The First Voice Heard on Kendrick Lamar’s New Album Is An Old-School Jamaican Legend
When Kendrick Lamar’s eagerly anticipated album To Pimp A Butterfly dropped unexpectedly last weekend, it was streamed 9.6 million times the first day alone, breaking the record for the most streams per day in Spotify history. The first voice all those listeners heard, above the delightful sound of crakling vinyl, was Boris Gardiner singing the phrase “Every Nigger Is A Star” over and over to open the song “Wesley’s Theory,” which kicks off K.Dot’s hip-hop masterpiece. But who is Boris Gardiner? Like so many other Jamaican musical innovators, his work is much better known than his name. Let’s rectify that situation right now. Video After The Jump…
Boris Gardiner got his start in showbiz in 1960 with the Jamaican band The Rhythm Aces. He played bass along with Jackie Mittoo on many Studio One classics, including Larry Marshall’s “Nanny Goat” and Marcia Griffiths “Feel Like Jumping,” creating the riddim that provided the template for Super Cat’s smash hit “Boops.” As a result, Gardner was indirectly responsible for another hip-hop classic, BDP’s “The Bridge Is Over” which adapted the “Boops” riddim inna rough and rugged Bronx stylee. As a studio musicians, Gardiner also played numerous sessions for Scratch Perry, including Junior Murvin’s immortal “Police and Thieves”—and the list goes on.
By the time “Boops” was dominating the JA charts, the next phase of Gardiner’s music career was well underway. His romantic reggae ballad “I Want To Wake Up With You” topped the British pop charts for five consecutive weeks in 1986. He had already enjoyed international success with curiosities like “Elizabethan Reggae,” which hit the UK pop charts in 1970 (although it was at first mistakenly credited to Byron Lee, the song’s producer).
“Every Nigger Is a Star” was the title track for an ill-fated Blaxploitation film starring Calvin Lockhart, who appeared with Bill Cosby in Let’s Do It Again, the film that inspired Biggie Smalls’ nickname. This apparent attempt to reclaim and recontextualize the hateful racial slur—as the hip-hop generation has done with mixed results—was an unmitigated flop. The original soundtrack album is a rarity, and if the movie ever came out, IMDB doesn’t know about it. The lushly orchestrated title track, however, is alive and well—having inspired a well-known reggae version by Big Youth, a major interpolation one of Super Cat’s signature tunes, and now, of course, on Kendrick’s opus. During a recent interview with Wayne Lawrence on Run Thinge Entertainment, Boris sang the tune live in the studio. Although the interview was done recently, it’s not clear whether he was aware that he was about to appear on the biggest rap album of the year (so far). Hold tight Mr. Gardiner: some nice checks should be on the way—just ask Assassin.
The Boris Gardiner Original
The Big Youth Version aka “Natty Cultural Dread”
The Wild Apache Adaptation
K.Dot Samples The Tune
Full Boris Gardiner Interview on RTE
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