Sound the Alarm: Metric Man Brings The Vibes From Trinidad to BK

Words by Richard “Treats” Dryden

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Trini gladiator, anti-hesitator

These lyrics were famously uttered by Phife Dawg on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Oh My God,” but they could easily be applied to Metric Man, a bold new voice from Laventille Road, Trinidad, by way of Brooklyn. His attack on instrumentals and riddims cuts with a similar fierceness, while tonally he evokes reggae vocalists like Capleton and other ’90s dancehall-minded Caribbean MCs like Mad Lion. With his towering height, booming voice and thick beard, it’s clear that this MC certainly ain’t no joke.

In his video for “Break Curfew,” Metric Man commands the camera on a night in Brooklyn, rapping between pulls of a smoke to DJ Hi-Tek’s beat for “Respiration,” from Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s classic Black Star album. As with most of Metric Man‘s work, the track combines reggae and hip-hop โ€” not soca, the sound synonymous with Trinidad & Tobago. On hisย Fire Alarm EP with DJ/producer Proper Villains, the duo blend ’90s hip-hop and dancehall vibes with bass-driven electronic sounds. Highlights of the release, which dropped last week on Jillionaire’s Feel Up Records, include “Two to the Chest” on the Stalag Riddim, and lead single “Inna Dat With Dem,” which interpolates Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and “Take Me To the Mardi Gras” by Bob James, and lifts the chorus from Metric Man’s 2012 reggae track by the same name (from his I Am Free mixtape).

LargeUp checked in with Metric Man for a conversation about Fire Alarm, and his musical and cultural influences, from Shabba Ranks to Marcus Garvey.

LargeUp: Compared to your previous projects tell me what made the recording of Fire Alarm unique.

Metric Man: Most of my work done before was either [done] by myself or with my crew [Conquering Force Movement]. Instead, Fire Alarm is with Proper Villains, as we decided to team up and meet [at a] center point, and find a blend that works for most listeners, if not all. He’s from Long Island, New York, and I am from Laventille Road/Maloney Gardens Trinidad. We both have differences and common points in our past and used such to present this type of project, where the hood meets the burbs, and blended it like good coffee.

LU: The Fire Alarm project leans more towards hip-hop. What artists from the West Indies that also made hip-hop had the biggest impact on your sound?
MM: Not many artists from the West Indies make hip-hop, as far as I could recall, that inspired me. It’s basic dancehall, from voices like Burro Banton, Shabba Ranks to Bounty Killer to Half Pint to Shaggy, Screechy Don, Shinehead and many more. Artists always inspire other artists. Growing up in Trinidad, we are exposed to all genres of music so for instance when Wu Tang started being played on the airwaves in Trinidad, I would just blend freestyles over the beats for my boys and so forth. Most of my inspiration still comes from the old school calypsonians and classic reggae singers. The Merchant, The Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener on the calypso side and Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller, I-Roy, Big Youth on the reggae side, and many more. There was never one specific artist that influenced me fully. I remember the mid 90’s, when dancehall was blended over hip-hop, and thought it was a cool sound. [I] decided to stay experimental and open minded when engaging my art.
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LU: You made a reference to Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line on “All Black” and the “Break Curfew” freestyle pays homage to the Jamaican freedom fighter and Mos Def and Talib Kweli. What made you choose that beat?

MM: [The] reference of Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Liner was inspired by his works. I had to big up the General as he was one of the few men who have inspired so many leaders. Gotta give respect where it’s due, and I have to keep the concept of independence alive and well by passing it through my music. Hanging one day in the studio with my good friend Brooklyn Shanti, we decided that we still need to keep the boom bap sound alive and well. Shanti gave me a few boombappers, I walked to the rooftop of the studio and was back down in about 20 mins with the idea over the Black Star “Respiration” instrumental. Talib Kweli and Mos Def are undeniably dope artists and their works I’ve been listening to, so when I heard the “Respiration” beat in the cluster, I jumped at the opportunity to drop some versatile style, and rebelious content. As I said in the intro, “Someplace Called Brooklyn” which I believe re-captured the blends of reggae freestyle over a heavy hip-hop beat.

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