Reggae rescued J Boog.
It helped the Samoan American singer survive a childhood in rough-and-tumble Compton.
It gave him a shot at a career as a professional musician.
And it snagged Boog a seat at the upcoming 59th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony. He and his bandmates will be sitting in the audience Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles when the winner for best reggae album is announced; his EP “Rose Petals” is competing against albums by Ziggy Marley, Rebelution and SOJA, among others.
“We’re just honored to be in the category with heavy hitters like that,” Boog, 33, said. “We’re happy. We’re jumping out of our bodies right now.”
Boog can trace his love of reggae back to the granddaddy of the genre, Bob Marley.
“(Reggae) was the main thing that played on our stereo growing up. … It was the perfect music to turn up and not have our parents get mad at us,” said Boog, whose real name is Jerry Afemata. (His six siblings nicknamed him “Boog” – short for “Boogie” – for his inability to sit still as a boy.)
“We related to it as kids – growing up in the ghetto and knowing that it was a rainbow at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
But Boog didn’t develop a deeper connection to reggae until the day his sister brought home a Bob Marley songbook and played “Jammin’ ” on the piano.
“I was like, ‘You can’t do that!’ She just shocked the heck out of me,” recalled Boog, who started singing along. “From that day, a light switch turned on in my head, and it’s been on ever since.”
About a decade ago, while on vacation from his job at an oil refinery near Los Angeles, Boog traveled to Hawaii and met island reggae legend George “Fiji” Veikoso. The two collaborated on Boog’s debut album, “Hear Me Roar,” released in 2007.
“The transition to become a traveling musician was pretty tough. It wasn’t as easy as a lot of people think it is,” acknowledged Boog, although he was somewhat accustomed to the grind.
“Working in the refinery, doing 12-hour shifts seven days a week … I got used to that work ethic. It stayed with me” playing late-night gigs at broken-down bars, he said. (He now divides his time between California and Oahu, Hawaii, where his backup group, The Hot Rain Band, is based.)
For Boog’s follow-up album, he teamed up with Roy “Gramps” Morgan of Jamaican reggae band Morgan Heritage, which won a Grammy Award for best reggae album in 2016. (Boog is touring with Gramps’ son, Jemere Morgan, and another member of reggae royalty, Stephen Marley’s son Joseph “Jo Mersa” Marley.) Featuring the songs “Let’s Do It Again” and “Sunshine Girl,” 2011’s “Back Yard Boogie” features guest appearances by the likes of Morgan Heritage frontman Peter “Peetah” Morgan, Tarrus Riley and Million Stylez.
2016 saw the release of two critically acclaimed efforts: “Rose Petals,” which came out that March, and the full-length album “Wash House Ting,” which hit store shelves in November. News of Boog’s first Grammy nomination arrived in December.
“That was like a bonus on everything else that was happening that year,” Boog said. “It was crazy. It was an amazing feeling.”
Boog said the sound of “Wash House Ting” – the album takes its name from the Wash House Music Group record label – reflects the spectrum of sounds he and his bandmates have encountered on the road. Tracks range from the soulful (“Brighter Days,” “Don’t Worry”) to the sensual (“I Got You,” “Let Me Love You,” “Rose Petals”) to the sociopolitical (“Lock It Off,” “Vex Me”), with a meditative ode to marijuana, “Blaze It for Days,” thrown in for good measure.
“This album was about every genre we could think of that felt good,” Boog explained. As a result, “Wash House Ting” features a veritable rainbow of reggae styles tinged with R&B, rock and ska, plus collaborations with artists including Aaradhna, Chaka Demus, Gappy Ranks and Tenelle.
“We do have some hip hop feels here and there,” acknowledged Boog, who considers late G-funk great Nate Dogg his favorite singer. “We’re still working on it, still mixing the pot.”
Asked what inspires his music, Boog said, “We don’t really have a mindset of what we’re going to write about until we get into the studio (and see) how the beats are coming out, how we’re feeling that day. … It just flows out of us.”
What often emerges is a sunny attitude. That’s nothing new for Boog, who has always preached the power of positivity with an emphasis on “clean and uplifting” lyrics.
“Whatever feels good to us, we know that we’ll spread it to the people,” he said. “Positivity, love, unity, getting over some crazyass hump – we try to give back to the people what music gave to us.”