It’s not every day you come across a Samoan gent from Compton who was born in Long Beach and later moved to Hawaii.
Insert J Boog. When you think of reggae, you might shoot straight to artists like Bob Marley — true legends. Marley’s catalog of hits encapsulates the true meaning of peace and love, inspiring and motivating all those who come across it.
It’s no surprise, then, that J Boog, real name Jerry Afemata, lists Marley as one of his biggest influences. Growing up as the youngest of nine children, J Boog was exposed to many works of art. But it was reggae that stood out. This genre, a hybrid of hip-hop, R&B and feel-good energy, gave him a sense of freedom that was unlike anything he’d ever encountered.
With the release of “Let’s Do It Again,” J Boog was catapulted to the big leagues. In fact, Pia Mia’s hit single “Do It Again” featuring Chris Brown and Tyga actually samples Boog’s 2011 original. With the lines “It was like food for all of my senses/Our time priceless, no expenses/Like water to all dem dry trenches,” J Boog highlights the importance of love and intimacy, something we all strive to find.
Now, after traveling and performing all over the world, from Europe to Africa to Dubai and Australia, J Boog is back on the road for his L.O.E. Tour. With the “Love Over Everything” mantra being the driving force for all his shows, he plans to bring nothing but love and humility to the stage everywhere he goes.
Hopping on the phone while preparing for the show in Albuquerque, New Mexico, J Boog describes himself as “down to earth and as real as it gets.” With that, he admits he loves three things: music, video games and food. Focusing on the first, he reveals why reggae is so special to him and where it fits in today.
“I think reggae’s always got a special place in people’s hearts, for music,” he says. “I know that's never changed for years. It talks about the same message — about love, about unity, about coming together and overcoming stuff. So I think it holds a special part in people’s hearts. It's never changed. It's there, but it’s just not the forefront. But it’s all good. As long we’re getting heard.”
It’s easy to see why reggae is far more than just a genre of music. Reggae is a progressive movement promoting love and positivity every step of the way. For J Boog, it goes back to his roots.
“It’s so important to me because when I first heard reggae music, that's what got me out of … Just growing up in Compton, you don't really see a lot of good shit come out,” he says. “The first time I heard reggae music as a kid, when I got into it and started to really understand the lyrics and everything, it kind of took me out of that negative situations. And it was like my escape for that three minutes, 20 seconds. And I just wanted to keep listening to it. Anybody who listens to reggae like that hopefully will be the one to make somebody else feel the same way about it.”
For J Boog, he was able to bring the music with him through all walks of life — through the good times and the bad.
“Growing up in Compton, that's a whole different lifestyle from Hawaii,” he says. “First off, I'm Samoan. I'm an islander myself. First generation, but my parents are from Samoa. We still have the touch of island in our home, but right when we left the doors, it was nothing like that. It was all concrete jungle around us, so we had to adapt to whatever was around us then at the time. But being the youngest out of nine kids, I kind of got the better experience from them telling me what to do and what not. Going to Hawaii, it's a melting pot for Polynesia. It's a whole lot of Samoans and Tongans and everybody’s just out there in Hawaii.
“But in the States, they don’t get along like that. Everybody’s from ’hoods. Everybody's from cliques. Everybody's from different cities,” J Boog continues. “In Hawaii, everybody’s getting along with each other. So I don't know why we can't do the same thing as they can. It was just a whole different shine of light for me. But when I got used to that, that's all I ever wanted — coming together and just overcoming bullshit that we see back home in Cali. It's a whole different way of life.”
Moving to Hawaii from Compton proved to be a culture shock but not one he couldn’t handle.
“Everywhere is different but every place has got their ghettos, you know what I mean?” he says. “So you always gotta be on your P’s and Q’s everywhere you go. They get down differently than we do out here. So it was just something to adapt to, which is cool.”
Another artist who hails from Boog’s hometown of Compton is Kendrick Lamar, one of contemporary hip-hop's great artists.
“Seeing Kendrick up there repping for the others, it's the shit to me,” Boog says. “Because I understand where he comes from and all of that — how everything gets down. Anybody coming out of Compton — anybody coming out of a rough neighborhood or city, it’s just … to see that flower grow like that, that's an amazing sight to see.”
Boog has not taken a break since 2007, when he unleashed his debut album, Hear Me Roar. Fast forward nearly a decade and his latest effort, Wash House Ting, is nominated for a Grammy.
It’s interesting to hear what J Boog might have been doing otherwise had the music not taken off. “I'm not sure,” he says. “You know, before all of the music, I was working at a refinery with my older brothers. I was traveling and working on my EP. I was born a maker. But I love singing and it holds … so it was just there.”
Coming from Los Angeles, it's no surprise that Nate Dogg is the most played artist on his phone. He also lists the late hip-hop mogul as his dream collab but would love production with DJ Quik or Warren G.
Speaking on what sets his current project apart, he says, “I think it was more getting on the music side of things. Getting more involved with the producing and just hand-picking what we wanted to put on the album. We really didn't have a flow to it. It was just like everything was coming together. It was like a five-year project that we were putting together and we hand-chose everything that we put in there. I don’t know. I don't really know what it was. I think we just grew more from what the last album was, in terms of music, lyrics, production, everything.”
Being Grammy-nominated two years in a row (his first in 2016 for his Rose Petals EP) still doesn’t compare to traveling the world and hitting cities he’s never imagined of visiting.
“Favorite memory on tour is going to countries that don't speak a lick of English,” he says. “But when it comes to your music they sing every damn word of it. [laughs] I'm serious. It's a trip to see that. Me and my family to see that and we're just tripping out because you really don't know how far your music is ever gonna get. But you see the power of it when you go to different countries and they're singing it word for word. And they really appreciate everything you put into it. And that's dope.”
In addition to his favorite memory, he recalls his greatest encounter with a fan.
“I think still to this day … It was when we first started the music,” he says. “Because back then, our first album, Hear Me Roar … well you know, they come up to you talking about how music eases their pain and everything. But this girl came up to me talking about she was playing our music in the labor room giving birth. And I was like, ‘Huh?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, I played your music while giving birth just to ease my mind and all out.’ I didn't know what to say, but it was all love.”
Speaking of fans, you don’t have to be a reggae lover to like “Let’s Do It Again.”
“That was the one that kind of broke us internationally,” he explains. “Thanks to Don Corleone on the Wash House for putting that all together, because it's just a lot for us. And we had to catch up to the song, in terms of just getting out there, touring, and getting our shit together. Going to every state or whatever country it is, that's the song that stands out the most and they just go crazy over it. Performing it every night is … I don't know what it is. But it's an adrenaline that I get from the people. It's energy that I get from the people that I search for every night. It's addicting. It's the shit.”
J Boog performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 31, at the Novo.