Artist on Artist: Dancehall superstar Yellowman talks to MC Zulu | Artist on Artist | Chicago Reader

Artist on Artist: Dancehall superstar Yellowman talks to MC Zulu 

"Nothing good comes out of Jamaica in terms of music right now, because everybody want to be rich."

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But the way reggae keeps moving is that it completely moves away from its foundation and continually reinvents itself. Do you see aspects of what you were doing in today's reggae music that's coming out of Jamaica? Especially out of the dancehall. The younger guys, you have a couple of them doing positive things. But they are not positive enough in terms of our local culture. The music—they are doing hip-hop. They're doing pop, hip-hop music. Because there is a thing going on now in Jamaica, because we are celebrating—

The anniversary. The 50-year anniversary of independence. And there's a thing with the theme music, the music that they play to highlight the 50th anniversary. And the people in Jamaica, there's a thing with them and the government going on—because the people mad, the people vexed, the people don't like the theme song. Because the theme song, it sound like pop and hip-hop.

click to enlarge MC Zulu Yellowman interview
  • MC Zulu
  • Parris Reaves

Where do you stand in all of that? Well, you know, that mostly shows you that nothing good comes out of Jamaica in terms of music right now. Because everybody want to be rich, you know. So they hustle the music. So there is nothing good coming out.

I think that is a very profound statement you just said right there. "They hustle the music." In the beginning of reggae, there was a lot of imitation of the United States, but they still put their own kind of spin on it. Now there's out-and-out imitation of what's coming out of the United States, because they feel maybe there might be some kind of a financial reward that comes as a result. Yeah, true.

I think you've done quite a bit for not only the music scene, but for people overall. Some of the challenges you were born with—this was genius to me. Like, that's why they called you Yellowman, because you're an albino. I just get that name in the street, you know. And it stick with me because my favorite color is yellow. Because yellow is a penetrating color. Yellow stand out in every major way of life.

I heard a song, though, that sounded like maybe you were coping with some negative aspects of being albino. Where you said, "The people say, Lord, what a ugly baby." Oh, yeah. Right. "Me a gon tell you me life story," yeah, that one.

Yeah. Yeah, man. Because I was growing up, I got kidded on, I got chided. I go through a lot of tribulation. Because other kids used to call me a name I can't even repeat. They scorned me, you know. Even when I go to school. I used to end up in one corner, you know, crying. Even when I'm grow up, and I go to the studios, I go to every studio all over Jamaica and they turn me out.

This is why I was so honored when I got the chance to interview you—because it's not just, you know, the vibes and the fact that everything you're on sounded so great. You are a hero to a lot of people who didn't fit in, you know? Right.

And even with that going on, you still took the time to try to get a message across on the political side of things. That is one of the reasons why I'm out here. The general public, the Jamaican people themselves, they are the ones who give the respect. But the people who—like the radio, some of the media house—they don't give the respect. That's the reason why I have to come out here and tour, you know. That's the reason why me, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Third World, Sean Paul, Shaggy, Shabba [Ranks], Mighty Diamonds, all of us been touring, because they don't give us the respect. They give the younger artist—that's rubbish, because right now it's just rubbish been coming out of dancehall and reggae.

I know. Yeah. That's the reason why people get mad. Because now, because of technology, the young people been finding out that the vintage music was the music. So most of the young artists, they trying to come into the roots of reggae.

Busy Signal's last album, Mr. Vegas's last album. Right. You know, they found out that internationally—Europe, Japan, America, you know, the Caribbean itself—they don't want to hear no more dancehall artists, these young dancehall artists. Because they are bad influence on the young people, like—you know, look at people like Vybz Kartel.

What are your thoughts about Vybz Kartel? He's in prison now, he's in jail. So it is a lot of bad influence. They come with the gangster thing, they come with the negative thing.

Yeah, I don't see them really as the problem—I see them as a symptom of the problem. I mean, Vybz Kartel is so talented it's not funny. But the things that he's saying would have come out differently if he—if the world was some other things. Let's put it this way. They got the talent, but they don't use the talent in the right way.

But I believe the reason why that is so is because the things that we hear you singing about—and not necessarily the Chinese, but the establishment overall—It just became so pervasive, and it has completely influenced the culture of young people, so that now all they do is imitate acts who they think would bring them some money. Or talk about murder or things they believe will get them money. Even if they don't necessarily believe it. Yeah, but Vybz Kartel is a murderer. That's what he's in jail for. [Editor's note: At press time Vybz Kartel had not been convicted of either of the murders with which he's been charged.]

Maybe they feel that, you know, "I gotta keep it real." And the people who are listening to the music, they're not just influenced by the music. They're influenced by the culture, and that becomes how they live their life. Yeah, the big cars, the jewels. The clothes, you know.

It's social breeding. And I hope the Reader prints that, because that's the reason why the establishment has been aligned against dancehall culture. That's why it is. Initially it was aimed at black people, but now it's just negativity against everyone—the idea of embracing things that are detrimental to your well-being. Kids have come to think that's cool. Right, right. It aim at the young people also. It target the young people.

Yeah, man. So on July 11, you'll be here in Chicago? Yeah.

What are some of the things we can look forward to? Well, you know, people having a good time, because that's my purpose. To turn bad people into good people, and sad people into happy people, and put smile on people's face. Because that's what I'm for. I don't do anything else. I don't sell drugs, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't gamble. My purpose is to make people happy, you know. That's what I do.

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