King Yellowman’s reign just won’t let up. In the 80s, he made a massive impact on dancehall that became responsible for the very sound we know and love today. His track record for album releases are more than consistent and his high energy, onstage presence has heralded him a top performer. Now, Reggae Anthology: Yellowman’s Young, Gifted & Yellow, a double CD/DVD anthology of his work, is culminating some of Yellowman’s best songs and performances. Interview After The Jump…
Comprising 40 crucial tracks (including some unreleased remastered ones), the double-CD anthology Young, Gifted & Yellow also includes a 25-minute DVD of Yellowman performing at Sunsplash circa ’88 as well as liner notes written by reggae historian, Noel Hawkes. In our exclusive Boomshots chat with the King himself, he speaks on how he got his start, what he really things of the other King of the Dancehall, and what keeps him going after three decades in the dancehall business. Check it out below.
I saw a video of you doing your thing in Brixton a few weeks ago. So much energy! It looked like you were running a marathon on the stage.
Did I look like Usain Bolt?
Everything was great. It was fun watching you working on a sound system again.
Right. It’s more original, you know?
Yeah, and it was great seeing you with so many big stars on stage like U-Roy and Briggy. When you were coming up as a youth, you must have been listening to some of those artists. I mean, U-Roy is like the father of the whole thing.
Yeah mon, yeah mon. Definitely. U-Roy is the father—the leader and the ruler of the dancehall. If it wasn’t for U-Roy, you wouldn’t have Yellowman or Shaggy or Shabba. You wouldn’t have Bounty Killer or General Trees.
What about Brigadier? He’s a very influential artist too.
Oh yeah mon! Also Briggy. Brigadier’s in the mix.
He didn’t make as many records as you did but he did his thing live for so many years.
Right, right. There was a Rasta thing with Briggy. Deejays, they never used to do a lot of recording because Briggy is part of Twelve Tribes, you know?
So he preferred to do his Rasta thing?
What made you so focused on recording? You must have released more albums than any other dancehall artist. What made you focus on that so much?
I’ve got so many things to say as King Bob Marley said. I think music is our ticket. Music is joy. And then there’s the people— especially young people. I’ve got to do my thing man and I’m not gonna stop. I’ve got a lot of new records that haven’t even been released yet.
Last one I remember was “Orphan,” the song you did with Dave Kelly a few years ago. Who are you working with now?
I put out a new one last year called King A Talk. The video and everything is on YouTube.
Speaking of Kings, wasn’t there a little debate about who is the real dancehall king between you and Beenie Man?
Yeah, he is that way because he’s a guy that’s not grateful. He’s like the devil.
Wow. Why do you say that?
Because the devil is jealous of God because God created this world and created what’s in it. Beenie’s like the devil because he’s jealous. He’s the one saying he’s king—it’s not the people saying it. That’s over now. People know he’s not what he is, you know? He’s a fraud.
When did you first take that title of King? I remember a lot of albums came out with the name ‘King Yellowman.’
The 80s. Like 1984.
Yellowman and Volcano Hi Power Live in Brixton 2013
You’re also the first dancehall artist to make a record with an American rap star, right? You made a song with Run-DMC.
Run DMC, right. And Afrika Bambaataa.
Oh, you did one with Afrika Bambaataa too? I didn’t know that. Did you actually meet him for that session?
Yeah, we worked together. Me and Run-DMC did the song together also.
Tell me about Bambaataa because I’ve always heard he was a real music head. Bam was one of the deepest selectors in hip-hop.
He was straight street and down-to-earth. Ghetto, street guy. You know? He grew up rough, in a rough neighborhood, just like me.
Was it harder for you growing up in a rough neighborhood with your complexion like it was? Did that make it harder for you?
Right. Very hard, very hard. Even now, I face a lot of tribulation.
Yeah, even now. There’s a lot of discrimination and prejudice against me in this music business.
Really? With all the work you’ve put in, you’re still facing that?
Why? What kind of problems are you encountering?
I think because of my complexion.
For a while it was very popular to bleach your skin.
That was because of Vybz Kartel but he’s in jail now.
But like, what do they do? They won’t let you record? What happens?
They turned me out—a lot of producers and a lot of record companies. They discredited me. VP showed me respect though.
I would think any producer would want to work with you. What about Junjo? You made some big hits with Junjo.
Junjo is alright. He’s the guy known for all the hits. He’s the one with all the Yellowman hits.
When you did that “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng” where did that melody come from? So many people have used that melody, from Super Cat to Biggie and beyond. Where did you get that melody from? That ‘dundadundadundundun.’
Probably from the campaigns. The campaigns in Jamaica from the 70s, 80s. It was an elections melody and I turned it into a song. I put the ‘zungguzungguguzungguzeng’ on it.
Yellowman “Zunguzungguguzunguzeng” (1983)
What was the original song called?
It was just words. It wasn’t song.
Do you remember what the words were? What was the slogan before?
It was just like, “You shouldn’t trouble Mr. Manley Bwoy.” That’s what they used to say. And I made it “Zunguzungguguzunguzeng” and then you have guys like KRS-One and all those others who sampled it.
Yep, yep. That was a very influential style that you gave the world. So how did you meet Junjo? If producers weren’t trying to work with you, how did you make the link with Junjo?
Well, Junjo is a street guy like me. He grew up in the ghetto. It was easy for me. After one of my concerts, Junjo sent a guy to me and told me that Junjo wanted to record songs with me.
So he was one of the first to come to you then?
Right. Junjo sent the guy to me. When I went with the guy to meet Junjo, I saw this guy sitting on the sidewalk so I passed him and then the guy I was with said “No, this is Junjo.” He was sitting on the sidewalk like a rude boy, like a gangster. It was easy for me because we hit that bat so quick. He was a ghetto guy, I was a ghetto guy. The both of us were poor people who didn’t have anything but music. He had the talent for producing and I had the talent for music. It was very easy, you know? That’s why I was with Junjo for so long.
Did you two go to the studio first or did you work in the dance first with Volcano High Power?
No, I was with sound system first and then I went to this talent concert called Tastee. I used to go to this studio where they turned me out, where they ran me out. They basically used me. So I did that concert and I did good. People were going around talking about this albino guy who sounded so great. It reached Junjo and he was the one who reached out and said he wanted to record me. It was good.
Yellowman Live at Reggae Sunsplash (1988)
Wasn’t Beenie in this same Tastee contest as you?
He’s a liar. He wasn’t [in it]. That’s how people know he was lying—they even started telling their kids that he was a liar. He isn’t the original Beenie Man. The original Beenie Man is in England. How he combined that name, there’s a producer named Bunny Lee, I don’t know if you know of him.
He produced an album with the original Beenie Man who is in England right now. Bunny Lee took this cover art, the picture of the guy, and put it on the album and called it Beenie Man. That’s how he got that name. He keeps going around disrespecting other artists. He’s disrespected the Marley family, he disrespect Shaggy and Sean Paul. He disrespects everybody.
There’s a song on your Greatest Hits that I really want to ask about. It’s called “Eventide Fire.” Now that was based on a true story, right?
How do you know the story of the Eventide Fire?
I was there. I experienced it. That was one of the government institutions where I was living.
So you were living there as an orphan?
Right. At first I was at another home and then I moved to Alpha Boys School.
Ah yes, the famous music school.
Right. I went from Alpha Boys School to Eventide Home. It was a home where everybody gave up on you, then they put you in that home.
OK… So that was a last resort kind of thing?
Right. It was my talent that got me out of Eventide.
How did the fire start?
It was all politics, all politics. It was during the elections and both parties were burning down a lot of places. It was politics.
And a lot of people died, didn’t they?
Yeah, too much.
How did you survive? How did you get out?
It was the women’s section that burned first. I got out before they released the men’s section because I was watching it through my window. I saw it, you know?
I bet you never forget something like that.
No, I can’t. I really want to and I can’t. That’s the reason I made the song, to let people know what was going on.
And that story probably wasn’t even in the newspaper, like the truth wasn’t even being told.
Yeah, it was all politics. There was a lot of corruption that was passed by. To this day, people know [about it] because of that song.
Did singing about that get you in trouble?
No. The reason it didn’t get me in trouble is because I didn’t call a party’s name. I called none of their names, I just did the song.
Yellowman “Eventide Fire” (1984)
Those are survival skills right there. To be able to tell your story and still be safe, right?
True. It’s like me doing a song about Iraq or all those people who died in Iraq or Afghanistan but wouldn;t call a name. I wouldn’t say it happened because of America or because of Saddam Hussein. I don’t call names.
On that dance in Brixton with Volcano and Stur Gav, it looked like at the end of the night Cocoa Tea wasn’t very happy. What happened there?
He told me that the PA wasn’t right. Me I don’t worry about the PA system. I worry about the fans. I’m an entertainer—onstage offstage. I am for the people. Because even at the end of the dance, I get off stage I go and mingle with the people, sign autographs, I take picture with them and everything. That’s me, that’s me. You know? I don’t worry about those things. That’s the reason why the people love me apart from the music. Because even though they would book me in a shitty hotel I don’t worry about. it I don’t need no limousine. I don’t need first-class ticket. I just need to entertain the people. Everything come after that.
The people are more important to me than the promoters. I would do my thing and satisfy the people. That’s the reason why I am still doing it up to now. Generation after generation they’re still coming to me and listening to me. They still coming to my show. I remember a guy come to me backstage with his brother and he says, “Do you remember me?” and I said No. And he took out a picture, I got a little baby in my hands. And he said, “That’s me holding in your hand. That’s me.” That blew me away. That give me more power and give strength to do what I’m doing..
It keep me strong. Even when I have the skin cancer I overcome it. I stay firm. All the bad things that happen to me throughout my life, throughout my career, that is strength for me. All those things make me move on and keep me pushing, you know? And all those things make me understand life and understand what life have to offer. Life have to offer good and bad, but the great thing is expectation. I expect everything that life offer—good and bad. So all those bad things make me understand life. Sometimes when people come up to me and say bad things, I don’t get upset. Because I know what life have to offer. Sometimes, even people post a lot of bad things on my website. And then the same people turn around and they apologize cause they say they come to my concert and they enjoy my concert. Yeah, so they have to apologize. And I forgive them because greater thing happen to Almighty God than me. And he still forgive them. Because He is the great one. He could just wave his hand and everybody gone, And he didn’t . He didn’t. So I take all those things for strength. You know…
That’s the reason why I don’t look like an old man. I always look young. Maybe that is my feature—onstage, offstage I will always have that energy and power. All these energy and power was hand down to me by God. It is natural. No drugs. Nothing. No smoke. Alcohol. Natural. No Viagra, No Cialis. No Five Hour. Nothing. Just natural.
I won’t stop. I will do it in this life and the next life cause this is what I made for—nothing else. Nuff respect.