Treasure Don: From Cathedral to Dancehall

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Choirboy or rude boy? 38-year-old Bronx-based sing-jay Treasure Don might be both, balancing his sanctified childhood with rugged dancehall, hip-hop, and even dub (via work with eclectic producers Subatomic Sound System and Bastard Jazz’s DJ DRM). “Treasure Don is a hybrid,” Don says of his multifaceted sound. “I was raised in a fusion environment in the Bronx and eventually came up with my own style.”

Christened Henry Walker by his Jamaican pastor father, who preached to an 18,000-strong New York congregation, Treasure Don was immersed in reggae and religion from the start. “God and reggae music were innate to our family… You’d hear reggae and hip-hop everywhere: coming out of people’s cars, houses–you were submerged in it. We’d be driving to church at 8 a.m. and I’d hear, [singing Michael Palmer’s classic ’80s dancehall tune] ‘Dem a lick shot…Lord a’ mercy!’” Walker perfected his vocal skills as a chorister at Manhattan’s prestigious Cathedral of St. John the Divine while simultaneously absorbing his father’s extensive reggae tape collection.

Walker began hitting Manhattan clubs in the late ’90s, singing with Sting’s horn arranger Clark Gayton and Skatalites’ lead trumpeter Kevin Batchelor, which led to connections with New York’s Jamaican music fraternity. But even after college-tour stints with reggae band Fireproof in 2000, and a two-year live residency with musician King Django at Secho on Ludlow Street, Walker wasn’t satisfied. “I wanted to be a volcano on the mic and build a whole island with hot lava from out of my mouth!” he says of his vibrant live performances, influenced by dancehall DJs Cutty Ranks, Flourgon, and Lieutenant Stitchie.

After years paying dues in clubs and airing his demos on local low-power radio stations, producers began lining up to record Walker’s half-sung, half-chatted vocals–resulting in tunes like “The Chronicles,” “Ghetto Champion,” and “Heart of Gold.”

Walker has seven beats chosen for his next album, including reggae joints from Alphonso and Myrie and hip-hop heat from Ruff Rydaz producers Driz and J-Knocka. But this rude-boy toaster hasn’t abandoned his righteous roots–he still seeks to minister through his music. “I’m the son of a preacher. If you’re having a problem I need to talk to you,” he explains. “At one of our shows, there was this person way in the back of the room looking stressed. The gig was going well, everyone was having a good time, I’m feeling high, but I was conscious of this person. So I changed the lyrics I was singing at that moment to ‘In your time, you’ll be healed.’ He knew I was
talking to him.”