LONG LIVE the King – it’s a notable phrase, and one that I found myself exclaiming halfway through this interview.
In mine and many other peoples’ books, Lloyd ‘King Jammy’ James is unquestionably musical royalty. He started out as a young Prince under the guidance of King Tubbys in the early years of his career. He became the King in the founding years of the digital sound in reggae, and is now an elder statesman whose opinion and contributions are still highly regarded, respected and sought after.
In the 1980s and 1990s his blue and white label was a permanent fixture in any sound man’s 7” pre-release record case. Jammy never made hits, he made classics which have stood the test of time.
Naming the artists that have scored classic songs with him would fill my word quota for this column. So you can only imagine how excited I was to meet the man for the first time at his legendary Waterhouse Studio.
That meeting ended up as an online freestyle session with Josey Wales, Lieutenant Stitchie, Beenie Man and Bunny General which has in turn racked up well over a million views on YouTube. This is testament to his relevance to the culture, and in 2018 he still provides us with that quality that we have become used to. I caught up with Jammy as the release of the new album which features some reworked classics with another legend in our music has surfaced. King Jammy Presents: Dennis Brown Tracks Of Life popped up in my inbox recently and I listened through with great anticipation.
It features a host of artists collaborating with D Brown over Jammy’s tracks including Damian Marley, Protoje, Dre Island, Jesse Royal and Romain Virgo. A truly stellar line up. “That was the first album I made with Dennis Brown,” he tells me down the line from Kingston. “Three years ago, I revisited the Black Uhuru album that I made and that was such a special project that I felt I had to do something similar for Dennis. They are such authentic songs.”
Authenticity is definitely the key. From first listen of this album, you can feel the seamless blend of classic and new forging together, which is heartwarming for a reggae nut like me. “I could never forget the session when we recorded these songs. They were done in London, which is where I was at the time. I saw Dennis in Acton, west London, and he wanted to record so I had some versions that he sang to.
“Junior Delgado played a vital part in this album as he was there for the sessions and helped Dennis write the songs. When I came back to Jamaica I rebuilt the riddims around the vocals.”
The formula breathes new life into this album to a new audience. I was keen to know what Jammy’s mindset was like when he embarked on it. I didn’t like the direction that reggae was going in, so the mission for the project was simple.
Apart from the new wave of roots reggae artists like Chronixx, Protoje and Kabaka Pyramid and such like, there is much outstanding in our field. I brought these songs back to let people know that these are the type of tracks we need to make the business move forward.
There seems to be more than one thing missing in our music now. In my time when we created dancehall there was great melodies — you couldn’t differentiate dancehall from reggae a lot of the time because the melodies were so strong. The lyrical content nowadays just doesn’t mean very much. People just rhyme. Rhyme, crime, dime – no telling of stories or creating.
“Just words, being rhymed. We need to keep the levels up – we need to be more consistent,” he states, categorically.
Being a part of a project like this is a huge endorsement for any artist, and the King explained how he hand selected who he wanted to grace the record. “I assessed the original songs, and listened carefully and picked the artists in my mind that wouldn’t.
“None of them asked to be on any particular song, I gave them which track I thought would work best with them and they all rolled with it. We had to go back into production mode and brightened up the mix and overdubbed a few parts to make it sound up to date.”
There are some very special moments on the album for me, in particular Magic Touch which features Jesse Royal, and Give Love A Try. Jammy explained why the latter is also hugely significantly to him.
“It features my grandson, Projexx. It means so much to me to have three generations of my family on the album (Producer Baby G is Jammy’s son and also worked on the set.) Projexx is 19 years old, he wasn’t even born when these songs were in their hey days, and here he is making sweet music.”
With two remade albums done he explained that this isn’t the end of the line in revisiting his extensive catalogue.
“This is an ongoing project. Having completed the Black Uhuru and Denni albums we have a Gregory Isaacs one planned to be released next July. We also have Half Pint and Johnny Osbourne remakes in the pipeline.”
Great music never dies, and this album is a true testament to that. If you love timeless reggae make sure you listen to this excellent project in full.
Long live the King!