Amid the beautiful parishes of Jamaica lies a world that’s hidden away from the public eye: one of struggle, poverty and turmoil. But it’s also here where so much of the island’s creative talent is born.
Jada Kingdom was born and raised around “a lot of shit” in the suburbs of Bull Bay, located 10 miles to the east of the country’s notorious capital Kingston. The singer/songwriter’s tough upbringing means she isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, a mentality that shines through in her blend of salacious dancehall and straight-to-the-point R&B. Take Kingdom’s latest single ‘Jungle’, her debut release on Republic Records, which was inspired by her childhood and how “there’s a jungle everywhere” rather than just back at Bull Bay.
“I started realising that everywhere has its own concrete jungle, or – if you call it – slum, hood, ghetto or whatever,” Kingdom, real name Jada Murphy, tells NME. “There’s crucial activities going on all over, so when I was creating ‘Jungle’ I wanted it to be a global song everybody could relate to. And even though I was mainly talking about my childhood and my background, I wanted everybody to feel it as well.”
Filming the track’s accompanying music video — shot in Florida but simulating the harsh corruption and plight that many people experience in Jamaica — also “brought back a lot of memories,” she says. “It was very emotional.”
After releasing her debut solo single ‘Love Situations’ in 2017, Kingdom enjoyed her first UK breakthrough the following year after her hit ‘Banana’ was picked up by the high-profile Instagram accounts ImJustBait and The Shade Borough. Rappers of all abilities began posting freestyles over the track’s bouncy, playground-like synths, creating a buzz around Kingdom that continues today and has already led her to work with the likes of Vybz Kartel and dancehall legend and OVO signee Popcaan. But she’s not resting on her laurels: after four years in the music industry, Kingdom now has her sights set on becoming a multi-faceted pop star by making what she describes as her own musical “gumbo”.
Given Jamaica’s rich musical history, you might be forgiven for thinking that Kingdom was solely raised on the music of the country’s greats — she cites Lady Saw, for example, as one of her favourite dancehall deejays. But the 23-year-old became equally immersed in soul music. “Growing up, the first song I ever heard — my dad played it for me — was ‘Shining Star’ by The Manhattans,” Kingdom recalls, before further crediting Minnie Riperton and Nina Simone as big inspirations for how they always found a way to use their music to tell important stories.
In addition to her new record deal, Kingdom is getting much closer to her dreams of superstardom by relocating to the land of opportunity: the United States. Kingdom’s move from Bull Bay to the US two years ago (first to Atlanta before she then settled in Miami) was “a huge culture shock” at first as she had to get used to not living near a beach. But she says the move has already made “a huge difference” to her life. “Coming to America, you have to have a plan — especially for a person like me and my career,” she acknowledges.
Kingdom says she is “so grateful” for the support she receives from her boyfriend, the Grammy-nominated artist and producer Verse Simmonds. But she’s mostly “just happy that I made it out of where I’m from, because it was a very dark space for me”.
“It was very depressing,” she says. “I went through a lot of traumatic phases in my life in Jamaica, but being [in Miami], under good care and good condition, it’s been amazing. If I’d come here and didn’t have a plan, I would have been lost in the sauce, or back in Jamaica without any goals. Jamaica, as I said earlier, has its own jungle. [But] let’s not act like America is a bed of roses — it’s rough up here too. I remember being broke in America, it’s not nice.”
Since the success of ‘Banana’, Kingdom has steadily been growing a core fandom while racking up hundreds of thousands of streams of her music. She’s certainly benefited from the increased visibility that Jamaican dancehall has received in the US over the past year. Pioneering artist Spice, for example, reached #6 on the Billboard Reggae Chart in the summer with her debut studio album ‘10’, while Jamaican dancehall’s latest leading lady Shenseea guested on Kanye West’s much-anticipated ‘DONDA’ album back in August.
Though she’s collaborated with genre heavyweights like Skillibeng and Popcaan over the years, Kingdom doesn’t want to be simply pigeonholed as a dancehall artist. “[The haters] tried me. They were like, ‘[Your] music is boring and [you’re] doing too many sex songs,’” she says. “There’s a lot of people in the dancehall industry that told me I had to go to events every night on the street to promote my music. And I was like, ‘I don’t think I have to do that at all. My music is different and it’s gonna pull the crowd it’s supposed to pull’. And here we are.”
She was proven right, of course: currently drawing in over 250,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Kingdom’s journey really only is just beginning. “I got to step up my hustle,” she adds. “I need to go back to Jamaica and make my mark, because I really just want to give back to my country.”
Kingdom plans to build hospitals and women’s shelters for those in need back home, but she’s also focused on further proving her doubters wrong. “There’s so much music in store that I don’t even want to start talking about it,” she hints. “You’re gonna hear a lot of reggae stuff, more dancehall stuff, some jazzy stuff. We’re still trying to figure out what the next single is gonna be because we have so many [unreleased songs] and we’re trying to pick the right one.”
And the future? “I want to sell out arenas. Billboard [Awards], Grammys… I’m thinking big,” she declares. “I’m here for a reason, and I want to show you guys that.”
Jada Kingdom’s latest single ‘Jungle’ is out now