Throwback Q&A with The Prophet • New York City 2000 A.D.

I had been listening to Capleton for years before I got the chance to interview him at Def Jam Records offices on Varick Street in Manhattan. He sat smoking beedies and a spliff with his manager Stuart Brown a.k.a. African Star in the record label conference room. Capleton’s first album for Def Jam, Prophecy, consisted of pretty much straight hardcore tracks from Jamaica, although the new one, I Testament, was a bit more “smooved out” shall we say, showing more influence from label A&Rs. But King Shango’s mental state was the same irresistible force it has ever been. He was named after a well-known local barrister, the lawyer Capleton, and the DJ’s reasoning is always forceful, like a prosecutor giving the closing argument on the biggest case of his life. Interview After The Jump…Lead Photograph © David Corio

“I was once lost but now I’m found,” confessed Capleton in his 1994 anthem “Dis the Trinity.” Since beginning his quest for redemption, Capleton has helped lead the recent return to roots-and-culture lyrics in the dancehall. Through blistering selections like “Tour,” and “Chalice,” the 28-year-old Kingstonian (nicknamed after a prominent Jamaican attorney for his argumentative skills) has made the sacred name of “Selassie I” his signature.

“When me look pon certain tings inna the music fraternity, it did really haffi urge I & I and certain other youth to come uplift the righteousness and motivate it and endorse it,” he explained that day. “Even for the benefit of I & I black sisters and black breddas.”

When he was just starting in the business, he wasn’t above bragging on his “Long John” or chatting about girls’ “Bumbo Red.” As late as ’93, gun tunes tunes like “Bad So” threatened to “shot out a man marrow.” But the “natural mystic” Marley once sang of was blowin’ through the air. Just over two years ago Capleton entered his “covenant.” He adopted the moniker of Prophet, embraced Rastafari, and undertook a musical mission to “uplift righteousness.”

Cynics may suggest that his conversing is about capitalizing on a trend than with genuine spiritual growth, but anyone who’s seen former rude boys praising God in the dance cannot deny the veteran DJ’s accomplishments. Since his world debut at an African Star dance in the late ’80s, Capleton has always been a true original, spitting out rapid-fire syllables in an infinite variety of melodies and styles. But for the last two years, he’s been at a creative peak, his music exploding with righteous indignation. This phase of his career is distilled on his first U.S. album, Prophecy (Def Jam) bursting with state-of-the-art riddims and three hip hop remixes from Atlanta’s dangerous Dynamik Duo.

It was the Duo’s “Tour” remix that introduced Capleton to stateside ears last year. Then they concocted a sureshot Otis Redding beat to help bust “Wings of the Morning,” a duet with Method Man. What B-boys will make of Capleton’s “Selassie I” shouts remains to be seen, but for those who sleep, his prognosis is grim:  “Jah shall execute judgment and justice and none shall escape.” But despite all the fire and brimstone, the prophet swears he’s no preacher. “I and I no come fi push nothin’ down nobody throat. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

At what point in your life did Rasta become such an important force?

Well, from really ancient system, all black man and black woman are really Rasta still—you know me a say? But ah really two years ago, when I start go inna covenant, and stop partake of certain things. Certain things that we used to eat, we no eat them no more, certain things weh me used to talk, me no talk them no more. Certain songs we used to sing, you know me a say…

You no touch that again.

And true me know say over the years I & I as a nation and a people, them no really teach I & I nuttin’ bout I & I black self. You know I mean? Them give we European philosophy. Seen?

So I & I and some other youths a try emerge now, we ask certain question and we ask fi certain things. We need we Ethiopian curriculum, we need the black man thing. We need to know about weself. Becaw the prophet Marcus Garvey did show we say, A nation without no knowledge of them own history is like a tree without a root.

You mention Marcus Garvey in that tune “Dis the Trinity.”

Actually, that tune deh really set the trend. If you notice, even in the intro, me ah say, “I was once lost but now I’m found. The light of the world is Selassie I.”

And the trinity consists of?

Emperor Haile Selassie I, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and Emmanuel, which mean, “God with us,” yunno. Becaw Jah say him ago create man inna him own likeness and in him own image. So we’d have to look to Jah as a man like weself. That ah one thing weh cause controversy with all the church people dem—becaw them a look fe a spirit God. And them a look for a God to come from sky an’ dem ting deh. Well dem ting deh nah really work.

But I & I no come to push nothing down no one throat. “None but ourselves can free our minds.” His Majesty say that too. Bob Marley come sing it. Most people no know say most of the things dem weh Bob sing ah speeches of His Majesty. That’s how Bob able to conceive the work and have the people them pon a level. So the mystic is just natural still.

How was the experience working with Method Man?

Well, it’s cool yunno. Yeah. Glorify the works too, as a rap artist say, yunno, upliftment of black people. And me say King Selassie I, yunno me a say? Bring a different hip hop fi de youth dem. Caw we know nuff youth listen Method and from me hear that, even the young kids, you know say we glorify fi dat. That’s why I say, Any means, any means necessary. You know I mean? Yeah mon. Progressive. Yunno?

And signing to Def Jam, um… is not a really matter of signing. Caw you see I & I is some youth weh, material tings is… no come nuttin to I & I becaw I & I know say material is the destruction of the soul. So right now, you haffi know how you deal with that.

Signing to Def Jam, is signing because for the benefit of I & I black sisters and black brothers, to get the benefit, upliftment, to get the message pon a wider scale. You know me ah say? Yeah mon.

So we give thanks for the whole works and glorify said speed. Because it’s just works and chant and manifestation, yunno. And Jah ordain that, because what is to be have to be. People a wonder how the movement take the world by a storm, but it’s just natural. Caw Jah say him call upon the youth them, caw the youth them strong. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings him ordain strength. Yeah mon.

So you think there is hope in this new generation of young people?

Yeah mon, definitely mon. Caw the whole of the youth them a sight up the light. And that ah one of the main thing weh we glorify still to see, to see the youth dem seek of themself and them heritage and them culture as a nation and a people. It’s really the youths yunno. Becaw I & I foreparents minds was poisoned to certain things still.

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And you play a role in their enlightenment…

Yeah mon, definitely, yunno. But no man can save no man still. Every tub haffi sit down pon dem own bottom. But the countenance of one brighten another still. Urge a man to go seek when him hear a next man a try uplift him black thing.

That’s why we say, Anyone who come try oppose the works is judgement. Seen? Because right now them need to commend the youth dem on the positive vibe they are portraying. Yeah mon, anyone who come try oppose that in judgment. Right now I & I just endorse the works.

And you say a man mustn’t try to oppose reggae music?

Oppose the works of a next man. If him a try uplift him race and him nation and him people dem. Know me ah say? Any black man or any black woman who come try oppose the works and take counsel is like another traitor and a sellout to them own heritage and culture.

Let me ask you a question as a white man of European heritage. When you say uplift the black thing…. Do you feel like there is a contribution that all different races can make?

Yeah mon, definitely. Ah just each one haffi just seek Jah and know Him and know who is the real man. Caw Jah is for everyone. When I & I even mention certain things of I & I race, I & I heritage or culture, is not being prejudiced nor racial, but history and prophesy I & I witness. See the levels? The truth is the truth, and you can’t get out of the truth. So the only conqueror for the truth is more truth.

African Star: Jesus came as a Jew. And he led Israel as a Jew. As God—in that time. In this time, you have to know who is God. They’re still saying it’s Jesus. Jesus was. And when he left the earth he said “I will come with a New Name.” Jah Rastafari.

Capleton: And we even want to straighten out that too. Jah say when you call upon Him name, your mother and your father forsake you. Your friends become your enemy. Your woman no waan deal with you no more. See the levels? All right, if you call upon Jesus in your house, then what? Everybody is with you. But from you say “Rasta” and “King Selassie I” them throw you out, and them waan dump you. Well we analyze from this and say, Rastafari are the truth.

From the start of your career, you always maintained a totally original style.

Every man haffi go hold him own authentic ting. Most place in the world me go them say “Bwoy, Garnet gone and Bob gone, ah you now Capleton.” But me show dem say, Bob could only be Bob, and Bob could only do Bob work. Garnet ah Garnet, Garnet could only do Garnet work. Capleton haffi do Capleton work. So a man haffi be careful how dem a try perpetrate a next man work. Most man a bandwaggonist ting dem a deal with too yunno. But people ago see and know the real authentic thing and know who really a come from them heart not from them lip.

When did you first get involved in the music?

Is an inborn conception, yunno, from youth days: beating pans on the streetside, punching riddims in the jukebox, and, you know I mean? Everything happenin’ in the area, like something go down and I would build lyrics offa it. Long long long long before I ever hold a mike.

Who were the ruling deejays when you were coming up?

We never really have no leading deejays. The whole a de youth dem… Super Cat did a gwan with a ting deh, and Early B, but every man did pon a level, noone no really lead over no man—away from Brigadier as the teacher for everyone.

At what time did your partnership with African Star come together?

Whoa, way back yunno—from ’bout ’85, ’86. Yeah becaw African Star have a sound system that used to base in Canada, and then he left from Canada come to Jamaica about ’85, ’86. And from dem time deh we get link up. And I get my first flight ’89 to Toronto I went to perform with NinjaMan and Flourgon. Dem time deh Ninjaman and Flourgon a king. Right? And dem time deh nobody know nothing about Capleton, and Capleton get fly to foreign.

African Star: Not even a special…

Capleton: Not even a special man ah do fe a sound. Not even a special. And when I went to perform the response that I get from the crowd was great. People dem a wonder, a who dis likkle youth and where him come from—you know I mean? And NinjaMan and Flourgon was supposed to be a star and Capleton end up the star.

You stole their thunder.

You see the levels. But after I went to perform with him in Canada, Ninjaman steal one of my lyrics yunno.

What?

You know “Long fi release?” and “Gal Give Me Piece”?

Of course. That’s classic Ninja.

Those lyrics was Capleton lyrics. And that did really kinda have me off key a way, but after a while, me say Cho, me are de real authentic man and him just tief a lickle thing. The lyrics him take we never have them lyrics as no recording lyrics, we just have them lyrics as some lickle commercial lyrics me woulda talk in dance.

Still that’s got to hurt.

But we just gwan hold the faith and we never bow inna de system. Caw Jah say, “Humbleth thou thyself and thou shall be exalted. He who exalteth himself shall be abased. And only the meek shall inherit the earth.” And we come see we father King Selassie as the richest man pon the face of the earth and him are de humblest man. See the levels? A see we see yunno. A natural mystic again, me a show you bout His Majesty, ah so him work. Yeah mon.

So when I went back home now, I got hook up with Xterminator. That’s when me voice my first single, which was “BB Red.” Then I link up with African Star pon the recording thing, and me only record certain tune. Long time them have we pon a guideline. We give thanks for the strength said speed.

The African Star label has a distinctive sound; the riddims are different.

African Star: Different. Yeah mon, every one a meditation. We play the funde as well and we play the bass drum as well, the one drop. So most of the things that are inside the riddim track, they’re all natural.

So this is some foundation sounds you’re putting together at African Star. What other artists are you associated with?

Capleton: We have a couple youths in the African Star camp. Military Man and Determine and African and a couple more youth, yunno, Granty Roots and… Basically ah just the upliftment of the race dem youth yah a deal with yunno. Most of the youth dem pass through we yard, yunno. Everyone love to come down, caw the vibes natural. From Baby Wayne, Roundhead, the whole of them youth deh down the line. Amongst I & I them come come hold a vibes, yunno. 
Come gain a strength.

So you have lyrical powers of rejuvenation?

Jah say players of instruments and musicians, all my springs are in thee. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with Jah, and the word was Jah—so we know say word is the power. Them say word is wind, but we know say word have power. Seen? Caw you can tell a man something out of the way and lose your life. See the levels? So we know say word have power, yunno? Yeah mon, so just natural.

And you have a lyric that says “music is a mission…”

Not a competition. Well, how them music deh really come about, ah no music ting yunno. But the controversial with the artists and artists. Seen? Man a try fight gainst dem who wicked from who wickeder and who bad from who badder, and you know me a say? Artist a try put down artist on stage, and man ah come fi kill man, like it’s a killing thing.

Year before last, I was at a big show and never get to perform due to the verbal controversy with man pon stage, know I mean? Right away from desso, the tune come to me.

From the controversy between Bounty Killer and…

And Beenie Man, yeah, at Sting. And if you ever see a mystic that go through, about three days after Sting, I was voicing some specials for African Star. And I was working with Bounty, and Beenie walk into the studio. And by this time, Beenie waan participate in it with me.

You’re doing a combination…?

Yeah mon, combination, seen. And it’s like, Beenie run in. And after Beenie run in now and, him give it to Bounty, and Bounty give it to me back now, and de music me ah sing, “Music is a mission not a competition.”

And it cause a vibe all inna the studio. Is a mystic they couldn’t belive, the whole studio mash up, everybody excited, caw me sing “Bounty Killer must be Bush and Beenie must be Saddam…”

…But you no see no gulf or no Vietnam.

You see the levels? The whole studio pop up, man, dem can’t believe me would call their name with them right there.

So the three artists’ voice went on one record?

Yeah mon, a dat me a tell you, Rasta. An African Star special. Him alone play dat. [laughter]

Cause I never heard all three of those artists combine on anything.

African Star: That’s a warning yunno.

Capleton: Is a mystic happen. A dat me ah show you say, everything that happen, a just Jah ordain that fi happen.

You see, most of them talk Capleton pattern yunno. And even talk Capleton lyrics. Seen? Most people will listen people will hear. You have fi notice, seen, from dem time deh. And I show you say, I & I is a youth weh hold him own authentic ting. No one no write for Capleton. Everything come out of Capleton ah just natural.

You’ve given us plenty of brain food for thought. Is there anything that I have neglected to ask about that you wish to share with the public?

Well, Ah just basically Rasta, yunno. Caw right now we a say, from Twelve Tribe, Bobo, Orthodox. Right now we a say Rasta is a oneness, and right now we can’t take the misconception and the misillusion. Becaw the youth them are worried and a wonder what’s going down. We don’t want our Rasta thing look like it’s a religion. Rasta is a tradition—seen? Like with church thing, everybody supposed to ah worship the same God, and still City Mission no like Anglican, Anglican no like Baptist, Baptist no like Methodist, Methodist no like Seventh Days. No. Rasta thing is a oneness, and Jah said “Israel come together.”

So right now we can’t afford for certain things reach Rasta inna de judgement yunno. Caw Babylon say dem have a committe, and working and finding new methods of inciting black against each other, encouraging murder among themselves. So right now we can’t afford for certain tings to reach within Rasta. So man a know say just a unity thing. In the organization you have certain man who control certain thing still. But basically every man a say Rastafari and King Selassie I, and reparation, equal rights and justice, liberation, upliftment of the black race—you know I mean?

And I want them know say, you see right now we haffi know weself as black people. See true I & I have the power of the land still. Becaw them invent bomb and gun and certain tings fi kill I & I, and find out say right now no matter what we try we can’t kill black people, caw black are the dominancy of the land. Caw Becaw we start certain things pon the river Nile, civilization, first dynasty, long before AD and BC and dem ting deh. See me a say?

So right now, them plan to kill out I & I through… No, them plan to stop I & I from have youth through fertility destruction and fertility destroyer. Yeah mon, seen? And them a say them plan to smuggle the drugs through the drinks booze, which is the liquor, and through the food. Go through the channels of blackness to reduce the population. So right now we haffi wise and know weh we a eat. So when we a say Rasta no partake of certain things. So when me say Rasta, is like, Rasta is life.

Tell us about I Testament, your second album for Def Jam. What was the evolution from Prophecy?

It’s just the same vibe, you know, the same upliftment of the race in terms of heritage and culture. Righteousness, Rastafari, repatriation—it’s the same vibe, just a different version. We have a little flavor collaboration, hip hop, a little R&B with the foundation of the thing which is the roots, the reasoning.

You have some man who say who uplift whatever they want to uplift, caw some say them “eat them food so.” They have to come degrade the women and have to bust them guns and them ting. Let them know that life is not all about sex and money and violence, and material. We have great elements, we have try to talk to the people. I want to talk about faithfulness and endurance and clean heart and clear conscience and firm meditation. I see righteousness as a drastic step above the ‘slackness. Right now, the people accept it in the four corners of the earth. And the little youth who tries to get his break in the music business, do so with righteousness, so we glorify that.

On the new album I was listening to a few of the songs and the one that jumped out was ‘From the East Coast to the West Coast.” Tell me about the itation behind that one.

As you know ‘they’ speak of power and strength and unity, but they disregard love and love is the key to all growth because everything generate from love, so love we promote, that we want the most.

What is the best thing, to you, about being an artist signed to an international label?

The best thing, to me, is being able to get the message across, on a wider scale, to the youth. I did a show in San Francisco last Saturday and ninety-five percent of the crowd was white people, and it was very exciting—people were jumping, and they knew the songs word for word. So I have to glorify that still. If they know ‘Jah’, by any means necessary we have to get the message across.

It’s not really a ‘boom, boom, boom’ and just dance, you have to listen to the words. That you can’t rush when you hear the ‘boom, boom’ and just jump up and dance. The words have the power, so you have to hear what the message is so that you have more insight. Certain men will speak of certain things and you wouldn’t understand what is destroying you or what is uplifting you because we are the people who support the record the same way. Some artists come and they degrade women on a derogative level, they dis them, they put them down, still this is the same women they come into the dance and jump up and “skin out” and “bruk out” and bawl for, because they don’t listen. Now if they were paying attention, they would find out that these men really put them down.

Is there any down side for you being on a big label? You’ve said the best thing, what is the worst thing?

We no too focus pon the negative still.

That’s a fair answer, you don’t want to put more energy into that. So you’re mostly satisfied with the way Def Jam is working with you?

Well, the promotion could have been on a higher level.

I’ve heard that from many reggae artists. Too many. So the first single off the album is going to be “Hurts my Heart”?

“Hurts my Heart” is a on a different level. Most medley just go from song to song. But this one it’s like a theme, because most of these songs are making a statement. It’s all about, it hurts my heart because I told them “Alms House” and they still carry on, and I tell them “Music is a Mission” and they still carry on, and I said “Musical War.” I tell them long time and they don’t really hear, so it hurts my heart. It’s like you’re reading a book. It’s all about creativity and versatility. Every body wonders how I created a thing like that, each song title from my career is making a statement.

I notice that Big Youth was on one of the tracks.

As you know, everything generates from the root. The branch and the stem and the limb and the leaves, survive form the root. Without the root, nothing can happen. It was cool working with Big Youth, mon.

Any message for the hip hop massive?

Not really, but they have to generate a unity amongst themselves and send forth the rightness, because a lot of people listen to hip hop. That means literally, that you are the man with the handle, and the people them get the blade. So rapping, give them the righteousness and generate a unity, because you have to live with so many people. If the whole of America say from the East coast to the West coast, everyone unite, literally the whole America will do it because the music is the power. Music is the natural source of life, like all man eat food and drink water.

Some of the things that happen hurt my heart too. In hip hop, we went through a bad time a few years ago with big artists like Biggie and Tupac getting murdered.

We all have to accept our responsibility, but these guys saying, “Boy, that’s the way they eat their food,” but if you check it, they’ve been eating their food for a very long while. So the ball is in our court.

And don’t feel that we are powerless to change these things.

As you know I & I has been born since beginning of civilization, they’ve been the kings and the queen and the princes and the princesses of the earth. But most men no longer see themselves as kings, or princes, they see themselves as punks and TKsand the women no longer see themselves as princesses nor queens, they see themselves as harlots and concubines, and Babylon glorify that because that’s the way they want them to live. So I have to refrain from that and endorse the royalty.

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