Abdel Wright is sitting on a bed in a no-frills Quality Inn in suburban Virginia. The room is stuffy because the air conditioning is switched off to protect his voice, and a Jamaican flag T-shirt is thrown over a lamp to diffuse the harsh light.
This is the man that U2’s Bono dubbed “the most important Jamaican artist since Marley.”
Everybody has to start somewhere.
Four months before the September 14th release of his self-titled debut for Interscope, Wright is playing solo gigs up and down the East Coast. While the CD versions of his socially conscious tunes are decorated with Jamaican rhythms, the 27-year-old’s music is based primarily on American folk-pop. For instance, the first single, “Quicksand,” features harmonica decorations and a strummed acoustic guitar over a dubby bass and hip-hoppy rhythm with Wright delivering lyrics in a distinct vocal style: his verses are mostly patois and sometimes chanted, while his choruses are largely sung in straight English.
Meanwhile, slide guitar pops up on “Human Behavior” and the Bob Dylan-esque “Loose We Now” and delicate finger-picked guitar introduces “Dust Under Carpet” and the raw autobiography “Issues.” But while the song structures might come from folk-rock, this Rastafarian’s words are born out of the same political sensibility as Marley’s, and this is what Bono meant. “He didn’t say I was the next Bob Marley,” reaffirms Wright, yet he admits that for all the buzz the superstar’s quote will help create, “It’s kind of pressuring because I know how people think.”
But Wright has faced bigger problems than worrying what others think. He’s the son of a mentally ill mother and a father he never met. “The police had to take me away from her because she’s too sick to take care of baby. I was like three, four months old,” he says quietly. “It took about three months because she was so hostile to them. They finally found me in the house ceiling; she hid me there in a little basket. One or two days I’m up there. That’s where the homes started, the orphanages.”
After bouncing around facilities in Clarendon and Kingston due to his bad behavior, the 14-year-old Wright ended up at SOS Children’s Home in Barrett Town near Montego Bay, which is where he met Johnny Cash. “He lived just down the road,” Wright says. “He would give us books, visit us, talk to us. Every Christmas he would have a concert and he would invite SOS kids. I watched him play the guitar and the mouth organ, and I said, ‘My God, I wish I could do that.’ And a guy beside me said, ‘Hey, man, shut up! You ain’t doing shit! You’ll never do that!’ It hit me for months, because it was one of the most degrading things someone can say to me. The only thing I respected much at this time was music.”
While he briefly had a guitar at the SOS home in Kingston, “I smashed it in the wall when the c