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Red Rat: Oh no! Look who it is...

Red Rat: Oh no! Look who it is...

Red Rat: Oh no! Look who it is...

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Currently working on a new album, dancehall deejay Red Rat talks to Davina Morris about Greensleeves, gimmicks and gangster lyrics.


ANYONE who recalls the 1990s era in dancehall will surely remember the ever-entertaining Red Rat.

With his distinctive squeaky voice and complete with his unforgettable “oh no” catchphrase, the Jamaican deejay rose to prominence with tracks including Tight Up Skirt, Dwayne and of course, Shelly-Ann. (Who could forget that fictional loose woman who “gwaan like she nice and have one bag ah man”?)

More recently, his career was marked with the release of a Best Of album, called Monsters of Dancehall: Red Rat featuring the aforementioned hits, along with a couple of new tracks. But Red Rat— real name Wallace Wilson— is currently working on a new album. He recalls what else he’s been up to in recent years.

I started my own record company and basically started to build my career back up,” he says. “I had a couple of hits in Jamaica like Cry For My People and Curfew. More recently, I've been in Florida, working with producers like Blackout Movement and Salam Remi on this new album that I'm hoping to put out in summer.

Right now, the push is on the Best Of album, which I’m pleased about. I would have liked it to be a little more personal; perhaps include a DVD as well. But there wasn't the budget for that. Still, I'm pleased that [record label] Greensleeves wanted to mark my career with a Best Of album.

With his then-blonde hair, energetic live performances and comical lyrical commentary— made only more hilarious thanks to his unmistakable high-pitched voice— Red Rat is easily one of the most memorable characters of 90s dancehall.

But with the genre’s ever-changing trends, it was inevitable that his gimmicky style would eventually be eclipsed by the next ‘big thing’ to emerge from the scene. Thankfully, his maturity allowed him to maintain his musical focus even when his initial hype began to fade.

The European experience back in the 90s is one I'll never forget. Coming to London to do Notting Hill Carnival, Leeds Carnival and just touring in general was great. Since that, it was rough at times, but I was never completely out of the loop. I haven't been to the UK for a while and when I was in the UK, it wasn't to do reggae shows. I did a tour with Groove Armada, but in the hardcore dancehall scene, people haven't seen me.

Will he come back to the UK in the foreseeable future?

I hope to, but it would need to be with the right promoters. I wouldn't wanna come over to perform and the show get shoot-up or anything like that.

He admits that the current gangster element of dancehall music is one that concerns him. But he has no problem with the artists who make such music…
That side of things isn't helping the business at all. People shouldn't be going to shows and wondering whether they'll leave alive. Dancehall goes through phases. I had my time with the gimmicks, you’ll have your time when it’s all about the singers, and right now, it’s the gangster side that's in the limelight. With artists like Mavado in the spotlight, the gangster behaviour comes along with it.

But my problem isn't with artists like Mavado. I think he's a very good artist. My issue is with the DJs who feel that that's the only music they should play. There are plenty of other reggae artists making a variety of music, but they don't tend to get as much airplay. And when you saturate the market with only hardcore music and gun lyrics, you're gonna see that reflected in society.

Of course, musical trends change. But has Red Rat changed as an artist over the years?

Red Rat will always be Red Rat but obviously, I've grown not only as an artist but also as an individual. I have an eight-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, so my views on life are very different now to what they were ten years ago.

But don’t get it twisted; he’s still the energetic entertainer that 90s audiences remember him to be. And thankfully, he doesn’t tire of people shouting his catchphrase at him everywhere he goes.

I can’t get tired of that,” he laughs. “It made me who I am, so I can't tire of it. And ‘oh no’ is something that everybody says. If you buck your toe or you miss your exit, you might say 'oh no'. I only wish I owned the rights to the expression so I could be paid royalties every time it was said!

Monsters of Dancehall: Red Rat is out now on Greensleeves.

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