When fans listen to Blvk H3ro’s debut studio album, On A Mission, for the first time this Friday, August 18, they will not only be entranced by his almost palpable and boundless enthusiasm on the project, but they will inevitably unravel the soul of the Grammy-nominated artist’s most interesting body of work. They will encounter the first song of his to make him cry, the third iteration of an album that has been in meticulous revision since 2020, and, overall, a musical monument bearing his and the collective dreams and aspirations of the people around him.
Blvk H3ro understands this well.
In a recent interview with DancehallMag, he unveiled just what it took to get here, fervently delivering a story rich with the power of friendship, intentional personal growth and the irreplaceable value of a team – complete with a few Dragon Ball Z and video game references.
“No man is an island,” he began.
The Value Of A Grammy
This past February, Blvk H3ro was a beaming face in the crowd that witnessed Kabaka Pyramid’s Best Reggae Album Grammy win. Though he himself had been nominated for a Grammy, the award for Best Global Music Performance would not be his and Rocky Duwani’s to share for Never Bow Down.
That moment would, however, further stoke the blazing flames of Blvk H3ro’s creative furnace. It was fuel to his already grand ambitions, and he needed a team to get to them. An island, Blvk H3ro figured, was the last thing he would be, and his team, led by the visionary Leslie Cooney, made sure of that. That’s why he ceaselessly thinks of them in his success.
“To be honest, I would love for the team to get that win,” Blvk H3ro confessed, addressing the odds of a possible Grammy nod in the future. “To win would just really prove that no man is an island. Plus,” he shared with a laugh, “it would be cool to give my manager, Leslie Cooney, her first Grammy.”
A Grammy nomination drastically changes things for an artist, Blvk H3ro revealed, so a win would be beyond transformative.
“Mi neva know seh a so dis ting ya did so important,” he joked. “But seriously, for me, it’s just a goal. It jus’ mek di conversations way easier when you have a Grammy or are Grammy-nominated. People actually pay yuh weh yuh worth. It really helps financial-wise and it help yuh art to because if yuh can get more, yuh can create more and yuh can perform more. It really changes everyting across di board. That’s the standard,” he shared.
He continued: “Now, when yuh see di blogs, it’s ‘Grammy-nominated artist’. It come wid many other benefits too. For example, traveling for an artist – especially if you a Jamaican – is so expensive. But if you are Grammy-nominated or if you have a Grammy, it can help you get a green card, bro. It makes traveling so much easier. It’s like a professional stamp. Mi neva guess seh Neva Bow Down woulda be di one fi get mi dat, so that was definitely God at work.”
He further expounded on traveling, revealing that it was crucial to an artist’s development and growth.
“Traveling will get you closer to your fans. More importantly, it helps with your mind. It gives you new things to try and think about. You a try new food, you a visit new places and,” he cheekily inserted, “you a mek love to new people. It’s everything! Mi jus’ pree it like Pokémon. It’s like I’m Ash Ketchum and there are all these experiences I need to jus’ go out there and catch ‘em all.”
He implored: “Every yute need fi travel. Jus’ travel, bro. Go to a next island or something. If you come from Kingston, go to MoBay and vice versa. See the world. It will ultimately help wid your music.”
On A Mission With His Music
On that note, with an album on the horizon – one he believes is solid enough to contend, the Celebration singer is choosing to remain grounded. Despite acknowledging a Grammy’s value, he revealed that he is less concerned about those prospects and more concerned with whether or not people will like the album, set to come out on Friday.
“Honestly, it [Grammy] is not really on the forefront a mi brain like dat. Mi jus’ waah know seh people like it [the album]. Bro, just thinking about it makes me so nervous,” he relayed.
He added: “Mi really proud a di project. Mi proud till mi nervous. Like, even when mi send a song and get back incredible feedback, just waiting on that feedback, though mi confident ’bout it, is nerve-racking. A so mi know seh mi do di right ting. Your art is supposed to make you feel that way.”
The album, On A Mission, has been obsessively refined, according to Blvk H3ro, and it is easily his best work yet.
“The final version that everybody is gonna hear is like the third version of the album. Like, from 2020 to 2023, we’ve just been working on it. This version is a whole different sound and quality. This album forced me to be resourceful and self-sufficient, to just be better in my personal life. That ultimately made the art better,” he revealed.
There are quite a few surprises packed into the album, but Blvk H3ro seemed observably prouder of what he and his team were able to accomplish with relatively limited resources.
He explained: “I don’t have all the best resources I can right now. I’m working with an Indie label, so it’s ‘I put 50 percent’ and they put 50 percent. We both pour in. But once unu hear di album, if we sound so good, imagine what we could do wid more?! Mi jus’ waa people hear what we did, especially the song wid Skilli.”
“It’s rare to see in our culture. Mi and Skilli, that’s a true musical friendship, and mi did always waa build a relationship like dat wid somebody. Da song ya totally different from Young Boss. It totally different from wa Skilli woulda eva do. Mi send him a super lyrical song. Mi basically a call it It Nuh Easy II,” he revealed.
Blvk H3ro’s casual name-dropping of one of Dancehall’s biggest stars as a feature on the album wouldn’t be the only secret he would let us in on. The project, it turns out, is supported by a heavyweight cast, with collaborations that extend well beyond Skillibeng.
Impressively, the album has also passed through the hands of Brian Soko, the Zimbabwean Grammy-winning producer who has worked with Beyoncé and Drake. Blvk H3ro describes him as a friend.
“Soko, a mi friend dat, man. And da relationship deh just speak to what happens when yuh jus’ be yuh authentic self and be good to the people around you. Certain sessions I’ll carry fruits for the people around and other times I’ll just talk to them about life,” he shared.
Blvk H3ro’s intention to experiment, push his own boundaries and those of his music, all while serving as a bridge between genres, are sentiments he promises are captured on the upcoming project.
“When people hear Anthony B pon di album, how dem ago react? How does putting Demarco, Laa Lee and an Australian singer together on a track sound? Man, some people won’t digest it all until the album is out. I’ve always wanted to be one of the more ‘collabed’ artists. Mi waah people know seh we can still do dis. For me, it’s always collaboration over competition,” the youngster explained, adding that there is a total of 12 features on the album.
On A Mission is a project in which art meets human connection, and no better fact captures that than Blvk H3ro’s admission that of the numerous features, he wasn’t charged for a single one.
“Would you believe seh nobody neva charge fi mi a verse pon di album? Producers give mi super discounts because of our friendship, because of how I deal with them. When you do what you can for people from a genuine place, stuff like that tend fi happen,” he told DancehallMag.
He continued: “Di ting jus mek mi feel like Super Saiyan. Mi honestly feel it. Working on a particular song on the album, a di first time mi eva cry in a session when mi a mek a song.”
A Man With Ideas
While Hervin Augustus Bailey Jr. (the singer’s given name) has made music the primary vessel for his deep-seated desire to change the world, he is not at all hesitant about trying other avenues to effect change, especially in his home country of Jamaica.
“Dem fi start put mi pon some panels. Mi nuh even affi perform. As a matter of fact, jus’ put mi pon di panels fi talk, mi nuh waa perform dem time deh. Mi jus waa talk to di yutes, to di industry,” he said.
A series of tours – during which he worked on the album – has flooded Blvk H3ro with a wealth of knowledge he believes Jamaican music professionals can benefit from. That’s why, he told us, he aims to pursue an initiative – when he’s in his mid-30’s – to outfit Jamaican high schools in the inner-city areas with studios. It won’t be just about the music though.
“Wi lacking in tour management, for example. What we don’t have are enough people enough expertise in different areas of the entertainment industry. Yes, we have lots of producers, but who is handling the logistics? Who are the bands you can consistently rely on? That’s why becoming someone who does all of that for the culture is one of my missions. Mi guh through di fight inna di music and mi feel like mi grounded, and mi have di ideas,” he gushed.
It’s about pushing the culture, he reminded us, whatever the personal cost. “I want to get to a place, seriously, where I can keep my shows for free. I want to build up the respect and the repertoire, that at the end of the day, when someone sees me, they can say ‘Yah man, dem man ya push di culture forward.”
Bearing the burden of such grand ambitions would tire most people out, but, incredibly, Blvk H3ro has found a balance that is noticeably not common among his peers. Getting that point, he revealed, took nurturing his self-awareness.
“If you’ve played video games, yuh notice seh yuh character usually have two bars – a life bar and an energy bar. Mi like games, so mi jus’ translate dat to real life. There’s the bar that everybody sees – dat a yuh celebration bar – dat affi do wid yuh energy. Now, the other bar – di one weh nobody nuh see – eating right, going to bed on time, figuring out yuh history and yuh trauma, therapy… da deeply personal bar deh? Mi work pon it every day,” he explained.
It was there that he practiced self-discipline, self-love and acceptance. It was also in that difficult place that he confronted his own traumas.
Trauma, Self-Discipline And Growth
He shared: “Mi did affi find da place deh fi be disciplined. I dedicated myself to being better personally because I love myself. Mi used to have certain experiences – mi call dem inevitabilities – where things weren’t up. And dat a life, tings nah go always up. Even when I had to go through those, I had to find a way fi deal wid dem and to process dem. So now, when you see me, I actually want to go and sell merch. I actually want to be at the meet and greets. I actually want to talk to people. I’m going to see fans and remember their names and faces. I even do Yoga. Because I truly want to. It took personal work to get here though, but most artists don’t seem to be invested in that part.”
Blvk H3ro grew up in Waterford, Portmore – a community that has experienced its fair share of violence over the years. Though he’s witnessed the darker sides of such an upbringing – from gruesome murders to mind-numbing gunfire – those, surprisingly, aren’t the traumas that drive him.
“The trauma that really propels me forward is just the trauma of following the golden rules and doing all of that. It’s just growing up and seeing dem telling di yutes fi do right, yet a di people dem weh do bad a reap di rewards. How much good yutes out deh a try do dem best, yet di system a mek it 15 times harder fi dem? Then there’s poverty. It’s just the deception of the whole thing that gets to me, but it doesn’t push me down that path. You’ve gotta avoid doing bad for your personal karma. I’ve never been in a fight or stuff like dat. Do di good and di good will follow yuh,” he reasoned.
That’s another reason why he values the people around him so much.
“They fuel me. Di people around me fuel me. They help to keep going,” he told us.
The Annabella singer’s consistent practice of being mindfully present has not only benefitted his personal relationships, but it has afforded him some insightful perspectives on his position in Dancehall, as well as on the state of the genre overall.
“Dancehall has always been in a conscious state innuh, so what we’re seeing now is actually the Americanization of Dancehall. That’s what happened to Dancehall when it became a modern commercial genre. More people start see it and in order to make it appealing to more people, a few things had to change. But, memba seh a di same Dancehall weh man like Shabba [Ranks] did a show we how far dem can go wid di it. Memba seh man like Bounty and Beenie did a sing bout ghetto people. So, Dancehall has always been conscious, and dat go beyond jus’ those mentioned,” he explained.
That Americanization of the genre, which has spawned offshoots like Trap Dancehall, is an evolution of the music that Blvk H3ro believes he and his peers are equipped to provide some balance to.
Legacy, Purpose And Optimism
He shared: “What I do is put the Reggae message inna Dancehall. Mi a jus’ di modern-day Sugar Minott. But, mi a dweet. And people like Runkus, Ras I, Imeru and many others, dem a dweet to. We jus’ affi mek it look cool. And that’s what I did with my album. That’s why for me, mi ago deh ya every year. Every year unu ago get something from mi. I look at what Chronixx does and it’s so dope. He has a catalogue that everybody knows so it nuh matter how long he’s away, he’s always Chronixx. I look at what Drake does too and it’s the same thing. For me though, I intend to remain a presence. Mi jus’ feel like mi nah go out a music.”
He flexed the depth of his artistic reserves even further, revealing that he has thousands of unreleased songs.
“Mi have a thousand songs pon mi hard drive,” he said, laughing while referring to himself as a ‘music machine’. “Mi know me can keep up. It has to be a balance though, so everybody has to play a part. My peers understand that too, that’s why our messages and our music take some time. We’re all spiritual and we’re all aware, so it a tek a likkle time, but we’re doing it. Di music ago come out, and it will all be organic. So, while that process happens, I just stay present – whether it’s on social media, doing shows, posting stories, going Live… yeah. Dat jus’ mek people see seh yuh still going.”
Blvk H3ro has an infectious optimism about him – so much so that for one with such potential and talent, it’s hard to imagine his ambitions – from the simple to the grand – being out of reach. Such a trajectory has led him to consider both what he hopes his legacy will be, and, more pressingly, what the next chapter on that journey will be called.
For his legacy, Blvk H3ro told DancehallMag: “I want to stand for freedom. Mi jus’ waa di brand be a space of freedom and collaboration. I want to be a hub where people from all walks of life can meet and work together. Mi waa my legacy fi be one where people can feel at home.”
As for the next chapter in his career, Blvk H3ro has named it The Upsetter. “Mi come fi change di game, to disrupt.”
Coincidentally – or not, he revealed that The Upsetter will be the name of the album that follows On A Mission. For that, he is incredibly excited too.