The Maestro Speaks On The State of Reggae Today, The Real Buju Banton, and His Own Musical Legacy

For me, it started with Full Attention. Hugh Beresford Hammond’s first album for V.P. Records began with a drum roll and a saxophone tendril that laid the foundation for the textured tenor to plead his case with a lady who didn’t seem to know he was alive. It was full-on lovers rock reggae with R&B and soul sensibilities made by a man who dreamt of crooning like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. The music was accessible—at least more so than the Sugar Minott, Burning Spear, and Culture records that spun in my New Jersey home on Sunday mornings over cornmeal porridge. Beres may not have had any honorific titles laid onto him, like the Crown Prince of Reggae, but for my money he’s every bit as legendary as any of the greats that came before him.

You can start with his voice, which is as strong as it is soulful and soothing. When he belts out a tune, even when his grainy vocals are pushed to the limits, it feels effortless. The voice works with the music to emphasize the words, always telling a story about real people, inflecting meaning where there previously was none.  Hammond sings like he’s wrenching the emotion from each word. My mother once told me one of her favorite songs was “Ain’t That Loving You” by Alton Ellis until she heard Beres sing it. On the other hand you can start with his songwriting. The best Beres Hammond songs distill relatable situations and feelings into clever, meaningful couplets wrapped in sticky melodies.

Relevancy is a tough coin to spin for a lot of artists, but throughout his thirty-year career Beres has managed to glide his distinctive voice through the dancehall revolution, partnering with wicked up-and-comers like Buju Banton. In high school, when all my friends were blasting Sean Paul’s Alton remix, I was hanging tough with “Who Say.” Hammond has lasted while maintaining his trademarked effortless cool. That’s why it was such a thrill to speak with him about his latest album One Love, One Life. To me, he’s like the reggae version of Jay-Z—so it’s fitting that he’ll be performing with The Roots tonight on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and that he’ll take the stage tomorrow night at Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets. Sure, many great artists have come before him, but to paraphrase Hov: No one’s been this good for this long, or this pop or this hot, with so many different styles. For that reason, Beres Hammond will continue to have my full attention. Interview After The Jump… Read more »