At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as the world ground to halt, a then 16-year-old Romeo Hines, nestled in his quiet community of Shaw Park in Ocho Rios, found himself at a crossroads. On the cusp of a personal Renaissance, the Ocho Rios High student had a decision to make – honour the compulsive pull of music in his blood or return to school.
Hines bet on himself. Though he went into the pandemic as a quiet and dedicated high schooler, he emerged from it as Pablo YG – a rapidly rising Dancehall star who has earned the respect of some of his greatest contemporaries.
Recently, the ‘Bad Juvi’ sat down with DancehallMag to reflect on his journey, the release of his mixtape, and plans for the future.
“I sing ‘bout real tings. Yes, exaggeration and dem ting deh involved, but dat normal fi music. All a mi song dem, all mi pain song dem, real. Mi get fi express miself inna mi music, ‘cause music inna mi blood,” the 19-year-old shared. On that point, he made no exaggeration.
Hines’ father was a reputable musician who went by the name Mr. Groove, who was known for songs like Jah Love and High Grade. He was, unfortunately, killed in 2011.
“The loss of my father nuh come out inna mi music,” Hines revealed, noting that there are things he believes should remain private. Even so, Mr. Groove’s undeniable affinity for music served as a firm foundation for his son, and the seeds of that were ultimately nurtured by Pablo YG’s brother, as well as a few friends, who would show up to their unofficial vibe sessions/backyard concerts. That support remained intact even after the budding musician took his skills to his community’s annual talent show.
“A mi bredda really mek mi start music like dat innuh,” he explained, adding that the idea to pursue it seriously never came to him. “Due to how mi usually freestyle and dem ting deh, and even wid di community talent shows dem, a from deh suh dem start push mi. Dem jus’ see di talent, and di vibe did right, so mi jus’ try it.”
Though the Richer N Richer singer’s decision to pursue music is now vindicated by his growing success, the decision to take the leap – to quit school – was a nerve-wracking one.
Doubts and Early Concerns
According to Pablo: “Mi did definitely concerned ‘bout di negatives and positives wid da decision deh. Even mi teacha dem same way did a seh ‘ray’, but mi jus’ go fi it. And mi nah guh tell yuh seh mi nay deh pree wa can happen inna di future, but you done know seh inna life, you affi tek risks.”
He admitted to being aware that things weren’t destined to play out in his favor, but, in retrospect, he believes it simply was his time. He reasoned: “Whole heap a artist a do dis ting long before mi, and dem nuh reach weh mi reach. Yuh even have some yute pon di corner weh well bad, and even dem nuh reach, and it just might be seh a nuh fi dem time yet.”
Not buoyed by an inflated sense of self or ego, Pablo YG further added that even after deciding he would pursue music, he was still rocked by doubts.
“Of course, mi did have doubts,” he declared. “Yuh don’t know wa your future ago be. At that given moment [when he chose music], mi did a think ‘bout all a dat. Mi nuh waa nobody feel like seh mi neva did a medz it. At dat given time, mi did a pree my future, and mi tell miself seh mi affi know wa mi want. Mi really neva know if me did go be dis big artist. My only decision was fi jus’ go hard and done.”
That leap of faith paid off for the young artist. It gave way to his debut single, Ready, which was produced by Spinaz YG Muzik, as well as a few other attention-grabbing tracks. Since then, Pablo YG has been on an unprecedented climb up the ranks of the new school Dancehall artists. He has even worked with one of the talents he looks up to – Dancehall powerhouse Skillibeng.
Two weeks ago, the two debuted the result of their collaboration, Galore, which had its official music video released yesterday.
“I’m not the biggest artist,” he explained upon reflecting on his current status, “and mi nah go tell yuh seh mi a dis and mi a dat, but…” he paused, appearing to choose his words more carefully. “But… mi reach ya suh. And mi grateful fi it. Mi grateful fi all a it.”
Though his notable milestones – performing at Sting, working with Skillibeng and racking up a couple million views on YouTube – came relatively quickly, Pablo revealed that he had never been one to wait on the ‘big things’ to celebrate. It’s an exercise that has kept him humble, and it is one that continues to keep him thankful.
“Even before all a dat, mi did feel good inna miself,” Pablo explained. “Yuh see when mi used to just get 1,000 views on YouTube, mi used to think that was a big accomplishment. 1,000 views was the millions to mi, so mi used to always celebrate. At di end a di day, mi a get my 1,000 views, and mi a feel good inna miself ‘bout it. It may never have been enough fi a next man, but it was enough for me. Mi did proud, and mi still proud. Every time mi go up di ladder, mi feel good.”
He believes that separates him from most of his contemporaries. The small wins, he reasoned, count, and he’ll always make time to recognize them. That’s why he feels such elation for his Bad Juvi mixtape – which he describes as the most important project of his career so far.
“A really mi first project dat, and it very important to mi. Mi nah go seh mi go easy or mi go hard pon it, dat is fi di people dem decide. Mi jus’ waa know wa dem think,” he said of the 14-track project. “Di Bad Juvi mixtape a fi mi supporters dem, and mi put it out deh because as much as I would like to, I jus’ can’t get fi put out as many songs pon mi Vevo. So this really is fi mi supporters dem. This catalogue a songs a fi dem, and mi a share it wid dem so dem can understand weh mi mindset deh.”
He expounded on that point, stating: “Dem can tell how mi feel or wa mi a think from Feelings. When mi drop songs like Slums, dem understand it to. Dem know seh mi can gi dem dat. Mi a 19, and some people tek mi fi dis likkle yute weh nuh have nothing up ya suh,” he said, pointing to his head. “Dem think mi a dunce. Literally. Dem think seh mi is jus’ a yute weh come try music and it work so mi dweet. Dem think seh nothing nuh inna mi head.”
That’s why he holds such passion for the Bad Juvi mixtape. It’s meant to be a behind-the-scenes look at his thoughts. It’s meant, he says, to give his supporters a body of work that they can cling to, and one they can be proud of.
When quizzed about what, in particular, he hopes his supporters get from the mixtape, he wasted no time in responding. “Everything,” he said.
He explained: “Mi waa dem listen to it and listen to it keenly. I can’t say everyting, but I’ve said what I needed to. It’s a mixtape weh mi express miself, so mi waa share dem tings deh wid mi supporters. So, if you waa know wa mi think, listen to di mixtape.”
Perception vs. Reality
As a youngster on the come up in a top-heavy genre, as well as one of the faces pioneering the groundwork for Trap Dancehall, Pablo YG discussed the downsides to how he is perceived, both by fans and colleagues.
He shared: “Dem tek mi fi a baby weh nuh know nothing. Usually dem find out seh dat a nuh di case, but that’s why we affi prove dem wrong as a Bad Juvi. Dem a use di fact seh we young and a gwaan like a bay foolishness we a talk, like we only a talk ‘bout tings weh nuh matter, but a nuh true. Dem think we have a rubbish mindset. But dat a nuh true.” He then promises that listening to his mixtape will be all the rebuttal he needs. “Di people dem fi gwaan listen, ‘cause dem ago hear di truth over time. Dem jus’ need fi listen,” he pleaded.
Despite what has largely been a meteoric rise to stardom, Pablo YG has learned to separate his persona as a performer from who he is as an individual. The teen, whose personal mission is to live honestly and stay true to himself, is anchored by a strong sense of humility – such that regardless of his accomplishments, he cannot see himself as a star. He reiterates that point when he reflected on fame, as well as on how he manages to not let himself get lost in the spotlight of Pablo YG.
Striking The Balance
“Mi nuh think mi famous yet, and how mi look at it, if it should come, whether or not you like it, you go affi deal wid it. Some deal wid fame betta dan some, but to be honest, mi nuh care bout dem ting deh. Mi know seh it hard fi balance, but mi nuh see miself as a big entertainer or a big star.”
For Pablo, he merely shows up, entertains, then retreats to his home – where he often finds himself watching TV. “For me, everyday life is just like a normal ting fi mi. Go pon a stage show, perform fi di people dem, entertain and go home. When mi a entertain, mi a entertain, and mi do dat fi di fans dem. Mi personal life a fi mi. For me, Pablo YG and Romeo a two different people.” From watching his public performances, people wouldn’t be able to tell that in “real life”, as he describes it, he’s a quiet person.
“Once mi a entertain, mi affi interact wid di people, but mi aware seh that’s not who I am. I am quiet person. Out in public, mi most likely fi keep to miself. Mi jus’ know seh when mi affi go pon stage to entertain, mi affi interact with people. Once mi off, it’s back to being me.”
Keeping The Vision Alive With Gratitude
Such firm boundaries between personal and professional life have not impeded Pablo YG’s ability to envision more for his blossoming career, and he shared as much with us, imposing a refreshing twist on the old ‘the sky is the limit’ mantra. For Pablo, he only aims to be an internationally-recognized artist because that is the peak of what can achieve here on earth. Had there been access to other problems, he probably would have aimed to be well-recognized there too.
“It nuh have no top, and every time we move up a level, even a little bit, we ago celebrate. My peak is the next level until I get to the next one. Mi have a vision fi be a international artist, because that is the most you can achieve right now in music, but mi only a fi dat because mi want di world hear wa mi have fi seh. There’s no limit to how much I want that.”
Until then, he is content with simply putting in the work, celebrating every step of the way. Though the life of a Dancehall star on the rise comes with its own sets of stresses, Pablo YG has found reason to be motivated, and of that he is proud. As for what he is most proud of, he paused before an offering an up answer.
After some time, he told us: “Mi most proud of the fact seh we a dweet and we reach somewhere. Mi jus’ proud a dat. And we a dweet from di ground stage to, so, no matter where we reach, a dat mi most proud of.”