Words by Jesse Serwer
To the masses, Rayvon is that guy who sang on Shaggy megahits like “Angel” and “In the Summertime.” Others may yet confuse him for Rik Rok. Those who followed dancehall in the ’90s, especially here in New York City, know him as one of the style’s most diverse practitioners. While he played the role of smooth crooner alongside Shaggy, the Brooklyn-raised Barbados native has always been equally at home as a rough, rugged deejay, and his solo output over the years has seen him move easily between both roles. It’s on hip-hop/dancehall hybrids, like the classic “No Guns, No Murder” and “P in Pretty,” where Rayvon perhaps excelled the most, dropping a combination of patois and old-school party rhymes over beats from Funkmaster Flex. As it turns out, he was a DJ in a hip-hop group before catching the dancehall bug. Ray just dropped his first LP in nine years, a self-titled album on his new label, GTC Entertainment. We’re digging the vibes on singles “Back It Up” and “When I Get You Home”(with longtime collaborator Red Fox) but since it’s Throwback Thursday, we couldn’t help taking him on a trip down memory lane.
LargeUp: How did growing up in a place like Central Brooklyn, which revolves around Jamaican culture in a way, influence you? A lot of people might not realize you’re Bajan, not Jamaican…
Rayvon: Actually my first reggae influence was Bob Marley, in Barbados. Growing up in Barbados at that time, I was influenced by all kinds of music. In most of the Caribbean, you get to hear a lot of pop, country and western. You’d hear calypso, reggae. My father used to play a lot of soul. He really kept music alive in the house. With all that music going on, I used to be beating on the pots and pans. My parents realized he’s playing to the beat for real, not just making noise, and they bought me a drum set. Everybody used to call me “Little Drummer Boy.” And then I came to the States, and learned to play the bass guitar. Growing up in Brooklyn at that time, I was influenced a lot by hiphop. I started out as a DJ for a rap group before I even started singing reggae.
Q: I didn’t know that…
A: I was needle-dropping, backspinning-everything. I was good for my age at 12, 13 years old. We was putting it down as little kids.
Q: What did you go by?
A: Caprice the Beast. My group was High Post 3, Apache Nation. We was doing block parties, proms. We was good. That’s why you hear a lot of hiphop in my music from over the years. I’ve always had that in my background.
Q: Did you get to chat on any of the local Brooklyn soundsystems at that stage?
A: I used to chat on Vital Sound, from President Street. Other artists there was Screechie Dan, Little James Bond, Night Rider, Daddy Pecker, Flipper T, Trevor Sparks…
Q: When did you decide to stop doing the rap group thing and focus on dancehall?
A: That happened in high school. I went to a concert with Brigadier Jerry and Little John, and I got really inspired. I decided I want to sing. And then I practiced relentlessly, every day. I’d come home from school–boom, music. I was just doing it because I loved to do it. I wasn’t like I’m gonna make a living from it or a career. I got a break one day to go to a studio in Brooklyn, Living Room Studio, and cut my first record. And then I was like, ‘Alright.’ Every step is definitely a move as far as encouragement. You do one thing and, if it pays off, you go to the next step. That pays off, and you keep going.
Q: Did that first record you cut come out?
A: Yeah, but it came out in the UK first. There were a few copies in New York. That was the first time I ever heard myself on the radio, chatting. It was a DJ record called “Sweet and Pretty.”
Q: How did you first meet Shaggy?
A: In that same recording studio. I was there about two years later, and Shaggy came through to do a record while I was doing one. The producer said you should do a record together, and we ended up doing a combination–me singing, and him chatting. The chemistry was just wicked from there so we took that vibe and just ran with it. We went to Don Juan Studio and did some songs over there and then we did some songs with Sting International. And Sting’s songs took off.
Q: At the same time you were singing with him, you were doing deejay songs on your own. Were you always trying to do both?
A: Yeah, I was chatting as much as I was singing. My first songs was mostly deejay records, with a few singing ones. I did a song also with Roman Stewart where he was singing and I was chatting. The more sensible thing at that time, if Shaggy would come in, he’s the deejay. If I could sing, I mine as well sing. It don’t make no sense to have two deejays. And it worked out because he had his rough voice and I had a smooth voice. We played off one another real good.
Q: You and Funk Flex have some classic records together. Did you actually come together with him creatively or was his input always after the fact as a remixer?
A: Frankie Cutlass brought in Flex to remix of a record Frankie and me did called “Girl’s Fresh.” After that, there was a vibe there. Flex down the line wanted to do some production, and probably about a year later and we did “No Guns, No Murder.” I just came off the road and I’m tired, about to go to sleep, not getting out the bed for nothing, and boom, I get a call from Frankie Cutlass saying, ‘Me and Flex are at the studio, he got a hot track.’ I said alright I’m coming down but I didn’t think I was really gonna go because I was really tired. But I went down there at about 1 in the morning, heard the track and said let me write something to it, and got out of there about 6 or 7. That was the beginning of that vibe and that was “No Guns, No Murder.”
Q: You weren’t known as a conscious artist. What made you write about that topic?
A: Being a deejay, I wrote about all kinds of topics. Because that’s how you came up on soundsystems. You had to just freestyle it sometimes. You had to have a wide range of topics to talk about. At that time, a lot of parties might have been getting shot up so I thought it was appropriate. People go to parties to have a good time. Not to get into no fuckery. It’s a party record but if you can put a little message in your music at the same time, why not.
Q: It took a while after your first songs before your first album came out. How much did guesting on a huge song like “In the Summertime” with Shaggy help you as a solo artist?
A: That song definitely put us in a more mainstream light. And now they can throw that pop thing behind your name. That song was featured on a lot of TV shows. It was on Beverly Hills 90210 and we actually performed it on an episode of Baywatch. It was on a couple soap operas. It put a whole different light on things.
Q: Was having these huge hits with Shaggy all good or was it also a curse, too? There must have been pressure to be able to follow that up on your own, and not just be that guy who sings with Shaggy…
Anybody who’s followed Rayvon’s history will know that Rayvon bounced back and forth. He does the deejay thing, he does the singing thing. I’ve accomplished things on my own, and I’ve accomplished a lot with Shaggy. It’s definitely a blessing. I wouldn’t say it’s a curse. A lot of this territory was new. “Angel” was a bigger thing than “In the Summertime.” It was more TV shows, and more and different opportunities. For me to be on one of those songs on an album that is one of the biggest selling albums, that’s an accomplishment. I found myself in Malaysia and China and Israel and even Beirut, all over Africa. Doing what I’m doing now, it definitely helped. Now with me launching off this label, I can put all of the things I’ve learned and experienced into the project and the business at the same time. It’s a longevity thing we’re trying to do. We’re gonna be doing it for years.
Q: Red Fox is another Brooklyn dancehall artist who comes from the same period, and you guys did the classic combination tune “Bashment Party,” a few years ago. You linked with him again, for “When I Get You Home”…
A: We did classic work in the past. A lot of people liked the vibe and chemistry. It’s definitely a good thing to bring it back, and give it a different twist. We did a lot of work together. I might be putting out a “Best of Rayvon and Red Fox” album on the label.
Q: When are you gonna do a song with your fellow Bajan crossover sensation, Rihanna?
A: I’ve been hearing that for a minute now. Nothing is in the works but you never know. But that will be interesting. I don’t know what kind of song it would be—a reggae song, a hiphop song, a dance song, or even a calypso song.
Q: What has having one of the biggest stars in the world done for the music industry in Barbados, if anything?
A: It definitely sheds more light on musicians and artists living on the island. Now I’m hearing about quite a few Bajan artists that’s been coming out. You have another female artist, Shontelle, then there’s another artist, Kirk Brown, and another…
Q: Hal Linton? You know him?
A: No I didn’t but see…you just named another one. There’s definitely a spotlight on the talent in Barbados, and that’s a good thing.