Heaven is inside of you

Please don’t let them lie to you

Religion will blind you, too

—Maj3sty, “Babylon Burn”

Last summer, the musician and entrepreneur Maj3sty dropped a new single, “Last Trumpet,” which blends reggae and R&B into a gentle warning of the end of the world.

Released via his music company, Dan Fashion Entertainment, the song is nearing 36,000 plays on Spotify, where it is his second-most-popular song after the equally lilting and premonitory “Babylon Burn.” Both singles, along with several others he has made since 2019, will be on his first album, slated for September 30.

Then, last fall, he put the debut line from his new clothing company on sale. Tri Fit USA focuses especially but not exclusively on large sizes. The sweatshirts and pants sport clean black-and-white designs and proclaim messages like “Faith Over Fear” or “Kupatikana Tayari,” which means “be found ready” in Swahili. The one-man company has global aims, with warehouse space in Europe as well as closer to home in Raleigh. Mid-2022 should bring its first shoe line. Intended to be luxurious yet affordable, the sneakers are partly inspired their designer’s memories of being teased for his size 18 Shaqs as a kid.

At age 28, he stands 6 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 235 pounds, and looks every bit the former athlete and personal trainer that he is. On a first impression, you might peg him as someone who has breezed through life on a tailwind of luck, popularity, and existential confidence. But with Maj3sty, whose soft-spoken, hypnotically steady eloquence reveals a highly introspective nature, things are always more than they appear.    

Take Tri Fit USA. Its slogan, “a brand with a message,” and its logo, a cross, make it seem like a Christian company. But after seeking his way through several organized religions, Maj3sty jettisoned them all, entering into a more direct, personal rapport with God that imbued his music and fashion with a new sense of purpose.

His message is the bittersweet yield of a promising life story turned off course again and again—by physical injuries, mental health crises, medical misdiagnoses, drug abuse, and baroque misfortune—before it reached this unsuspected destination at the crossroads of worldly work and otherworldly faith. It’s a story that revivifies stock clichés about what it means for an artist to have a voice, to have dreams. It all happened something like this.

Maj3sty was born Nathaniel Jaree Dãn Salama Peterkin-Adon. A Christian minister visiting Pinehurst had told his mother, also a minister, that she would have a special son who would do great things, and he would be called New Son of Peace: “Dãn.” In a mix of Arabic and Nigerian languages, his full name means God’s Gift, God Wins, New Son of Peace, Rock of Stone, Lord.

“Later, I was like, I can’t be out here saying all these names as an artist,” he says, in a long conversation conducted by video chat, phone, and email over several weeks. “But I could break them down to Maj3sty. I put the ‘3’ in just because of stuff I grew up with about the father, the son, and the holy spirit, even though my beliefs differ.”   

During his school years in Charlotte, Rockingham, and Southern Pines, he was “a big nerd with big glasses, getting picked on a lot” who hid in Harry Potter books and feared speaking out. He was tall long before he was big and strong. His parents urged him into confidence-building school activities like basketball, which led him to join his high school team, and congressional speech and debate, which carried him off to rhetorical competitions at distant universities like Harvard and George Mason.

“It was like one of those classic high school movies where the jock falls in love with stuff that is not jock-like,” he says. “I started excelling more at speech and debate than I ever did in basketball.”

Anyway, his secret wish had always been to play football. He even furtively made his middle school team, he says, but hadn’t asked his parents for permission and didn’t get it. But one day in his senior year, the football coach chased him down in the schoolyard. “Hey, big guy, lemme talk to you! Man, you got some good size, how old are you?”

Learning of the parental ban on football, the coach said he’d call them. Maj3sty had doubts, but when he got home, they said yes. Unfortunately, his patellar tendon said no. He tore it in a basketball scrimmage and missed the whole year of football. Still, he’d practiced enough to be invited to observe practices at North Carolina Central University. He enrolled there in 2011 and excelled academically, as a freshman, but never got around to football. By the next school year, he was gone.

At NCCU, where he rapped under names like Lyric and Chief Ali, he also started partying a lot, as newly loosed young folks will do, and got “mixed up with the wrong crowd,” he says. “A big wave of angel dust had come through the area, and the stuff in my circles was laced. I thought I was smoking straight ganja.”

This was the start of a downward spiral that lasted for four years. After flunking out in 2013, he dealt weed until he lost his apartment in 2014. He lived in his car for more than eight months, still using drugs, until one fateful day in 2015.

Maj3sty isn’t sure exactly why the police approached him.

“I think,” he says, “it probably has to do with a large African American male wandering around in the summertime with a big coat on and an aggressive-looking dog, and I think the area of Chapel Hill I was in was predominantly Caucasian.”

But the interaction wasn’t aggressive on either side. The officers asked if he was OK; he said he was not, and they took him to the UNC hospital. There, he says, he signed forms he didn’t understand and was moved to the psychiatric ward. He couldn’t remember his parents’ phone number for several days, and later, he wasn’t allowed to check himself out.

He was hospitalized for almost a month before his mother came and took him home to Pinehurst, with a new diagnosis of schizophrenia and a raft of prescriptions. He found he couldn’t hold down a job. Counting parts in a machine shop, he would fall asleep on his feet. He gained enough weight to have hypertension and arthritis. But he still carried the belief that he had to play football for his family’s sake, and he started forcing himself to train through his depression.

“I didn’t want to be who they said I was,” he says, meaning everyone who thought he was weak, or sick, or a failure; everyone who’d wronged him, or whom he’d wronged. “Over time, something clicked, and the music became a part of it.”

He worked out early in the morning, before his family awoke, listening to Bob Marley “to mellow out the sadness of the whole experience.” (He couldn’t have guessed that, in just a few years, he would be opening for Julian Marley in South Carolina.) He returned to Durham in 2017, newly muscled and running a 4.2 on the 40-yard dash. “I was solid,” he says. “I was good.”

He re-enrolled at NCCU in 2018 and graduated with an English degree in 2020, which he has used to teach in public schools. But once again, football was not to be. He says he got clearance to play from the NCAA, but a paperwork mishap slammed his chance shut. Determined, he decided to go out for a developmental league.

First, he needed a checkup. He’d been having seizures and blackouts after a change in his medication. But he discovered that his doctor, who’d made the change, had left without notice.

“There’s this new guy sitting there,” Maj3sty remembers. “He looked at me, typed in his computer, looked at me again, and said, ‘I can tell you right now, you don’t have schizophrenia.’ He said I needed to go off the medications immediately.”

This was both validating and frightening. He had long felt that something in his treatment was not right. “I had doubted the diagnosis, but then I started to believe it, I guess just because of my childhood,” he says. “I was abused a lot. I was molested by two women as a teen. But I started getting suspicious when I was having the seizures because I never had them before. I was holding back tears, like, maybe he’s tripping. But what if he’s telling the truth?”

Soon, his schizophrenia diagnosis was replaced by a new one: posttraumatic stress disorder dating back to his childhood. Off his meds, he started feeling better. For a while, stressful situations or flashing lights could still trigger his seizures, but they receded with time and self-care. He hasn’t had one in a year now.

“I had to eat that loss of four years of my life, and I have to forgive those people and let it go,” he says, in the tone of voice of someone conclusively shutting a book. “If I allow that to make me angry every day, I don’t get my life back, and they win.”

“I’m gonna have to eat this,” Maj3sty thought, one day in 2018, as he floored his failing brakes (they were later recalled) and his Ford sedan plowed into the back of the stopped Chevy work van. His hood crumpled, and his head cracked a star in his windshield. Dazed, he got out of the car, crawled into the back seat, and drank from a gallon of water. He stumbled across Durham’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway to check on the other driver, who was also banged up but intact. But when the ambulances and police cars arrived in a blur of flashing lights, Maj3sty’s knees buckled.

It was a week after he’d gone off his meds and one week before he’d step onto a Raleigh field in 100-degree weather for the semipro football tryouts.

“About halfway in, I understood I was probably not going to be able to play football,” he says. “My feet feel like quicksand, my head is spinning, everything is going up and down like it’s on a seesaw.” Still, he finished the day.

When football was gone, music remained. “At first, my parents were kind of half-in, half-out of the music thing,” he says. “They said I still needed a Plan B. I was like, ‘I keep having Plan Bs, and life doesn’t work out for me. This time, I wanna go with a Plan A.’”

Plan A revealed its promise when “Babylon Burn” caught on in Nigeria through radio play in 2019. “Oh, Jah showed I the time’s near / Oh, God showed me the time’s near / Oh Lord, the fire’s here,” Maj3sty sings. “Last Trumpet” has the same tenderly apocalyptic flavor: “There will be a time on this Earth that you’ve never seen before / I do this for the ones that I love and all that I adore.”

“I was hesitant about putting out ‘Babylon Burn,’ because I didn’t understand the words I was writing and how biblically sound it was until my family started to relay it to me,” he says. “It was a little eerie.” He recorded the song in a darkened studio, watching the beat ripple in the air like a wave.

Seeing music as shapes and colors is called synesthesia. Maj3sty often hears in red and green; a purple aura would presage his seizures.

These experiences seem like surface manifestations of the numinous perception that stands in such distinct contrast to Maj3sty’s calm, lucid presence. He’s one of those rare liminal people who are uniquely attuned to the thin places between this world and others. He’s been told that when he was very young, riding through the country in a car, he would tap on the window and say, “I see slaves in the field!” His songs come from the powerful dreams he’s always had. Steeped in his ancestral heritage—Jamaican, Bantu, Native American—these dreams whisper obscure yet insistent prophecies in a voice he feels is not his own.

He tried to drown it out in his hedonistic days, but when the medication quieted it, he missed it. A part of him felt missing.

“I don’t want to say the dreams got ‘worse’ around the time of my breakdown, because the dreams aren’t bad. They made me me,” he says. “But they got more intense. That’s what led them to believe I was schizophrenic. When I got out, my mom asked what the voice was telling me. It was always saying something positive, but I knew it was outside of me, so I questioned it, and it scared me and made me think I was crazy. She said, ‘No, son, that’s the voice of God.’”

Who or what was God, though? He hadn’t found the answer in Christianity, or Islam, or Rastafarianism, which he dove into in 2016 and then gave up, along with marijuana, in 2018, the year he took the Nazarite vow of godly devotion, purity, and abstention. He started singing more than rapping and purged sex, violence, and materialism from his music.

In 2020, he renounced religious labels altogether, as if the external codes of conduct became vestigial once he hewed them into an internal code all his own.

“It doesn’t mean I’m frowning on religion,” he explains. “I was reaffirming that I’ve done enough self-exploration trying to belong to something, and I came to the conclusion that I don’t belong to anything except God. I know my music is meant to be on a bigger platform than I may be comfortable with or feel worthy of. I’m not doing it because of a belief I have. I’m doing it because of something I believe the Most High is telling me, and this scares me to my core.”

Maj3sty’s music and fashion are a direct conduit from his dreams to the wider world, amplifying the secret signals of his divine charge.

“Walk in righteousness and purpose, wear righteousness, but give yourself grace when you fail,” he sums. “At the end of your life on earth, that should put you in good standing so that you are found ready, even if you call it the universe and not God. I’ve been given more than one chance to understand that life can be short, and you have to be righteous urgently.”

For a message that made him question his sanity, it sounds patently sane. Whether or not we believe in the afterlife, our deeds will outlast us. Whether or not we believe in a final arbiter, our peers and the future will judge us. And whether or not we believe in the rapture, these days, we all might recognize the growing intuition that time is running out. Kupatikana tayari.

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