Jeffrey "Assassin" Campbell is a leader of a new generation of Jamaican dancehall artists who are hoping to elevate the genre by providing music with more lyrical depth.
"I try to maintain a certain level of integrity in the material," says Campbell from his home in Jamaica. "It is not all about the frivolous dancehall. We try to add substance to the mix rather than just all hype and entertainment." As in the States–where thug posturing in hip-hop has become a tired cliché–Jamaican dancehall's obsession with guns, violence and homophobia has threatened to stunt its growth.
Determined to flip this script, the 22-year-old deejay brings a conscious vision to his recent full-length debut, Infiltration, the first of a multi-record deal he signed with VP and Penthouse Records. Tracks like "Free at Last" echo themes found in classics like Peter Tosh's "400 Years"; using Martin Luther King's famous phrase as a jumping-off point, Campbell says his song gives voice "to the journey of black people."
Campbell's own path hasn't been easy. Growing up in Papine, Kintyre, a town east of Kingston, he believed that getting an education was the key to escaping the gang life that impacted many in his community. After attending Kingston's Camperdown High School, he planned to study journalism at the University of West Indies. While at Camperdown, he developed the talent that would earn him his nickname. "The name came from being involved in lyrical battles in the lunchroom," he explains.
The journey that would take Campbell beyond the lunchroom began in school, when he gave a song to his friend Briggy, whose uncle happened to be Spragga Benz. Spragga used Campbell's lyrics for his hit "Big Up All Di Shotta Dem."
Encouraged by his success as a ghostwriter, Campbell expanded what he calls his "recognizance mission" after graduating in 2000. He hooked up with esteemed producer Donovan Germain of Penthouse Records and charted the 2002 single "Ruffest and Tuffest." Having experienced regional recognition, Campbell is now ready to extend his operation worldwide.
Although he still plans to attend university, his focus with the release of Infiltration is to get his voice heard, and to help dancehall evolve. "On this debut album, we'll show we have the potential to move forward from this stage where we are at now," he declares.