Usain Bolt on switching focus from the track to the dance floor
In the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast, Sajae Elder talks to the iconic Olympian about his favorite music, his desire to be the DJ Khaled of dancehall, and his new album Country Yutes.
Usain Bolt on switching focus from the track to the dance floor

The FADER Interview is a brand new podcast series in which the world’s most exciting musicians talk with the staff of The FADER about their latest projects. We’ll hear from emerging pop artists on the verge of mainstream breakthroughs, underground rappers pushing boundaries, and icons from across the world who laid the foundations for today’s thriving scenes. Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast below, read a full transcript of this week’s episode after the jump, and subscribe to The FADER Interview wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Usain Bolt is a genuine phenomenon, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist and 11-time world champion. He is, was, and will remain for some time the fastest man in the world. He ran the 100 meters in a previously unthinkable 9.58 seconds, he ran the 200 and a similarly absurd 19.19. It's hard to imagine anyone coming close to those marks anytime soon, and it's equally hard to imagine a track athlete with his charisma, his effortless showmanship or his magnetism.

Lightning Bolt has inevitably been busy since retiring from athletics four years ago. He's had trials at top tier professional soccer teams and become a successful businessman. But he's also pursued a career in music, one of his first loves, producing records for Vybz Kartel, Dexta Daps and many more. Now he's releasing an album of his own. Country Yutes, a collaboration with Bolt's manager Nugent “NJ” Walker celebrates the dancehall and reggae that Bolt grew up listening to in Jamaica.

Earlier this week, The FADER's Sajae Elder caught up with Bolt to talk about his earliest inspirations, wanting to be the DJ Khaled of dancehall, and his pick for the greatest riddim of all time.

The FADER: Are you in Jamaica right now?

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Usain Bolt: Yes, I am.

Oh, you're so lucky. I haven't been back since 2019, so I'm dying right now.

You're from Jamaica?

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My family is, yeah. When I told my sister I was doing this, she was very excited. I got to hear some of the album that you worked on with NJ and I'm excited for it to come out and for everyone to hear it. Obviously, people know you from one thing, one thing that you're extremely good at, obviously. So just talk to me a little bit about your love of music. I'm assuming that your athletic career would have started pretty early in life, but was music this thing that was nagging on the back of your mind as like, "I have to do this?"

For me, if you follow my career, you know that music is something that has always... I've always played music, I'm always dancing, I'm just always out, I like to go out and have a good time. So for me, music is something I've always done. You know what I mean? I used to DJ for a while after every track meet when I'm in Europe and stuff like that.

So it's something that I've always been into, but I never had the time because I was always training and just running. So for me, when the pandemic hit, I had a lot of time on my hand because I didn't go anywhere, I was just always home. So I was like, "You know what? It's something I've always wanted to do, so let's just get into producing." And that's how I really got started with it.

What were your early inspirations music-wise?

For me, definitely, Bob Marley stood out, because I remember at a young age, anywhere I went, people always knew Bob Marley, no matter where in the world I went, as long as you are playing Bob Marley music. And that's something that always put a smile on my face. I was like, "Yeah, it's good to have good music that people know everywhere you go." Bunny Wailer, all these guys, Buju Banton. So for me, those were the guys at an early age I was inspired, because I could go anywhere and hear their music.

And then I started growing up on my Baby Cham, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man and all these guys, and that was when I really started getting into music more and more and wanting to play music, do a lot more dance, and then Ding Dong came out, he did a lot of more dancing tune, and I got into it even more because I love dancing. So me, the combination of dancing and music worked for me.

Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned in the first part, you would be playing DJ at your meets and stuff, I'm sure there were certain things that would get you hype and ready for races. So what were you listening to, what does the fastest man alive listen to?

Back then, my favorite was a mixture of anything that was hot. For me, I always have Vybz Kartel on there, I always have my Bob Marley for a time where you just want to chill and just reminisce and vibe. You know what I mean? So it was just a mixture, you know what I mean, I had a few hip hop songs in there, but it was mainly hardcore dancehall and regae music.

You said before that you wanted to be the DJ Khaled of dancehall. And earlier this year, you had the Clockwork Riddim and you had some big names on it. You had Kartel, you had Charly Black, you had Christopher Martin, how hands on are you with that whole process when it's all coming together?

For me, I try my best to really be there with everything, get beyond the studio time. But some of the time, we need artists, they are different, they work off different clock, but I try to be there as much as I possibly can just to show the support and just to hear the music so we can make adjustments or if they need anything for me to be done, I can change already, just support them.

But those guys really came through, I didn't have much problems. They just came, did what they had to do, if I asked them to change things, they would. So for me, that's the artist that I like to work with, people who understand that music, sometimes you need different ears and for people to say, "I don't like this, I feel like we should change this." And that's the energy I got from Clockwork and from this album with my best friend, so we're on the same page, so we got good music.

Talking about this album specifically, walk me a little bit through the process of how it came together, the idea, you mentioned, obviously with the pandemic, you have some extra time, so what was the gel that was like, "No, we have to do this?"

So we actually did a few riddims before while I was running to launch, I didn't want to launch my champagne, Olympe Rosé. So there's something that we've talked about doing an album, and when we started the music and we were really enjoying it and we were like, "You know what? We should do album, let people know that we're really serious about music." And for me, that's how we got started, and then we sat down. My cousin makes all my riddims. So we'd sit down with him, I explain to him what we're going for, and then he would build the riddim for us, and then me and NJ would sit, then we write different notes and compare notes and figure out what we want to go with the music, but we knew exactly what we wanted.

What were you guys inspired by at the time when you guys were making the project?

Just everything. If you listen to the album, if you hear the album, every song is different. We try to mix it up because we know what people want. We try to reach to every genre of music, every ethnicity, and all these people around the world. It's just an energy we're trying to get across, because I know I got fans everywhere in the world, so we tried to reach everybody, give them a different vibe.

There's a few features on the album as well. So how did those come together?

There's one with Bibi and he did one with his son which was pretty cool. So for me, most of these guys are friends. We're close to everybody and we could just ask them to be a part of something and to feel the energy and just to give us a vibe, something different. As I said, we try to mix it up and do something different for everybody and give everybody a different vibe.

This album is just to show people that we're really serious about music and we have different styles and we have different flavors and we can do everything. So for me, this is the album that I'm trying to put out there so people can really say, "You know what, Usain Bolt is not a track athlete anymore, he's a producer." So that's what I'm going for.

Do you guys already have plans for any projects in the future or are just focusing on this one for right now?

Well, right now, definitely, there's going to be a lot more projects, but right now we're just focusing on trying to get this album out, trying to get it promoted, just pushing it and letting people hear the music, so that's our focus right now.

I guess I also wanted to know when I asked earlier how hands-on you were with how the project comes together, are you producing the riddims yourself, are working alongside other producers, or how does that work for you?

As I said, my cousin is the one that makes the riddims, but we work with him. We explain to him. We want the Afro type of beat, we're like, "Yo, do this." And he'll come back and we say, "All right. You know what, take this drum out and give us a bigger base or..." So I do work alongside him, but I give him the option of making the beats and then we make adjustments.

You did talk about the different inspirations and the different sounds on there, but talk to me, I guess, about some of the different genres that you played with or that you wanted to play with, or maybe even some that you messed around with maybe that didn't make it.

For me, we tried to stick to dancehall mainly. "It's a Party" is my favorite song on there because it's a vibe, it's a high energy, we try to keep it with inspirational messages because we want people to understand the struggles and what we've gone through. One of the songs on there was about, we lost one of our friends a couple of years ago, so that was in there also. So we just mix it up with everything that we're feeling on that day.

Sometimes we can be having high energy, having a vibe, we're like, "Yo let's do something high energy today." So we just went with what was good on the day and the vibe we were feeling, because we knew we wanted different sounds on the album. So when we got to the studio, it was all, "All right, what vibe are we feeling today? What are we going for?" So that's how the different songs were made every different day.

You could say this about a lot of genres, but I feel like dancehall specifically is so based on authenticity and particular, even realness. So did you ever have a point where you were worried that people already have you in a box as, "Oh, he's an athlete, so he can't do music." Were you ever worried about those kinds of perceptions?

Yeah, definitely. I wouldn't say worried, but I knew it was going to happen. From the start, people were saying why are we doing music? I was like, "This is what I love." The problem with nowadays is that people, they have you in a box and they decide that this is what you should do. I'm not going to let anybody put me in a box. I was an athlete once, that chapter of my life is over, and now I want to be a producer, so I'm going to produce. It doesn't matter what anybody wants to say.

If I make good music and I put good vibes out there, I know people are going to love it. So that's what we're doing. And we're not just doing it by ourselves, we have people we talk to. And again, we work with experienced artists as have done this before, so we can ask them, just have a conversation with people. We're not just going to act like we know everything, we're taking our time and just working our way up.

I always ask producers and songwriters, but is there ever a song that you wish you did, you heard it and you were like, "Damn. I wish I did that instead?"

No. For me, I think I've just started, so I think I have a long way to go, I have a lot more to learn. So for me, it's just one of those things that is going to take time. I'm sure in the future, I'll have one of those songs like, "Ah, I should have done something like that, that would have been cool." But for me, when we're not just going to sit in a box, we're going to try different things. It might not work, it might work, so we just see what happens, but I'm enjoying the process right now and that's always a key thing.

Other than DJ Khaled, what other producers inspire you as you're on this learning journey?

For me, one of the biggest things, while DJ Khaled is really stand out, but I really enjoy Swizz Beatz, and in Jamaica, Rvssian is one of those guys that really inspire me. But DJ Khaled for me is the high energy. There's different vibes, he's a DJ also, and I'm that type of person. I actually like doing a little bit of DJ-ing. I'm the type of person, if I go to a club, when I have a good time, I'll go on the mic and try to build the vibes of the club. So for me, that's why I'm so inspired by DJ Khaled and I want to be a version of him, just in dancehall, or just, you never know, it might be bigger.

One thing that my friends and I are always debating is what the greatest dancehall riddim is of all time. So what does Usain Bolt think the greatest, even if it's one of your favorites.

"Anger Management," easy. For me, it's "Anger Management." For me, if we're hanging out sometimes and we freestyle songs, I think "Anger Management" goes with almost every song. You can almost sing a lot of different songs on "Anger Management" riddim, so that's my favorite riddim of all times.

Like I mentioned, with your previous work, and you've worked with a lot of dancehall artists already, are there other artists that you want to work with in the future, especially ones that are popping right now?

For me, I just trust the process. Nothing comes always fine. We're just trying to make good music. I know a lot of artists right now, they don't trust me fully, so I'm just giving it time. Most of the guys that I work with is guys who I have relationship with already or I know for years or who would really trust me, but I want to work with the two kings of dancehall pretty much, and that's Beenie and Bounty. That's two person that I look forward to producing in the future, because I really feel like they did a lot for dancehall, and that's somebody that I'm looking forward to working with.

You've talked a lot about the energy that you're trying to create with this album in particular, what do you want fans to feel when they listen to it?

To see the diversity. As I said, it's just all different forms of different songs about everything, partying, about life, about death, it's just everything, there's dancing, so we just trying to show the range and what I'm capable of. So I just want people to really listen and understand that I'm really serious about producing music. So for me, this is what the album means to me, is me putting myself out there to let people critique me and let me know, give me a feedback, give me a vibe about how they feel about the album and the energy and what they think, because I'm okay with critiques.

If they say, "He needs more of this, he needs more that," I can better myself. So I'm just excited to put the album on there, I think we did a great job making sure it was quality music and we put the energy in it, so we see what happens. So I'm looking forward to September the 3rd.

Obviously, on this project and your previous riddims, you're taking a more behind the scenes approach to it. Is there ever going to be a point where we're going to hear you on the mic?

Again, it's just going to be like a DJ Khaled vibe. I drop in, say a few lines, say a few things, but... You have to know your limit. I'm not a singer-DJ type of guy, but I can bring a vibe and that's what I'm going to do. That's why I'm going to step back and let artists do what they do because I know I can produce good music. I know what I like and I think I know what other people like as well, that's why we're making music.

Of all the songs in the album, I think you mentioned that you had a favorite, but let's say if you had a top three.

People love "Fire" and "It's A Party." And there's a girl song that me and NJ always laugh about and it's called "Timing." I said I think people are going to like it, but we'll see what happens. So for me, those are my three that I really like.

Actually the title of the project, obviously I know it, it makes reference to your upbringing, of both you and NJ, so just talk to me a little bit more about that. And then also, you mentioned growing up with the music that you listened to as a kid, so a little bit more about that too.

So when we were growing up, we're from the country, but when we came to Kingston, we moved into a neighborhood that was upscale, uptown type of vibe. I wouldn't say they didn't like us, but we didn't get the energy and the vibe that we expected. We're nice people, we're very chilled, so that's how we really came up with a country yute vibes. We were like "Yo, we're country yutes and we live and sleep and we'll always be country."

So that's how we decided to name the album Country Yutes, because we just want to make people know that's where we from. And we made a song that's called 'Living The Dream.' For me, that spoke on what we've been through and making people know that you can make it no matter what you do. Just work hard no matter where you're from, just work hard, and that's how Country Yutes came about, again, and that's why we decided to name the album Country Yutes.

I know you said how you want people to feel, but what else is the takeaway that you want people to take from this album?

There's not much I can say, because as I said, we made this album to just prove to people that we're serious about music. We put a lot of work into it, the effort, to make sure it was good quality so people can judge us. And we're just showing people that, yo, we're here to stay and we're going to continue making good music. And all I got say is support the album, show it some love. Respect.

Well, that was all the questions I had, so I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, and like I said, I'm excited for everyone to hear the album, and as we start going outside more and more, it'll start to hit a little different for us.

Definitely. For sure.

Usain Bolt on switching focus from the track to the dance floor