Words by Sherman Escoffery, Photos by Sobe Kelly Knight—
Born into a family of religious conflict, Gyptian finds no conflict in switching from highly suggestive love songs like the massive hit “Hold You” to the conscious music he first established himself with. “I am here to elevate the mind of the people but I love the ladies so much, man,” he states. He smiles when he says this. The artist is in no rush as he sits and reasons with Large Up during a 10-hour layover in New York while on his way to a performance in Dubai.
With “Hold You,” the biggest reggae song in the last three years, still in rotation on several stations in the US and Europe, it is just starting to blaze in several countries on the continent of Africa. Gyptian’s eyes fill with emotion whenever he says the Mother side (Africa). “Calabar, Nigeria is calling me you know—that show is going to be wicked,” he says in a pensive voice, before drifting off into his own thoughts.
Still growing musically while touring the world, Gyptian is grateful but not overly excited by the MOBO or Soul Train awards he has recently won. His selection among the top 4 in MTV Iggy’s Best Band In the World contest (which saw him perform in a concert broadcast in New York’s Times Square) is exciting to him but he plays it down as, “Just a natural mystic.” What he does believe is that his real accomplishment is when he is in front of a live overseas crowd and performing, as he tours the six inhabitable continents of the world, preaching the divine work of Jamaican music—reggae.
Large Up: Tell us a little about yourself.
Gyptian: Growing up was pretty smooth, you know we Jamaicans have it hard, some have it harder. Probably I was in the bracket of just having it hard. I have a Christian mother and Rastafarian father so a lot of brothers and sisters outside because my father is like that, but my mom has four kids: two boys and two girls.
LU: Was there an incident or particular event that made you know you wanted to sing professionally?
Gyptian: Well I was a big fan of a singer name Anthony Q. He was the first one I saw singing on the stage, and saw everybody was going crazy. I was like, “hmm, I like this,” and from there I wanted to be an entertainer like this brother, and Anthony Q is pretty much who inspired me to take on the music to a serious level.
LU: Who was the first to introduce you to music professionally?
Gyptian: It was Ruel Ashburn aka Pot of Rice. He was the one that said “Yow, you can sing” and took me to meet a man named Earl “Chinna” Smith. Chinna Smith was the first one who really brought us to the studio and we recorded at Tuff Gong, and from there it just started boiling.
LU: Tell us some of your musical influences and how or why they influence you.
Gyptian: A lot of influence comes from Bob Marley. I’m not saying Bob Marley because he was the great one, Peter Tosh also, but Bob Marley was the one I could really relate to as a youth growing up. Seeing how he really orchestrated his songs and how his songs were put together. Little much said, but such big meaning, so from there I knew you don’t have to put in the complicated words that a lot of people can’t really relate to. Bob showed me that saying the words at the right place and putting it in the right time, it’s like that. My other real inspiration is from life itself. I really sing about what I see in life, what happens in life, what’s not supposed to happen, about what can happen, you know, but most of all I always sing about love.
LU: What does Gyptian bring to the world of music?
Gyptian: Well first it brings back a new sound. It’s more like I’m picking up the trend that has been set by the older brothers, nothing nuh drop off, it just continues. So Gyptian brings style and another flavor that wasn’t even seen before Gyptian was around, and Gyptian is unique. So Gyptian brings a whole lot to the music, even putting it back on top, as it was.
LU: The world is going through a tough time right now, crisis, hardships, and people overthrowing their governments. Is there a Gyptian song to reflect what is going on in the world right now?
Gyptian: Pretty much a whole lot of Gyptian songs.
LU: Give me one of them…
Gyptian: (Starts singing) “No More War”
LU: In 2010 ‘Is There a Place’ was nominated as a top ten reggae summer song by NPR radio. Was there a particular inspiration for that song?
Gyptian: Yeah, because back in Portmore, a lot of things, you know, you turn on the TV and all you see was, “A man was shot and killed today by an unknown assailant in downtown.” And at that time I just came out in the music and I said well, all of my life I never really liked what was happening with the crime and the violence. And pretty much that whole incident in Portmore when the seven got killed in Braeton in that house. That was really a tragical moment for Gyptian. And that song goes like this (starts singing)
LU: What is the most personal song you’ve ever written?
Gyptian: I mean, a lot of them, I have songs like ‘Beautiful Lady,’ ‘I Can Feel Your Pain,’ ‘Love against the Wall,’ “Serious Time,’ ‘Mama Don’t Cry’—a whole variety of songs.
LU: So a lot of your songs are very personal?
Gyptian: Very personal, don’t take them as just words and rhymes and rhythm times.
LU: Talk about your most memorable performance and location.
Gyptian: The first time in Africa, first time ever preaching on the Mother side, down there in Senegal, Dakar. I went in a stadium and I was surprised to know that all of these people came out to see Gyptian. And from there I know I was heading far, the people actually pushed back the bus on this side and they pushed back the bus to the other side. The driver was like (in West African accent) “Anytime the bus gets back on all four wheels I’m driving through the crowd” and I was like, No! Just for the love and the joy, and appreciation, and welcome that I got, it was overwhelming. It was a joy, naturally. I went to other places that are nice but the first time in Africa was like a bomb, you know.
LU: Talk about the producers you have worked with and why you liked working with [those] particular producers.
Gyptian: I mean I’ve worked with Flava McGregor, Don Corleon, who produce “Is There a Place”… you have man like John FX that make it seem like heaven open whenever time we are making music, even Earl “Chinna” Smith. So many people, so who don’t hear their name, don’t feel any way.
LU: You have won a Soul Train award, you’ve won a MOBO award, you don’t have a Grammy as yet. How are you working towards that, to get a Grammy?
Gyptian: I mean it’s not even working towards to getting a Grammy, because to be frank with you I didn’t even know I was going to win a Soul Train award. Knowing that I sing good and people giving me the compliment, and never even knowing it would even reach that point where I would get an award, but give thanks for it. So pretty much if we just do what we are doing naturally, and get things like that, and successful; well down the line, who is to tell; we will probably get Grammys. For me it’s just to be musically inclined at all times, and whatever comes; that’s my way.
LU: What is your ultimate goal as an entertainer?
Gyptian: Pretty much just to make an empire, that produces nothing but hits. It’s like a Motown, you know way back they produced nothing but hits, but also be a part of it. You know the main thing for me is that I am the one that really established this empire to the world. So pretty much my dream and my goal is to make the music as big as it can be, especially my music which is reggae. And also the flavor and unique songs I bring to the table.
LU: What and who is Gyptian working with to top his hit song ‘Hold You’?
Gyptian: I would love to, no doubt about it, but we all know things don’t just come as it sounds. And we’re not the ones to really waste time and try to top ‘Hold You’ because really and truly, we top ‘Hold You’ by we and the father himself, and the strength from the fans and the love from the authentic people. So pretty much, once Gyptian is in the studio, I think miracles will happen. You know for real. That’s what always happens. I go in the studio and come out with a song, and eventually people just loving that song.
LU: Tell your fans something about Gyptian that would surprise them.
Gyptian: They would be surprised to know that I was a butcher; another surprise is that I was even baptized. There are a lot of surprises. But I mean a lot of you wouldn’t know but now you know.
LU: A message to the ladies from Gyptian?
Gyptian: Well for the ladies its nothing but love, you know I’m always being hilarious for you. Tone down on the Bun thing. Yeah naturally cause you know a just life and Gyptian always sing for you like this (starts singing ‘Nah Let Go’).