Before Jamaican dancehall legend Vybz Kartel was charged with murder in 2011, he was already making headlines around the world. Yes, for his flamboyant press wrangling, yes, for his so-called ‘skin bleaching soap’, and of course for his hilarious reality show Teacher’s Pet, but most importantly, for the tight, modern dancehall production on the unique album Kingston Story. The latter was brought to you by an unlikely soul: Dre Skull.
This guy, based in Brooklyn, has basically achieved the impossible. He penetrated the Jamaican music scene from the ground up, built the multi-genre label Mixpak, and eventually scored a chart-topping dancehall track with Vybz, “Yuh Love.”
These days he’s hanging with the dancehall heavyweights from Beenie Man to Natalie Storm, both of whom appear on his latest Mixpak release, “Loudspeaker Riddim.” Dre is also slated to work with Diplo on Snoop Dogg’s upcoming album, infusing his signature Jamaican feel.
I talked to Dre Skull about Vybz’ arrest, the state of dancehall, and how hard it is for non-Jamaicans to speak Patois.
A lot of vitriol in dancehall. Before you produced Vybz and when you were becoming a name, as an outsider what was the reaction to you?
At first no reaction. [laughs] Being ignored would be the easy answer. I think that we live in such a digital world where most people are hearing music for the first time on YouTube, so they don’t necessarily know who produced what, in many ways the music gets to speak for itself. When I was first starting out with dancehall stuff, I wasn’t being looked at as an outsider ’cause there wasn’t even enough interest. But as time went on, in a way I got lucky because my second Jamaican collaboration was Kartel’s “Yuh Love,” and that song became hugely popular so that helped me quite a bit. That kind of opened the doors for me.
Do you think dancehall has gained more traction outside of the Caribbean in recent years, producers like yourself and Mad Decent and the like?
Yeah… I mean it’s kind of like, the way I see it, there are two counter strains at work. One is that the major label support for dancehall has collapsed in the last decade or the last five years, and then there’s kind of an insurgence within Jamaica and outside Jamaica that are kind of counteracting that. Mad Decent’s a great example.
I think it’s kind of interesting. In a way it’s kind of the story of what’s happening to the music industry at large. But I think dancehall and/or dancehall-inspired music is kind of reaching more disparate listeners than ever before. At the same time the support for dancehall on, say, Hot 97 and from major radio in the US and on major labels is at an all-time low. But I think there may be a change happening now and kind of going forward. I feel subtly that the work of the underground supporting dancehall and dancehall-inspired sound is starting to feedback and effect what people are thanking about at the major labels…whether it’s Kanye or Nas’ recent use of reggae samples, or different things that I’ve heard about where certain major label artists are going to … there might be a resurgence. I’m interested to see where that goes.
I’m hoping to see either a major rapper or a major label sign a dancehall artist to their camp. Movado has his deal with DJ Khaled, and that’s cool, and it feels like that could be happening more and more. That would be great for dancehall and Jamaican artists.
Working with Diplo on Snoop’s album. Would you say this is the breaking moment for you? What should we expect in terms of release date ?
Diplo brought me into produce the new Snoop album with him and Ariel Rechtshaid and it’s been very cool to be involved. It’s an album inspired by Jamaican music. I’m not exactly sure on a release date. I was down in Jamaica working on the recording in February, we were down there for 17 days or something like that . . . hopefully the record will be done relatively soon. I’m not sure of the timing, but it’s been really exciting to be involved with the project.
When you heard about the trial and everything what did that mean for you? And the album?
The way the news kinda rolled out, first he was arrested, then there weren’t any charges announced. He’s been locked up and held without charges a number of times over the last 2 years, so I thought it would be more of the same and he’d be released. I had no idea the severity of the charges or that he would be held for as long as he’s being held now. Initially it was just an arrest with no word on the charges, and we were like 6 days away from shooting a video for the single “Half on a Baby?” Then when I heard the severity of the charges, it was obviously upsetting and concerning. In terms of the the effect on the album, for awhile I would have to say that the media exposure from his situation kinda raised the awareness. For example we had, a magazine from India asking us for photos and stuff like that– magazines that were not even music magazines. There was a fascination around the world with the case . . . it is kind of a strange situation with one of the biggest stars in Jamaica being arrested like this, so I can understand. But you know, for awhile you could say that it gave exposure, but ultimately I think him being locked up, if he was out doing promo that would probably help the album. On a human level, obviously I’d much rather have him not involved in these circumstances.
Are you still in touch with him?
I have not been able to speak with him directly. I’ve been trying to see about the ability to visit him but it’s been complicated. I e-mailed with his lawyer, and I’m trying to have a conversation. I’m scheduled to go to Jamaica next week so I’m trying to see if that’s a possibility but it seems difficult. I asked his lawyer to give him a message but I haven’t heard back.
How’s your Patois?
I make very little effort to speak Patois. I mean, over repeated trips my ability to understand has increased, but I’ve never really worked at being able to speak Patois.
Read more of his interview @ [MTV Iggy]
Jamaican Is Chef To The Stars- Recently Catered For US President, Barack Obama [Jamaica Gleaner]
Mavado Dropped From YMCMB Label, Deejay Banned In Canada? [The Hype Life Mag]
Zimbabwe tightens on Jamaican acts [Jamaica Observer]
Tanya Stephens Outlines Story of Endurance In New Single “Dirty Thoughts” [CaribbeanEMagazine]
Photos: Seven Ladies Enter 2012 Miss Bermuda [BerNews]
Rich Nice Breaks The Silence On Orlando Octave/Millionare Family Issue[Etcetera Buzz]
Rick Ross, Swizz Beatz Give Back to the Community in South Florida [Sandra Rose]
Alicia Keys Joins Billboard Music Awards Performers [That Grape Juice]