LU: You’ve been very outspoken about record companies releasing material without first obtaining permission from artists and then not paying royalties to them after the fact. There’s a long history of exploitation of artists in the music industry, but why does it seem so much more common when it comes to reggae artists?
Scientist: Because most of them don’t have any representation. Most of them live in Jamaica. Most of them are desperate. Most of them are not academically smart and like most artists even in the U.S., you can take advantage of them. They know the artist just wants to get the record out there. They know that most of these artists are not going have any legal recourse from Jamaica.
[I’m not against all pirating of me] to some degree, let me give you an example. The other day I was at the fairground and I saw this guy, a vendor, with a bunch of Scientist CD’s. When I look at the guy and I saw what he was driving, what am I going to slow a guy like that for? The guy is using my CD to feed himself and his family. I’m going to encourage a guy like that as long as he is not moving thousands. He’s moving 10 here, 20 here and he’s making like what? Fifty dollars? One hundred dollars? And to feed his family. To me, that’s advertising for me.
LU: So is the lawsuit related to Grand Theft Auto finished now?
Scientist: In some sense, but I am “arming up” again and I’m going to launch my next surprise attack on them. I didn’t really like the idea of [my music being used] because it was endorsing violence. I know how powerful music is to influence people the wrong way. I was scared that some kid might find some thrill in it and the next thing you know is the driver starts to play the Scientist music and then we have a drive-by shooting station. I didn’t like that idea. There have been a lot of video games that have been linked to this type of violence before where a kid with Grand Theft Auto went inside a police station and shot all the police. So I really didn’t want to use it for that knowing how powerful the music can be and what type of influence it can have on people.
LU: Let’s take it back in time a little bit to your own history. How did you get started? As a young man, you worked alongside King Tubby. Can you talk about your own beginnings as an electronics engineer?
Scientist: I was introduced to [King Tubby] by a friend that lived in my neighborhood. I used to come to King Tubby’s to buy parts for my amplifiers, like transformers and stuff like that. And I was telling King Tubby that I was attempting to build a console to mix. To him it was like a joke because I was about 16 [years old]. I started going to the studio regularly and then he gave me the keys to the studio.
LU: How did you get the name “Scientist”?
Scientist: Bunny Lee [gave it to me]. Everything you see that happened with the moving faders and all that, that was my original idea, but everybody thought I was crazy and thought I was smoking too much weed. Automation with total recall, virtual tracks–I spoke about all that in 1980 when they didn’t even have a computer. Again, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can go read Reggae International [a book published in the early ‘80s] – I describe just that.
LU: Speaking of new technology, what are you views on the new music technology that has allowed folks to record and mix music on their computers, laptops, iPads and even their phones?
Scientist: Analog is dead. Anybody that wants to say analog is better is dreaming. It’s not true, it’s not technically true and [digital] is here to stay. I personally am a big fan of digital. It’s way better than analog. Of course [I support the new technology]. It’s not going anywhere. It’s only going to get better.
LU: You moved to the U.S. around 1985. Why did you leave Jamaica?
Scientist: When I was working at Channel One, everybody and their grandmother was trying to take credit for the type of sound that was coming from down there. Everybody was watching me making too much money. And after I left Channel One, that place closed forever and didn’t open again. Then Tuff Gong [Studios] becomes the new place. Everybody who never recorded at Tuff Gong is now recording there and Tuff Gong has more bookings than it ever gets and then Channel One is history. I saw what happened to Peter Tosh and kept asking myself, When is my turn? Cause I could feel the vibe. Like some people only wanted to work at Tuff Gong at night time. But I wasn’t scared of them. I’d see all the neighborhood people and I’d always have some little guy in the hood watching my back. When I left Jamaica, I pulled the rug from beneath everybody’s feet. A lot of people went hungry. A lot of musicians went hungry. And the only thing that could save them was drum machines. That’s a fact of history. That’s when drum machines got popular. No one up until now can reproduce anything near that.
LU: How long have you lived in L.A.?
Scientist: Since 1995.
LU: How come you moved to L.A. specifically?
Scientist: All of my family is on the East Coast. I used to live in Manhattan, in the Village. But when I used to go to a studio in Brooklyn, I didn’t like how certain people who come from Jamaica were behaving in America. It was like I’m in Jamaica again. I didn’t leave Jamaica to come get mixed up with a bunch of them crabs. I didn’t appreciate it. So I left New York and the next music town where I don’t have to deal with so many cockroaches is L.A. [There are a lot of studios] but we don’t have the same type of Brooklyn crowd mentality.
LU: With the help of technology in the past few years, there’s been an explosion in the popularity of electronic dance music and dubstep — which many say is derived from dub music. Performances now often feature DJs doing some of the things dub mixers first pioneered in terms of effects, “knob-twisting” and remixing. Any thoughts on the new popularity of a producer/DJ/remixer as the featured performing artist?
Scientist: You know, I see a lot of people trying to act like they created it. I heard a lot of people saying they created the “remix”–that’s not true. I just hope these guys go there, have their time in the spotlight and just remember where it came from. Don’t try to rewrite history. Otherwise, I welcome it.
LU: What have you been doing or working on recently? What can we expect from the Scientist for the rest of the year into 2013?
Scientist: I just finished the Slightly Stoopid record, which is number one on [the] iTunes [reggae chart]. More dance, more electronic music and other genres. They’re way simpler and easier than reggae. Open up the unknown and let people hear hip hop and these different genres in a different way. Brings a new flavor to it.
LU: Is there anything you would like to add that we didn’t touch upon?
Scientist: The only thing is that I don’t want to see any cockroaches at my show. If I see any of them, I’ll quickly call security to escort them out. I don’t want any problems from them. I’m not looking for any gangster-runnings coming [to the show]. Please tell them to stay away from my concert. I don’t want that kind of mentality down there at 42nd Street and Times Square. I just want everything to be good and chill. Everybody can go home peacefully. That’s the only thing I want.
The Roots Radics backing up the late Gregory Isaacs. Photo courtesy Roots Radics.
The views expressed in this interview are Scientist’s alone, not LargeUp’s or its contributors.