Words by Sherman Escoffery, Photos by Martei Korley—
As a teenager growing up in Kingston, my afterschool job was at Techniques Records, where I auditioned artists, sold records, and spent many evenings recording dubplates for overseas customers with sound systems. Artists like Super Beagle, Baby Wayne, Capleton and Buju Banton hung around the store while waiting their turn to record for Winston Riley, the proprietor and producer of the legendary label. Many of us became friends, going to dub studios, writing and practicing songs for the day they would step behind the microphone.
Riley, who had produced “Double Barrel,” the second Jamaican song to go to top the British charts, and other hits including Johnny Osbourne’s “Come Back Darling,” General Echo’s “Arleen,” Tenor Saw’s “Ring The Alarm,” and Super Cat’s “Boops” was not easily impressed—even by artists that already had songs on the road that were selling. When he finally heard and approved Super Beagle’s “Dust a Soundboy” lyrics, he once again opened his vault and lifted out his 24-track Ampex tape with the Stalag rhythm that had already given him numerous hits. We all knew that this was another guaranteed hit. But the icing on the cake for “Dust a Soundboy” was Fuzzy Jones’s intro, with his haunting vocal, like that of an ancient seer, predicting death and destruction to anyone who did not heed his warning: “WELL! It is a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth in the dancehall and who don’t have teeth gweh rub pan dem gum.”
Move forward to 2012 and one of the hottest songs on the radio is Kanye West’s “Mercy” featuring the same Fuzzy Jones intro from Super Beagle’s “Dust a Sound Boy.” I had to call up Beagle to get his feedback on Kanye sampling his biggest song. The result is more of a stroll down memory lane than an interview, as we compared memories of our days at Techniques Records on Chancery Lane, Arrows Dub Studio, and where it all began for Buju Banton. Photos were shot in and around Super Beagle’s neighborhood in Portmore.
“COME! Super Beagle you an yuh girl!”
Super Beagle and Sherman Escoffery at Techniques Records, 1989. Photo courtesy: Sherman Escoffery
LargeUp: Beagle, Wha gwan? Let’s get right down to the meat. We’re not giving them any appetizer. How did you get on the ‘Stalag’ Rhythm?
Super Beagle: You know say it was possible because of you, Donahue [Riley], Kurt Riley, and Junior Mitchie, that’s where it started, at Chancery Lane, Techniques Record Shop. Well at the time it was a record box. It was a box those times because all of us pack up in the box, pure energy. That’s where it started; you guys helped me talk to Mr. Riley since we were always there. It was practically our workplace. As Mr. Riley gone in the streets we flip the version of the record and start to work it.
LU: How did ‘Dust a Soundboy’ come about?
SB: It’s from old times when we use to hang out at 2 Chancery Lane when we—Capleton, Buju, Mitchie, Untouchable Chris—used to sit around and write songs. I use to listen to Willie Williams “Armagideon Time” and admire it. I liked the song; I learned it. I went to Chancery Lane and was kicking it. We were working the Stalag rhythm. It felt like it was about time we bring it back so then the idea came to me after listening to it. [Sings ‘Soundboy’ lyrics] I converted it totally. Changed the lyrics and kept the melody. That came out by listening to Willie Williams and wanting to make hit songs. Put the two of them together and created my thing.
Dust a Soundbwoy—Original Super Beagle
LU: On the intro of the song, “Dust A Soundboy” which is sampled in Kanye West’s song, “Mercy,” you have Fuzzy Jones.. Who is Fuzzy Jones? What was his role in the dancehall?
SB: When Fuzzy started out, he was a deejay but it was an uphill battle because the pace got so hot with artists like Terror Fabulous and Buju Banton a bust on the scene; but he had this voice. So one time we were doing dubplates to send abroad, as he was doing his, he send off an intro that everybody liked, so he was invited to do an intro for other deejays. It so happened that due to his popularity, he was solely used for his intros. He was a major factor in dancehall, especially when it relates to clashing. His intros were so good that the sound you were killing usually dead by the end of the intro, before the actual tune started.
Fuzzy Jones (in yellow shirt) with (from L to R): Tony Rebel, Screechie Joe, Mark Wonder, Icho Candy, Pampidoo
LU: Where is Fuzzy Jones today?
SB: I understand he is no longer with us. He passed in 2005 as a result of a car accident. I was not here when it happened but that’s what I heard when I came back home.
LU: Have you heard from Kanye West in regards to the sample? Did they clear it with you first?
SB: My thing is already regulated. They don’t really have to contact me. They have people that they can contact; of course they gave me my credit. He said on one of his things, Kanye West sample Super Beagle’s “Dust A Soundboy.” I will get my just due. I’m not worried. I’m glad that he did that. As an artist from Jamaica, we always think or hope that one day an artist like Kanye would sample your work, take it another level to show that people are really listening to our work, not only everyday people, but people [from] far away. It’s a good feeling, and I recommend and endorse it.
LU: Do you feel that now your publisher should be working really hard to get your other musical materials exploited?
SB: Most Definitely.
When Kanye samples your stuff, the phone keeps ringing
LU: So now you are going to put a fire under them?
SB: Some people have in fact contacted me to let me know they have money for me. I’m in the process of sorting that out.
LU: Fuzzy’s intro from “Dust A Sound Bwoy” and style was also emulated in Smif N Wessun’s “Sound Bwoy Buriell” from 1995. What do you feel has been the impact of dancehall on hip hop music?
SB: [It] tremendously impacted the hip-hop vibe. You can tell. Look at that great sample that Kanye West did with my song “Dust A Soundboy.” It was perfect. It came back about three times. The beginning, somewhere in the middle of the song and repeated it again. It was right on time, that is a great impact, tremendous impact on the music in America.
LU: Talk about the song “Whining Skills” and how it came about—the combination with you and Reggie Stepper?
SB: That was definitely an accident, not something planned. After I did “Dust a Soundboy” and it took off, I was on a roll, I was voicing with King Jammys, Innercity, everybody. One day I went uptown to Mixing Lab where I checked Roy Francis and asked him if he had a rhythm for me to record on. While I was there, I saw a young lady I knew from my neighborhood, Franklin Town. She lived in Rollington Town, a neighboring town. She asked me what I was doing here, and I asked her the same. She said her boyfriend Tamrat ‘Pipper’ Mason is a producer, who is very new to the industry. This was his first production. So I told her that I was a singer. She was eager to introduce us. [Pipper] was very honest in letting me know he knew nothing about the industry and would be willing to listen to any advice I had to offer. At the same time Reggie was trying to voice “Whining Skills” but he wasn’t hitting it so he [Pipper] asked me to listen and critique it. I told him it needed some sugar. The lyrics were good but it needed a story, so that’s when I started singing, “Come on little girl, come on” which is the original melody of the rhythm. I didn’t want to sing over the whole song so in the second verse I changed it up to, “Lonely I’m Mr. Lonely” and after I did that it became a hit.
Portmore is hot like the Casbah and resebles it too at times…
LU: Your latest song “Mama Cry” is a combination with Terror Fabulous; he was one of the hottest deejays at one point. How did the two of you link up?
SB: Fabulous is one of my brethren from the 90’s since him shat a top. We had to go to the same places, so he became a co-worker of mine— and also a friend in the business. I watched him grow in the industry and make some mega hits. In 1996 I decided to migrate and change my lifestyle, take care of my family. I spent like 12 years overseas and came back in ‘08. I ended up in the same neighborhood as Fabulous so we linked up again. We have been getting a lot of good responses.
[audio:http://largeup.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/01-Mama-Cry.mp3|titles=Super Beagle and Terror Fabulous—Mama Cry]
Super Beagle and Terror Fabulous, “Mama Cry”
LU: It’s a very positive song; the industry needs it. In your opinion, how has the industry changed?
SB: Back then we tried to learn the fundamentals of music, we tried to learn theory, practical, and history. We used to put in hard work. But nowadays it’s simple because it’s all about the computer. I heard a youngster last week say he is interested in music and instead of saying “I’m going to get a guitar or keyboard,” he said he wanted a computer. So you see where the music has gone, no substance. There is talent out there but longevity is not there because it lacks substance and real foundation in the music.
Super Beagle, with longtime bredrin and collaborator Terror Fabolous
Read on for Part Two, as Super Beagle shares stories from his days around a young Buju Banton and Capleton, and Winston Riley’s infamous beatdown of fellow producer, Tamrat ‘Pipper’ Mason—and to stream his new tune with “The Outlaw,” Terry Ganzie.