Words by Jesse Serwer—
Nardo Ranks’ “Burrup” is one of those underground street classics that hit in NYC and other major U.S. cities right as dancehall was first starting to be embraced by hip-hop and the broader market. It’s seminal status remained in evidence when rapper Pusha T quoted the song’s lyrics (and sang its hook) in “Mr. Me Too” by the Clipse a decade and a half later. Though “Burrup” was not a major hit in his native Jamaica, with a catalog that also includes still-relevant tunes like “Them a Bleach” (the first song to directly address the topic of skin lightening treatments in Jamaica) and “New Jersey Drive” (a combination with Jr. Demus that tackled police harassment of Jamaicans), Nardo is truly “one of dem originals” and a legend in the dancehall.
We spoke with the now NY-based deejay before he graced us with his presence on last night’s LargeUp Sessions show on RadioLily.com about his youth in Kingston, “Burrup” and his burgeoning acting career. Here’s part one of that interview—look out for the rest next week. And should you be in the New York/Long Island area this weekend, catch a live performance from Nardo at the new Sunset Sundays weekly party at Southampton Social Club, backed by the Skadanks band and our own DJ Gravy.
LU: What has a man like Nardo Ranks been up to recently?
NR: I got a couple tracks that I’m recording fi a new album. Also, I’m doing this film by the name of Artifice. It is a drug story about two gangs based in New York, one Jamaican gang and one New York and my character’s name is Billy Fungus. So this movie is produced by this guy named Donovan Howard. He did Jamaican films too, like Shottas. Still working doing my gigs dem, yuh know?
LU: Have you acted before?
NR: I did a small part in a movie name Jump Off that was produced by this other guy, he’s like the number one stuntman on the East Coast. His name is Derek Simmons, he’s been in a lot of films. He was even in the HBO series, The Wire. I played a character named Rudy but that was just a likkle part, yuh know? Just a couple of lines… Well I was always an actor still. I used to do it in school, I used to do a lot of theatre back home in Jamaica. And basically I’m just a different kind of actor, a natural kind of character, yuh know? A human factor, yuh know? [laughs]
Nardo with Kes the Band, at Miss Lily’s Variety for the LargeUp Sessions
LU: Tell me, where did you grow up?
NR: I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, eastern Kingston, a place named Franklin Town AKA Dunkirk City. I grew up amongst people like Spragga Benz, people like Wayne Wonder, yuh know? Likkle Lenny. That community that I came from it is a highly musical affiliated area. Before my generation of artists that I just spoke about that grew up there, it was people like Johnny Ringo, Lone Ranger, a big group named the Gaylads, this singer named Clarence Parks. East Kingston yuh know? One of the most ghetto areas in Jamaica but it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re heading and it’s what you want outta life, yuh know?
LU: So who were some of your mentors when you started out as a DJ?
NR: Well, definitely the person who made me really want to be a DJ like that was Johnny Ringo. I was fascinated by his style and clarity and everything. It sounded so clear, everything. I used to go around the area and listen to him. He was on a sound at the time named Gemini. Him really one of my biggest inspirations. A lot of people inspire me too, yuh know?
LU: Johnny Ringo was talking about things like “Riding West.” Coming up in that era, were you influenced by that gunslinger style of deejays?
NR: Somewhat because even in 1991 when I went to Reggae Sunsplash for the first time—you can see that performance on Youtube— I had a whole character and ting based on that. Cause Nardo is like a Cowboy name. I had the lyrics. I was telling a story like Clint Eastwood and I had the works, the gun, cigar and spurs and everything. So yes, that was some sort of influence. Jamaicans at the time, and still do, dem just fascinated with cowboy characters and the bad guy shoot-them-up type things. If you listen to the deejay’s names yuh know you have Lone Ranger, you have Johnny Ringo, you have Josey Wales, the High Plains Drifter. Even now, dem just fascinated with even the sound of gunshot. When I was growing up there would be times when you would hear some shot inna your house, where most people would have run inside the house, we as kids used to run out and try and find out who fired the shot, yuh know?
LU: So what’s your favorite Western movie, while we’re talking about movies?
NR: One of my favorite Western movies, is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Clint Eastwood. But one of my favorite movies of all time is Oliver Twist. I love that movie. I’m obsessed with the character named Fagin and, if you ask me too, they’ve got some wicked songs in that. When I was kid, I really loved Western like that but as mi get older, mi love just good movies.