Masicka Dissects ‘Generation of Kings’ Album, Reflects on Signing to Def Jam & 50 Cent’s Influence in Jamaica

Artistes
December may traditionally signal the end of the calendar year, but for Masicka, the twelfth month of the year houses plenty of new beginnings. The dancehall superstar opened the month with the release of Generation of Kings last Friday (Dec. 1), his sophomore studio album and first full-length release since signing to Def Jam in February. The 17-song set comes on the heels of his summer hit “Tyrant,” which sat alongside Byron Messia’s “Talibans” and Chronic Law & Ireland Boss’ “V6” among this summer’s defining crossover dancehall hits.

Upon Masicka’s signing to Def Jam, CEO Tunji Balogun said, via a press release, “Def Jam has always been the home for great artists across the wide spectrum of Black music, and Masicka is very much emblematic of that vision.” That may seem like a catch-all corporate platitude, but Masicka truly does embody the ever-evolving spectrum of Black music. Hailing from Portmore, Jamaica, Masicka grew up listening to not just dancehall and reggae, but also rap music. As Hip-Hop 50 has acknowledged, the relationship between dancehall and hip-hop is as storied as it is symbiotic, and Masicka continues that legacy with a stage name partially derived from his favorite blockbuster 50 Cent album.

Across Generation of Kings, Masicka infuses his trap dancehall foundation with flourishes of R&B (“Wet”) and Afrobeats (“Fight For Us”), calling on a globe-spanning collection of collaborators to bring his vision of collective royalty to life. Equally introspective and biting, Masicka’s lyrics — which explore everything from settling beef to reflections on his childhood — perfectly complement his penchant for lush melodic lines and reverb-drenched harmonies. With such a strong ear, it’s no surprise that, despite dancehall’s current Stateside commercial stagnancy, Masicka has been able to truly break through.

438, his debut album which also won dancehall album of the year at the 2023 Caribbean Music Awards, has earned over 50,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. since its Dec. 3, 2021 release, according to Luminate, and his overall catalog has collected over 258.8 million on-demand streams. Upon release, Generation of Kings looks poised to explode those numbers. In just over a week, the album has hit No. 1 on Apple Music in 16 countries, scored the eighth biggest album debut on Spotify U.K. for the period Dec. 1-3 and reached No. 11 on U.S. Apple Music. Furthermore, with Generation of Kings, Masicka became the first artist in history to simultaneously occupy the top 17 on Apple Music in Jamaica — and he even surpassed Bob Marley & the Wailers‘ unmoveable Legend compilation for the No. 1 spot on both U.S. iTunes’ and Apple Music’s reggae albums charts.

Still basking in the glow of the immediate success of Generation of Kings, Masicka stopped by the Billboard offices to chat about his future as a Def Jam recording artist, his formative musical influences and 50 Cent’s influence in Jamaica.

Let’s talk about Generation of Kings. Where was your head while making this album? What were you drawing inspiration from? 

After the first album [438], mi feel like mi cement myself inna di dancehall space with a great body at work. So, with Generation of Kings, mi just feel like it’s my time. The whole era, the whole music, the whole feel, just how everything’s going.  

How did you go about assembling the tracklist? 

I think that was the hardest part, being we had quite a number of great tracks on the album. So, you kind of get them fi tell a storyline. Mi went back in the studio a couple of times, link up with di team, we decipher a likkle bit and then we think what we choose was more of the songs that were what people can relate to. They’re like the motivational songs you can get a positive vibration from.  

So, what exactly was the storyline you envisioned for the record? 

Triumph. Just transitioning and taking a greater step towards fulfilling your dreams. This album was basically telling the people dem that I’m ready. 

You have some fire collaborations on the album – Popcaan, Spice and Fridayy, to name a few – tell me about bringing those artists into your vision. 

The most anticipated collab was the Chronic Law [track], he’s a lyricist from Jamaican and people always wan us fi do a song together. That song also features Lila Iké too – bad upcoming female artist. Mi think di people dem really resonate with that collab. The song with Fridayy, it’s different, the one with Fave too. But I think all of the collabs went exceptionally well. 

Did you reach out to Fridayy or did he reach out to you? 

Tunji [Balogun] set that up! When I heard di track, I was like, “Yo, this dope,” and Fridayy connected right as his album dropped – mi love di album, it’s crazy. 

Speaking of Tunji, you signed to Def Jam earlier this year, so congratulations! Why Def Jam? What drew you to them in particular? 

The direction and empowerment for artists culture they have. Mi like how dem work. Mi like Tunji vision more than anything else. We spoke probably about a year and a half before [I] actually signed. Mi also like the humbleness. Mi think we share the same work ethic and vision all in one. Anything’s a risk, but mi think this a good risk. 

Why did now feel like the time for you to sign to an international label? 

I think, personally, mi cover a lot of ground throughout the Caribbean. I feel like I’ve done everything I needed to in the Caribbean. I’ve traveled the Caribbean like 6-7 times already, over and over again, and it’s just trying to get a greater reach. They see the talent, they see the creativity. It’s just trying fi expand the content and mek di ting grow and just build it. Nuh sense fi have all this talent and you remain on the same level. 

There are a lot of hip-hop influences on Generations of Kings and the genre has a rich relationship with dancehall. Are there any rappers you’d like to get on a remix of one of these tracks? 

Probably Lil Baby. Lil Baby dope. Jay-Z. 50 Cent. 

Compare your headspace from the release of 438 to the release of Generation of Kings. 

Mi think mi more mature. Mi think mi have more control in terms of how mi want di music fi sound. The ting before it was just di tip of di iceberg. Mi had just started to venture out into creating albums and creating projects. Mi think 438 was dope, just like Generation of Kings. But mentally, mi more mature, more settled, and the music a likkle bit more polished and direct. 

What song on Generation of Kings took the longest to finish? 

Mi think “Limelight.” Mi record “Limelight” and then leave it for like a month and then mi other verse come. Most of the time mi do something like that. Mi a just go inna di studio and spit something out. With “Limelight,” di riddim is different so mi actually do the chorus and then the verses. 

Why did you decide to make “Limelight” a single? 

Mi think di vibe — it was a likkle bit after summer, so you know everybody needs to be pumped. Mi think the vibe and the energy and the whole feeling of the song just felt victorious. Mi just feel like we had “Tyrant,” so mi haffi come with again with something sick. After the “Tyrant” success, mi just say, “Alright then, let mi listen through everything. What does it feel like?” “Limelight” was the next thing. It’s showing that it’s our space and we’re here.

Obviously, we’re in the Social Media Age — how has that been an effective tool for you as you continue to navigate your career? 

Social media is the Golden Age, man. It mek it a lot easier and mek people from all over di world see your music. It helps a lot. It help to promote, it help to grow the fan base. Social media is one of the key things right now for musicians. They can just pick up the phone and see somebody in Guatemala and somebody one million miles away. We have a better advantage now than the generation of artists before us, so we just haffi make use of that. 

What else do you have on the horizon to promote Generation of Kings? 

Mi a shoot alla di music videos! Nuff video, nuff promo, mi already started working on a deluxe. Mi have some songs recorded. Mi think I have some sick collabs on it, it’ll be just as crazy as the album. 

What do you listen for in new beats and riddims? 

The thing is, you know, the beat don’t matter. It’s the once mi get the beat and mi feel a vibe, mi will record. The beat is a surface problem. For me to get a beat and really write to it, mi like pianos, beats with guitar, percussion. Mi like live songs that have a soulful feeling to it. 

How do you approach songwriting? Are you more of a freestyler? 

Normally, mi go inna di studio, play di beat for like 2-3 hours, and vibe it, vibe it, vibe it, vibe it, vibe it. Mi cyan write just sitting down. Mi write if mi haffi write, but mi like freestyle. Mi think the music better when mi freestyle. So mi would freestyle it and then go back inside, listen, see where we can make some more arrangements and stuff like that. That’s how mi create music. Mi have a studio at home, so mi inna di studio everyday majority of the time.  

Sometimes it’s just the melody alone mi have, I just go inna di studio and mumble it. And throughout the day, when I’m playing a game or something, I just think about it subconsciously, and I finish it like that. Mi nuh have no songbook. I’ve never had a songbook. 

Sonya Stephens recently praised you as an amazing songwriter, with a lot of that you can teach older generations of dance artists. I also spoke with Beenie Man few months ago about sharing knowledge across generations of dancehall. What do you think you and your peers can learn from your dancehall elders and vice versa? 

Mi think we can definitely study the longevity of the artists dem before. All of them have amazing careers and dem stood the test of time, like Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. Mi think the difference is modern dancehall just gets five minutes of fame. Mi think them nuh love di craft. I think it’s more about getting out there than mastering the craft. 

Bounty and Beenie Man start from when they was small, so dem actually really love di music, so they never had any other options. Now we have too much choices. There’s no appreciation for the music, so everybody feel like dem can just be a part of the music and just call themselves anything. 

Definitely, mi think they can learn to take more risks, cause mi think we take a lotta risks, the younger generation. They could take more risks and pave more way for di yutes because dem have the opportunity and dem could do way more.

There were a number of global dancehall crossover hits this year, “Tyrant” among them. How do you think that momentum can be maintained? 

We just have to realize it’s a bigger market out there. People with different ears, you know, so we just haffi try stuff. We just haffi try to be appealing, try the different music — but at the end of the day, keep originality and keep authenticity. We just haffi try and merge it with the Afrobeats – they’re on that level now. Dancehall was on that level, and it can be on that level again. It will, Imma speak it into being. I just think we need fi come together as people and push di music. 

Do you feel that there’s any division that’s preventing that from happening? 

Yeah, definitely. Dancehall is known for segregation, and that hinders the growth of the music a lot. Mi think once you have that togetherness and that unity… mi think that’s happening now. Yuh see di yutes dem now? I think the mindset is different, and mi think the yutes just work and take more risks. I venture to say that is why you have so many labels looking to the Jamaican market right now — because mi think there’s a change coming. 

And I think that risk-taking, especially in terms of blending genres, is what’s really helping modern dancehall right now. Where do you think your courage to try new sounds comes from? Who were your main musical influences? 

Mi love dancehall, but mi started off listening to rap. So, 50 Cent, Eminem, alla dem tings. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Massacre. Mi love music. Mi love dancehall, I’m a dancehall artist, but mi love music. Adele a one of my favorite artists of all time, mi listen to Lukas Graham, mi listen to so many different kinds of artists, so mi think with experimenting, it comes from feeling comfortable and mastering the craft and practicing every day. So, if mi get a beat, mi just look at miself like an instrument instead of just a dancehall artist. If I get a beat a need to sing in Spanish, then mi need fi guh learn Spanish! [Laughs.] 

We only have one life, so why not experiment and why cage yourself into a box? Grow and try different stuff! Mi just think di music can be so big and diverse, you know? 

You had a show in New York recently for your birthday, how was that? 

Crazy, crazy. It was my birthday celebration. Di people dem love me out there. They love me in New York, so I always bring the energy. It was a crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy vibe.  

Do you have any plans to tour soon? 

I have a couple of shows, one in Miami. I have a show in Jamaica soon. And then we start off next year fresh. Right now, mi just a focus on GOK, and getting out there and pushing it. 

So, I take it you’ll get some downtime with the family for the holidays. 

Yeah, man, just spending some time. Family is big to me, so mi love fi get a likkle time fi spend with my family. I gotta take a break man. After next week, Def Jam cyan get to me! [Laughs.] Just kidding! 

Looking out towards the next five years, what are some benchmarks that you want to hit? 

In five years’ time, I really love fi become a fully established artist in the U.S. A fully established dancehall artist selling hundreds of thousands of records, start performing in stadiums, and sign some artists.  

When it comes to signing artists, what you be looking and listening for? 

Typically the same thing what mi have inna miself. Versatility, the love for di music first. You can have the talent, but if you don’t love it nah guh fully work. So them haffi have di love and di drive for it first.  

Are there any notes you think the Jamaican recording industry can take from the American and African ones as you continue to work with international labels? 

The professionalism. 100% the professionalism and the business behind the music. Mi think that is why the African industry is advancing now and booming like that. Mi think that’s what we lack, but we’re getting back there, right? Once we get back to that disciplinary level within di yutes and within di music, then we will have investors interested in working with dancehall artists cause you’re committed to your words and your work.  

Before we go, I heard there’s a dope story behind your name. 

You know, actually, it was 50 Cent’s album, The Massacre. Back in high school time, my auntie bought me the album. Initially mi never wan become an artist from di time mi was young, young, young. Mi coulda write songs mi nuh wan turn that.

What did you want to be?

A lawyer, mi was young! I still started my music career young, like 17, 18. But mi get the CD and I kept playing it. My friends dem used to call me Sicka, and then mi just decide say, Yo, Masicka, this is it. 

50 Cent influence inna Jamaica is massive. You have the G-Unit tank tops, everybody loves Young Buck, Lloyd Banks — I think G-Unit was one of the crew that everybody inna Jamaica was just crazy about. You have other groups that’s mad talented, but the gangster thing, the aggressive thing just resonate with our culture.