Jason McDermott AKA UK Dancehall sensation Stylo G sat down with SB.TV to talk about working with Sister Nancy on new track Badd, the whole Vybz Kartel saga and being pals with Olympic icon Usian Bolt…
The more I find out about Sister Nancy, the more it seems strange to me that the two of you came together to record a song in the first place. She lives in New Jersey, USA, and is an accountant by day. Tell us how the track, Badd, came to life…
[Dutch producer] Diztortion and me were in a studio session together and we were supposed to be working on a track but then he came with the idea of using Sister Nancy’s voice, and then sampled it into a track. I was like ‘Yo, that’s bad, that’s bad!’ We totally forgot about the track that we were meant to do and started to work on this new one. In about two hours the track was finished [Stylo quickly sings the track]. After that the label heard it and said ‘this is a hit’, my manager also heard it and said the same.
Funnily enough my manager used to stay in America, so he knew that Sister Nancy was out there. He said ‘we’re gonna send the track out to Sister Nancy to see if she wants to do it,’ we did and she was like ‘this is bad, this is amazing’ and she just sang it over and did her bit. It’s good to know that someone like her – a legend in the Reggae thing – heard a new generation of artist and jumped on it. She loved it, you can hear it in her voice when she sings it back.
After the success of Soundbwoy, I imagine that you are looking to build on that. Did the track hitting the UK Top 20 surprise you at all?
Every time I make a song, I am making a song to go into the charts. Back in the day I used to just make mixtape songs but I’m working on singles now, and Soundbwoy was one of the singles where I kinda went in and said, “I want this to be single.” When it hit the Top 20 [Pauses] I wasn’t surprised that much – I was more excited than surprised. You know when you know that you have it in you, and that you just need the right people to bring it out? Well since I joined up with 3Beat, Universal and Diztortion…they have been bringing it out in me. I was more surprised that Radio 1 took it on! When they took it on I was like, “OK, so there is space for the Reggae artist, there is a space for Stylo G!”
I keep reading about how you want to sample Bob Marley tracks for future records; are there any tracks in particular you’re honing in on?
I don’t want to let out too many secrets but I know that I can sample a few tracks of his now. I like Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) [sings track] – I don’t think you should put that in the interview, you’re gonna give away my secrets! [Laughs] I’m just giving examples, I like the old school stuff and bringing the old school stuff with the new school stuff. When I listen back to some of the old Jungle and Drum ‘n’ Bass CD’s and tapes from the nineties, they have old Reggae samples that they use on the songs – it’s good. They sound amazing at festivals and Reggae music is my thing so I’m gonna be dipping into some of those samples. Once we can clear them I will sampling away…
I read a feature about you in the Guardian where underneath a commenter dismissed you and all Dancehall as “aggressive”, “puerile” and “misogynistic.” You’ve spoken about wanting to get the truth about Dancehall out there, you said to the Voice newspaper, “Dancehall is not aggressive, I’m showing them that. The fact that it is viewed as aggressive in some cultures is what is holding the genre back.” So tell the people who find Dancehall puerile, the truth about it…
The truth about Dancehall is it’s called Dancehall, it’s meant to make you dance – it’s not meant to make you fight. It’s not meant to make you be in an angry mood. When you hear reggae music it puts you in a mellow mood, it calms you down so Dancehall is just an up-tempo version of Reggae. The aggressive part that people see that comes with it, is not the Dancehall, to me it’s the crowd that follows that sometimes. To me Dancehall is just happy music, we are just expressing ourselves and telling you guys how we feel.
What people are going through – that’s what people will be talking about, Jamaica is a third world country so there’s a lot going on. People are just taking about it in a negative way and I think that is wrong because every genre has some form of negative around it. In Rock, people are talking about drugs, and Miley Cyrus is talking about taking lines but in Dancehall/Reggae the only thing that they can say that we talk about is marijuana and stuff like that. It’s probably because of our accent and our patois…sounds so aggressive – that’s why people take on to it like that. Dancehall is all about good vibes, and the dance routines from Gimme The Light to Elephant Man.
You also said to The Voice, “People think that artists going to jail is cool – it’s not.” Every time a new development takes place with Dancehall artist Vybz Kartel and his troubles with the law, it pops up online somewhere in a hot minute. Are you not impressed by all that upheaval?
The Vybz Kartel situation, obviously he is the head of what is going on now in Jamaica – him and Mavado. People stereotype and say ‘Vybz Kartel he’s in jail, he’s a badman, he bleaches his face’ but Stylo G is not in jail. Stylo G doesn’t bleach his face, I don’t follow and so I kinda take myself away from all of that. People shouldn’t stereotype about Dancehall artists thinking that we all do that – Sean Paul doesn’t do that, Shaggy don’t do that. The Vybz Kartel thing is just a guy that’s been through his struggle, and that’s how he is expressing his feelings.
Your dad was renowned Reggae artist, Poison Chang, and despite his passing away when you were a teenager you’re clearly still inspired by him; do you ever feel that huge musical legacy looming over everything that you do as an artist?
The greatest thing about my Dad, about his legacy was the fact that he had many hits and I am grateful for the talent that he passed on to me. I’m grateful that people recognise me through my Dad but I think that with Stylo G, I put in that work early and so people don’t feel like I’m here because of my Dad. Most people have to interview me three of four times before they are like “I never knew Poison Chang was your Dad! Why don’t you mention it?” Sometimes I don’t mention him because I want people to know Stylo G and not my Dad. I’m not gonna use my Dad to get there, I’m actually bringing back my Dad’s name with what I’m doing now. It’s good, because I’m letting people who would never know about him, get to know his music.
The UK Reggae movement took a hit recently, it will now be harder to access Reggae music on legal radio within London due to Choice FM’s restructuring. Naturally many artists and DJ’s are not too happy with the genre being pushed further underground in the capital, what are your thoughts on that?
You can’t stop good music. With them taking all the Reggae DJ’s off the station we just have to know – and that includes myself as an artist, my song is actually still playing Capital Xtra – that success is a journey and you’re gonna have obstacles and that’s just one of the obstacles. We have to go around the obstacles, they say that ‘when in Rome, you do as the Romans do’ some people don’t go with that philosophy and that’s when things kinda go wrong. If they feel like the Reggae music needs to clean up, then we as artists should clean it up. If they are telling us that we only wanna hear Bob Marley or whatever – it’s Reggae music still – and we can adapt to that situation. The good thing about me, Stylo G is that I can adapt to an environment, if I go to a Rock party I will adapt to a Rock party or whatever.
With them cutting down on Reggae music it upsets me because that’s a cut down on a platform for me, but I’m a fighter so I won’t give up. I’m gonna make tunes and still go for the playlist at Capital Xtra. Nowadays you have the Internet and iPhones that we can use to do it all ourselves – all of the YouTubes and Soundclouds – you can’t stop good music. We need to take it out of our minds that they will stop Reggae, we’ll just keep fighting but in a positive way.
Usain Bolt is a big fan of yours, what is that connection like? Do you go to him for advice and stuff or is he just big music lover?
Most of the team members that run for Jamaican Olympic squad went to my high school and we all went together. The last captain of the team – not this year’s captain, last year’s captain Maurice – we went to school together. We linked up during the Olympics and went to the Puma Yard in London, he introduced me to Bolt and from there we had a connection. Bolt is a good guy, once he sees you doing something good he will support you. It’s a friendship right now and we don’t know where it’s going to take us but he is a very busy guy, probably the busiest guy in the world. So me doing my thing and coming up I am glad that he gave me an endorsement. We’re just building that relationship and you never know, in a couple of years time when I am at the Grammys I can say, “Yo Bolt, we’re at the Grammys come down!” [Laughs] he is a big fan of music and loves Reggae. He listens to Vybz Kartel, Tommy Lee and Elephant Man – good music – and he’s not gonna go out there and shoot people and do anything negative.
I read a really interesting piece the other day online, certain newspapers seem to have a problem with middle class British kids adopting and using Jamaican patois – you grew up in the UK, do you have an issue with it?
Who has a problem with it?
The Daily Mail, I was reading an article the other day and apparently there are a lot of absolutely horrified parents about…
[Laughs] I ain’t got no problem with it and I encourage it fully man! The world is all about unity now – what country you’re from, what race you’re from…it’s all gone now. People are coming together and living as one, people are doing different genres of music. What about white artists doing Reggae music? You have Gentleman, you have Snow from America who blew up with Reggae music – look at Eminem. These middle class kids, they’re not gonna be speaking patois for the rest of their lifes. Kids nowadays it doesn’t matter if your black or white, what language you wanna speak, or what accent you wanna speak. When they go on holiday in Jamacia they’ll know how to blend in [laughs]