Words by Jesse Serwer, via Broward-Palm Beach New Times
Back in March, I interviewed Mykal Rose for the Broward Palm Beach New Times, while he was in Florida for Fort Lauderdale’s Icons of Reggae concert. Among other things, we spoke about autotune, his distinctive “tu-tu tweng” vocal style and Black Uhuru’s connections to TV shows like Miami Vice, The Cosby Show and movies like The Mighty Quinn. He also played me a then freshly recorded cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” by him and the Easy Star All-Stars (which we now know to be a part of their upcoming Thrillah LP). Today being Mykal’s 55th birthday, we’re running some of the highlights from that conversation.
LargeUp: You had something of a surprise hit with “Shoot Out” a few years ago. Have you released any music since then?
Mykal Rose: Actually, no. Things have come up but collaborations mostly.
LU: That song was pretty different from what people might expect from you, most notably in its use of Autotune. I’m sure you’ve had people ask you why someone with a voice like yours would need a tool like that
MR: Alright, a lot of people seem to be not remembering stuff. When we were recording with Sly and Robbie as producers, we had songs where we used vocoder. It’s the same thing. If you listen to the album named Chill Out, there’s vocoder on my voice. A lot of people get upset now because most of the younger youths are using it but it becomes a part of the marketing now. People get hooked onto it. If you listen to Chris Brown… It’s everywhere. In the business now you can’t do without it. [I've] been singing with Autotune from a long time. Alright, alright. I’m going to play you something different. Don’t get frightened now, okay? Listen to this. [Plays a cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" with Autotune-affected vocals]. Yo.
LU: When did you make that?
MR: Five or four days ago. You like it?
LU: Yeah. That wasn’t what I was expecting you to play me. What made you do a Michael Jackson song?
MR: Actually it’s a group, Easy Star [All-Stars] out of New York. They were the ones who asked me to record the Beatles track, “A Day in the Life.” The harmony is amazing. Listen to this. [Plays another song, also with Autotune on it]. This is my album now.
LU: You are someone who can claim to have invented your vocal style. How did you come up with the tu tu tweng style?
MR: When I just started out, I used to sound like Dennis Brown, in the ’70s. It is good to idolize someone but up to a point. Me just said to myself, “Bwoy, you can sound like someone but you cyan go to far with it.” As somebody in the business, if you want to be established on a level, you have to create something for your own self that identifies you when you’re out there, and pushes that image.
LU: Black Uhuru gained popularity at a time in the ’80s where reggae was starting to be used a lot in TV and in movies. For instance, the first time I heard your music was in Miami Vice.
MR: To tell you the truth, mi never know about that. A lot of things happened with the music where we didn’t know. Nobody ever called us and notified us, and said “OK, we’re going to use your song and it’s going to be in a Miami Vice.” Certain things now like The Mighty Quinn, I was there. More times somebody just takes the record and decides to use it. Nobody comes and talks to you and says alright, this is a contract. So how that did work, I wouldn’t know how to start.
LU: Do you think it benefited you?
MR: It was a good move, still. Even the other day somebody called me on the phone and said, “find a station,” and I said “what do you mean?” And they said “Bwoy, on Bill Cosby, ‘Sponji Reggae’ playing.”
LU: Have you ever seen that episode of the Cosby Show? Lisa Bonet and her boyfriend in that episode were talking in a fake Jamaican accent and singing “Sponji Reggae”
MR: I heard it before but it was a long time ago. But they replayed it recently. Yeah, they tried a Jamaica kind of talk.