Words by Richard “Treats” Dryden
You could probably learn a thing or two about sexual relations from listening to Maxi Priest and Shabba Ranks’ “House Call” in 1991. However, getting it on, or getting it in, was the furthest thing from my mind when I first heard their collaboration at age 10. My father—a Jamaican DJ from New York, newly transplanted to Los Angeles—made me a mixtape with some of Shabba’s reigning hits like “Housecall” and “Mr. Loverman,” along with a bunch of tunes over the Telephone Love riddim. I was smitten by his seamless transition of the original “Housecall” into its 12” remix and the various versions of “Mr Loverman,” such as the David Morales Ragga Hop Mix. I might have been too young to remember “Housecall” gaining mass appeal in NY: it was Shabba’s core dancehall releases resonated deeper in my Caribbean neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn.
By the time I visited L.A. for the first time, to see my dad, it made sense to hear “Housecall” on the West Coast. The track’s drum sequence was inspired by “Impeach the President” by The Honeydrippers, already a staple of hip-hop sampling used on Eric B. & Rakim’s “Eric B. Is President” and MC Shan’s “The Bridge.” The drums were an easy sell to Shabba’s new audience, and for Maxi Priest this sound was familiar territory, too, similar to sounds being employed by British contemporaries Sade, and Soul II Soul.
With “Housecall,” Maxi Priest complimented Shabba by softening his hardcore image. Shabba’s reputation in the ‘90s was that of the self-proclaimed bedroom bully. Maxi Priest on the other hand, romanticized the female body. Both artists found a medium between their styles in the suggestive double-entendre of “playing doctor,” as Maxi sings on the chorus, “Your body can’t lie to me, ‘cuz I know just what you’re needing.” Shabba takes the theme further, offering a remedy for the heart, and for the brain, but the agony to make you “choo-choo like a train.” Toeing the line with sexual metaphors always helps with a song’s crossover, regardless of the musical genre: Witness Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” which described lovemaking in similarly “medical” terms, years before “Housecall.”
Reached for comment in 2014, Maxi notes that the different approaches brought by him and Shabba helped the song appeal to women on two different levels. “I think with ‘Housecall’ she probably gets a wider variety of experience,” he says.
The tag team hit the television waves with “Housecall,” performing it on The Arsenio Hall Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and In Living Color. Letterman (whose show Maxi would return to a year later, alongside none other than Dennis Brown) had a curveball presentation because Paul Shaffer filled in the keyboard break at the song’s bridge. For Maxi, In Living Color was the most memorable, however. “If you notice, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, the Wayans Family, they were folks that were into a similar scene that we were in,” he says. “We could relate, and they could relate.”
On his new VP Records release Easy to Love, Maxi Priest’s voice still sounds as fresh as he did on his 1985 debut, or when he delivered his signature “Close to You” five years later in 1990. His voice and his persona have always worked in tandem. When he sings, his smile shines through, and the cool swing of his dreadlocks follow. Singing is effortless for him, as it should be for you listening to him wax about love. When Maxi echoes Roger & Zapp’s “shoo-be-doo-bop I wanna love you” catchphrase on “Easy to Love,” he’s paying homage to his R&B roots. He’s as nostalgic about the feeling of good music as you are about his own artistry. Reflecting on his career, he says, “I think that everything I do, I want my music to live after me. When I am no longer here in the flesh, I would love my music to continue, and that’s something I’ve always strived for: longevity, and not just a flash in the pan.”
Here’s the original music video, the Letterman and In Living Color clips, and a live performance in Jamaica circa mid ’90s. Watch below, and buy Easy to Love here.