Jamaican dancehall star Konshens is known for making raucous party tunes that encourage female fans to deploy their bodies like a weapon. But, behind turn-up anthems like “Bruk Off Yuh Back” and “Do Sum’n” is an introvert who hasn’t always been comfortable with the stage and the spotlight. For most of his career, Konshens, born Garfield Spence, turned to alcohol to relax and calm his inhibitions. Since the onset of the pandemic, however, he’s deepened his relationship with cannabis, embracing a regimen that’s helped him get his mind right while easing his dependence on alcohol.
“My aim is to start smoking more and drinking less, then eventually it becomes not drinking at all,” the Kingston-raised, Miami-based Konshens says. “Ganja is definitely a healthier option.”
Konshens toasts to the herb on his latest single “Blaze Away,” world premiering right here on High Times. The reggae cut is one of 26 tracks on the Cali Roots Riddim 2021, a compilation album dropping May 28th on Konshens’ new label home, Oakland-based Ineffable Records. The project, which takes its name from Monterey’s California Roots Festival (Ineffable’s parent company, Ineffable Music Group, is a partner in the fest, the USA’s largest reggae show) features 26 different artists on the same instrumental track produced by Bermudan reggae star Collie Buddz and Stick Figure guitarist Johnny Cosmic.
That practice — of producers recording many different artists on the same beat, or riddim — is a staple of dancehall and reggae music. The phenomenon goes back to the early ‘80s when maestros like Winston Riley and King Jammy found they could stack up hits by re-using popular backing tracks such as Riley’s Stalag (Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam,” Tenor Saw’s “Ring the Alarm”) and Jammy’s Sleng Teng (Wayne Smith’s “Under Mi Sleng Teng,” Johnny Osbourne’s “Buddy Bye”).
We spoke to Konshens about riddim and ganja culture in Jamaica, how his cannabis intake has helped him cope with the stress of the pandemic, and what’s in store on his new album, Red Reign, set for release later this year.
Konshens For High Times
Do you remember the first time you smoked?
Konshens: I probably tried in school but I wasn’t attracted to weed vibes until later on, maybe about 12 years ago. I was more into sports and girls. We’d be in a group and four of us would burn the same weed and everybody [would be] high except me.
“Blaze Away” begins with the lyric, “Nothing like a good draw from Jamaica/Every yard man tell you ‘West is best’…” For those who haven’t been to Jamaica, can you explain what you’re referring to?
Konshens: When you’re in Jamaica and you hear someone say “West is best,” they’re saying the best ganja comes from the Western side of Jamaica. Westmoreland, which is the westernmost parish, [grows] the best weed in Jamaica ever since I can remember. They’ve got the best weather, the best soil.
“Blaze Away” is on the Cali Roots 2021 Riddim, which features songs from 25 other artists on the same instrumental. What do you like about recording on riddims with other artists?
Konshens: I love riddims. Nothing like a party jugglin’ with a handful of hits on the same beat. Recording on a riddim is always a nice challenge. You wanna come with something that fits the riddim and mood but also a topic that you think someone else won’t say. It’s always a vibe.
You’ve recently released two singles from your upcoming album, Red Reign: “Can’t Stay Sober” and “Pay For It” with Spice and Rvssian. What can listeners expect when that project drops later this year?
Konshens: Red Reign is getting crazier and crazier by the day. Every week, there’s some new development that takes it up a notch. I can feel that this one is gonna be special.
“Can’t Stay Sober” touches on your battles with sobriety, and the escapism a lot of people are longing for during the pandemic. How has your approach to drinking and smoking changed during the last year?
Konshens: I don’t like alcohol, which is crazy to say because [I] always drink. I don’t like what alcohol does to me. I’m socially awkward, I hate the camera and I hate being in everybody’s eye. So being slightly lit [from drinking] helped me with that. It helped take the edge off. Weed has helped me find the right pace in life. The weed keeps me mellow.
You told me you’re still learning to roll a spliff…
Konshens: I still can’t roll a proper spliff. I have a pre-roll cone… that works perfectly for me. I just want to get the effect.
How has increasing your cannabis intake helped you to lead a healthier life?
Konshens: It just gets me mellow. And I’m not living inside of my head as much. In this time, where we are at home alone, and we have so much time, we start to live in our head and overthink things. Smoking helps me think about what I want to think about, and not get onto negative thoughts. It’s helped me focus on what I need to focus on.
Is it a part of your writing and recording process?
Konshens: Before and during, I have a spliff to get me in a zone.
Dancehall artists are known to make songs for the different ‘segments’ in a party. You’ve got the gyal segment, which is all the songs about sex; the badman or gangster tunes; and then you’ve got the weed tunes. You’re known for your gyal tunes. Does smoking more add to your repertoire as an artist?
Konshens: Mi never look pon it [like that]. I still wouldn’t call myself a ‘ganja man.’ I like to sing hit songs and about what I know. Early in my career, when I did weed songs like “Real Herbalist” and “So High” with my brother Delus, rest in peace, it was because I was connected even though I was not a hardcore smoker. And now I can speak on it differently.