Q+A: Busy Signal + Lower Manhattan Dancehall Society

September 24, 2008

First, read Eddie "Stats" Houghton's Busy Signal cover story from FADER Number 56, then come back here and read the full transcript of the interview from that story, which will give you a peek into the complex mind of the artist and also an idea of how to transcribe Jamaican patois. Busy's album Loaded just came out yesterday—buy it—but he couldn't make it (no visa) to tonight's inaugural Lower Manhattan Dancehall Society at Santos' Party House to celebrate. Still, we're guessing his tunes will get plenty of play at the new weekly, which just so happens to be co-hosted by Stats, along with Max Glazer, Queen Majesty, Weed Kalogne, Scratch Famous, DJ Gravy and Selector JD. Make the jump for the interview!

It seemed like after your first big run as a new artist, with “Step Out” and “Not Goin Down” you got quiet for a second and then came back strong recently. At least that’s how it looks like from the New York side, is that really the case?

Nah man, we never quiet, we always be voicing songs. You have some people nowadays; them choose fi listen to the stupidness or the negativity or the so called feud or the so called, you know, water-down lyric. Water-down dancehall; tracing, quarreling type of thing. I’m not into that. I was still voicing songs but the songs I was voicing at those times nobody did interested. Yuh know everything have a time, so nobody wasn’t into that at that time but I was still doin it, still doin it, my thing. Cause I know what is real from what is fake or, or what it just a whole myth or water down shit, I’m not into. So I was still voicing but people took time out to listen to other people instead. So I just didn’t give a fuck, really. I was just doin my thing cause I know what I’m doing IS the shit. Musically it’s the real shit, people could relate to stuff…

Are there songs from that period that producers weren’t trying to put out, that you held back til now?

Yuh know, some a dem. Some producers was even scared to put it out because at the time nobody really…people was just interested in the feud and the war war war, yuh know, so I just ease back in the studio, voicing different songs. Rather than just jump onto any riddim out there and just voice anything and jump inna war and I just chill inna de studio and make different singles, inna different type of message. I just do that until it get the listening, get the right timing. Right timing comes around and then, Boom.

Do you usually write quick and put the song out, to be out there quick, or…

Depends on the mood. Sometime we do shit quick, some time we take TIME; depend on the mood or the concept, yuh know and what’s the mood at that particular time. But differently, for instance, “These are the Days”—that wasn’t just a one day shit. “In a Badman Place” with me and Mavado that was a one couple-minutes shit but I mean “These are the Days” wasn’t a one day, quick thing. It took me like a couple days, me an Daseca them. I tell Daseca the sounds I want to hear, the sounds I want to play around my vocals. So different moods an different times, based on the concepts.

I know when you started you did some of your own production, are you still involved in making the beats you write to?

Definitely. I always love to do…I mean I’m not a professional musician, I don’t make riddims professionally but sometimes I have little ideas, I put it towards the musician and bring it to life and bring it to light. But I personally played stuff sometime like even I got this thing called the Freestyle riddim, “Cool Baby” ? I made that like, I personally made that. You know that’s one instrument. SSMG put it together on the drum machine and everything but I personally (taps on the table to demonstrate) made that with my hands, the keyboard an everything. (Mostly) I leave it up the professionals but I still bring my ideas to them, still bring the whole thing to life.

That’s funny because that riddim really stands out from the pack…

Oh, yeah. Even David Rodigan call me yesterday from London an say hear me now, he’s never heard something like that. Yesterday was his birthday, he was just comin from California, doing his thirty-supm anniversary with Rory from Stone Love. Rory made Stone Love, so it was like two elders in the music havin a debate over that riddim!

Who was on what side of the debate?

I think Rory was like, No, no, a never ‘im mek dat. And Rodigan was like, Yeh him make that. I mean I wouldn’t lie bout no part a my talent, its just a joy an a blessing to touch the right key and swing it the right way, you know.

A friend of mine called that riddim ‘minimal dancehall’ because it has such a different sound.

Cause its just one instrument, so (as a deejay) yuh get space to say what you want…

Are you going to push more for that minimal sound?

I always try to do that, that minimal type a sound. This track on my LP wit me an Bounty Killer; I organize that one: minimal thing. Think it was a bassline alone, like a couple snares come in like each 4 bars, minimal. I always involve myself in some type a instrument an whoever out there—fans or reg’lar juveniles or school people whoever—please learn to play an instrument. Please learn to do something with music cause music is life. I see what music do for me and what it lift me from…music is not a downfall for me. I don’t involve in the water-down, tracing type a cussin vibe in my type a work, yunno. Music is not a letdown for me, so I don’t see why I should be trying to let down somebody else. What I can, I basically do to uplift somebody. Even if it’s a gal song, a gal can enjoy herself bout it, and can whine up and sweat, work out inna gym, feel the vibe and energy to go on. Water down, feud, ABC shit, everyday shit, man a talk shit? Repeating mad styles an’ flows…I’m not interested in that weak shit.

The reason I ask is because that track is so different, you can almost tell it was made by an MC.

Ok, yeh. It give you space fi create, or give you space to do new things. You know Busy Signal from long time; if you listen through my young days—not sayin I’m mature now in a special, big way but I’m lickle more mature than then—but if you listen from then til now you will hear I always try to create new stuff. I never repeat flow or try to capitalize on my own flow that’s already a hit. I remember when I had “Step Out” people come to me an say, Yow, mek one name “Run Out”, mek one “Jump Out”…keep that trend going an capitalize on one thing. I was like nuh, mon. I prefer to do a new thing.

You seem to go more for concept lyrics or story-driven things as opposed to a call and response or freestyles…

Definitely. Just to have a catchy hook an a nursery rhyme, it probably have a vibe for a little bit then fade out. When you have a concept people can relate to, all the days of them life…! I mean like “These are the Days” man—not bein cocky or nuttin, but as long as you don’t dead, you gonna see that day that yuh living. People can relate to that, gravitate to that; airport, police, politics, government situation, the way the system set among the youths, job cut, minimum wage…these are the days.

What about “Unknown Number” ?

I was jokin around when I did that, look at my phone an saw ‘unknown.’ I say, Unknown pon me phone yo, Jah know…then in like split of a second, I say shit this could be a song. I call Demarco, Demarco bring the keyboard and the drum machine…

It seems like it’s designed to be the perfect ring tone.

Ha! Definitely, I didn’t remember thinking about it that deep, probably I think about it now, because the riddim complement the words also. The phrase Demarco play on that song dun nuh nuh is even perfect for a ringtone, that little sound, cause its not like it’s a big bass an thing.

Tell me about “Nah Go a Jail Again”

Well, that’s a next concept, plus a upliftment, telling the youths or whoever been there, Yo, uplift yuhself man. Take a different step towards betterment an ambition. Whoever have sense know dat you nuh wan’ involve in nothing whey ago send you back…unless it’s stand up for justice an sometime that get twine up with the law. I don’t even visit that place again, cause that was a true experience for me, it wasn’t just a song. I been there, its no joke thing, I see what people do there. It’s not pretty, jailhouse. You an adult and haffi get up when somebody say, eat when somebody bring food. If your situation is a get-out situation yuh sposed to know, hear me now: never again. Never again, mon. Jailhouse is not the tings for human beings. An harsher jails around the world! Third world an different type a countries where you don’t wan see the community, much less the jail!

So was this a recent experience?

No, way before I was an artist. I was young at the time, in the States. I get caught up with street life an street issues an some of the things whe a come with the streets as a youth, yunno…

Where in the States?

Different places…New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Florida…Connecticut, Hartford for a while. Just things whe caught up, you young an people press yuh button and you have people who probably lead you astray. At the time I wasn’t wise enough but at the same time everything happen for a reason so I wouldn’t even change shit, yunno, cause that made me come to Jamaica and do music. After that I took music seriously , when I was in the States; no music thing, not seriously. Streets plus money yunno, Go get that paper…an I would do certain things to get the paper but at the end of the day, I mean, the more time you fall, you rise.

Because I think in NY, when you came back with “Jail”, people took that as the reason you kinda disappeared after “Step Out.”

Oh they read it like dat? No, it was back then before I start doin music, it wasn’t that I go to jail now, get out an sing ‘nah go a jail again’. It was written, I was just waiting to record it. Just memories, I heard the riddim—with Jam2 and Stephen (McGregor), both a them play the instrument—and that’s the first thing that came to mind.

So what kind of stuff are you recording for new the album?

I just did a tune with Marcia Griffiths, one with Albarosie from Italy. I have this thing pending with Jr. Gong, some tings with de gangster Mavado…me still do me gunman thing, me still do certain gal tunes same way, its just more of a music and a song—makin that masterpiece type a thing, that longevity type a thing. I’m more into that now, than to just jump pon a riddim BRRRT and then you don’t hear it next week.

What about the production, lately it seems more about exclusives than juggling riddims…will the album be mostly in-house production from Shane Brown?

No, I still got producers, young producers and really established producers. I work with Don Corleone, Stephen, Daseca, Demarco, lemme see now, dis yout’ name Columbian, he produced that thing “Don’t Make it Slip Out”—it’s a girl tune I did for him. I just did it the other day, I didn’t get it back as yet but I think its gonn be a juggling. I do jugglin sometimes cause that a Jamaican history; dancehall, everyone tryin to do their best on the same riddim. I don’t always follow that. At some point in my career I like to stand out with some exclusive, stand up firm like, This is a riddim and song combine; one thing, one bond. Yuh nah go hear somebody else pon that riddim.

I know you started out with Renaissance—is that link still there?

Renaissance don’t really put out a riddim that often any more. They were the first set a people who really bring me in a studio, a professional studio, just to get fi see what its like, so I have to give thanks fi dat an thing, but Dr. Dre an Jazzy T don’t put out the riddims that fast no more.

What about Daseca, are you still working closely with them?

Yeh, I work with Daseca, most like with Dave from Daseca, more on exclusives cause they hardly make jugglins. Serani talented an everything but he’s an artist now an Bugle is with Daseca so its like a whole other time invest in them…but when them have time me still work with them, pick out what I want, show them my ideas an everything.

It seems like with the Alliance, is everybody kind of doing their own thing these days?

Alliance firm. Solid. Alliance is just Alliance. It never move, never water down, never break away, never depart. Alliance, but at the same time we are all individual artists cause it’s not a group…Bounty Killer voice his song, I voice my song, Bling Dawg voice his song, Mavado voice his song. But at the end of the day, whenever ready we ago collaborate. At the same time, in the street Alliance is Alliance, so if yuh see me alone; I’m Alliance, yuh see Bounty Killer alone, he’s Alliance. Marshall, Bling, Mavado, we all alliance but den now when you see all five Alliance giants its like a movement yunno? Mon, it mad.

It is pretty crazy—if you were to make a short-list of the artists who have really changed the sound of dancehall recently; you, Daseca, Mavado

…still it woulda end up to dat! Yeh. Bounty Killer, me have to give respect up to Killer, he have a thing for pickin out talent and uniting talent, got that gift, give thanks. Not everybody can see longevity, the urge and yearnin and zeal in a young artist, Bounty Killer could see that so its just a portion a blessing when it come to Alliance.

Is there an Alliance LP in the works?

Yeh, its just the timing. I don’t think there’s a timin set but we do songs, tracks together, it’s definitely gonna happen.

Is there an overall strategy or master-plan for the Alliance? Like first Mavado’s LP gets the push, then yours, etc?

It’s not that, but…my LP I’m workin now but I still do songs towards Alliance. We just stock songs ca’ you know Jamaicans; we just do music everyday. When I get up, music. Sundays to Sundays, music. I know by the sweat of your brow you eat. Me wan build a museum an me no wan no museum built after me dead. We wan do these things before man, so if death come, Whatever. I want to see all these things so…cyaan give up the fight, keep drilling.

How do you see dancehall fitting into the music world right now?

Dancehall is really getting a very big exposure worldwide but dancehall is getting fight locally in Jamaica an that’s a shame yunno, that’s a fockin shame. We make dancehall, its been created in Jamaica—merengue, ska, reggae, everything—so we can enjoy weself. Sometimes lickle bad vibes gwan but you can just lock off dancehall, lock off the music enjoyment. Locally dancehall is getting a big fight, you have some people somewhere in the world trying to fight dancehall but locally, it’s getting the biggest fight.

In terms of radio play?

In terms of radio play, in terms of the system say ‘don’t play dat song, don’t play song with bleeps’—dancehall never been no squeaky clean thing. There’s never been no squeaky clean sheet a songs. Dancehall is raw. Raw, uncut, adult entertainment, most dancehall songs.

Are the dancehalls themselves actually being shut down?

A lot. An these are the things which bring frustration to the youth, it bring a lot of… nothing to do. The youth just sit dung more time ca’ why? Me say they should get interested in music, some sort. Music is life and when you try to lock off life, people a go dead. The system and the people them…read through dat shit: music is life an if you try lock off life, you gonna have dead people. Bodies layin there all over man, cause you lockin off life.

Since I’ve been in Kingston I’ve been hearing some people say that the problem with the music industry is the direction this generation has taken dancehall, the gun talk and the whole Jamaican rap vibe, less about ‘do the dance’ and juggling riddims…

Well, hear whappen now…toward the topic of guns, yuh cannot blame dancehall for guns. We didn’t make guns. An’ if you talking about music an entertainment you have to go towards the movies. What about all those shows that sell the box office, Rambo, Kill Bill an a lotta blood spill…you cyaan blame dancehall for this worldwide shit. Nobody in Jamaica never make no glock, it nuh we make nine, it nuh we make Smith & Wesson or Thompson or none of dem things. We see them on TV man, see them in movies, see them on police wais’es. Cyaan blame dancehall and songs, very stupid…tryin to hide whatever they do an blamin it on music. Nobody would sing about a gun if they never seen one, it would never be. If you get up everyday and see some goat or some cow that’s all you would sing ‘bout.

It’s true, the guns are obviously coming from outside Jamaica…

The real guns not comin from Jamaica, nowhere here. Gunshot nah have no boundary, til somebody dead. Dancehall stand blameless; don’t introduce guns to the world, world wouldn’t sing about guns. I never see nobody song kill nobody yet. People just take up a bagga negatives an then try an blame dancehall, yunno. Me a say I know I cyaan change the world but I could start somewhere…there’s a whole bunch of other things to focus on than lickle dancehall whey we play to enjoy weself. You cyaan blame music for nobody fuckery.

So when you address these things in your music, are you speaking to the ghetto or are you addressing yourself to the whole world?

I feel like I make music for everybody but I still got to highlight where I came from, yunno. St. Ann, Standpipe, Tivoli Garden, yuh see’t? We see things in the garrison an the ghetto. We see things—we see political warfare, this man live in a lane cyaan go over that lane because is a different party territory. Election time, gunshot fire, people dead. We sing about those because we see those things in front of our eyes. Sometime we are very lucky to be alive, I give thanks because we go through so much shit, yout’ an yout’ in Jamaica really go through a lot, so we try fi shine a light, to turn people away from it. Sometime we do gunman songs, yeah, biggin up an just trying to make a person stand firm in whatever field them in, but right now we haffi defen’ weself. When it comes to a third world place like Jamaica its like a different thing. It’s not a rich country, there’s no job, especially for people that’s from a certain address, so we grow an we see all these different type a abuse from the system, the way it set up and we get frustrated, man. Frustrated. Some people flip out when them frustrated some people try humbly, some people try to hold it but at the same time your cup coulda full. We’re all human beings, I’m not saying anybody should go out there and do anything senseless or without no reason, but if you have reason to defend yourself, do so. An nuh let no man harm you, yunno. Harm no man an let no man harm you, type a thing, I’m more on that side of the field right now.

Do you feel like those pressures and conditions you’re talking about are tighter at this moment than in the past?

Yeh, mon! It’s stress, day to day stress, everywhere. People cyaan get no jobs but they get all the bills. What are you gonna do? You got kids, you got a wife or a babymother or a girlfriend or you have a family or people dats sick, lookin up to you to take care a them, what are you gonna do in that particular? When you put yourself in that shoe, what you gonna do when you on that side of the fence, people is looking up to you and you don’t have it. What are you gonna do? Try to get jobs but no jobs is there where you live. You can’t get a job, living at that address, cause people don’t want certain parts of the ghetto working in their institute. Then again not everybody here have a good education…nuff brilliant people here, nuff talent, lotta bright students but not everybody could afford education. Lack of education breeds violence. No money is there to pay that school fee, no money is there to even feed yourself or your kids. What are you gonna do? You see that store over there is packed with goods an you live across the street. That store is right there in ya eyes an you cant buy nothing from it, somebody’s dying at the house from hunger, what are you gonna do, mon. The shit is tempting, and it’s stressing. Not everybody could hold that.

So is music as an outlet really helping that situation?

Music is opportunity for people like me. I wasn’t an A student, didn’t go to college, my mother couldn’t afford all that. But music give me the chance to buy a bread yunno, feed my family an everything…even help who me can help, stretch my hand out to others when it’s needed. So I cannot be a person that’s endorsing locking off dancehall and blaming dancehall…no! Free up the dancehall. Invest in dancehall. Highlight it, try to bring it towards the world, give it a wider exposure than what it is now. It give a lot of people opportunity to make something of themselves, yunno. If you check dancehall history, majority; 99 percent of dancehall artists is ghetto, garrison, poor people who make something of themselves. Probably like half percent or one percent is some people from uptown that got talent, that could do the thing. People used to deh pon the road, remember Fabby Dolly? He was somebody who would just sell cigarette on the road, he was a street man. Ninja man; Ninja Man learned to read and write the first time he go to jail, comin out a the garrison. Bob Marley from St. Ann, go Trenchtown, to the best thing ever in Jamaica reggae music.

It seems like Sean Paul and Damian Marley opened a door for dancehall internationally, but no one else has managed to go through…

A wide door. Not since Sean Paul, no other Jamaican artist have ever went that far. I’m hoping to be there soon. I know Mavado want to be there soon. I know Bounty Killer want to be there—anybody with ambition in dancehall and that internal push and vision to bring dancehall across the world. We get a lot of fight but we could do that. Bring up the media and the leaders of the country together, bring all the head dem and talk about how we can uplift some of this talent here. Even dancers get visas to go to different countries just by dancing. You cannot dance to gunshots. You cannot dance to politics. Cannot dance to election. Politicians, I see you put guns in a the youth them hand, when the rally keeping an the voting and election, people is dying from that. Never seen that in dancehall. Bounty Killer and Beenie Man is the longest-ever feud an musical battling, enemies back from ever, from ninety-few til now, an Bounty’s still alive and Beenie Man is still alive. A lot of the different side of elections is not alive, because of the party them vote for or because of the color them wear.

So what’s the message you want to leave people with, when they read this?

Done the violence. We wan’ cut that out. We wan’ put things on a level where we can reason. Maybe it would never come, but I’m still sayin it. Bring the message, I’m feelin like that. Have some bother with somebody, we can reason, yuh see me? After a couple ‘suck ya mudda’ or a couple ‘rae tae tae’ comes the gunshot, comes death. We nah haffi make it reach deh so. Sometime we can reason, say; don’t over-dweet nothing.

Posted: September 24, 2008
Q+A: Busy Signal + Lower Manhattan Dancehall Society