FACT Rated is our new series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists. Next up, Mike Steyels introduces Kiff, a New Jersey native blending Jersey club and soca into an exciting sound of his own.
From: Irvington, New Jersey
Must-Hear: ‘Good Oye’
For Fans Of: Jus Now, DJ Cueheat, DJ Puffy
Kiff was born in New Jersey but raised on the sounds of the Caribbean, as you might guess from his music: a fresh blend of Jersey club and soca he’s calling Jersey soca. For fans of the two styles, or of hybrid dance music in general, it’s something to be excited about. After dropping his first Jersey soca tune nearly a year ago to hype crowds at soca parties and international internet love, it’s become his main focus. He’s got a whole tape of the stuff, mixed with dancehall remixes and his own soca riddims, dropping any day now for the state’s genre-defying Thread Imprint.
The 25-year-old is in a unique position to bridge these styles. Raised in Irvington, New Jersey, a troubled suburb on the edge of Newark, the mecca for Jersey club, Kiff has been a part of the scene since high school, lugging around a desktop PC to DJ at house parties (he eventually moved on to CDJs). Brick Bandits, the oldest and largest Jersey club crew, gave him the cosign years ago. As a child of parents from Guyana and Jamaica, his home was full of soca and dancehall. In his teen years he played on a local Caribbean radio station called Blaze Radio 99.9FM, alongside Sonicboom. While it didn’t reach much further than Newark, people from the Caribbean community knew about it and the two started to get booked at parties around the wider New York area.
There are several overlooked similarities between soca and Jersey club that he’s managed to connect, including an affection for remixes, call-and-response dances, and tempos meeting in the 130s. The resulting blend is a new sound with an irresistible rhythm. “I first had the idea for this last year when I was asked to make a roadmix of ‘Bang Bim’ by Barbados’s Marzville,” says Kiff, whose real name is Sean Cazius. A soca roadmix is similar to a reggae dubplate; a new version of a song sought by DJs in need of unique music to play on the road, which are the parades central to Carnival and synonymous with soca parties. “I noticed that his vocals had a Jersey-style delivery and I immediately thought of using that Jersey beat.”
“In the soca realm there’s so much room for expansion.”
Jersey club relies heavily on remixes as well, but they usually revolve around chopped up rap and pop music reimagined through the club lens. It’s rare but not unheard of for Jersey club producers to make Caribbean remixes, but they usually stick with that prominent club beat. Kiff, on the other hand, has gone beyond sampling vocals and melodies, and mixes actual soca rhythms and percussion into his tracks.
While “power soca” tempos can go as high as 160bpm, Kiff’s sound fits in better with “groovy soca”, a more accessible style that’s closer in tempo to Jersey club. “For Jersey soca, the lowest I’d go is 132bpm and up to 145bpm if the original was in that realm, but usually it’s in the 130s,” he explains. “I’d go up to 160 but I don’t know if I’d call it Jersey soca. I try and keep it within the format of Jersey club.”
So far, Jersey soca has found more of an audience with the soca crowds than it has with the Jersey club scene. “In the soca realm there’s so much room for expansion,” he says, and he’s trying to push it further. “I want people to step out of the box a little of what they think makes soca soca. To see how it could incorporate other genres but still be something that you could bust a wine to while on the road.” While he’s taken a step back from DJing for a while to focus on production, his Bad Company team, a group of DJs and producers pushing Caribbean music, have been playing his tunes at soca parties in Brooklyn to a good reception.
Without that crowd response, Kiff wouldn’t feel like he’s doing his job: “I’m trying to bring it to the international stage. But there are people with no understanding of soca who go in and pull something out from it, then leave without bringing the people as a whole with them. I look at it like I’m coming back home, and I’m gonna show you something new, but you could still play it at home. I want it played in Trinidad.”
Mike Steyels is on Twitter.