H“I can’t help but think while waiting for Usain Bolt.” the Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world Usain Bolt – to magically appear on the laptop screen in my kitchen. Bolt has released a reggae album with his childhood friend and manager Nugent “NJ” Walker, and I was granted an interview. Except … has there been any terrible confusion? Am I interviewing some other Usain Bolt, some lesser known reggae artist who happens to share his name? Why on earth would a man widely considered the greatest sprinter of all time, a three-time world record holder, set off a reggae record?
But, no, there he is, smiling at me from a nondescript kitchen somewhere in the world. (In fact, he’s in the UK, set to play in World Cup XI against England XI in Soccer Aid at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium; days later, a clip will circulate Jamie Carragher, a retired Liverpool and England footballer who hit him in a foot race for a direct pass). He has the Bolt brand logo, a black lightning bolt inside a yellow B, on the left chest of his black T. Shirt. No doubt.
So why did you decide to put out an album?
“I’ve been talking about making an album for the last three years,” he says, leaning forward in his chair, “then the pandemic started and I had a lot of free time.”
Didn’t we all do it?
“Everyone knows me as a track athlete,” he continues, as several people enter and exit the shot behind him. “And I wanted to show people that I can make music too.”
Usain Bolt could have been a lot of things, though of course he’s right – we know him best as the world-winning, charismatic, always-smiling, long-legged runner. The 9.58-second world record he set in the 100-meter final of the 2009 Berlin World Championships remains undefeated, meaning he is still officially the fastest man in the world. He still holds world records in the 200m (19.19 seconds) and as part of the Jamaican 4 x 100m relay team that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics (36.84 seconds). He retired in 2017, after tearing his hamstring during the 4 x 100m relay final at the 2017 IAAF World Championships. (The muscle left with just 50 meters to go and his three teammates from team helped him cross the finish line).
Between 2008 and then he won 134 of 146 races, including 11 World Championship gold medals, eight Olympic golds and, as you might have thought, a lot of money. After retiring, he embarked on a surprising second career as a professional footballer, trying out for the Norwegian club Strømsgodset and later for the Australian team Central Coast Mariners. (Neither club offered him a professional contract, ending his hopes of one day playing for Manchester United, a childhood dream.) He once considered moving to the United States to join the National Soccer League.
Most people reacted to Bolt’s second-race sporting attempts with surprise, mild, and not so mild. Some experts compared his decisions with similar ones made by Michael Jordan, who left basketball in its heyday to play baseball, a sport he loved and in which he became acceptable but not great. People will respond to Bolt’s music career in the same way. Why would a sports legend, whose name is literally written in history books, try to be a record producer? Why dilute a legacy?
Young bolt in fact, he had another ambition growing up: to be a spy. “I grew up in Sherwood Content, a small rural town in northwestern Jamaica,” he says. “Like all Jamaican households on Sundays, we ate rice, peas and fried chicken… My dad had a farm where he grew yams, bananas and potatoes, so we ate a lot of ground food. Fruit trees were the best. We could get mangoes, apples, guavas and whatever you can think of straight from the tree without having to say, ‘Mom, I’m hungry.’ It was here that young Bolt first honed his running skills. “Sometimes you went to a mango orchard where you knew you shouldn’t be and someone was chasing you. That’s where I had my first experience of running away as fast as I could. “
“We were not a large family, just me, mom, dad, younger brother, younger cousin and older sister,” he continues. “Every Sunday we ate, relaxed and watched movies as a family. He loved Bond. The first one I saw was The tomorrow Never Die” [Pierce Brosnan’s second outing, released in 1997, when Bolt was 12] “With the invisible car. I would go back to school on Monday and everyone would be talking about the gadgets … and we would all want to be spies. “
While Bolt never achieved his 00 status, athletics was surprisingly not the first sport he took up.
“We always played soccer and cricket on the streets,” he says. “Cricket was my life, because that’s all my dad saw. I was a huge fan of the West Indies, but didn’t understand why I was supposed to support them just because I was from the West Indies, so I supported Pakistan. I was a huge fan of Waqar Younis ”, the youngest Pakistani test captain in history. “He was a fast bowler and really good at York bowling.” The balls were thrown very close to the batsman. “I was also a fast bowler. One day my cricket coach saw me and said, “Maybe you should try running on the track too.” I did both for a while, but when I got to high school, I started to focus more on athletics because that’s where my talent was. “
I ask him if he is still interested in cricket. Keep playing? “I keep seeing 20/20, but I’m not sure what people would think if they saw me throwing myself out the window at them. I think I could still go bowling, but my hitting needs a lot more practice. “
Bolt won his first high school medal for the 200 meters at age 14. At 15, he was the youngest gold medalist at the World Junior Championships and was soon traveling the world. “And then I became the fastest man in the world, which was incredible to be tagged. When people approach me, no matter who they are, the first thing they always say is, ‘Do you want a career?’ It’s great to feel so appreciated. “
Sports aside, his other great passion has always been music. “Obviously, you hear Bob Marley everywhere in Jamaica,” he says. “Growing up, families would get together in what we call ’round robins’ (outdoor family gatherings and in community centers)” and listen to old-school Jamaican music like Beres Hammond and Bunny Wailer. I grew up on old school reggae since I was eight or nine years old. Then when I was a teenager, the riddim of Anger Management took Jamaica by storm… ”.
Riddims are rhythms that are released commercially by a producer, and that different artists then remix and DJ – or rap – in addition. This is how Shaggy and Sean Paul got started, playing riddles. The Anger Management riddim came out in 2004, when Bolt was 18 years old, and all the best Jamaican artists of the time (Bounty Killer, Baby Cham, Beenie Man, Sizzla) released their own covers.
“I only started clubbing when I moved to Kingston at 17,” he continues. “The people of Jamaica are always dancing, that’s why we make specific music for dance: reggae and dancehall. When it turns on, it’s time to dance. “Before this album, Bolt had been constantly releasing mixtapes.” I want to be one of the best producers in the business, like DJ Khaled or Swizz Beatz or Rvssian. So I produced a reggae / album dancehall with my best friend, Nugent ‘NJ’ Walker “.
It is NJ who sings everything on their co-credited album, titled Country yutes. Didn’t Bolt feel like picking up the mic himself?
“Ha, no,” he laughs. “I’m happy to add a few drops and appear in music videos, but I don’t think my voice is that great for singing, so I don’t plan on picking up the mic unless absolutely necessary. I’m more of the guy behind the covers, uplifting the crowd, giving the vibe … ”Unlike running, he now feels less need to be front and center. But music, he says, was always “something we really wanted to do. We feel the energy. At the end of last year, we felt like we should make an album, get out. “
There are no plans for a live tour yet, but he’s not ruling it out. “If you follow my career, you can always see me laugh, dance, do something. I love doing a performance. Anything that puts my hand and my head, I want to be the best. “
Country yutes is currently at the top of the Billboard The reggae album charts, so it seems Bolt may have succeeded in the strangest career change of all time: World’s fastest man to chart-leading reggae producer. Whats Next? “Now I want to win a Grammy.”
Usain Bolt x NJ’s Country Yutes is out now
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism