Byron Messia has managed to carve out a sound that melds together his many influences. He credits Rod Wave as his biggest influence and the likeness in their styles is evident in how they incorporate their melodies into bars. For Messia, there isn’t a sound that he feels he can’t sand down to his liking, not a genre that he can’t mangle and bend to his will. He chatters excitedly about the prospect of a new sound that he’d ideally want to jump on with a UK artist. Upon searching on YouTube one time he was “amazed to see that they had Soca-Drill type beats and I was like, “nah, this is something different!” I was seeing [legendary Trinidadian singer] Marshall Montana being sampled on a drill beat. I was like, Nah, that’s crazy. So I think I’m gonna run with a beat like that and do a collab with Digga D or one of them artists. Yeah. Actually something new for the ears of the London streets.”

The internet has made the cross-pollination of genres commonplace, and nowadays artists often mine their creativity from those spaces of genre overlap. As such, traditional labels and boxes don’t quite capture the fullness of an artist’s scope. It’s the reason why Messia is quoted as saying that he considers himself more of a rapper than a Dancehall artist. When I ask him to expand on the thought, he falters for a second before rounding into a that speaks to the ambition of his vision. “Well… I don’t like to put a limit on what I’m capable of doing as an artist, you know? So I will say I’m influenced by many genres of music. With the dancehall and the rap – I will say I’m trying to create my own genre as we speak. I’m going for the name Dance-Soul. So it’s more of a dancehall pattern of drums mixed with the soul [of hip-hop].”

As for the immediate future, Messia stays relatively tight-lipped about the project that he’s currently working on, divulging that it’s to be called ‘Sad And Famous’ and not much else. Though he does also make mention of “a song called ‘Lonely Road’. That’s my favourite right now. I think I really tapped into my inner soul in that one.”  ‘Lonely Road’ is as yet unreleased, but given the traction he’s caught of late, it would be either brave or foolish to bet against Byron Messia’s star rising even higher in the near future.

Byron Messia’s new single ‘I Hate Byron’ is out now.

Words: Dwayne Wilks

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