Hang on â, 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 released a reggae album with his childhood friend and manager Nugent “NJ” Walker, and I got an interview. Except … was there terrible confusion? Do I interview another Usain Bolt, a lesser-known reggae artist who shares his name? Why on earth would a man widely regarded as the greatest sprinter of all time, triple world record holder, break a reggae record?
But, no, he’s there, beaming at me from some kitchen somewhere in the world. (He’s actually in the UK, ready to play for the World XI against an England XI at Soccer Aid at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium; a few days later a clip will be circulating of the retired Liverpool and England footballer. Jamie Carragher beating him in a foot-race for a through ball.) He has the Bolt brand logo – a black lightning bolt inside a yellow B – on the left chest of his black T-shirt. There is no mistaking it.
So why did he decide to release an album?
âI’ve been talking about making an album for three years,â he said, leaning forward in his chair, âthen the pandemic started and I had a lot of free time.â
Haven’t we all?
âEveryone knows me as a track athlete,â he continues, as various people come in and out of the shot behind him. “And I wanted to show people that I can do music too.”
Usain Bolt could have been a lot, although of course he is right: we know him best as a long-limbed runner, charismatic, always smiling and beating the world. The world record of 9.58 seconds he set in the 100m final at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin remains unbeaten, meaning he is still officially the fastest man in the world. He still holds the world records in the 200m (19.19 seconds) and for the Jamaican 4x100m relay team that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics (36.84 seconds). He retired in 2017, having torn his hamstrings in the 4 x 100m relay final at the 2017 IAAF World Championships. (The muscle went with only 50m to go and he has had to be helped at the finish line by his three teammates.)
Between 2008 and then, he won 134 of 146 races, including 11 World Championship gold, eight Olympic gold and, you would have thought, a lot of money. After his retirement, he began a surprising second career as a professional footballer, testing for Norwegian club StrÃ¸msgodset and then for the Australian team of Central Coast Mariners. (Neither club offered him a professional contract, which ended his childhood dream of one day playing for Manchester United.) He has already considered moving to America to join the National League of Nations. soccer.
Most people reacted to Bolt’s second career athletic attempts with surprise, sweet and not so sweet. Some experts have compared his decisions to those made by Michael Jordan, who gave up basketball in his prime to play baseball, a sport he loved and became passable but not great. People will react in the same way to Bolt’s musical career. Why does a sports legend, whose name is literally written in the history books, try to be a record producer? Why dilute an inheritance?
Young Bolt actually had another ambition growing up: to be a spy. âI grew up in Sherwood Content, a small country town in northwest Jamaica,â he says. âLike all Jamaican households on Sundays, we had rice, peas and fried chickenâ¦ My father had a farm where he grew yams, bananas and potatoes, so we ate a lot of ground food. . Fruit trees were the best things. We could get mangoes, apples, guavas, and whatever else you could think of straight from the tree without having to say, âMom, I’m hungry. âSometimes you would go to a mango orchard where you knew you shouldn’t be and someone would chase you away. This is where I first tried to run away as quickly as possible.
âWe weren’t a big family – just me, mom, dad, younger brother, younger cousin and older sister,â he continues. âEvery Sunday we ate, relaxed and watched movies as a family. I loved Bond. The first one I saw was Tomorrow never dies” [Pierce Brosnanâs second outing, released in 1997, when Bolt was 12] âWith the invisible car. I went back to school on Mondays and everyone was talking about gadgetsâ¦ and we would all like to be spies.
Although Bolt never achieved his 00 status, surprisingly track and field was not the first sport he played.
âWe still played football and cricket on the streets,â he says. âCricket was my life, because that’s all my dad watched. He was a big fan of the West Indies, but I couldn’t understand why I was supposed to support them just because I was from the West Indies, so I supported Pakistan. I was a big fan of Waqar Younis, âthe youngest Pakistani test captain in history. “He was a fast and very good pitcher at Yorkers bowling” – balls pitched very close to the batter. âI was also a fast bowler. One day my cricket coach saw me and said, âMaybe you should try sprinting 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 was where my talent lay.
I ask him if he is still interested in cricket. Is he still playing? âI always watch 20/20, but I don’t know what people would think if they saw me throwing balls at them. I think I could still bowling, but my stick needs a lot more practice.
Bolt won his first high school medal in the 200m at the age of 14. At 15, he was the youngest gold medalist at the World Junior Championships, and soon he traveled all over the world. âAnd then I became the fastest man in the world, which was an amazing thing to label. When people come to me, no matter who they are, the first thing they always say is, ‘Want to- you have a run? It’s great to feel so appreciated.
Sport aside, his other great passion has always been music. âObviously you hear Bob Marley all over Jamaica,â he says. âGrowing up, families would come together in what we called ’round robin tournaments’ – family gatherings held outdoors and in community centers -‘ and listened to old-school Jamaican music like Beres Hammond and Bunny Wailer. I grew up in old school reggae since I was eight or nine. Then, when I was a teenager, the Anger Management riddim took Jamaica by stormâ¦. “
Riddims are beats that are marketed by a producer, and on which different artists remix and DJ – or rap – in addition. This is how Shaggy and Sean Paul started, as DJs on riddims. The Anger Management riddim came out in 2004, when Bolt was 18, and all the top Jamaican artists of the time – Bounty Killer, Baby Cham, Beenie Man, Sizzla – released their own versions.
“I didn’t start going to clubs until I moved to Kingston at 17,” he continues. âJamaicans always dance, so we make specific dance music: reggae and dancehall. When it lights up, it’s time to dance. Prior to this album, Bolt regularly released mixtapes. âI want to be one of the best producers in the business, like DJ Khaled or Swizz Beatz or Rvssian. So I produced a reggae / dancehall album with my best friend, Nugent ‘NJ’ Walker.
It’s NJ doing all the vocals on their co-credited album, titled Yutes Country. Didn’t Bolt want to pick up the microphone himself?
âHa, no,â he laughs. “I’m happy to add a few drops and appear in the clips, but I don’t think my voice is that good for singing, so I’m not planning on taking the mic unless it is.” absolutely necessary. I’m more the guy behind the decks, who thrills the crowd, sets the moodâ¦ âUnlike running, he feels less need to be in front and in the center. But music, he says, has always been âsomething we really wanted to do. We felt the energy. At the end of last year, we thought we had to make an album, put ourselves forward.
There are no plans for a live tour yet, but he doesn’t rule it out. âIf you follow my career, you can still see me laughing, dancing, doing something. I love to do a performance. Whatever I put my hand and my head into, I want to be the best. “
Yutes Country currently lives up to the Billboard Reggae Album charts, so it looks like Bolt has pulled off the strangest career change of all time: Fastest Man In The World to chart-topping reggae producer. And after? “Now I want to win a Grammy.”
Country Yutes by Usain Bolt x NJ is now available