"The people have spoken. QQ, come back to the stage."
It's 4 a.m. in Kingston and Flexx, host of Passa Passa's third anniversary dance and part of dancehall group T.O.K., is calling QQ back to the stage for the third time. The four-foot-tall child prodigy bounds on and launches straight into a sweet rendition of "Poverty." The song, his first single, held the number-one spot in Jamaica for four weeks in 2005 and stole the record from Dennis Brown who, at 13, had previously been the youngest artist to achieve a number one.
Working the crowd like a veteran, the 12-year-old's microphone-shaped medallion glistens as he pours his soul into roots and culture lyrics addressing the problems of Jamaica's poor. Ghetto kids rush the stage–this is their artist. Lighters shoot into the air and a teenager lets off a fire torch. Between verses, QQ urges, "Listen my people," and a hypnotized crowd of downtown rudies, dancehall queens, Rastas, and uptown revellers do exactly that.
As he exits, the crowd calls his name. "Please," he says, stopping them. "There's some big artist back stage a'wait to come on."
The next day–while the majority of the Passa Passa revellers are still sleeping–QQ is sitting in class for a full 8 a.m.-to-3 p.m, school day. He tells me when he first hit the big time his friends would say, "Bwoy, you can't talk to him now he's the big man." To which he'd reply, "No, man, our friendship never changes–the only thing that change is that I now do music."
This maturity is prevalent throughout his songs, saving him from Kris-Kross-esque gimmickry. On tracks like "My God Is Real," "Mrs. Babylon," "Betta Mus Come," and "Never Know the Use of Her," he articulates socially and spiritually deep ideas with a wit and understanding that seems inborn rather than coached. I ask his father if he has always expressed himself with a depth beyond his years. "He's been a powerful youth from the day he was born," he says. "Sometime I have to remember him still a child."
Born Kareem Dawkins, QQ got his first taste of performing in the school choir whilst living in London. Although he excelled in academic subjects, from a toddler music was his passion; at age nine, he asked his father if he could join him in Jamaica to build a musical career. Now living in Marvely in Kingston–an area neither uptown nor downtown–QQ says he spends his days "at school, playing with friends, writing lyrics, praising the Almighty, and recording tracks with producers Kalibud and Bobby Digital," two of the best roots producers in the world.
When asked what his goals are in life, he looks at me earnestly. "[My goal] is to help people unite and love each other," he says. And this is possible through music? "Music has powers," he says. "Music can make you do things, and make you don't do things. Music can change life."