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Interview: Droop Lion

Interview: Droop Lion

Interview: Droop Lion

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"I'm coming from darkness to the light"


For the last few years, Jamaican singer Droop Lion has balanced his solo career with being the replacement for Albert Griffiths in foundation group Gladiators. Now, he’s putting his own music centre stage.

In May he released debut solo album Ideologies via VPAL distribution. Produced by Handel Tucker, Droop’s manager Cabel Stephenson and Fatta Marshall, it’s a glossy, slickly made reggae record, whose polished rhythms contrast with their singer’s deep, soul-searching voice.

The voice of Droop Lion is a product of natural gifts and painful circumstance. Grainy, ancient and calling, at times it reveals shades of other artists – whilst sounding unique. It is the cry of a man aged beyond his years, and its multiple textures maintain a constant dialogue between sadness and upliftment. For Andrew Brown, later Droop Lion, lost his mother at just nine months old, to gunfire in the infamous 1980 Jamaican election. His loss and politically motivated violence would form the respective topics of his two biggest hits to date – Mama Soon Come Back and Freeway.

In February 2016, Angus Taylor met Droop Lion in a Kingston studio for an exclusive preview of his album. Droop was sat on a stool, his eyes hidden behind tinted sunglasses, dispensing the kind of positive thinking wisdom on focus and light one might expect from a mindfulness instructor. Considering the hurt he has experienced, this self-generated insight has probably helped him get through some difficult days.

In his broken-toned, equally arresting speaking voice, Droop told United Reggae about growing up without a mother, his family connection to the Gladiators, and why his name inspired Snoop Lion - not the other way around.

Droop Lion

When did you start singing?

Singing is from a long time but career is just a short while. I am a countryman you know? I'd sing a whole lot when I’d go out in the bush or the river to go and bathe. I grew with my grandparents because my mother passed off from an early age and you know how the country life stays. You have to go to church and they used to have I and I and a few more youths to lead a certain type of entertainment in the Sunday school.

When we went to school we’d want to do singing more than how we do the maths, English and science. It's just the mercy of Jah that we could catch up on some of them there because we used to beat the desktop so hard. So the transition kept making and making until you found out that this is what you were born to do.

So it's been a long time but as a professional within the music I started learning the professional way of music. I always lived in between the country and the town because I lived with my grandmother, I lived with my aunts and uncles. I had a friend down in Tower Hill, in Olympic garden, they call the same place Waterhouse. They introduced me to Edna Manley because they were attending at the time so they told me to follow them there one day to bring the thing to some people and tell them this is a very talented man you know?

I sat in the drama classroom a couple of weeks. They were studying the performing arts but I didn't get to start because it would actually start the fullness within six weeks’ time. But in just two weeks I gained a level of popularity among the music teachers. Because they were amazed by I and I sound and the way I and I deliver.

It was Seretse Small who brought me to Mallory Williams who sings this song She Boom from back in the 80s. He has a studio called Red Light. On the same road that Shocking Vibes studio is. That's my first entry into a studio and it was like a whole culture shock. Everything was different because I thought I had it but then this man gave me a book called 88 Different Ways Of Songwriting. And then I found out that I don't really have it yet. Because the ones then start to teach me how to sing in keys can get this thing going on professional heights. This was late 98-99. It started from there.

You mentioned the loss of your mother. Earlier some of the things you were talking about - ways to keep the mind in the right place - sound like ways of coping with pain.

Well I want to tell the truth seen? Because this is Droop Lion and what I've learned is the lion is nothing but truth because it is a symbol of reality. I never really saw those types of reasoning as an easing for the struggle of life. But yes it is. Because this type of reasoning is everything for I and I. Because when you go through so much pain you will have to find ways of soothing it and easing it.

I am telling the youth it’s not like I can show you about enlightenment. It’s not like I only tried to practise righteousness. I know a lot about darkness. Probably because I'm coming from darkness to the light. Why I endorse light is because I enjoy it and it makes me see my way. I endorse light but I know the darkness is there. Because of my knowledge, knowing it, being mindful, I guess that's the reason why the pain doesn't affect me so much.

I used to cry myself to sleep

And then you grow to know that it is not only you going through all of this that you're going through. I have to give thanks to people like Cabel Stephenson who started bringing me out in the world where I started to find out that when I speak of these things it is a whole lot of people man. It is a whole lot of people.

Back then I used to cry myself to sleep when I was youth. When I was at school I used to see all my friends’ mothers come and check them like at parent-teacher meetings. I didn't take it soft man because I have never seen my mother representing on such a level. But as I and I grew Jah used I and I as a vessel to help heal other ones who go through the same type of vibration. I understood that when people speak about death it is not even how people speak about it. I and I understood the intelligence of life. So I know that even though they say my mother is dead I know that it's just a transition within the same life. Naturally.

Some artists I've interviewed have said the 1980 election was responsible for the changes in the music - the movement away from cultural music. Is that why you've made a commitment to uplifting music?

Droop LionNaturally. Because my situation was a violent one. It was a serious one. We are even in the season of a political striving right now. I and I lost my mother in 1980. That is no joke. Because I and I is about forward development of people. Forward development of a country. Nation-building. Because if I tell you that I'm coming from darkness it’s like I didn't know nothing before. And even though I didn't know as much as I know now I still did know enough to know that I don't represent nothing in darkness.

So now we're there upon the platform of which path I can record and which path I could represent. I luminary, a force of light. I want to use it in a positive way. Because it's not like I want everyone to go through what I went through. The things that I classify as not nice. I would like everyone to go through the things that I classified as nice.

So that's the reason why I make my duty become preaching and teaching. And naturally we use it through the music. Because amongst the players and singers my strings are. Unless the government of my people is upon my shoulder. He said I know I would have to stand and make mention of the Rahab and Babylon. Simply meaning that I and I will have to take back all the real youths, all the real people out of the hands of the destructor. And I give praise to know that I am part of that type of movement.

My situation was a violent one

How did you get the name Droop Lion?

(Laughs) I think it's very interesting you know? Because I never named myself from when I was born. I don't even know my mother. I have never seen her in a picture much less in real life to remember. But the thing is people named I man. I used to be called Droop Dog back then. And first they used to call me Droopy. Because people take humbleness for kindness and many people take silence for humbleness when it doesn't really mean the same. I was a very secluded type of youth because I lost my mother from a tender age. Because of that they used to call me Droopy because I was slow to anger you know? I never really rushed into nothing. So I was Droopy.

When growing up now, the streets of Kingston have so many ills and turns that you have to learn to handle yourself. And learning to handle yourself in Kingston, they’re going to find a name for you. Knowing that we are in the street they called me Droop Dog. Because Beenie Man and a whole lot of Jamaican dancehall artists had already been spreading a culture and the rap artists in America had already been spreading a culture where they were calling themselves “dog”. It's not really like a man would see himself as a four foot animal but he's talking about the way he handles the street. That is the street. But in the whole transition of Rastafari and the transformation they themselves come back to the table again.

Because it is not like when they said Droop Dog I did laugh about it. But then you have to just leave a name because then it will become something else if you try to fight it. I can't make myself become a laughing stock. So I just allow a guy to call you what he wants to because I can be Droop Dog if I want to. I used to look upon it in this energy. Haile Selassie I had a dog called Lulu, and because of the mystic-ness of The King and people not understanding the fullness of his power-base all the same dogs many times transform like a lion.

And it was Elise Kelly that said on the national radio "This youth can't be called no dog. This man has too much power for a dog. This man must be a lion". And from there she said Droop Lion and on the same day everybody just took onto it. And I just worked with it same way.

They used to call me Droopy because I was slow to anger

A lot of people who don't know your story would hear your name and think it was inspired by Snoop Dogg changing his name to Snoop Lion. But you’ve said that is not the case.

No man. I want to tell you. This is a serious thing you know? Because I have been called Droop Lion long before Snoop came to Jamaica and I can tell you it's a group of men who feel like they are dictators in other people’s lives. The ones who sit down and try to sell I and I out. Because when Snoop told them that he wanted this transition and wanted to change his name, they gave him Bob Marley's name, the name that Bob Marley was christened in the Orthodox Church, Berhane? Meaning a bright light.

And I didn't feel any way because a million man have the same name right across the world. But if one is going to try and make it look like I am a walk backer or I am a follow backer - I don't follow any guys. Because I was already named Droop Lion long time. So when they said to him “Yo, you have to lick the dog off this” ones told them that there is a youth already in Jamaica named Droop Lion. But the ones didn't business with this because the ones just wanted to scam Snoop.

I can't be vexed with Snoop. Snoop is a good black youth. A Jah youth. We don't fight any human being. Snoop has got to continue his thing and if he's joined the lion pack that simply means he is in I and I den. I am going to have to govern over him the same way like I govern over many Young Lions. Naturally. (Laughs)

How did you get involved with Gladiators?

The Gladiators in my blood man. Enough man doesn't even know. That is why so many people are being pessimists about Droop Lion and the leading out. But the thing is, that group was formed a long time. I don't even know if my mother and my father did actually meet one another at the time. Because I have a granduncle called King Webber - which is David Webber you know? He passed away like going three years now. He had a daughter called Carol - and that's where Hello Carol comes from. Because it was Albert and Webber who went to look for her mother when she was just born.

Gladiators is in my blood

When they formed a group from long time in the 50s, he was the integral person forming that group. Then you have the singer called Albert Griffiths, and then you have Errol and a couple more. So I kind of grew up on the whole Gladiator music in terms of hearing this man talking every day in my ears. But still this is Droop you know? I never thinking about merging with the band nor even going on the road with the band. I was always thinking about getting myself out there. Sometimes I don't even remember that I am connected.

It was when I was on tour with Capleton. My last show on that tour we did six weeks in that 2013 tour. I was in Rheims when a man called Michel Jovanovic came and said he liked my energy and asked me if I wanted to tour with the Gladiators because he wanted to get them back on the road. I don't even think he realised that Gladiators was in my blood. But then when you see the type of spirit I and I carry then you know that it would be okay to merge with the other.

But I have management and if you want to take a serious step with I and I it can't be I and I who makes the decisions. So I told him that I had no problem when it comes to singing music and I will go anywhere and sing it with anybody but you have to talk to my management - they know what's best for me. And that was Cabel Stephenson same way. Cabel made him know that David Webber is Droop Lion 's uncle. So it was like a way out thing. So it was Cabel Stephenson who said “Yo if we ago do this we're going to sing an album”. Make an album together where I sing back a couple of their classics and write a couple of songs and intertwined with it. And we put it out and that is it. The album we've been touring it. Since 2014 until this time. Until right now when we are building and creating this new one.

You have your own distinctive voice. There is a similar kind of grain in your voice to Albert but there's also a nasal thing bit like Burning Spear, a Buju deep calling thing and something that reminds me of Winston Jarrett. So when you sing the songs of Gladiators do you modify your vocal to sound like Albert or do you just sing the Droop Lion way?

Droop Lion(Laughs) The thing is I am from a long time you know? So when you speak of my voice was so much colours and shades with some great people in all these times I find out that my energy that I carry is really from a long time. But it's just to represent within this time. Yeah, we merge and we sing a couple of the older songs but it’s not like I want to be like the elders you know? I understand clearly that that's the only thing I am doing here is to make sure that this thing continues. Because I will have to continue.

So it's not like I'm modifying nothing. I just go naturally man. I just go sing the people those songs. And I just sing them the way I sing them - and when we finish people say “Whoa”. Probably if I was trying to do like Mr Griffiths does it wouldn't come out so immaculate because surely I cannot do? Because he is long before man. I will have to represent within I and I Paradigm. I just give praise that it sounds like you're saying I've got a beautiful voice right? Give praise man! Is just a blessing man. It is I and I weapon. It is I and I tool. To carry through this mission and to reach all heart and soul with this message. Naturally.

Tell me about your song Freeway and what inspired it?

It was Tivoli Gardens incursion. How the ones came up against their own nation meaning the state. I didn't one hundred percent agree with how the state handles the situation knowing that the state has all the power. They could have handled this in a different way. But it's all because of people behaviour that creates the system. That allows ones and ones to do things within a certain way. The thing is because I and I Rastafari seen? I understand the whole. I am not just talking about dreadlocks upon head. I am talking about divine divinity within I and I - through the eyes that I look through.

I say “We've got to get away”. But when I say we've got to get away it’s not like I'm saying “Let's jump on a ship and run to Africa”. Nor fly to England or America. I was saying we've got to get away by freeing from the mind and I am talking about spiritual physical freeness from the mind. Mental freedom. Because we're living underneath a certain type of culture - plus the Ital culture within Jamaica makes people feel like they can do anything.

The Ital culture within Jamaica makes people feel like they can do anything

It was the Tivoli incursion that made I write that song. But I did not want to write a song that was talking about the 300 guns that were found nor the 70 odd people or more that were dead. I just wanted to talk about where people can be free. It is I and I duty to bring stability to the people and amnesty when every time they go through a situation. It is not I and I duty to ignite any form of corruption. Because doing that you will be bringing down some people and pushing up some people. Because sometimes we're bringing down some people and they are the ones we want to be pushing up. I had to do it in the right way so I did it in a “Freeway”.

Why was the time right to create the Mama Soon Come Back track when you did?

I don't even know if the time was right when I did it. Until I saw the way people started taking onto it and I said “Yo, this must be”. I have a big brother living in America. From the moment that he knew I was in the music business he would always say to me “You need to sing a mama song you know?” I said “How am I going to sing a mama song? Am I going to sing “Mama I love you?” When I don't even know mummy?” So it was very hard for me to come with a topic to sing a Mama song over the years.

This song just came out naturally. It's not like I sat down thinking that I need to sing a mama song. I needed to sing a song. And that's what came. And when the topic came I actually found out that I could relate to this. I can speak about this. And the rest was history man because the song carried a whole heap of emotions of I. A lot of times when I sing that song on stage I cry in a real cry because remember I don't even know my mother but still I have love for all mothers. That’s why I know it takes an individual to generate the type of current that he wants to distribute. Yes I. Because I used to think that I would be so ignorant about all these situations. I didn’t even know that I could sit down and talk to you about this. It is a powerful song and it brings a whole heap of light to my life.

Let's talk about the new album. What is it about? What's the concept?

(Laughs) The masterpiece. It's all about goodness. If you have to go in the field you're going to check out the good weeds, you going to move the good herbs, you going to take the good vegetables and the ones with the medicinal purpose. That is what is going on right now with this album. We've designed this for society. The sickness that's going on with design, this is a medicine. As I said we have to come and bring amnesty in this time.

Because the reason we're spending so much time and we getting in some of the greatest of the greats upon this is because we want to show the world “Don't be distracted by deeper talks and behaviours - good music is still creating in Jamaica”. Good albums are still creating. People don't speak about albums a lot anymore. Well right now we're bringing up these types of reggae songs to the heavens because we know.

Good music is still creating in Jamaica

It doesn't matter because we go out there and represent all over the world and we found out that it is a real thing that people really want. We find out many men don't contain of the capacity to bring real stuff. They just bring what they have. So that's why you're seeing so much rubbish. So we come to move all of that man. So we're bringing back the whole music scene. The whole era of the music upon consciousness. Because even the wicked man thinks that he is special. And for you to think that you are special, that’s the level of consciousness. So we've got to find a way how to dig it out and bring it to come. That it can be the way of life right now. I Renaissance. Paradigm. I Droop Lion. It is I time. Because I see it. To lead this and not to be a failure like many before and many to come.

I depend on the I because I can't do this by myself. All I do is right here. You press the button when you want it but then my goodhearted friends you are the ones who've got to help I get this to the hearts of people. You've got to help this music to become household. So it's all about the goodness of music in the continuation of music - it made me do this one this way.

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