By Dasun Allah
The sparse, infectious piano chords of Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” are now internationally known from coast to coast and currently dwelling in the top third of the Hip Hop/R&B charts. According to Billboard, there hasn’t been an underground Reggae artist that has stirred up this much buzz since 2003’s “No Letting Go” by Wayne Wonder. The music industry trade journal has dubbed the song as “alternative Reggae,” and in that description, they do not differ too much from the thoughts of the artist. Gyptian sees himself as part of a new generation of artists creating not just reggae, but a new sound comprising all of the elements that formed the Reggae aesthetic.
Gyptian is not an artist to be easily categorized and boxed. “Music has no boundaries, has no limits,” he says. “You can’t really explain music, just talk good things about it.”
He’s too cultural to be hardcore dancehall yet his lyrical subject matter expands beyond roots into various branches and fruits. He has described himself as the Reggae version of Soul. “Music, as I would say, lives at nobody’s home,” explains Gyptian. “It lives in your heart, so wherever you go, you have to bring your heart if you’re not dead, so that’s music. It’s a part of people, it’s a part of life, it’s a part of livity.”
With this perspective, Gyptian has aligned himself with a long-standing tradition within the realm of Reggae music. Though he may be of a new generation, the evolution of his sound is a continuum of a history of cross-pollination of R&B and Reggae sensibilities. “You can’t just speak about the tree,” observes Gyptian. “You got to talk about the root, the stem, the fruit, how you grow it.”
In the case of Reggae, during its evolution from the Ska and Rocksteady movements, traditional African elements as well as Jazz, Reggae was strongly influenced by Rhythm & Blues and the Soul music that paralleled its development. The vocal arrangements on early Wailers songs such as “Simmer Down” and “One Cup of Coffee” bear witness to this R&B influence, as well as the publicity images of Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh, who in the mid-60’s were visually fashioned after African-American Doo-Wop groups.
The fusion continued to be evident in songs such as Stevie Wonder’s 1980 hit “Master Blaster,” a song inspired by Marley, with whom Wonder had been touring. By the ’90s, the intermingling could be found the Maxi Priest/Shabba Ranks collaboration “Housecall” or even Ranks’ own remix of “Mr. Loverman” or Supercat’s “Dolly My Baby,” which featured an early appearance from Mary J. Blige and The Notorious B.I.G.
Reggae songs that find the biggest mainstream stateside success include the traditional Roots, Rock, Reggae of Bob Marley, the cross-over pop of UB40 or No Doubt or the dancefloor appeal of Sean Paul (with the exception of a couple of hardcore tunes such as Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” or Buju Banton’s “Driver A”) are songs anchored in R&B. Luscious listening pleasures such as the aforementioned “No Letting Go” and “Turn Me On” by Kevin Lyttle, along with recent hits such as “No Games” by Serani. Ne-Yo’s hit “Miss Independent” provided the backing track for Vybz Kartel’s hit “Rampin Shop.”
This is the realm of Gyptian, the so-called “sing-jay” school of dancehall—a spicy sweet blend of singer and deejay—roots and culture that has intertwined the traditions of R&B and Reggae. The R&B feel to “Hold Yuh” is most certainly what has led to its relentless radio rotation. Produced by Ricky Blaze, a Brooklyn-based youth who also voiced a tough tune on the riddim, “Hold Yuh” entered the Hip Hop/R&B charts at No. 78 at the end of March, 2010 and reached as high as No. 33. The song even inspired a remix by Young Money’s own Nicki Minaj. There has been a path of R&B/Reggae synergy that cleared the way for Gyptian’s ascent. Even his entrée into music was a passing down from prior generations. “It’s like an in-born thing,” says Gyptian of his artistic roots. “My mom is a singer. My dad run a sound system, so I mean it occupied both ears at the same time, in the church and in the dancehall.”
GYPTIAN INNA DANCEHALL: “SERIOUS TIMES” Live at Fully Loaded 2005
History lessons and musical etymology aside, for Gyptian it all comes down basic truths. “Once you bring a good music, people will come and gravitate to it,” says Gyptian. “True music, once you hear it, you want to hear it again.”
Follow Dasun Allah on Twitter: @DX21Dasun