Interview with Shinehead

by Apr 9, 2023Articles, Interview

Shinehead Interview by Stephen Cooper


Where: Los Angeles CA
When: January 15, 2023
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Photos: Courtesy of Stephen Cooper, Teacher, and the respective record companies (labels/sleeves)
Copyright:  2023 – Stephen Cooper

Shinehead: “You have to walk in, grab that mike, and make thy name.” (The Interview)

Shinehead, born Edmund Carl Aiken, Jr., is one of the most versatile and talented singers in the world—as well as one of the coolest, most down-to-earth, nicest cats, a music-lover could meet.

The first artist, or among the first, to pioneer fusing—or mixing—reggae, hip hop, and R&B, Shinehead’s legendary career spans more than four decades, six full-length albums, numerous professional accolades, and a bevy of unforgettable hit songs. Shinehead’s hit tunes withstand the test of time and still powerfully stir the boogie we all have, even if sometimes buried, in our bones.

Now in his early sixties (Shinehead calls them his “sexties”), the state of Shinehead’s music remains strong. Indeed, as joint owner—together with DJ Papalotl (also known as “Buttahfly”)—of the Kingston 12 Hi-Fi Sound System, Shinehead can often be found: broadcasting live from his studio; hosting and deejaying live reggae events at Kingston 12 Hi-Fi’s large and breezy performance space; satisfying a never-ending demand for dubplates; and, always, making new music. Currently, Shinehead is working on a new album—composed of songs on all Treasure Isle riddims—for the well-respected Peckings record label in the U.K.

On January 15, for over two hours, at the Kingston 12 Hi-Fi Sound System in downtown Los Angeles, I was humbled and honored to extensively interview Shinehead—a personal favorite artist of mine since my teenage years—about his life and career. What follows is a transcript of the epic, over 18,000 word-long-interview—the most comprehensive interview of Shinehead currently in existence. Embedded throughout the transcript are links to Shinehead’s music, exclusive video clips, images, photos, and more. At the end, there’s a link to the complete audiotape of the interview—available on YouTube.

Shinehead, now that all my recorders are set up and running, I just want to begin, if it’s okay with you, by just officially telling you—
Yes I.

—it’s an honor to meet you. As I told Flair Lindsey, who so graciously helped to set this up, you’ve been one of my favorite artists since my teenage days.
Give thanks.

So it’s so irie, so surreal, it’s just incredible to be here today with you at Kingston 12 Hi-Fi Sound System in downtown Los Angeles. And I want to thank “Buttahfly”/DJ Papalotl for the invitation. And for your time.
Yes I.

Shinehead, I know, of course, you know this, but just by way of introduction—and for everyone who might later read, or later catch this interview on the Reggae-Vibes’s YouTube channel—

Shinehead & Stephen Cooper

Welcome DJ Papalotl (DJ Papalotl arrives and sits next to Shinehead).
DJ Papalotl: Thank you.

And so apart from the fact that I was personally jamming to your early albums since my youth, it’s a joy to get this chance to reason with such an undeniably unique—
It’s a joy to be alive—

—just to do this shit. (Laughing)

—and versatile artist.
(Laughing) Give thanks.

And indeed feel free to correct me, or just interject—
Yes I.

—because I just want to note some of your musical achievements. And you just tell me if I’m wrong or incorrect about anything.
First of all, let me interrupt you and just say, it’s not on the recorder but it’s being recorded now. Buttahfly, if you would notice Stephen’s umbrella that is just flushing royal flush—with the sneakers, right?

DJ Papalotl: Oh, I didn’t realize—
Mi retire from sneakers, but damn we gotta talk about that!
DJ Papalotl: —I didn’t even notice the sneakers.
Yo, notice the royal flush of the sneakers with the umbrella, with the bandana.

But I’m disappointed—
With the hat!

But I’m disappointed that you missed the Rasta ring. (Showing off beaded Rasta-colored ring).
Oh! You just held your hand up! (Laughing) You just held your hand up just now.

I gave this—I gave the same ring to Lee “Scratch” Perry. And he wore it for a little while. Until he passed.
Seen. Seen. May he rest in peace and rise in power. You know what I’m digging right now, also, Buttahfly and Steve, the fact that I get to talk into not one, but two cassettes spinning round and round. Round and round. Looking like cassettes—see you got me right here.

I’m old school.
You got me right here. So the joint’s playing in the background go perfect with these two cassettes and this phone and this iPad—they got me—I’m five years old right now.
Buttahfly: And it’s also [recording] on this one, too. (pointing to an additional voice recorder)

That’s a small little digital—
You ain’t got no throwback to you. So you know, you know. (Laughing) Okay. Alright, so I’m not gonna interrupt the interview anymore.

That’s okay. You feel free to be you. Let’s start with the fact, Shinehead—

—that you’ve been in the [music] industry for more than 40 years now, true?
About 42, going on 43, this year.

And I believe just last year that you turned 60 years old. Correct?
That is correct.

Wow. Respect.
Give thanks. I don’t feel it though. I feel twenty-sevenish. Thirtyish.
Buttahfly: He’s not sixty. He’s “sexty.”
Thank you, dear. Thank you, dear. I forgot the word that I made up. Can you dig it?

(Laughing) Now to list just a few more of your accolades—in addition to this longevity that you have as a professional performer. You have at least six full-length studio albums.

And these you put out between 1986 and 1999?

And you have several compilation albums. And you have many wicked singles that you’ve put out since—
Thank you.

Pass The Dutchie

—in addition to all that. And you were—not to puff you up, but it’s true—you were undeniably either the first, or among the first artists to pioneer fusing—or mixing—reggae, hip hop, and R&B.

Now—thank you, because it’s true. Now it’s a bit of a tangent, but I myself have a Marlin Trek [dirt bike]. And I cycle. And based on my research about you, Shinehead, my understanding is that a lot of interviewers have asked you: How do you stay so fit and healthy all of these years? And I believe that you’ve said that one of the things that you and Buttahfly do, is you cycle. You ride bikes?
Well, we haven’t ridden bikes together yet—
Buttahfly: No, we never have.
But Buttahfly is an avid exerciser—

—although I haven’t been on a walk with her in a long time. She does exercise.
Buttahfly: (Laughing)
And I must say that I invested in the exercise department in my teenage years. And it’s actually paying off now. And I haven’t ridden in a while. But we still do our exercises. And (getting up and walking to back of studio)…being that you mentioned staying fit all of these years, allow me to show you one of the reasons why I am still fit.

Buttahfly: Oh I think I know what he’s going to take out.

(Laughing) It’s like a bag of tricks.
A lot of guys are gonna talk shit, and say I haven’t ridden in ages. But fuck that (bringing out folded up bicycle frame)—

Oh man, respect.
—it’s going in the photo shoot. Can’t nobody tell me nothing.

Yes! In fact—
You want it over here, or you want it over there? It looks good, doesn’t it?

It’s beautiful. I’m gonna take many pictures of it after we’re finished recording.
So this is the machine—

—this is the bike that is on the back—

Yup. Of the “Rough &—”
Buttahfly: Album.

—album. Respect! Respect!
Ah! They got to know this.

That’s so dope that you still have it. And I’m so glad that I’m gonna be able to take pictures of it.
Give thanks.

image host
Shinehead with the same bike pictured on the back cover of his debut album Rough & Rugged.
And I’m hoping also that, afterward, I’ll take some pictures of your super-dope setup here. You have some super-dope speakers and equipment, so—I’ll have to take and capture it and maybe [film a] few short video clips of you explaining what it is that I’m looking at. But later—if it’s okay?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. What you’re looking at is what keeps me sane, dignified, and young.

And the iceberg on the cake—not the icing—is when I met Buttahfly—

—who is a very business-minded lady. Because originally she’s a teacher, and a DJ—go figure. Go figure.

Wow. A lot of things.
Yeah, right? Seen.
Buttahfly: (Laughing)
And being very teacher-minded and ship-shape, [and] academically disciplined, it’s like, when I met her, like: “If I’m a get with her, then shit!” I’ve got to get [my stuff] to stay up, you know what I mean? And do all the discipline, you know, the grown-up stuff. Because, you know—

Adult responsibilities?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Dem tings. You know artists are flaky. You know us artists are flaky—that’s a default. Can I go to that? Can I go to that? (Laughing)
Buttahfly: (Laughing)

(Laughing) Now, Shinehead—

—another thing that in my wildest dreams I never thought I would get the chance to do in my life—so I give thanks for this—is to ask you this question. And it’s a fact I was discussing with my barber, Keenan—to say his name.
Hmm. Big him up.

Just yesterday we were talking about this. And this is [about] the genesis of your stage-name, “Shinehead.”
Right. Right.

Because in fact your legal name, just to be clear and accurate, is Edmund Carl Aiken, Jr.—accurate?

Okay, and my mind was absolutely blown when you talked about this. Because I didn’t know about this. And I watched this interview that you did—an extensive interview everyone should also watch, in addition to consuming this interview right here—but you did an interview with a Canadian interviewer, goes by the name of “Muscle.” For the “2 Lined Music Hut,” right?

And I was—my mind was blown when you were talking to him about this. And you said that that you came up—well, let me ask you to tell the story—how did you come up with the stage name “Shinehead?” Because I’ve heard you talk about this. I’m happy to remind you of what you said.

What did—how did—
Alright, alright. Just so—because a liar got to have a good memory, see?
Buttahfly: (Laughing)
So that’s why I only tell the truth. And I’m getting older. I’m still kinda youngish, but I am getting older.

Do you also tell the truth even when you lie? (Laughing)
(Laughing) Seen. My memory, I can’t tell lies like that—

Just remember you’re talking to a lawyer. So I just want to explain. I’m a former lawyer. I retired from practicing law.
For a minute there, you said my name like a detective.

Buttahfly: Criminal? Civil? Family?

Criminal defense.
See there was something in how he said my name and shit—like a [court] docket—my “Spidey sense” went off. (Laughing)

No! That would be a prosecutor. That’s on the other side. But how did you come up with the name?
How I came up with the name? Well, unfortunately at the time, Fathead just died. And at the time it was all about Fathead and Yellowman. And then—

Yellowman & Fathead
Whose birthday it is today.
Right. Happy Birthday!
Buttahfly: Happy Birthday, Yellowman!
Happy Birthday, Mr. Foster, yes. And then, you had a rising piece of lightening on Jack Ruby’s sound in Ochos Rios, named Bobby Culture. And before that, now I’m listening to this tape, these 90-minutes tapes—Santa Ranking let me hold his big 12-inch JVC box back in the day. So I walked from Davis on to Fordham Road, and I’m listening to this one dude for like 90 minutes, and then turn it over. And this was Brigadier—

Brigadier Jerry, yeah.
Seen? Now, a little bit before Fathead died in Miami, the whole Stereophonic Crew got wiped out in 1980. Seen? So, I’m looking for a name now while I’m mourning these artists that I never met. Seen? And I’m looking for a name. And [I’m] like, “So what you gonna name [yourself] now? Like ‘Echo 2’? ‘Junior Echo?’” Uh, what, what, what? ‘Junior Culture?’ ‘Briggy Junior?’” Just—just—

And you’re thinking about this in New York, right?
Yeah. In the Bronx. In the bathroom. In my mama’s apartment. Me, my momma, and my sister—

This is the part that started to blow my mind (laughing)—
Yeah. Right. And I’m in the mirror with the brush (gesturing as if brushing hair), and the panty hose. Because doo-rags—we wasn’t really up on doo-rags yet. But that sheer nylon support panty hose is no joke if you want to get your “beehive” spinning, yeah. Just so y’all know—
Buttahfly: Control-top, control-top.

You were striving for the perfect “beehive?”
Yeah, yeah, control-top. You gotta cut [it with] the scissors just right, and don’t get no snags. So that’s how you get the waves down at the back. Because some folks ain’t got no waves at the back, so—
Buttahfly: (Laughing)
Seen? You gotta spin the whole thing. So yeah, yeah, the support panty hose. And I’m brushing in the mirror, and I’m brushing in the mirror, [and I’m thinking,] “What name am I gonna use now? “Echo 2?” Nah that’s—“Fathead?” Nah, nah. And I’m brushing. And I’m looking [in the mirror] at my joints, and I’m like—the name just—it [was] like I got hit in the back of the head, and then it spilled out of my mouth: “Shinehead.” And so the first time I uttered it—

—because like around the neighborhood, when I used to go to the likkle sound system parties, there was a joke— “Oh, it’s a ‘shine.’ It’s a ‘shine.’” And I never took it as nothing. ‘Cause I was proud to hear that. Because I worked hard to get these waves, you heard me? Seen?
Buttahfly: (Laughing)

Meanwhile, back in the apartment, I’m just trying to come up with a name, and then it’s like: “Shinehead.” I start dying with uncontrollable laughter, seen? So check the notes, see if I’m still telling the truth there (laughing)—

You are. You’ve told it exactly right. (Laughing)
Seen. I walked down the hallway to my sister’s room.

Can I pause [you] for just a second?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Your sister [goes by the professional name,] “Starfire?”
Starfire, yeah.

And she is also a reggae artist?
Yes, yes, yes.

Okay. Please continue.
Starfire and [her husband,] Shango.

That’s my brother[-in-law]. Seen? And I go in Starfire’s room, and I say, “Shinehead.” And that was the second piece of bust-a-gut laughing. And I’m still—never missed a brush stroke now (gesturing as if still brushing hair). And that was the second time in my life that I said that. And I just started—uncontrollable laughter. And then I went back in the bathroom, and looked in the mirror again, and said it a third time. And kept brushing. Had the little brush and looked back to, you know, so you could see the back and the sides. And I’m like: “Shinehead. Shinehead.” And the waves, you’ve got to understand, it’s not just amping up to be shiny. But their amping up my ego!

Gimme No Crack

The Real Rock

Billie Jean

Right. Right.
(Laughing) Right!
Buttahfly: (Laughing)

Because it’s hip hop, b-boy jam season, and: “Shinehead.” Because previously I wasn’t “Shinehead.”

You were “E.C.?”
So, you still work for the justice system? (Laughing)

(Laughing) No. It’s just a lucky guess.
Seen. I was “E.C.” And in the hip hop world—because we used to leave Davidson Ave [and] 174th and go down to Harlem World, so I called myself trying to enter competitions. And I did. And I didn’t do badly at all. I got forwards, yo. I’m a nobody, and I got forwards in Harlem World in ‘82. By the way, the only person called me on that one day when I got signed was Red Alert—

DJ Red Alert.
Just caught me in my tracks—Red Alert. ‘Cause I thought nobody was up on that!

And so my name was E.C. And there was Furious 5, Busy Bee—the big boys already. But records did not get made yet. Unfortunately, that came to a close when—well, it got shot up.

One thing I want to ask about your nickname, before I move past that, is: Did anyone try and dissuade you and say, you know—‘cause I was thinking, I guess, you hadn’t met “African Love” yet, but maybe you’d met Tony Screw, and I’m gonna get to both of them—

—but did you say it to anyone, and they said, “‘Shinehead?’ Nah.” Because most people don’t have—you know, as I think about the people I’ve interviewed in the past, most people don’t come up with their own [stage]names. Most people have their names bestowed upon them—

—it’s a childhood thing or something. But you actually, creatively, wonderfully—I can’t think of—it’s such a [recognizable] name—that everyone immediately knows who we’re talking about—it’s you. So it’s just such a great creative moment that you came up with that name. But did anyone try to dissuade you from the name? That you can remember?
Oh man. That’s weird, yo. That’s weird. That’s very weird. Because I had an aunt that just died. And her name [was] Auntie Madge. And there is a niece, that was my cousin named Irma. And I happened to be riding from the Bronx through Harlem one day, and it was 8th Street and 145th—as soon as you cross the bridge from the Bronx. And at the corner, crossing the street was my cousin, Irma. I was on my bicycle. I said, “Hi Irma.” And you know, we’re talking and what not. And she said, “What are you gonna do with your life?” And I said, “Well, I’m gonna be a DJ, and I’m gonna [be] name[d] ‘Shinehead.’ And that’s that.” And she laughed. And I didn’t mind, but Irma died giving birth.

Then another cousin of mine, Cousin Junior, who’s the son of my Auntie Madge that died. When I said it to my cousin, Junior, who used to be a boxer—‘cause there’s two Juniors in our family. But when I said it to boxer Junior, like he didn’t really diss it, but like he was busy in the streets—not trying to hear nothing but some hustling. Up the block on 149th or 145th—up the hill, up on St. Nicholas. Next thing you know Cousin Junior got shot—dead.

Oh man, I’m so sorry to hear that.
So I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or if it has anything to do with anything, but I just don’t say it anymore. I just go out and be Shinehead.

Nice. Well I so appreciate you telling me that. And I’ll often ask artists, too: What was their reaction [from] their family when they told them they were about to become a musician? Whether or not it was a positive thing or not? So that’s kinda interesting to hear about. But I understand—let me ask you this—just to go back to some of the beginning times—and just to make sure I have it accurate about your background, Shinehead—
And the irony now is [there are] musicians in the family emerging—

—linking me up. Sound system guys. Artists. The irony.

Now the question I want to ask is about your background, just to make it clear: You were born in North London, from what I understand—

—and—both you and your sister?

And your parents are Jamaican—

But they moved to England, true?

And then I understand your family moved back to Jamaica when you were 5, and then, so your childhood years—
September 1967.

You remember exactly. So your childhood years were mostly spent in England and Jamaica. Accurate?
England and Jamaica, and the Bronx.

And just to nail down that chronology, early chronology, again, in ’72, I understand, is when you went to the Bronx. And you did a year—I think like 5th grade—
5th grade, yeah.

—then you end up going back to Jamaica.

And then eventually you moved, in ’76, to the Bronx permanently?
Yes, that is it, permanently.

And I was curious, what did your parents do for work such that your family traveled so much in your formative years?
My dad was a civil engineer. And my mom was a registered nurse, heading for—studying to be a counselor, and then NYU, Ph.D—stuff like that.

Cool. And when—with all that childhood traveling that you did, and then you know you were traveling between worlds and cultures—from England to Jamaica and New York—Jamaica again—and then, finally [and permanently] to New York, did you have culture shock a lot growing up and feeling, you know, [like you] were not quite fitting in with your surroundings? And let me tell you why I’m asking the question. Because I was listening to what people think generally is one of your biggest songs—if not the biggest—which is “Jamaican in New York.”

image host
Which is really a song about having trouble fitting in—as an alien.

So I was curious, because you sing it—and in my view, you know, no disrespect to Sting, it’s better than Sting’s.

But I’m just curious, you know, whether part of your ability to express that song so great came from, you know, having that experience [that] you have—
It came from all of those experiences. And I’m too young to have culture shock. When you’re a kid, you’re not so much gonna have—well, aside from the friends that you meet, every time you relocate, I guess children are built for that. We’re okay. Move around. Move around. Move around. Soak it up. Move around. Soak it up.

So I moved around and soaked it up in a positive way, and put it back out and harnessed it in a positive way in the music. And fast forward, I’m in New York where—I like jazz, and I like rock. Hard rock. And then there’s jazz fusion. And there was this radio station, this jazz radio station. And they played a lot of that. And they played a lot of Police, a lot of George Duke, you know, a lot of, you know, Bob James, and [things] like this. And one of the songs was “Englishman in New York.” To the point where I made cassettes off of that jazz station, like I did off of Hot 97, like I do off of 98.7—I’ve made—on the weekends back in the day, in the Bronx? I stayed home and made my cassettes off of the radio. Pause button. Without missing a beat, without anybody talking in it, on time, at the drop of this dangerous finger right here. (indicating finger)

Now I didn’t do it nearly as much as you, but I did it for [W]PGC—which is in Maryland. I grew up in the Maryland, D.C. area.
Oh. Oh.

We had 95.5, [W]PGC.
Seen. Seen.

But I used to do that, too.
Buttahfly: I think we were all doing it. I think we just—we were all waiting for the—

Buttahfly: No. For the disc jockey to shut up already—
Right. Or the commercial to be over.
Buttahfly: —[and] let go of the ‘Pause’ button, because you still want to get the intro. (Laughing)
See, and in my tapes, when you listen, you didn’t hear the “eek.” That “eek.” (Laughing) Woy!

I have to ask a little bit more about the song, because the song is so dope—

—“Jamaican in New York.” And the video is so dope, too. You’re in like a flower suit. I mean—
(Laughing) I was wilding. I was wilding. I was bugging out.

(Laughing) Who told you to get in a flower suit for the video—do you remember that?
I was with—whatever the label—at the time the label, they didn’t go too overboard. And they presented this to me. And there wasn’t nothing wrong with it, and I went with it. ‘Cause I like to go out there anyway.

I like to go out there anyway. But the Sting song I heard a lot on CD 101.9, along with a lot of other great jazz fusion songs that I liked. And I knew it long-time. And then my manager at the time, Claude Evans, said “Yo, why don’t you try it,” you know? Slapped that with Norman Cooke. Seen? And like I don’t know if anybody knows if I knew the song or not. But I’ve been watching that song for a long time. ‘Cause it’s a song I liked to hear on my cassette.

Have you ever met Sting? And talked to Sting?
Met Sting at rehearsals for some “Splash Tour”—I was introduced to Sting by the late, great Tony Johnson, on Sunset Boulevard.

Did he know your song?
Uh, I think he knew my song, because he knew who I was (laughing), so—he knew I did that, you know?

We reach each other—a pound and all of that.

I’m so happy that you met him.
And I think I met him another time in a studio in Manhattan, New York. But I was coming in, and he was going out. But we hailed each other, and you know.

Now I’m curious, you know, because in my reggae researches and various things—and also because of my legal background, too—I’m just curious about this: Do you remember whether you had to get permission from Sting to cover that song [, “Englishman in New York”]? How did that work?
All the publishing goes to Sting because it was sung nearly verbatim. So all the publishing [royalties go] to Sting.

I see. I see. So he gets that. So he wouldn’t complain about that, obviously. Now I jumped into “Jamaican in New York.” But let me rewind the tape of your life and career for just a second. And I believe you said before, Shinehead, that growing up in Jamaica was the best time in your life. And that being around your Uncle Winston from Kingston’s sound system—

—“Soul King Disco”—
That’s right.

Right? In the early 70s?
That’s right. It sounds like a rhyme that ain’t true, doesn’t it?

No. I believed you as soon as I heard you say it.
(In high falsetto voice) “Uncle Winston from Kingston. 1971.” It sounds like a rhyme that ain’t true, right?

I 100 % believed that from the start.
Guess what? It’s true.

And he had a system that when he played his bass—

—the red, gold, and green lights [would come on]—
I’m still trying to do that [at the Kingston 12 Hi-Fi Sound System] to this day. I’m waiting on—

Kingston12 Hi-Fi Sound System
I was gonna ask you if you had set that up yet.
Well it’s being worked on—

So next time when I come back, you’ll be able to do that.
Hopefully. Because the guru for the sound system, his name is Mikey Tenn. Mikey Tenn is the builder and the supervisor for all sound systems that [are] worth listening to in the United States, and Jamaica, Canada—probably England and Mexico[, too].

Where is he?
He’s in Brooklyn, New York. And every so often he comes to the conventions down in Orange County—
Buttahfly: The “Nam.”
Yeah the “Nam.” And the big boys like Firgo Digital or Black Star of Los Angeles, you know, if they need help, they send Mikey Tenn. So Mikey Tenn is working on them bass lights for me.

Nice. Now, being around your uncle’s sound system, and before you moved permanently to New York in ’76, I was curious, did you cross paths with or did you befriend any famous Jamaican musicians and singers? Or did that really only happen later when you kinda “bussed,” or “blew up” in New York?
Some “Twilight Zone” business happened in Jamaica at the school I was going to, St. Catherine High School. On the basketball court.

Yeah? You were playing basketball, yeah?
Alright, we’re on the basketball team. We’re on the “Junior B” team and what not. And then it’s coming down just like it is outside right now—the dusk.

Coming down rain?
No, not rain, it was just starting to get dark like that [pointing out studio window]. And I’m out there with my friends. I think it was Paul Walters, Paul Williams, Aston Lawrence, Garnett Wint. There was a Garnett Wint before there was a Garnett Silk. For real. Yeah. Garnett Wint. I think Clyde Newton. And Loxley Smith. And maybe Monroe Gordon. I think—maybe “Money.” So—and it’s getting dark, you know, and we’re doing our basketball training. And then through the back gate—cause the campus has a far, far front gate off of St. John’s Road. And then there’s the back gate with the garbage dump [nearby]. So, we see this tall skeng—just a skeng dude, you know what I’m saying? We see this skeng coming through the back gate like this (demonstrating). I know they can’t see on the recorder—but like this. We see a skeng coming through like this. Dark-brown Desert Clarke’s stitched up the middle, with the emblem on the ankle. High-top. Tailor-made lengths. With stripes. Inch-and-a-quarter cuff. The seam is so sharp it’s like he’s wearing two swords on his trousers.

I can’t imagine who you’re gonna tell me this is.
He got the striped shirt on. And he got the beret on like this—or the big tam like this (demonstrating). You don’t really want to look. Because you don’t want to look at a skeng.

Originl skeng. Original rude boy. Original Chuckie-skeng. Jubiee-skeng. You don’t make eye contact. So wi bouncing the ball, and I think it was Garnett that said, Garnett softly said, “Dennis Brown that, you know?”

What!? Get outta here. Wow. Really?
I don’t know who Dennis Brown is. Because—

At that time.
—the only reggae person I know—that I [would] sneak and listen to, and get to hear down the block for miles, a few houses down—

—is Johnny Clarke. I’m just getting to learn it’s Johnny Clarke, and it’s King Tubby’s dub instrumental album and what not.

Because you were young—you were still very young.
Nah the house we was at, no reggae can play up in that. (Laughing)

Oh. Wow.
I lived with a cop and a school teacher—go figure. Okay. Yeah. So, um, so Garnett says, “Yo” (pretending as if dribbling basketball), “It’s Dennis that, you know?” I’m like, “Okay, cool.”

So the skeng walks up, and I’m kinda [seizing up] the farm fence, which is like a few hundred feet down—like South. And I’m lining it up, because if this don’t go right, I’m taking that fence. And I’m already within escape proximity if this guy don’t like this shit. So I’m like (pretending as if dribbling basketball), and shift [the ball] over there (pretending as if still dribbling). And then I go, “Dennis?” And you know what the skeng Dennis’s response was?

What? [And] [w]hen you say “skeng,” let me make sure—because I’m gonna have to spell this later. How are you spelling that?

So when I said “Dennis?,” his response was “Yes, Iyah.”

(Laughing in awe)
I go on tour, fast-forward, with Dennis Brown and I get—I picked the right time to catch the flash[back]—because it came to me like, “Hey. Hey. Buddy.” And I tell him about this. And it came back like nuttin’. And when I told him about it, he laughed and said: “Yeah—”

“That was me?”
—that was me, because I do go over there.”

(Laughing) That’s so dope!
Yo, you not understanding. The shit has me fucked up now, because I met the God—and didn’t know what was about to hit me yet in my little life.

You don’t understand.

I’m glad you told me about that.

Yeah. Wow. Thank you.
Jah-Jah. The Prince! Mi talk to the [“Crown] Prince [of Reggae”], and don’t even know seh him a-di Prince!

And mi is just a likkle boy.

I could cry happy tears.

You’re about to make me cry. Now, listen, Shinehead, when you landed in the Bronx in ’76, you witnessed—and I think you said before, that you were part [of]—and it’s obvious that you were—you were part of the birth of hip hop. And it wouldn’t have happened, as we know, without reggae and dub music. What stands out to you during this time in your memory—back before hip hop was even a thing, and you were just b-boying, and you were dominating the New York sound systems? What stands out to you in that time period?
What stands out is, when I was learning from the different crews like the Herculords, Fantastic Romantic 5, Furious 5, Cold Crush 4, Treacherous 3, people like that. Seen? See Divine the Mastermind. And Justice Allah the Superstar. when I just met [Africa] Bambaataa—

So many talented people?
Yeah. You know? When I’m nobody just yet—

When you say you weren’t—
I wasn’t rapping yet. I was just learning. I was just another guy in the crowd.

And in that time period, my understanding is before you took off as a vocalist, singer, and rapper, you were actually first a bass player. True?

Kingston12 Hi-Fi Sound System
You were a bass player for various bands in New York?
Not various bands in New York. The truth is, when I came up in ’76, I got with my Cousin Junior—and his other friends—in my Aunt Dolly’s basement up in the Bronx.

And you were playing bass?
I didn’t play bass yet, because I was either second or third string. There were first-stringers there before me.
Buttahfly: (Laughing)

So see we all jamming in the basement. And when Friday come, we can’t wait to get to the basement and pick up an instrument—first come, first serve. But the baddest man, got the stripes, so the best bass player got to, you know, get that off and, you know, the best guitarist, and the best everything. The A-Team gotta get that off first, and then, you know, after awhile, B-Team, C-Team. I was B-Team. So I had to wait. I had to wait behind Jimmy White.

I see.
It was Zachary, Jimmy (on bass), my Cousin Junior (on guitar), Moochie, David (on guitar). Damn, who was on drums? I think Moochie was on drums, and sometimes he played bass.

And why did you, Shinehead, have such a love for this bass—the bass above all the instruments? Such that you—I’m aware that you even made, I think, in Jamaica, back when you were a youth—

—your own bass.
Yeah, back—

How did you—you clearly made the bass a big part of what you do. What’s your love for the bass about?
Hmm. That is being in a strict household. And hearing something calling out to my soul, and my soul calling back out to it.

And it’s a few houses down. And it’s being blasted by Tony over here—Donovan Cole over here—whose front door is directly across from the front door of Mr. Ross across the street. And they both opened their front doors between ’73 and ’76. And I witnessed these two guys clash. This young high school dude building up his thing. Because he was a star-boy. Tony was a star-boy for our road, for our block—Horizon Park, Spanish Town, off of Old Harbor Road. Tony was one of the star-boys. He played cricket well. He played soccer well. He ran faster than anybody. And he rode bicycles very fast with style. So, you know, he got “skeng qualities.” Mr. Ross was a postman. Big man. And so he decided to take on the big man, the postman, Mr. Ross. Their doors was directly—what, man!? And they start playing some King Tubby’s, and some Johnny Clarke. And that bass started coming—

That bass just spoke to you?
It started—

It talked to you?
I’m at the fence like this (demonstrating), getting jooked by barbed wire trying to soak up them octaves of bass. And (singing): “Wah-wah-wah.” That is what fascinated me, and got me hooked. Also, one night when I lived down in that neighborhood, one lovely Saturday night, the grownups left, and I turned the radio on at midnight. At exactly midnight. And you know what I heard?

I heard somebody say, “Dread at the controls!” And that was my introduction to Mikey Dread. At midnight!

Oh, wow. Respect.
[At] [m]idnight, Mikey Dread dropped Eccleton Jarrett, “Satta.”

Oh. Nice.
Do you know what Satta is? Oh my god.

Satta Massagana?
No. “Satta Dread.” My goodness! In that Christian-Anglican house, Satta came through the FM radio! I was Ahhh (exclaiming)!

Yeah. And that’s what happened.

And, I have to ask, did you ever receive, you know, in all these—you were schooled in different places. And I’m just—this kinda question is just trying to get to the root of your musical ability—which is wild! Wildly amazing.
Thank you.

And so my question is, did you receive any formal music training or instruction in school? Or, were there any relatives or talented musicians in your family? Where does this talent—is what I’m trying to get at—where does it come from?
Buttahfly: How did it get nurtured?

Yeah. How did it get nurtured, [and] where does it come from?
Alright, aside from flute in the 5th grade—
Buttahfly: (Laughing)

—alright, alright. Originally before that, while living in St. Thomas, Jamaica, with my Aiken family, there was Uncle Isiah. A.K.A. “Uncle Zyah?” Rest in peace, rise in power. See it wasn’t just Uncle Winston. Uncle Winston had the sound system, and when it was crab season, him and my older cousin, Clyve, they would go to crab-bushes [on] Hellshire Beach.

It was Clyve, and there’s another [cousin of yours], “Banjo.”

Buttahfly: (Laughing)
And they went with Uncle Winston to crab-bush. While I was living there, side note, I was always thinking, you know, I hope I get to leave before I get old enough to be asked to go to crab-bush. Because I don’t want to go to no ras-clat crab-bush. Do you know how many flesh-ripping claws that is? So anyway, yeah, um, Uncle Isiah. He traveled a lot, too. And he went to the U.S. He came to the U.S., and he went to Cuba. And he came back with a drum set.

And that sparked you, too?
And that set it off—right off.

Uncle Isiah came back with a pearl-blue drum set. I think it was a “Ludwig.” And [my] older cousin, Clyve, who I got my first piece of “cool” from—ever in my life, you know?

Your first piece of what?

Which is?
Cool-factor. Cool-swag.

Oh, nice. Okay.
How to, you know, how to be a guy.

My first lesson is my older cousin is Clyve Aiken. I’m Carl Aiken. Seen? And he was setting up the drum set. He didn’t have no guitar yet, but that was cool. Once the drum set got set up, I waited my turn, Steve, and I went in.

I went in with one drum pattern that I know—that I heard at Uncle Winston’s house (imitating drum pattern). And I was nice! Ask me to play that now to save my life—never. I was nice! The childhood—the childhood brain-to-hand-to-foot coordination, the mechanism was effortless for me. I was gassed. I was amped. These drums just—the cymbals, the high hat—I lost my mind! Lost my mind.

Plus, I went and saw the sound system—and now this! Then Clyve and Banjo—Clyve is singing people I’d never heard of yet, but then I got to know, and then I remember back then, this is what Clyve was singing—Clyve loved singing Alton Ellis. I ain’t know who he was talking about yet. Banjo loved to sing Slim Smith. I didn’t know. They was just singing. And then I leave Jamaica, and come to the U.S., and start gathering records.

You knew who those guys were.
Awww. Because of them two. Because of Cylve and Banjo.

They were singing at first. I ain’t know nothing.

Now when you were in New York, eventually you did connect with the biggest, baddest sound system in the Bronx at that time, “Downbeat The Ruler.”

Tony Screw. Now you’ve said before that you did an apprenticeship with Tony Screw, and with Downbeat. And you’ve said before that Tony Screw was kinda like a martial arts teacher. Now what I want to ask is, more specifically, how did Tony Screw influence and impact your career? And how important was Tony Screw’s career in music to the growth of reggae music in New York—and the entire United States?
Very, very. But before you get to me and Downbeat, you gotta get to me and the area sound systems. Because you gotta come up first before you go pro.

So let’s talk about that.
So you gotta come up through the Specialist Roots off of Davidson Avenue. And you gotta come up through the Sanatone from the South Bronx. And you gotta come up through the Star Wars from the South Bronx—if you’re from the Bronx. There are sound systems—you gotta train with first, before you go to the big boys.

And did you, Shinehead, just roll up on the scene, and grab the mike? How did it work? How did you get your chance to show your skills at these various sound systems such that, once you got to Downbeat, they knew who you were?

A: The single-minded mission is no one’s gonna say, “Hey, you look like you have talent. Why don’t you give it a try?” No. You’ve gotta walk in, and mek-a-talk or find some way to get the mike. And if you don’t get it this weekend, you try again next weekend. And I was on that mission. There’s many times I didn’t get the mike, and I was “cool” because I knew I was on a very long-term mission. Very long-term. Everything you hear artists talking about nowadays? The older 40-year-olds and 50-year-olds? The wisdom that just happened upon them? Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt, want my money back.

(Laughing) Now—is there anything else before we get to Mr. Tony Screw that you want to make sure you tell me? About that time?
Yeah. Now the sound systems that I knew of that were ruling at the time, like I said, Sanatone, the Star Wars, the Specialist Roots, you had Black Redemption—

Are these were mostly in the Bronx, or—
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Stereo 5 was in the Bronx.

Were other parts of—I’m not—my mom’s actually from New York, but were other parts of New York hopping, too, or was it really just the Bronx?
Nah. Nah. The Bronx wasn’t even—the Bronx had it going on, but then Brooklyn was bigger, so that’s more people. And that’s more sounds, that’s more everybody.

But you were mostly focusing on the Bronx?
For that period of time, yes, because—

Because that’s where you were.
That’s where I was, and I started on the smaller sound systems. And then went to Downbeat, and said, you know, “I’d like to try out.” And I tried out, and stayed, and stayed—until I left. And, um, where was I going with this?

Well you were gonna tell me more about the sound systems before we got to Tony Screw.
Well, yeah. With—with—who was it? I think it was Star Wars—it was me and Santa Ranking and a bunch of dudes off of Davidson Avenue, like Mr. Fitzy—Mr. Fitzroy Burke. Rest in peace, rise in power. One of my longtime close hommies, Horace Jesus—me and Santa Ranking was the DJs among them and what not. And a few other kids, Errol and Mickie. And we would roll out. We rolled out one night to Connecticut in Fitzy’s Alfa Romeo “Lancer” and what not. And we hit Connecticut where this lady named Ruby was keeping the state show with Ranking Dread. And they sent for us to come play with Specialist Roots. And we rolled up, and stringed up. And we took that night.

We took that night. One night we went on a roll. Me and Santa Ranking and our same homies, and Abdul and them. And we rolled down to the Ponderosa in Harlem on 145th Street, and when we roll in, we roll in on—oh shit—Lone Ranger. Nicodemus. Mikey Jarrett.

Wow. Big time.
And me and Santa rolled up, and just like (growling). And ripped it down. Because apparently they was going on well, then the vibes died down, and then we came—we bust in the door and turn it right back up. One night Santa Ranking and I, we was on a tour for the night. My main mission starting out was, “Okay, I’ve gotta keep this up for some time. Until the name gets established.” And so in answer to your question: As a nobody, no-name, you have to walk in, grab that mike, and make thy name. And that it was I did innumerably. Till it stuck.

Tony Screw aka Downbeat the Ruler
And it stuck. And then you get to Tony Screw?
And then I go, “Okay, who’s the next best? Who’s the next level?” And I was told “Downbeat.” Did my homework. Went to see Tony Screw. Tony Screw came to my house and talked to my mom. In regards to me emceeing for his sound system. That’s how official it was.

He came to ask her permission?
Yeah. Yeah.

Wow. And of course “Downbeat” was called “Downbeat,” because it had all the Studio One records—
Yeah. Yeah.

And it was the baddest sound in The Bronx at that time.
Oh yes. Yes.

Now what can you say to somebody who’s trying to learn more [about] Tony Screw himself. And Downbeat. As we mentioned [before the recording started,] Sister Carol was on Downbeat. It’s her birthday today, too[, today]. You know, what was he like? And what was his impact on reggae? What is his impact on reggae in general in New York, and just generally?
Tony Screw got a music discipline nobody else got. And some selectas shouldn’t be called “selectas” no more. Like a Jah Wise—Father Jah Wise. Like Father Ilawi. Like a Blacka Dread. Or a Lloydy Coxsone. Or a Tony Screw. [Or a Reverend Danny Dread.] Or an Ayatollah Tony Virgo, who was a selecta for Papa Moke. A Mikey “African Love,” or Ras Claude. Those ain’t “selectas” no more. You call those [men] “high priests.”

Hmm. Wow.
So let’s go back to Sister Carol’s birthday, which is today. Well, yeah, I’m sure you know about the b—well damn, it was some—one of my first buss was [on] Sister Carol’s birthday.

Yeah. You got that on paper [already], don’t you? (Laughing)

Nah, I don’t have that.
One of my first, wickedest buss was [on] Sister Carol’s birthday. I had on blue all the way. I had on blue with black leather gloves. And my black goose down.

(Laughing) You were styling?
What!? Yeah. But I had the magazine already though. I unloaded the magazine!

And Tony Screw said we’re going to Sister Carol’s birthday [party]. I lost it again—I lost it again.

‘Nuff respect.
I had my head loaded with lyrical magazine. And I had the gip notes. I had the gip notes. Because every once in awhile we take out that little notebook that back in the days you could see infinitely fine microscopic writings. (Laughing) So yeah, I had the gip notes, and I was going in. My first time getting forwards as we say—

—they were so electrifying, Steve. All it did was made me more (growling loudly). I’ll never forget that.

I don’t have that musical talent, so I can never know that [experience]. But that’s awesome. I can only imagine.
I deejayed until I sweated. I couldn’t go outside because [my] silk shirt [was] wet. My pants [were] wet. I was soaked. I had to chill. I had to chill.

Now after making a name for yourself, and building your reputation on the sound system scene, then you started your recording career—which of course we have to get to. And this was with Claude Evans’s “African Love Records” label—
Yeah. But we can’t go there yet, because the Downbeat years were some monstrous years.

Because we took on Moke and African Love—the first original “Clash of the Titans.” Because back in the day, I just came out of the movie theater up in the Bronx, “Valentine’s Movie Theater.” And I saw Clash of the Titans. And these two girls, Ava and Marcia from Boston, two of the daughters of Mr. Palmer himself—the legendary Mr. Palmer [owner of an iconic record label in london]—they wanted to keep this three-sound clash. Didn’t know what to call it. I said call it, “Clash of the Titans.” And that’s where you had Downbeat, African Love, and Papa Moke—clashing together. I was on Downbeat at the time. And so was Santa Ranking. And Tony Screw brought in Sister Nancy and Brigadier. Seen? And our sound sounded like shit, because we couldn’t get—our sound—was the worst sounding sound out of Downbeat, African Love, and Papa Moke. But we ended up winning.

And I was the one that played some of the dubs—Screw couldn’t even get in the dance. Anyway, where was I? Yeah, um.

Man, some things happened—so many things I want to tell you before [we get to] African Love. How did I know African Love? Tony Screw took us to our first NFL dance. Me and Shelly Thunder. February 1983. Like this: We go in the dance. The dance is boring. The sound don’t sound right because the ceiling is high. It’s a basketball gymnasium. And it’s winter. And they playing their music. Moke is killing African Love, because over on Moke [you had] Louie Ranking, Bobby Culture, Mikey Jarrett, Ranking Joe, Clifield Marshall.

I love Ranking Joe—a personal favorite.
African Love got his African Love kids—Rebel Youth, Papa Leo, Sista Donna—like this. And then, we in the foyer, and I hear this strange rhythm. I hear this strange rhythm like I felt somebody tasered me when I heard this. Screw saw the reaction and laughed, and said: (Laughing) “Fucker! That [riddim] get down and it bite you! You wanna catch it!?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And I went up there that night, and said: “Tweeee.”

Which song is this?
The “Billie Jean” riddim. Now African Love got the sweetest, ruggedest, ragamuffinest, rub-a-dubinest cut of “Billie Jean.” You don’t call it “Billie Jean,” you call it “Chimcheery.” Or you call it “Phase 1.”

Everybody, you know—prominent sounds got their cuts, but the African Love one, man, Pupa Jesus! Lucky thing I got a cut. So when it came on and I whistled, the dance lift up. And I—this is the first time I’m experiencing this and almost didn’t know what to do with the forwards.

Where was this again?
East Orange, New Jersey.

What was the club?
It was a gymnasium. I forgot the name—I don’t know the name of the gymnasium. It was a gym—community gym center.

I’m glad you, you know, I’m right at “Billie Jean” [in my questions], because the first song that you recorded, I believe for African Love, was “Billie Jean,” which is a cover of Michael Jackson’s, of course—
“Billie Jean,” “Mama Used to Say,” and “Lady in My Life.” Two Michael Jacksons and one Junior.

“Billie Jean” of course has the memorable [line], “She’s more like a beauty queen with an M-16.”
And when I sang that part? The East Orange dance lift up more. The thing is, I didn’t know the audience. This is the first time I’m meeting these people.

You were surprised by their reaction? You didn’t realize that—
Not only was I surprised by the reaction [and] forward, but then, you know, I didn’t realize this is how rough they were. Because when I got off of the mike—when I got off of the mike—and went back to the foyer, I seen some dudes talking to Tony Screw like, “Yo. Who that yute dere? We wanna put him pon a show. And wi a-gwan somewhere.” So the dude probably figured I didn’t understand Jamaican [patois]. And I stepped to him and like, “Yo, what you gonna do?” And then there was an altercation.

Holy cow!
Nah—real talk. Real—it’s not—we’re not bragging, we’re just telling the truth. Because man-on-man know the truth. Certain—no, OGs know the truth. And some of them OGs, if they’re not dead, I’d really like to talk to them before they die. Seen? So they could know that I just wanna talk to them before they die. Because Dennis Brown said life goes in circles. And before the 360 is up? I just want to let these OGs know, “Look, I was green. I’m coming out of an all-boys Catholic private school. Living in my house, we don’t talk loud. I don’t hear nobody act like this.” So I just thought it was an act of aggression.

I see.
It’s a movie, Steve.

Now did you—I gotta ask, did you—had you thought of that—I want to know how you came up with that. Because it’s so wildly unique and wicked. To change the lyric like that. “She was more like a beauty queen with an M-16.”

Did you think about that?
What happens is, when you come to places like New York City—when you touch down and you drop in a Brooklyn, or a Queens, or a Bronx, part of the culture is, you gotta learn how to run, learn how to fight, and you gotta have snaps. Meaning you gotta know how to tell jokes or do something. Do something cool that is also functional that could save your ass in a crisis.

You mentioned—
Let me finish.

So, with that, with that is, you gotta have jokes. And we had a lot of jokes, because we watched a lot of comedians, and listened to a lot of comedians’ records. So we got—we had snaps. “Your momma this. Your momma that.” From school to church, to the gym to the track to the—it don’t make—you had to have snaps. And quick thinking. And we always thought like that. We also incorporated that kind of thinking into our schoolwork. I know that I did that. Because I will see a word like “democracy,” or “democrat,” and I’ll break that up into “dem-o-crat.” I break that up into the “moc-rats.” Because they mock the masses. I do shit like that. That’s why 1 and 1 is 11. That’s where I go with it. So in order to come up with “She was more like a beauty queen with an M-16,” well, we live in gun culture, also—

Yeah. Yeah.
—so that factors in. And sometimes, you have to take serious ting and mek joke.

Yeah. Absolutely, and sometimes—
I could go on.

—and sometimes that’s the best way to convey a message, through a joke. Now one of the things that makes that such an awesome cover—

—it’s so unforgettable—so dope, actually, is that cowboy-themed whistling that you do, and that you’ve incorporated in many of your other songs, too—[such as] the introduction to “Lady in My Life.” And since I’m recording you, I would just love it if you could just do that—that whistle.
What? “The Good, the Bad & The Ugly?”

Yes, sir.
(Whistling) Let me do it to this riddim right here. (Whistling more)

Oh my God. So dope! Oh man!

Yes I.

—how did—musically, it’s so impressive. And it’s so unique—how you incorporated the whistling into your style. And I just wanted to ask, was it really just westerns, [such as] “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly,” and Kung Fu movies—was that how you got that idea, that inspiration to use whistling in your music? Because I don’t really know that many other artists who really do that.
Um, Frankie Paul was a whistler. I think Sugar Minott was a whistler. Um, who did “[Sitting on the] Dock of the Bay?”

Otis Redding?
No, reggae artist. Somebody is a whistler—I think, maybe Richie Stevens. I like whistling because it’s—and I used to love playing the flute. And I liked those high—

Yeah. Sweet but major-key melodies. Not minor-key melodies. I like flutey-stuff. Stringy-stuff. Violin-y and guitary stuff. And whistling. But I don’t just use it for, you know, take a liking to movies of violence, i.e. kung fu or gangster movies. Or cowboy movies. It could be anything I hear, as well as I just come up with original whistlings.

Right. Now, as you talk about the whistling, to further illustrate that it’s not just limited to macho things, here goes a free preview of what is going to happen (going over to sound system controls). And I still keep it up. But it’s nothing macho [or] violent. Check it out. (Turning up music with Shinehead whistling…) Brand new! Okay? That’s what’s coming in.

That’s dope. Nice. That’s dope.
Give thanks. Give thanks.

Now Shinehead, both “Billie Jean” and “Lady in My Life,” they made it on to your debut album “Rough & Rugged.” Which is a dope, dope album—

—your first album. How come “Mama Used to Say,” which is a very cool song with some cool horns never made it onto your debut [album]? And if I’m not mistaken, I don’t know if it made it on to any of your subsequent albums.
Uh, no.

“Mama Used to Say?”
Wait a minute. “Mama Used to Say” is on the other side of “Billie Jean.” On the 12-inch.

So it’s on that. But it’s not on the “Rough & Rugged” album, so I was looking to see whether it was on any of your other albums. And I don’t think it is.
No, it isn’t. We just couldn’t fit everything. Just had to choose. They just had to choose from my recollection.

Now I meant to ask a moment ago, with respect to “African Love” Claude Evans, can you just talk about how you met Claude Evans and the catalyst, or the moment, that got you to move from doing your thing on the sound system with Downbeat to go into the studio with African Love? What was it that shifted your game?
Well, African Love is a Bronx sound system. Downbeat is a Bronx sound system. African Love had more kids on it. Like Papa Leo. Rest in peace, rise in power. Rebel Hugh. Sister Donna. Ricky 9. And it was fun over there. [That’s] why I went over there. Claude and Mikey, they got tunes. Claude is originally a school teacher. So if they thinking nobody ain’t got brains in reggae, Claude’s a school teacher. Claude’s a math teacher. My ex-manager is a math-calculus teacher. So that’s the caliber of management. Yeah, yeah. That’s what I’m used to. Nothing less. Nothing less. And the man knows tunes, and have some cuts that ain’t no joke. Mikey? Mikey African Love? He was the engineer. And he also knows. And have tunes. And they were brilliantly together. It looked like—both of them kinda had a Gregory Isaacs look to them. They had the big leather cap. And the glasses. And they were humble guys, but they were smart guys. And with me and Mikey, we loved to ride bicycles. And Mikey had a machine at the time—

Oh yeah?
And Mikey African Love—Mikey Love, and I, we started out in the Bronx one day on Boston Road. And we were just riding and reasoning. We were just riding and talking. Riding and reasoning. And when we asked where we was—Boston Road in the Bronx—when we asked where we was, uh, I think it was New Haven or Stanford, Connecticut. One of them. Those are the type of meditations we used to hold. So Downbeat was a strict big-man ting and (growling). It has its place, and it was very good. But “African Love” it was a bunch of kids—and fun.

I hear you. I understand.

Now I mentioned, when I arrived, my good friend, legendary sound engineer and dub pioneer Scientist [also known as Hopeton Brown]. Scientist told me that he remembers that the first time he came to California was on a tour with you and Ras Claude.

And I wanted to know if you remembered that tour, too?
Yeah. Sleepy Wonder and World-a-Girls, I think. Yeah.

Wow. You guys were just young guys?

Now the “Rough & Rugged” album is such a remarkable album. In addition to the songs I mentioned, it has some songs I can remember singing that were and still are so massive. Songs like “Who the Cap Fit,” “No Fe Chat,” “Golden Touch”—I mean, I was singing “Golden Touch” to my wife earlier.

These are classics in my view.

Now, undoubtedly, part of the reason that that “Rough & Rugged” album—it turned out so well—it has to do, I would think, with it being recorded at the very famous Harry J’s Studios in Kingston, true?
Yeah, this is true. When I went to Harry J’s Studios that morning I saw—that’s the first time I’ve seen Early B, Junior Cat, Junior Demus.

Wow. They were just there at the studio?
Yeah, they came out early. That’s how it was back in the day.

Now was it Claude Evans who decided that your new album should be recorded there? How did that happen—how was it that your debut album got recorded in Jamaica at this very famous studio?
That was all Claude. That was where he wanted it to happen.

Nice. And he made it happen.
Yeah. That was solely and exclusively Claude’s doing.

And how many days and/or studio sessions did it take at Harry J’s for you to record the “Rough & Rugged” album?
That I don’t remember.

What do you remember about that experience, and the vibes of that studio?
I remember trying to be careful singing, is what I remember. It was a new experience for me. I liked the warmth of it. And it—yeah, I would belt out some notes that were “Rough & Rugged,” but singing, I didn’t want to mess that up. So I was a bit—

A bit too cautious?
Yeah. Yeah. Secretly I was—I don’t think I was that confident, and I didn’t want to mess it up and croak. So I was real gentle with it.

But it still came out dope.
Give thanks. Give thanks. Give thanks.

Now in your interview with Muscle, for “2-Lined Music Hut,” you said that “Chain Gang”—which is also another personal favorite of mine in high school—
Give thanks.

—which appears on your sophomore album, “Unity.” On Elektra Records. This was inspired by Johnny Osbourne’s song, “I’m on the Move.” And I think that you said you were at the sound system when “African Love” dropped Johnny Osbourne’s song—and you chimed in on the riddim. Right? And then “Chain Gang,” that’s kinda how that came [about]? Is that right?
We in the reggae lounge. African Love playing and then draw, “I’m on the Move. I’m on the right track.” So I just interject where Johnny would say, “I’m moving on the—,” I just say, “I might act crazy but I don’t smoke crack.” During the vocal, you know? And shit, that was a forward! So I had to pull—I ain’t no what to do now. I’m like shit. “Pull up, Selecta, pullup. because—” (laughing). I was only playing. (Laughing) I got a forward.

(Laughing) The song is so dope. And it was regularly played on “Yo! MTV Raps.” Did you come up with the whole brilliant concept—now I’m talking about the video for a minute of “Chain Gang.” Did you come up with the whole brilliant concept of the subway train being the song’s focus—the video for “Chain Gang?”
Subway—“Chain Gang”—yes, I had some input.

And the lyrics, “Life just wouldn’t be the same, if you have to live without the subway train.” And what I would describe that lyric—it’s kind of an ironic, understated allusion to a rat race. With everyone having to rely on—

—the subway to get to the 9 to 5. It’s so genius. So I wanted to ask you about it, and ask you if you had fun making the video?
Yeah you said the genius, but hear the realness. I used to live on Noble Avenue. Noble Avenue and Westchester Avenue in the Bronx. When I moved there, I heard this thundering noise every few minutes. And then I realized, there’s a train, an elevated subway train. Number 5. And that’s gonna roll by forever, as long as you live here. And there’s nothing you can do about it. So that helped me with my cool, also. Because if you can think and sleep through them wheels?

Yeah—you could do anything.
Yeah, we could do this. So that has a lot to do with why I made—

That allusion?
—that song.

That allusion to the train tracks?
Yes. Yeah. I’m on Noble Avenue and Westchester Avenue. And so you had to manage that (making train-type noises). I had to manage that.

You managed it, and you used it in your art brilliantly.
Thank you.

Gimme No Crack
Now “Gimme No Crack,” this is another [song] on the “Unity” album. And that, too, is also a song that I’m reminded of from my youth—whenever I hear your name. The song’s message is patently obvious. But was there something—anything—going on in your life that made you—other than maybe a disgust for crack cocaine, at that time—why was it that you came up with that song?

Was there something personal, or was it just a creative thing?
Nah, it wasn’t personal. But it was social. Because dudes I know—in the neighborhood—they slinging. And then there’s a joke where in the crew—somebody in the crew is slinging. But somebody in the crew is smoking. So, the rest of the crew start clowning on this one dude because I guess you could call it a hypocrisy. Or a strange twist. But “don’t get high on your own supply.” And somebody ended up doing that, so now the joke is on him. And it’s 100 % cruelty.

Yeah, it is.
Seen? So there’s jokes flying over the head, and only certain men get the jokes. And the guy who the joke is on don’t know the joke is on him. And then you go away and come back cleaned up. And then you fall off again. And straight drug-infested neighborhood, like anywhere else. Plus, where I lived at around the corner, in a bigger building—that’s where Amadou Diallo got shot.

Many times.

For a wallet. I think he had a wallet or cellphone—something—and they just shot him.
Right. Right. And then, up the block, you got my peoples doing their thing. Seen? So I know the good guys, and the bad guys. And the same crew that end up laughing at “who got high on their own supply,” they all end up getting destroyed. And are no more, unfortunately. See where I went with this?

Yeah. Now did you know, Shinehead, that in November of 2021, just a little over a year ago, published an academic, scholarly study of “Gimme No Crack.” Did you know that?

Well I’ll have to show you the article, but the article is titled “Dancehall Pastiche and the Piecing Together of the Coming of the Crack Narrative.” It was written by a gentleman [named] Eoin Cannon. There are two assertions made in the article I’d like to run by you to see what you think about their accuracy—seeing as it’s your song. The first assertion concerns how the song is structured. And the article claims that “Gimme No Crack” is structured by the use of three main sources. First, an allusion to Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.” Second, the author asserts that “the dated refrain” [of,] “I’m real cool. I chill to the max. I might act crazy, but I don’t smoke crack,” derives from dancehall pioneer Johnny Osbourne’s—
Yes, and yes.

—‘On the Right Track.” That one we just talked about. So you’re saying ‘yes’ to the Public Enemy, too, right?

Then he says—

Right. Because that was also one of the jokes on the block. “Base! How much can you smoke?”

Oh wow.
So they said that [as an] innuendo to the dude—or dudes—who fell victim to what they were selling. So now we didn’t say “Base! How low can you go?” The inside joke was “Base! How much can you smoke?” And if a guy caught the joke, then it’s gonna be problems. Because, yeah, he’s smoking but now he knows we clowning him, so there’s about to be some shit.

Third—yeah, I see that—third, the piece asserts that “the gloomy interlude voice that mythologizes crack’s arrival,” the part where it says—
Marty Robbins, yeah.

Yeah, okay, so this is—I’m so happy to hear you say that, because it caught my attention. Because I recently interviewed—not too long ago—in December, legendary DJ Dennis Alcapone.
Yeah, yeah.

And his initial stage name was “El Paso” after his sound system, which was also named “El Paso.”

And that’s a reference, too, to a Marty Robbins song.

So I was curious, because I’m not really—[as I] told Dennis Alcapone—I’m not a big country-western guy.

But were you at all? Is that also, too, how that Marty Robbins—
I’m living in Jamaica, and it was in my way. There was nothing I could do about it.

That song was playing?
The house I lived in in St. Catherine, Horizon Park? I’m trying to tell you if it ain’t Marty Robbins, it’s Pat Boone, it’s Brooke Benton—

That was playing in the house.
—it’s Nat King Cole.

You were gonna be listening to that?
Yeah. It’s in the way. There’s nothing you can do.

So you made use of it?

Look, look, when I was little, the thing that kids hate the most, that is not fun, are chores.

(Laughing) True.
I’m the weirdo that turned making chores—just cleaning up shit, and putting shit [back together]—that’s fun for me. So now I have nothing to do that’s a drag. All my life is fun. Including the bullshit. ‘Cause I made it fun. I convinced myself that chores are fun. Painting my chairs. Painting my floor. Cleaning my floor. Cleaning my tables. Fixing the records. It’s fun! Janitor-shit is fun to me.

Now the last point this article on makes that I want to run by you, it says that the song “Gimme No Crack,” that it “sneaks in a Rastafarian reference to cannabis as a sign of civilized xenophobia against the all alienating base pipe, an allusion reinforced”—and this is the part I really want to ask about, because I listened to it a million times to try to understand this—he says this is “an allusion reinforced by the echo of ‘marijuana’ in the song’s rapid refrain of “Don’t give me that, me don’t want that crack! Crack!’” And I’ve listened to the song so many times, but I can’t pick out or pinpoint the echo of “marijuana” in the song’s refrain—like this gentleman is claiming in this article.
Let me see—

So I wanted to ask you whether in fact that’s true?
Uh, like—

He’s saying, I guess, that you can hear either “marijuana” or something in the song—
(Singing softly lyrics to “Gimme No Crack”) And to the very end of the song, I said nothing about weed. (Laughing)

Sometimes things get written about music, and I love to just ask the source about it. And I—no disrespect to this gentleman who wrote the article, but I still—
That’s the only part [that’s incorrect.] I didn’t say what to replace it with. I just said “Don’t give me no crack.”

Right, and there’s no real allusion to marijuana—

Okay. Alright. Well I’m glad I asked. Now “Gimme No Crack” and “Chain Gang”—the last two hit songs we’ve been talking about—they appeared on your “Unity” album, which was the first of a few albums for Elektra records.

And is it accurate that Raul Roach, son of legendary drummer Max Roach, that he was the executive at Elektra who is the one who heard you I guess somewhere, and called you up, and connected with you, and signed you to that contract? How did that work?
Yeah. Raul Roach, Tyrone Wallace, Claude Evans, Elaine Valentine, Nancy Jeffreys, Barry Roberts, Beth Jacobs, and Primus—

Wow. All these people were involved?
—uh, Sylvia Rhone, and Bob Krasilovsky.

All these people were involved in getting you signed to Elektra?
Yep. Them and more, yes.

Them and more. That’s what I remember. And I say that deliberately, because I like to wait years—when folks think I forgot who I come from.

And give them their props.
How you mean? For the court’s records and the clerk’s minutes, oh yeah.

(Laughing) And I’m just curious, did he—how was it that they got his attention, how was it that—did he hear you somewhere? Or did he see you somewhere?
Raul put his ear to the streets because he was a young guy, too. And Raul is—Raul Roach is gonna go to clubs, and he’s gonna go to gigs. And he’s gonna look under rocks and mailboxes for this talent. Because that’s what good A&Rs do.

Nice. Now after that, Elektra would go on to produce almost all the rest of your full-length albums, including your third album “The Real Rock” (in 1990). Then Sidewalk University in ’92. Then “Troddin’” (in ’94)—though I think that was also produced together with African Love?

It think it was like a joint production. And then, your last full-length album (in ’99), “Praises,” was released by VP Records—

Right. And I understand that you are either soon—I’m hopeful—not only do I understand, but I’m hopeful—I understand that you are soon—sometime soon—to release—[and] you’re currently working on a brand new Shinehead album. And this is an album that’s gonna be on all Treasure Island rhythms?
(Walking over to sound board) Yup! Yes, indeed. Speaking of which—funny you should say that—oh my God. Well what do you know?

Some good ol’ Treasure Isle style. Gee, what have we here? (Playing music and turning up volume) Coming to a theater near you. To a sound system near you. (Turning up music)

(Laughing) Oh man. Beautiful.
I don’t know. I can’t get old.

Now Shinehead, granted Treasure Isle riddims are so dope, but why do you favor them? Why is it Treasure Isle for you—on this next new album?
Because I’m getting older. My time is shorter. And I am trying to cling and hold on to some last piece of authenticity. I mean I could create riddims, but—

There are a lot of different studios though from back in the day. Why Treasure Isle?
Well, simply because I haven’t done it yet. And how much realer can you get than a Treasure Isle—or a Studio One—or a High Note? Or a Bunny Lee. How much more authentic can you get than that? So I want to go backwards. I’m going home. I even dress like the music I make. That means tailor-made slacks, that means dress shoes, that means the striped shirt—that means I’m going back—Steve, I’m skipping it. I’m shape-shifting back into the matrix.

So I look the part. I am the part. I live the part. I am the part.

Now did you have to get—again, the lawyer side [of me] kicking in—did you have to get permission from anyone to use these Treasure Isle riddims?
The Peckings label has legal access—

—and that’s why I’m doing this.

That answers it.
And I was supposed to work with Chris Peckings like twenty years ago. ‘Cause Chris Peckings was introduced to me by African Love from longtime.

Many people who know reggae will know—but not everyone—that Peckings is a very famous, well-established, giant reggae label in the U.K.—

—very respected—
Yeah, so why not?

—with a long history. Yeah? Why not. Now I’m gonna ask about some [of these] singles that you [fairly recently released]: “Never Had a Dream Come True,” and “The Makings of You—”

—that I believe will be on this new [Shinehead] album [coming out soon]?

But first, just as we were discussing record labels or record companies. Will that [new] album also be on the Peckings label?

And do you have a tentative release date for this new album?

Why not? (Laughing)
Because I haven’t finished it yet. There’s real life. There’s a thing called “Grand Theft Uber.” Yeah.

It’s [gonna] take some time to put this new album out?

Fair enough. And do you have—have you thought of a name yet for the album, or not yet? [Maybe] [y]ou don’t want to name it yet?
Nah, but I have this thing in my head about cuff links and pinstripes. Because it’s not boogle-yagga jeans and t-shirt music. Seen? That’s why I said how much more authentic can you get than that? Let me try that for life’s sake. Because nowadays, for the most part, bullshit is being made. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Ras Michael - Live By The Spirit
By the way, if you want to go that far, you know what Ras Michael told me the last time I saw him?

He said, “Stephen, when are you gonna put on robes?” You know how Ras Michael wears robes. So he told me to take off—he said I shouldn’t be wearing jeans and sneakers, I should be wearing robes.
Because the man is a priest. I told you. High Priest!

He is.
I’m gonna cry when he’s gone. That man—that’s my pastor. I haven’t seen him in like four or five years. But that elder—

He’s the man.
—is the closest thing to my dad, and keeps me sane and dignified. Elder Ras Michael is one of the reasons my brain is working halfway decent. He’s one of the reasons my brain is working halfway decent. I don’t say nothing about it. I could say more people. I could say “Big D” down the block.

What I’ll say about that is, I published an article recently saying that Ras Michael is the first person to convince me to read the Bible from front to end—that I’d never been convinced by anyone to do that before.

He convinced me. This is only in the past year. And I’ve been—it’s because of Ras Michael.

So I’ll just say that. Now to get back to you though, because these songs, this [forthcoming] Treasure Isle album is such an awesome idea, and I can’t wait for it to drop. The [track] “Never Had a Dream Come True,” which you released in 2020, it’s a cover of a Stevie Wonder song from the 1970s that was also sung by Michael Jackson. And your take kinda amalgamates—or mashes up—their versions of that song. True?
So guess what I was thinking when that came to my head? I’m thinking this Stevie Wonder song—and I’m thinking what would Stevie, Frankie Paul, and Michael Jackson do with this together? And when I put it in my head, and tried to utter the sound, it was too much to do that day. Suffice to say it was some psycho shit. It was too powerful to do that day. It was emotionally challenging.

Yeah. I had to leave it alone for a few days. Talk to Buttahfly about it, and like—‘cause it had me in tears.

It’s a beautiful song. And I love your take on it. Much, much respect.
You understand what the bug-out is, psychologically? Why the older actor, what’s his name? That the Joker said to the younger, new actor, “When you go over in that zone, don’t stay too long.” And he stayed too long—

That happened to you?
—and died. The last guy that played the Joker? He was told by the previous OG, “When you go over there, don’t stay too long.”

You stayed too long with that song?
Yeah, but I didn’t stay long enough to get hurt. I stayed long enough for it to jerk me emotionally and physically, and I had a chance to escape. Regroup and come back stronger for this notion, ‘cause it’s not me—the notion was very powerful to me. It may not be shit to you—you could just flick that shit away with your finger. Well, it’s relative, and it was too strong for me that day, so I had to fall back and come back a few days later, and be stronger for it.

Shows you the power of music.
Right, because in my head, it’s Stevie, Michael, and Frankie Paul that I’m seeing in my head—just vibing. And I’m watching them. This is what’s going on in my head. And I’m like, “If they would do it together, how would they do it?” And I tried to do it, and the frequency was too—it brought me to tears. It had me bugging out.

I want my momma (laughing). Yo, I want my momma (laughing).

The song is so dope. And when I listen to it, and when I watch the very chill official video for that song—where it’s a daytrip. And everyone needs to go and Google this up. Go on YouTube to watch Shinehead’s official video for “Never Had a Dream Come True.” And there’s a daytrip that Shinehead takes to the beach. There’s some nice scenes—you’re singing with the ocean behind you. And you’re there with Buttahfly. And your sister, Starfire.

And your brother-in-law, Shango. And they’re—just some very mellow beach visuals that are kinda interspersed [with] images or clips of your career. And then it’s so cool, because you have clips of the Jackson 5. And a young man watching the Jackson 5. And I know, from reading about you, that you’ve always said that just looking at the Jackson 5 cover when you were young was one of the things that made you—
At Uncle Winston’s house.

—get into this business. Because they looked like they were inviting you to come along?

So I just thought it was amazing—people who—a lot of people might watch that music video, and not understand—that’s why I wanted to bring it up—because a lot of people might watch that video and not understand the depth of kinda the thinking behind that little clip of a young man watching that—because it’s so applied to your dream of becoming a musician. I just thought—my mind was blown when I watched the official video. And I kinda thought about it a little bit. You really thought about this .
Yeah. Every child is trying to find themselves. And I was searching, too. And then I see five little boys that looked like me having a whole lot of fun. And like, you just want to go into the picture [on the album cover].

Yeah. And you did. Not into a group, but in your own way. Now, in 2021, you released another wicked single, a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You.” I think it’s wicked. And again [it’s on] a Treasure Isle rhythm. I really dig this song. And your rendition is very soulful. Very expressive. I believe you said that also you planned to make some remakes of some Marvin Gaye songs, too—to put on the [forthcoming] album. Or am I wrong about that?
Oh yeah.

Oh yeah. On a Treasure Isle? Now possibly I’m not the first to think of it—and I’m probably not the first to go there, but no one’s gone there in a long time. And reggae music being in the shitty state it is now, you need to go back to the drawing board, and then come back up all over again. Nobody is studying the old lessons, because that’s “too old, and boring, and square, and corny.” But it made—it is the beginning. So I’m gonna go back to the beginning and then come up to the—as they would say—“up to the time.” By the way, side note: There are now millennium riddims that I’m actually on.

And whether it’s singing or deejaying, I was told I still [sound like I’m 18 or 19]. Okay, okay, produced by Badda General—Meeting Badda General for the first time (walking over to sound board area). Let’s see what me and Badda General come up with.

Shinehead Studio
Shinehead is at his computer, and he is summoning it up.
(Playing music loudly) Wow! Shinehead is 27—30 years old right now. (Dancing)

(Laughing) That sounds dope, man.
This next riddim, the only artist on this next riddim is Vybz Kartel. But during the World Cup season, we find the appropriate lyrics to put on this riddim. Why do I have this riddim? Because I’m an asshole! (Playing music loudly) Arsenal! Manchester United! Lion’s Club! What you thought it was just one-drop? Treasure Isle? Oh, hell no!

(Laughing) This is wicked.
(Singing) “It’s a dancehall life for us.” I got jokes. I got jokes. I think I’ll have one of these (opening Red Stripe). You sure you don’t want another one?

I’ll take another one.
So this is what I’ve been up to.

Dope, man.
Give thanks. And I don’t write anymore.

When you say that, what do you mean?
You get a notion, go back on the microphone, your opening line must be strong and powerful. Because that will amp your ego. And then your creativity will take it from there.

You’re going right where I want to go next.
Hold on. (Walking over to turn down the music.)

This is so shocking, Shinehead, because you’re reading my fucking mind actually!

Because last summer, I was incredibly blessed. Because I interviewed Johnny Osbourne. And more recently, as I mentioned to you, Dennis Alcapone. And they told me—both of them—that—Johnny Osbourne, I titled his interview “The Riddim Tells Me What to Say.” So—

And I raised this [with] Dennis Alcapone, too. And I said, what’s up, do you ever write—how do you create these—
I used to write.

And I saw—so I’m so happy you raised this, because I saw an interview that you did—or I read an interview that you did—and it seemed like you went the opposite style—kinda like me, I’m gonna confess. Because as you can see, [pointing to detailed interview questions] I don’t do this spontaneously.
Yeah. Yeah.

I’m ready.
I used to be like that. I used to be just as prepared like you—

I want to be ready to go spontaneous if I need to, but if I don’t have this (pointing at detailed interview questions)—
Yeah. You gotta have a blueprint.

So I was so baffled by Johnny Osbourne, and quite frankly, Dennis Alcapone[, too,] because they have some songs now, like, have you ever heard Dennis Alcapone’s “Mosquito 1?” (Singing) “Mosquito one—”
(Singing) “Mosquito two—”

“Mosquito jump in a hot callaloo.” I was just so amazed that they came up spontaneously—and I would have thought with songwriting—there are some people like Nadine Sutherland, whom I’ve interviewed, and some other people who have said that they write their lyrics down. They write. And you were a person that I thought was—right now you’re kinda saying something to me a little bit different than you used to—
I used to write, and I evolved into the phone. And then I just evolved into—I’m not the only person who—a lot of people, a lot of rappers do that. They don’t write. Jaz-O don’t write. Big L don’t write.

I think I’ve also seen somewhere where you explained this a little bit—where you called it “head-talk.”

Like a DJ being able to go off some line—
Yes. Yeah.

—being able to creatively come up with the next lyric.
Yes, and think that quickly in a live freestyle, because a live freestyle is the fastest of freestyles. A studio freestyle, you can take your time and just sew it up, and sew it up, bar after bar—you can just sew it up like that. So that’s what I’ve evolved into.

Wow. Unbelievable. So yeah, I wanted to ask you—I can’t believe that you raised it at the exact same time—
Eh, when your friends are Keith Murray, and Canibus, and Stitchy Don, and Broadway—when your friends are people like that, you’re either gonna evolve—or die. My friends consist of Joe 90 [and Sparky Rugged] from Java Nuclear—Yeah. [And MC Supernatural.] [And “Anon”—“act now or never.”] (Walking over to turn down volume on music)

Now Shinehead, in August of 2020, The Gleaner—Jamaica’s biggest newspaper—they published an article noting the release of “Never Had a Dream Come True.” And, that you [have] a new album—as we were just talking about—coming out with a “Treasure Isle flavor,” they said.
Yes. Rocksteady, I’d say.

And in that article, there’s a mention of a period, a time in your life, I think about a decade where you kinda dropped out of the music scene for a bit. Just to confirm the accuracy of what The Gleaner printed about that: They wrote that you, Shinehead, “summed up your perceived years-long absence in less than a minute.” That you said, “It started with a move to Ft. Lauderdale on All Fools Day in the year 2000, after which [you] went quiet for a couple of years, [and] got married.”

And then they wrote that you started singing again in 2012. And finally, they noted that your re-emergence got a big boost when the Marley family started to invite you to perform, in 2014, on their Jamrock Cruise. And my understanding is you’ve been performing on that Jamrock cruise ever since. Is that, first of all, a good—did they sum it up well, in terms of that period of time, I guess it was from the late nineties to maybe sometime toward 2010—
Yes, they did.

Okay. I just wanted to see. Because you never know sometimes with newspapers.
Yes, they did. Now I performed once on the Jamrock Cruise, but most times Buttahfly and I are on the cruise as Kingston 12. So—

Oh, okay.
We’re Kingston 12, the sound system—

Running the sound system, okay. Because I’ve seen numerous clips [that] are available on YouTube of you singing—there’s you with Cindy Breakspeare, there’s—
Barrington Levy.

Barrington Levy.
Papa Levy. Papa Michigan.

People need to google these things up, but yeah—

—and Reggae-Vibes will probably insert [into the article with this interview] some clips of them. But you’ve been on that cruise a couple of times, and you know, there’s clips of you—that’s one of the things that really kinda got you back, I guess, into the music scene. Is that accurate? And also, did you—did the Marleys just call you up. Or did you happen to have a friendship, connection, did you already personally know any of the Marley sons? Or the Marley family?
Before the cruise—before I was asked to be on the cruise, and I think maybe a year or two before I met Buttahfly, the Marleys godfather, Gilly Dread of Miami, asked me to come down to Miami to do something.

So I went down there, and played for them. And I brought the rub-a-dub. I brought the rub-a-dub!

So they remember that?
They remember that when they were tots. But it is also something they would like to learn. And it is the real shit. And why not have it? And they chose to have it. And I brought it for them.

Because of their godfather, Gilly Dread. That’s how Stephen [Marley] and them got to witness the rub-a-dub business. Seen? Then after that, that cooled off. And then, by the time 2012 comes, I meet Buttahfly. And by the time ’14 comes, I got on the Jamrock Cruise because of—JFX was supposed to be the man deejaying, and he couldn’t make it. So Byze One—rest in peace, rise in power—Byze One had it so that, I don’t know where this guy got my number. So it was Byze One, JFX, and Dan Dalton.

Got in touch with you? And basically—
JFX told me he couldn’t make it, so I gotta go. So Byze orchestrated that, and the next thing you know Dan Dalton is calling me.

Nice. That’s the Marley rep—
Manager. Seen? And we’re talking for hours, we’re just reasoning and reasoning. He says, “Yeah man, yeah man. Stephen and them say, ‘Yo, Shine, him have di ting. Him have di ting.’”

That rub-a-dub ting.

They’re smart.
And since the cruise started, we’ve always been invited—give thanks, you know?

And in addition to the success of your Jamrock cruise performances, and you know, being on the Jamrock Cruise, I understand that another thing that kinda led to you re-emerging—whatever you want to call it, coming back on the scene—
(Singing) “Don’t call it come back! I’ve been here for years.”

You know I wasn’t gonna let that go. Come on, man! Mi live in America, brederin. I’m not gonna let that go. You crazy.

image host
Inside Shinehead's Studio.
(Laughing) But another thing that brought you back, as it were, was when Richard O’Brien, or “King Richard,” the owner I believe of the original Kingston 12—

—Hi-Fi Sound System passed. And then my understanding is, is that King Richard’s family called you to let you know that King Richard was gonna give you all of his record collection, because he was convinced that you would—you Shinehead—would keep the music alive. Is all what I just said accurate?

Nice. And Shinehead, I’ve only lived in California, and been a reggae journalist—reggae historian—the last few years, since I retired from practicing law. So I don’t know that much or anything really except for what I kinda perused on your website about King Richard O’Brien. I don’t really know as much as I should—about his importance to reggae in California. Can you please educate me and everyone who might later read this—
King Richard and Tony Johnson, I’d say, started reggae on the West Coast.

Hmm. Wow. Period.
And King Richard didn’t have the Kingston 12 sound system. The O’Briens had the “Kingston 12 Club.”

Now was that in L.A.?
That was in L.A. And it used to move around—it used to be—out in Santa Monica, on Broadway and Santa Monica. And it moved around from the 70s until the 90s. It was an elongated club. I think—if my memory serves me correctly—kinda long like this warehouse right here. And I remember going there. But I didn’t live here yet. I didn’t really—

You were still in New York?
I was still in New York. I didn’t get here yet. And so, when I moved out here and then started vibing with Richard—then I got—then I got it.

Because you have Kiddie Rank and Firgo Digital, and you have King Richard. And you’ve got me. And I’m mad for music. And Kitty is madder. But I’ve seen nobody mad for music like King Richard. King Richard is losing weight, and we gotta hold him up. And King Richard just wants to find a venue to play some music.

King Richard [was] obviously—well, I don’t want to say “obviously”—Jamaican?
Yeah. Yeah. The family is Jamaican; the O’Briens are Jamaican.

Like Jamaican-English. And—

But they’ve been living in California for a long time—
Yeah, yeah. I still speak to some of the brothers, his brothers—especially his brother, Raymond. I speak to [him] every now and then. So King Richard loved music so much, when he was in the hospital, we go visit King Richard, and we bring the 45s, because he got a turntable—

Oh my gosh. In the hospital?
In the—yo, and we running tunes and we’re burning some weed.

(Laughing) Respect.
Yeah man. Sounds of the wise. King Richard said, “This is sounds of the wise.” And I always say that forever. The binding words: “Shinehead will keep this thing going” are the binding words. Because there are days I don’t feel like doing it. But—

But you remember that?
The binding words, Steve, the binding words. Because when I go see Richard now, what am I gonna tell him if I fuck this up? What am I gonna tell Tony Johnson? What am I gonna tell all those who passed when we buck up—what am I gonna tell’em if I fuck this up?

Nice. I hear you. It’s hard, elders looking down on everything.
Right. Right.

Now Shinehead, we’ve been talking for close to 115 minutes—

And I again want to thank you for your time. And for having me here. For today, I have just two or three last questions.

But I’m hoping, now that we’ve connected, that we’ll cross paths again. And I’ll get to ask you about more of your other dope songs that I dig, and that I’ve been listening to—
Look forward to it. Look forward to it.

There are some songs I just [have] to shout them out—because I sing these songs like in the shower—

—such as “World of the Video Game,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (off of the “Sidewalk University” album), the “Unity” song and the entire album, “Unity.” And you know, “The Sidewalk University” album. Plenty more tunes of yours, too, that at some point in the future I hope that we can dig into a little bit more. I have to ask, I read an article in Reggae-Vibes. I read it recently, but the article came out last summer. And the article was titled, “Shinehead Hits Central Park, NY Summer Stage.” And it said this was the first time you were gonna be performing in Central Park in over 30 years. People like Slick Rick, Wayne Wonder, and more were there as well.
Yeah, Red Fox was there—

How was it? How did it go?
It was a blast. I brought two biggie monsters onstage. And I brought an artist named Brooklyn—

“Biggie monsters?”
Yeah, biggie monsters. I brought this female artist named “Brooklyn.” She did very well. And these two biggie monsters, one of them is named “Prayer,” he lives in the Bronx—this Belizean cat. And this Jamaican cat, he’s a selecta for Capricorn Sound System, his name is Stitchie Don. When they talk, it’s effortless—Christopher Wallace. When they rap, it’s worse! I brought them on. At Central Park.

And the people loved it?
(Making loud roaring lion sounds)

And yeah, it was a blast. Screechy Don was there. And then a cypher popped off with Stitchie Don, myself, Keith Murray, and some other kids backstage. It was a blast. Uncle Ralph was there. Ralph McDaniels. Yes sir, Ralph McDaniels.

You’re dropping lots of names.
When security is walking up to me and telling me, “Yo, I remember when you came through our block when we was little. And you came through, and took the soccer ball out. And we was juggling like nothing. Jerk chicken over there, you know? Marinating and what not. Sound system”—and yo, these are big men talking to me. I’m like “damn.” (Laughing)

(Laughing) Shinehead, you’ve said there’s a new album on the horizon that we should watch out for—that’s big, big, big exciting news. What other festivals, shows, musical projects, do you have planned in 2023—that all the Shinehead fans should watch out for?
Well, you know, when we get it together and strengthen up again, I look forward to roots sound clashes, like—you know, ‘cause we were supposed to have Scientist, but we had to postpone that. I look forward to that. I look forward to going again to, maybe, Harambe Festival. I look forward to going up to the Reggae Village. Stuff like that. And basically, I hope the phone rings. We’ll be doing “Reggae Sunday School,” here at 121 East 18th Street, [in] downtown Los Angeles. Buttahfly and I—Kingston 12 Hi-Fi. We used to do [it] every Sunday, but it wore us out. So now we’re doing main events. So when it’s time for a main event, we will be blasting on platforms, and going live, and promoting and advertising and stuff. As far as a tour, or dates that I have in the future—

I’d love to see you perform live—I would love to.
Well, me too. But I don’t have any [dates] as yet. I look forward to having some. If not—

Keep me posted.
Yeah. If not, I’ll make my own.

Yeah, keep me posted on that, too.
We’ve got the space and the facilities, so—yeah, yes sir, I certainly will.

Shinehead, my last question, before I turn off my recorders—

—is this. You have many, many fans worldwide including myself. What final message to conclude this interview do you want to impart to all your fans? If you want to take a minute, you can. But I also want to say, as you ponder what your final message will be, give thanks Shinehead. So much respect.
Thank you. And respect to you, too.

And until the next time when we talk, bless up. But please, can you tell us, what’s your final message?
In this world of instant gratification, where everything is right here because of the [smart]phone, I suggest to every man and every woman, every boy, every girl, to see about your identity, and maintain it, while not infringing upon the identity of others. All you got to do is be considerate. Because if I’m doing some fuckery to you, Steve, and you don’t like it, and you do it back to me, I’m gonna get the points. Right?

I mean, we’ve heard this time and time again, seen? And folk remember, it’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it. It’s not where you live, it’s how you’re living. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. And when you visualize, it’ll materialize. This is Shinehead, Roots Skywalker, the Bronx Sinatra, signing off.


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