As is the desire for many parents, Jenny Beckett, mother of Dancehall artist Cham, wanted her son to get a college education. But with two other children, she was financially stretched and decided to send him off into the working world after he graduated from Calabar High School.
“I ended up graduating from Calabar when I was 15, and if you’re 15, they’re not gonna allow you to go to a university,” Cham said in a recent BrukOut interview. “But she still couldn’t afford to send me to a university, so, her thing was that you’re gonna get a job and in the next two years, I’m gonna save up and you’ll able to go to university. So, I told her, ‘Yes, I’m gonna go look a job’.”
She’d give him transportation money to job hunt every morning, but little did she know that he’d be at Donovan Germain’s Penthouse studio, then located at Slipe Road in Kingston.
Cham, whose real name is Dameon Beckett, had been navigating the music scene while in high school. He played for the Studio Mix sound system, comprising teenage music enthusiasts who saved their lunch money to buy seven-inch vinyl records. It was through this endeavour that he familiarised himself with the hottest producers.
“We used to buy everything that Buju Banton put out, and all Buju Banton records used to have one name on it: ‘produced by Dave Kelly’. So, I decided that if Buju is the person that we respect, I want to work with the person that produce him.”
Then going by Baby Cham, he went to audition for Kelly, who, at the time, was working at Penthouse. But, his age was an issue.
“He wouldn’t record a song with me and put it out because I was still attending school. So the deal was, if I came back with proof of graduation two years after…he would give me a shot at the title.”
From 1993 to 1995, Cham became an understudy to the ins and outs of the music business by networking at different studios. It’s how he met Bounty Killer at Arrows recording studio in East Kingston, who’d take him up as a protégé and carry him to shows.
“I would float between King Jammys where I would hang out with Killa and his friends, and kinda just learn. Just sat like a kid or a sponge in the room and kinda watch everything.”
He never forgot Kelly’s word of honour, and returned to Penthouse as a high school graduate in 1996. His debut release, Ganja Song with Spragga Benz, was produced by Germain but didn’t create much buzz.
That year, Kelly stepped out to launch his own label, Xtra Large Records (which would later become Madhouse Records), and Cham was there to support him. Out of that came his breakout record, The Mass, on the Stink riddim.
“When The Mass came out, no one in my household knew that Baby Cham was me. So, the song was number one and no one knew it was me, but the community knew and all my friends would keep it a secret cause if my mom found out, it would be a problem.”
Though his mother thought all was set for him to go to college in another year, she later shared that she knew he had a penchant for entertainment, as he’d sing and dance for his family as young as seven.
“He used to make a lot of noise in the bathroom, nuh care how yuh talk to him,” Beckett told The Gleaner in 2001. “He would just tone down then start right back up again.”
While her initial plan for his life didn’t pan out, it’s safe to say he did more than okay in life, becoming one of the Herculean figures of 90s Dancehall. Cham’s hit catalogue includes solo impressers like Ghetto Story, Many Many, Babylon Bwoy and Middle Finger, and classic collabs like Another Level with Bounty Killer and Joyride with Wayne Wonder.
His latest musical contribution is the Kelly-produced Time Bomb EP, a collaborative project with Bounty Killer.