With his sleeve tattoos, backward baseball cap and penchant for oversized T-shirts, J Boog more resembles a member of Action Bronson's crew than a rising star of reggae.
There's a strange kind of disconnect when watching his videos, too: sans dreadlocks and a rasta knit hat, you can't believe this huge, tough-looking guy is singing, sweetly and smoothly, over R&B-infused reggae grooves. His most famous song, “Let's Do It Again,” could've been on the soundtrack of an Adam Sandler rom-com, filled with “ooh baby”s and words such as “lovers” and “paradise.”
Then again, you could say his lack of an image is his image. If J Boog is passionate about anything, it's keeping it real. “I represent where I come from,” says the singer born Jerry Afemata. “This is how we dress back home, so this is how I'm going to dress. I'm not going to change just because I'm doing reggae music. I'm just doing what I love.”
The youngest in a Samoan brood of seven brothers and a sister, J Boog (which is short for “boogie”) grew up in Compton, listening to all the music his siblings brought home, from Metallica to Nate Dogg to Sublime, to, of course, Bob Marley. “We had a whole lot of reggae mixtapes that we listened to over and over again,” he says.
But reggae resonated because of his Samoan roots, he says. “Being an islander, we go toward island vibes. Reggae sits well with us and has always been with us.”
The Glen Washington/lover's rock influence is wholly evident in J Boog's songs, but you can also hear traditional Samoan tunes in his sound. “The metaphors and the lyrics are similar to reggae because they're proper love songs,” J Boog says, “and the stories they tell relate to our lives. It's a mood you can relate to.”
There was also the deeper message in Marley's music that he latched onto: “Being second generation in the United States . . . it was hard for my parents to come here, and growing up in a packed house wasn't easy,” he says. “Reggae talks a whole lot about overcoming struggle and positive vibes.”
In 2007, J Boog wrote and recorded his first reggae song, “Hear Me Roar,” and, he says, “From then on, I knew I didn't want to do anything else.” He recorded it in Hawaii while on vacation from his day job at an LA-area oil refinery. When “Hear Me Roar” started blowing up, he quit that job to pursue music full-time and moved to Hawaii. Taking that chance has paid off, too; J Boog tours the world regularly, and he is currently on a 12-show run in the Southwest.
Despite living in Hawaii and having never been to Jamaica, his sound is so authentic that NPR has called him “Jawaiian.” “Of course, [reggae develops into] a different kind of music depending on where you're from, but the foundation of it all is Jamaican reggae. You can never knock that,” J Boog says.
Jawaiian is a label he wears with pride. After all, in the islands, J Boog's inspiration is total. “Everything is so laid-back; the people are so friendly. It's all about love and aloha.”
J Boog performs at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, Ste. C, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Wed., 8 p.m. $25. All ages.