Words by Jonathan Cunningham
Yes, we’re launching a new series of LARGE UP profiles, this time focusing on freshman (and freshgal) artists coming up in the ranks of dancehall, soca and all the other spheres of West Indian music. We set things off in style with the UK reggae’s hottest property, singjay Gappy Ranks, interviewed by intrepid LU contributor Jonathan Cunningham. Read on and enjoy the Soul II Soul harmonies of “Heaven in Her Eyes” as well as the new-brand track “English Money” (after the jump). Expect to see more Rookie Cards soon (wha gwan, Popcaan?) but since 2010 is almost done we are calling it for Gappy: Rookie of the Year! – Ed.
Stealing a page out of Drake’s playbook, London’s most popular reggae artist of 2010 introduced himself to an international audience with a style of chat aimed at reeling in hardcore fans, then opted for singing when it came time for a proper album release. But unlike Drake–who rapped as many guest-verses as humanly possible and then hit fans with a borderline R&B album–Gappy Ranks broke out internationally by voicing straight up dancehall tunes before secretly crafting his stellar and soulful release, Put the Stereo On.[audio:http://largeup.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/02-Heaven-In-Her-Eyes.mp3|titles=02 Heaven In Her Eyes]
Released this past August, Stereo would deserve to be nominated for throwback album of the year if such an award existed. Anyone that’s heard it can’t miss the early Studio One feel, the Coxsone Dodd-esque production and even rockers vibe that radiates throughout the project. It’s not what one would immediately expect from a 27-year-old who cut his teeth in London’s rugged dancehall scene and first gained citywide exposure via pirate radio. But chopping it up with Gappy on a recent stateside trip, he says the sound isn’t a stretch at all. “It was very important to me to study the traditions of the way reggae is done,” he says. “I came up in the Bounty and Beenie Man era. But I was listening to the Alton Ellis, the Ken Boothe, the Al Green and folks of that era as well. For me, it’s natural to make an album with sounds from that era because those were heavy influences on me when I was a youth.”
Golden-era influences are fairly common but Gappy was actually smart enough to financially capitalize on them, gaining a larger audience in the process. His name is strong in the dancehall, but reggae lovers who aren’t fond of those vibes can still enjoy his music as well–a big part of why he’s able to do spot dates and mini tours all over Europe, the Caribbean, and the States consistently despite his rookie status. His constant collaborations with other artists in the UK, Europe, and soundsystems in the U.S. doesn’t hurt either. But no matter where he goes, he’s still repping his North West London neighborhood of Harlesden to the fullest.
“It feels good to be able to represent for Harlesden and London right now,” he says. “There was definitely a decline in press attention for awhile, but there’s so much reggae history in London, my neighborhood especially. Right where artists like Tubby T, General Levy, Chukki Star and so many come from…it feels good to be well known there and represent that history in my music.”
Gappy’s speaking voice is reflective of his global upbringing as well. He can float effortlessly between a London twang, Jamaican patois (which he gets from his dad) and Dominican slang as well. Gappy’s mother is from DR And during a rough patch in his life when he was a bit too unruly, his mother didn’t hesitate to send him back to the island Junot Diaz-style for some groundation.
“I went there to find myself,” he says about his sojourn to the Dominican Republic back in 2000. “You have to do these things sometimes to grow. I lived there for a year and got to know the culture and the way of life.” As for what caused him to get sent to DR in the first place: “When I was a teenager, I went through a thing of homelessness. Problems and choices that I made caused it–a lack of communication with my parents too. Music wasn’t my priority. So I had to get to truly know myself. But these are the things that built Gappy Ranks. I use them as building blocks.”
Now that Gappy’s got a city behind him, a signature tune (“Stinkin’ Rich”), and a growing music catalog via his solid Rising out of the Ghetto EP and the PTSO full length, he says he’s eager to drop another album in early 2011. That project, Thanks and Praises, should come out in February on Gappy’s own Hot Coffee label (distributed by VP).
He’s also starting to dabble in production and recently cooked up the Tsunami riddim–a flip of the classic Punanny Riddim–and the Starbucks Riddim as well. But beats ain’t the only thing Gappy cooks up. When asked to name one thing that most people don’t know about him, he’s quick to respond: “That I’m a top chef! My favorite dish to make is chicken breasts with cashew nuts, lemon and lime, rice, and macaroni and cheese. My macaroni is to die for, I tell ya. It’s not the sloppy one. It’s hot like a fresh cake and when I’m cooking for a woman and it’s time to seal the deal? That’s what I make.”