Published on March 12th, 2023

The rise of J Boog in contemporary reggae is a story that makes you think America’s melting pot is still bubbling. Born to a Samoan-American family in Long Beach, California and raised in the tough precincts of Compton, the young Jerry Fealofani Afemata grew up on reggae, hip-hop and the streetwise ska-punk of Sublime before charting his own path. Working 12-hour shifts at one of the oil refineries that still dot greater Los Angeles, Afemata pursued music in his off hours, singing at local dives and recording demos of his own tunes.

It took a vacation trip to Hawaii for his break to materialize. There, he met the Fijian singer and actor George “Fiji” Veikoso, a cultural hero in the Polynesian world and a Hawaii institution. Impressed by Afemata’s demo, Fiji helped him make his first album as J Boog, 2007’s “Hear Me Roar,” and from then on the rest of the world tuned in.

J Boog has honed an upbeat, new-age style of reggae over three full-length albums and three EPs, combining a sultry island vibe — Caribbean and Polynesian — with strains of hip hop and soul. J Boog’s most-streamed Spotify track, “Let’s Do It Again,” sounds like a summit: Picture Kygo’s remix of the Marvin Gaye classic, “Sexual Healing”; Shaggy’s “Angel” (itself a dancehall mashup of classic rocker Steve Miller and singer-songwriter Chip Taylor); and a dash of American reggae band Soja. Close listeners might pick up on similariites to the French-Canadian reggae band Kaliroots.

From the raspberries that greeted Soja’s Grammy win in 2022, when they bested a field of nominees from reggae’s homeland, we know it’s not universally accepted that non-Jamaicans might lay claim to a genre associated with anti-colonial struggle. But the Samoan oil rig worker from Compton seems well clear of that dispute. As of press time, the J Boog winter tour schedule was a flurry of blinking “sold out” and “low ticket alert” banners, and fans online were already clamoring for extra dates and cities, and age waivers on 21-and-over venues.

J Boog and opener Likkle Jordee perform 8pm Friday March 17 at Miami Beach Bandshell. jboogmusic.com ~ Amanda Moore