Assassin Talks “Theory of Reggaetivity”: “Roots Proponents See Me as a Baldhead Rasta”

Agent Sasco Links Protoje & Chronixx, Returns To The Roots

Yesterday Assassin aka Agent Sasco released Theory of Reggaetivity, his first album in over 10 years. The 14-song set shot straight toward the highest regions of the iTunes reggae chart, landing just below Bob Marley’s Legend, which is appropriate for the dancehall DJ’s first all-reggae project, which he describes as “my musical study of the principles of reggae music.” Conceived in Europe and recorded between Los Angeles, New York, and Kingston, JA, Theory of Reggaetivity features production by the likes of Sting International, Chimney Records, Silly Walks Discotek, Diggy British (aka Protoje), Niko Browne, The Drum Keyz, Theo Butler, MLMG, Sound Cheq, and W. Thompson. We first heard this gravelly-voiced lyricist ripping up the Diwali Riddim and trading bars with Spragga Benz and Vybz Kartel back in the early 2000s. More recently he’s become hip hop’s best kept secret weapon [LINK], making guest appearances on massive albums by Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. Boomshots caught up with him the night after Kendrick featured his voice in a live performance on the Grammy Awards broadcast, and chatted about why he decided the time was right to make this decisive move forward to the roots of Jamaican music. Interview After the Jump…

That was a nice Kendrick set last night on the Grammys.

Yeah, that was something. That was wicked.

Did you know he was going to use your voice like that?

Absolutely not—come on. [Laughs] You know how these things go. I’m always getting surprised like the rest of the world.

The first I heard about it was on social media, and I thought you were onstage for a second.

Yo, I thought I was on stage. I was looking for myself up there, like “Yo, Sasco!” [Laughs]

They gave your words a very prominent place within the performance.

For sure.

Were you watching?

No. I had just come home. I tried to find it. I went to my TV guide and I found the Grammys on CBS. But then I got a message saying that it’s blocked out in Jamaica. Apparently it was showing on some other channel and I didn’t know. This cable provider that I have I just started like a couple months ago. Anyway I went to have a show and when I came out the show I got a call saying “Yo, yo, yo!” By the time I found it in the TV Guide and went on that part had passed. But of course I’ve watched it a hundred times since then.

It’s a good look, and we’ve been doing our best on Boomshots to make sure people know whose voice that is.

Yeah man for real. I appreciate that.

Let’s talk about your album, Theory of Reggaetivity. Can’t believe it’s been 10 years since you dropped an album.

Yeah man. It’s just about the right time. It’s a bit overdue but the right timing in terms of I’m more clear about what I want to do musically and direction-wise. And just how this project came together I was a lot clearer in terms of what I wanted it to be. It’s here and it’s ready.

I love your song “Mix Up” on the Heaven Bless Riddim. Was that song kind of the first brick in the pyramid?

Well, pretty much. Gotta big up Shaggy and Ranch Entertainment. Yeah “Mix Up” showed me that the music that I fell in love with and the music that I learned to do—cause “Mix Up” was pretty much how I started. At four and a half years old, the mid ’80s, that kinda vibe is really when I fell in love with the music. That was the format then. “Mix Up” reminded me that there is still a great space for that sound, and still such a huge demand for it and such huge love for it. That exact texture of the music. And then it happens to be something that I’m well practiced in. Because that’s when I started. That’s what I spent like the first half of my life, that kind of thing. I’m very comfortable with that sound. So I wanted it to be pretty much the cornerstone of this project.

So that was a good single, but when did you know that you were going to make a full album in this style of music?

The idea behind the album started in 2014. I was in Europe along with Germaica Digital—that’s a label in Germany. They did the “It’s a Pity” song with Tanya Stephens. They organized a tour for me and I was on the road. And just feeling that vibe, going from city to city and just seeing and interacting with the people and how they experience the music. And it was like, You know what? Based on that whole vibe, it was actually Pioneer who said I think an album would do really well. Your performance is fantastic ray ray ray. I think you need an album. So that was the first thought. And as a matter of fact it’s been overdue. And so an album is not something that’s been far form my mind anyway. But that was what set the ball rolling.

I was very interested to see that you have a collaboration with Chronixx on the album. He doesn’t really do collabs with anybody apart from his crew. You might see him on a Protoje or a Kabaka record, but it’s the first time I’ve seen him collaborate with a dancehall artist, if I may call you that.

[Laughs] Yeah from my work so far I’ve done mainly dancehall. I must say I think it’s a matter of mutual respect. And it’s also a matter of getting that sort of welcome and embrace from that community. I mean, Protoje produced a couple tracks from the album. You know I was on the road in the summer and I saw Kabaka. These guys have really showed nothing but love, and it’s a matter of mutual respect, cause I respect the work that they’re doing. You know Chronixx was no different. The song “No Slave” was produced by a few of his band members and so I’m sure that played a part as well in terms of it feeling like family.

What was the conversation amongst you guys when you were working together? Did Chronixx or Protoje express any surprise that you are moving in this direction?

Well here’s the thing: For quite a while a lot of Rasta and more reggae proponents would say them see me as a “Baldhead Rasta” yunno. I guess it’s because I’ve represented myself with a certain level of integrity that has always been in my work. You know I’ve done reggae songs before. I’ve had massive reggae songs before. And I have other records that do really well in Europe. So it wasn’t like I’m trying a new trick or anything like that. And as a matter of fact when you listen to the album you can hear the sincerity in the work. So it’s not a gimmick album, saying that, ”Oh, I do mostly dancehall music, here is a reggae project.” It’s certainly not that. So I think that was evident in the whole vibe of the work. So there wasn’t that surprise or shock of “Oh, what is this now?” It really was more serious than that.

Which songs did Protoje produce?

A song called “Feel Highrie,” he produced that one. And then he co-produced the song called “Reggae Origin.”

So did you just go check him for those riddims, or how did that link happen?

Protoje, going back to when he just came out, he’s one of the guys who would let me know he grew up on my music. He was saying that he had great respect for the work that I’ve been doing. He actually invited me at one time to do a performance at the arts university here, the Edna Manley School of Music. And at the time he was just coming out so I think it was a real honor for him to have me there, just doing a performance at the university. So I think that held some currency. When I had this project I just said to him, “Yo I’m doing this project. I hope you could help with some of the stuff. And he was more than happy to do it.

So the title of the album is Theory of Reggetivity. Have you come to any hypothesis or conclusions based in the course of your research?

Well maybe what I’ve found so far is that I might have to go on to the “Theory of Reggae-lution.” Because the music is always evolving and I’m happy to be a part of that evolution. This is just my contribution to the art form. And so I’ve found that you have to just go in and be creative and let the chips fall where they may.

In the song “Reggae Origin” I kinda explore what it might have been like when reggae was born. Because before there was reggae there was other types of music and then in some moment along the passage of time reggae became a reality. When was that moment? And will we have more of those moments moving forward? Maybe in the future there will be “Streggae”—I don’t know. It’s interesting to just know that I’m a part of something that is fluid and evolving. This is my contribution to it.

There’s definitely been debates about the direction of current Jamaican music. We’ve heard terms like “Island Pop” and “Tropical House” and a lot of different labels for various trends within the current music of Jamaica. For an artist of your stature to be circling forward to the foundations of the music is a big statement. Do you have a sense that maybe contemporary dancehall is going astray or that it’s moving in a direction where it’s losing connection with its own roots?

Well what I find is that I fell in love with the music in a time when it was still relatively young and the principles were very clear. And the characteristics were immediately, readily identifiable. And so we didn’t have too much blurred lines and too many outside dilutions of what the core thing is. And so as we move forward we start to find that different influences start to become a part of it and then you have so many players and people being creative and then somewhere along there you start to wonder if the main DNA of the music has been switched out to something else? When is it dancehall and reggae, and when does it start to become something else?

I try to at all times keep certain core characteristics or features a part of anything that I do. So whether it be a “Blacker the Berry” with Kendrick Lamar I’m still representing my art form… In a way where it can be palatable to Kendrick’s audience and at the same time its representing my art form.

And it’s a powerful art form. There’s a reason why Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West and other people in the highest tax bracket of the music industry keep coming back to Jamaican foundation sounds.

[Laughs] Yes it’s powerful. For sure it is very powerful. And I’m more than grateful to be able to contribute to that and represent my art form on all these levels.

Did you hear about the new Kanye West song that samples “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy?

No I haven’t actually. I’m just hearing that now for the first time now. So as soon as I’m done with this conversation I’m going to go check it out.

It’s not out yet. He previewed it. But it’s a song with him and Rihanna. It’s actually that song where he disses Taylor Swift that everybody’s talking about.

I’m not up own my current affairs.

That’s all right. But again Kanye goes back to the reggae sound. He never seems to tire of it.

No. There’s a huge reservoir of great works. It’s great to have reggae in the conversation as you say up at those top echelons of the music. I think at this point what I really hope can come of all this is that we locally can get our act together and really benefit from this resurgence, if you want to call it that, of the music being in that market place.

Yes, no doubt. Like you say in the tune: “Try no mix up the original with carbon copy.”

<>Ahh—you know what I’m saying. Respect.

Assassin Talks Kanye Collab With Reshma B

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