Hammond, Lenn 1970(?)–
Lenn Hammond 1970(?)–
Reggae vocalist and songwriter
Frigid Canada may seem an unlikely source of new developments in Caribbean music, but ever since the rapid wordplay of Snow’s “Informer” streaked to the top of U.S. pop charts in 1993, U.S. reggae fans have kept an ear cocked northward. With an enormous population of Jamaican immigrants in the Toronto metropolitan area and elsewhere gaining access to a vigorous club and production scene, it seemed natural that Canadian reggae artists would contend with their U.S. and Jamaican counterparts for attention. One Canadian up-and-comer who may be able to do just that in the coming years is Lenn Hammond—especially since Hammond stands apart from other artists in his cultivation of the smooth, romantic reggae sound known as lovers’ rock, not the rap and dancehall inflected sound of U.S. chartmakers Shaggy and Beenie Man.
Lenn Hammond comes from a lineage of music makers, and his last name inspires instant recognition among reggae fans. Born around 1970 in Port Maria, St. Mary, Jamaica, Constantine “Lenn” Hammond was the son of a cabaret singer, Winston “Boyo” Hammond and the nephew of a major reggae vocal star, Beres Hammond. The Canadian reggae performer Yogie is his cousin. By the time he was in junior high school, Lenn Hammond was interested in music. Musical influences came from his father, uncle, and Jamaican superstar Dennis Brown, one of the early exponents of a smooth, romantic style in reggae. But he also listened to the old-school U.S. soul and classic R&B that was often heard on Jamaican airwaves, including Otis Redding, Teddy Pendergrass, and Al Green.
The influence of these expert crowd pleasers showed in the young Hammond’s stage performances, but after he finished high school he headed north in 1989 to Toronto in search of professional training. Hammond completed a degree in hotel and restaurant operations while familiarizing himself with reggae’s increasingly important electronic side, working with his father and uncle on his songwriting skills, and attempting to further his solo career. By 1993 he cut a single; it failed to make an impact on record charts, but had the desired effect of spreading his name in the reggae industry.
Top reggae producers began to take note of Hammond both as a performer and as a songwriter—his compositions have appeared on releases by reggae superstar Marcia Griffiths and other major artists. In the mid-1990s he had honed his own production skills and worked with top Jamaican DJs and production teams. The first fruit of all this activity was the single “Just the Other Night,” released in 1996 on the FiWi label (owned by artist manager Chris Smith, best known for helming the career of pop chanteuse Nelly Furtado); it was also included in that company’s compilation CD for the year, an important path to popularity in the reggae field.
At a Glance…
Born Constantine Hammond in Port Maria, St. Mary, Jamaica, ca. 1970; emigrated to Canada, 1989. Education: Completed degree in hotel and restaurant operations, Canada, 1990s. Religion: Rastafarian.
Career: Performed in Canadian reggae clubs, early 1990s; released debut single, “Just the Other Night” on FiWi label, 1996; song was included on annual label compilation; released other singles in Canada, late 1990s; gained recognition in Jamaica, United Kingdom, and United States; released debut CD, Lenn Hammond, 2001.
Awards: Juno award nomination, Reggae Single of the Year, for “Just the Other Night,” 1996; Juno award, Best Reggae Album, for Lenn Hammond, 2001; two Male Vocalist of the Year awards, Canadian Reggae Association.
Addresses: Management— Chris Smith Management, 21 Camden St., 5th floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5V 1V2.
“Just the Other Night” had an infidelity theme familiar in southern soul but fairly new to the spiritually-elevated reggae. It begins with the question, “Have you ever been in a situation where you had to cheat on your woman?” The song, which Hammond explained was based on the experiences of friends, gained club play in Toronto and climbed into the top ten on local reggae charts. It garnered Hammond a Juno award nomination (the Juno is the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Grammy award) for reggae single of the year, resulting in national television exposure.
A follow-up single, “Watching Your Program,” which unlike “Just the Other Night” would not be included on Hammond’s debut CD, did even better, winning radio airplay in Canada and in Jamaica, and broadening Hammond’s reach to other reggae strongholds such as New York and London. Hammond continued to release singles regularly; one of them, “You and I,” won Hammond a Male Vocalist of the Year award from the Canadian Reggae Music Association in 1998.
By this time Hammond was a fixture of the Toronto club scene as a live performer. He continued to deepen his music by studying guitar. “Once you learn music, you know it better and [you’re] able to communicate better with the musicians,” he said in a newspaper interview quoted on his website, www.lennhammond.com. “The computer stuff is nice but people are getting back to the real thing.” His studies would leave their mark on Hammond’s debut CD, which features such novel flavorings as Latin-style guitar.
Lenn Hammond, was released by FiWi in 2001. Hammond, who has described the release as a labor of love, handled the production chores with his cousin Yogie. The album also featured the distinctive rhythmic contributions of the veteran drum and bass pair Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Focusing on romantic balladry and collecting several of his successful singles, the album played to Hammond’s passionate vocal strong suit. Hammond’s vocals, a reviewer on the website www.reggae-reviews.com pointed out, “more closely resemble a soul singer like Bobby Womack than a reggae artist.” The album featured a mix of materials, however, including traditional Rastafarian-themed numbers such as “Never Give Jah Up” and up-tempo dancehall pieces.
The album won Hammond Canada’s biggest reggae prize, the 2001 Juno award for Best Reggae Recording. He also gained his second Male Vocalist of the Year honor from the Canadian Reggae Music Association. The album brought Hammond renewed recognition in his Jamaican homeland, with the single “Mixed Up Moods,” a cover of a 1977 hit by the reggae group Fantastic Four, receiving radio airplay there. In the summer of 2001 Hammond played larger venues around Toronto, beyond the familiar haunts of the city’s reggae scene.
“There’s no doubt that if he’s adequately promoted, he will be a major star,” noted the magazine Caribbean Today in the summer of 2001. “Writing is a passion for me,” Hammond stated on his website. “It is a craft, and I take it very seriously.” With his vocal skills, his ability to consistently create fresh material for himself as a writer, and his knack for melding diverse musical influences, Hammond seemed poised to make a wider splash in the United States and among reggae’s worldwide public.
“Just the Other Night,” FiWi, 1996.
“Watching Your Program,” FiWi.
“You and I,” FiWi, 1998.
Lenn Hammond, FiWi, 2001.
Caribbean Today, June 30, 2001, p. 17.
Toronto Star, April 13, 2002, p. J3.
Toronto Sun, March 5, 2001, p. 41.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com
—James M. Manheim
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