category: Reggae

RIP Sluggy Ranks

Peggy from Reggae Report indicated yesterday she’d seen reports that reggae singer Sluggy Ranks was killed in a car crash. If it turns out to be true, it’s a real loss, even though he wasn’t a household name for most.

Sluggy was a dancehall artist who came into his own in the mid-1980s, after he’d come to the United States from Kingston. His voice was unique and his mess was conscious and positive, in contrast to many of his dancehall contemporaries.

I thought I’d share three of my favorite tracks Sluggy’s been involved in. I’d love to hunt out more of his work, but much of it is hard to come by.

First is “Ghetto Youth Bust,” where Sluggy takes shot at the gun culture that’s been prevalent in dancehall and among Jamaican youth for decades:

“Progressive youth must try, / kill dem with positive vibes! / It’s nothing but conscious style. / Just tell me who a go hold it back, hold it back, / hold back the youths from buss!”

Sluggy reused the “Ghetto Youth Bust” hook when he teamed up with Trenton’s Poor Righteous Teachers and X Clan’s Brother J on the fantastic “Conscious Style” from PRT’s third album, The New World Order:

My favorite Sluggy track, “Ethiopia,” comes from his work with the Easy Star label on their debut 1997 compilation, Easy Star Volume One. The track is called “Ethiopia” and really captures Sluggy’s talent.

More here (with some inaccurate info re: his involvement with Easy Star).

The Reggae Report Archive

When I was in college in the mid-1990s, I was a pretty heavy hip-hop fan and had been for a while, but I had only started listening to reggae a few years before. Shabba Ranks’ “Trailor Load of Girls” was the first reggae song I distinctly remembered liking. It took some time, but eventually I was listening to Half Pint and starting to dive deeper into roots reggae.

Somehow–and honestly, I don’t remember how–I was given the opportunity to write for Reggae Report magazine, one of the most widely (if not the most widely) circulated print reggae magazine. It was quite a privilege to write for them and I was in some truly good company, especially considering how green I was. I can remember editor Sara Gurgen’s surprise when she had to explain to me what “ital” food was (and look at me now, one of the top five Google search results for the phrase!).

During my college stint, I wrote lots of reviews and the occasional feature article, including interviews with Mad Professor and Half Pint. I’ve always been thankful to the magazine’s founder M. Peggy Quattro and editor Sara Gurgen for giving me that shot. Because of that gig, I was introduced to amazing music and amazing people.

Today, Peggy celebrates her 30th year in the reggae business. If you know your music history, you may also know that today marks 30 years since Bob Marley died. It was quite a first day on the job for Peggy, who describes the day on Reggae Report‘s Facebook page:

10 a.m., May 11, 1981, I walk into DTAM with a heightened sense that something big was about to happen. I was imagining getting to meet Bob Marley, although I knew he was very ill and passing through Miami on his journey back home to Jamaica. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Don wasn’t there yet so I took it upon myself to organize my new office. There were pictures of Bob and Jimmy, posters, gold records, and boxes of papers and receipts everywhere. Herman, Don’s go-to guy/driver had reported in to help. By 11 a.m. I had my space semi-worked out and Herman and I chatted about Bob and he let me know just how serious Bob’s illness was. I was devastated. No, not Bob, not now. There was so much more for him to do, concerts to give, songs to record, lives to touch.

Don came bursting in looking very grave and serious. He barked a few instructions to get ready for Jimmy Cliff coming into town in a couple days. Oh my, I thought, Jimmy Cliff! You can get it if you really want it, harder they come…I was going to meet my idol, the man drawing 80,000-100,000 fans in Europe and Brazil. This was great!

At 11:45 a.m. the phone rang. Rita Marley asking for Don. My stomach sank. Don grabbed the call and raced out the door. Not before stopping to look me in the eye and say, “If anyone calls, you know nothing.” In fact, I knew nothing, but the sinking feeling grew and Herman and I looked at each other with a knowing glance that this was possibly it. The moment everyone dreaded, the moment we prayed not to happen, we knew. Bob was gone.

30 years later, she’s launching a new project, raising funds through Kickstarter for the Reggae Report Archive. She’s making available the entire magazine archive as well as exclusive audio interviews (I’ll have to dig up some of my old tapes!) and video. It’s a great project and if reggae music has made a mark on your life, I encourage you to drop a few coins in the bucket:

Congrats to MPQ and best of luck with this great endeavor.