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Interview: Gappy Ranks (2010)

Interview: Gappy Ranks (2010)

Interview: Gappy Ranks (2010)

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"Put The Stereo On is about bringing people together and that’s what I like to think my album can do – bring generations together. You’re hearing a youthful sound on rhythms that are thirty or forty years old"


The antidote to all the gloom and doom one hears about the state of the British reggae music, has been the explosive success of Jamaican-Dominican Londoner Gappy Ranks. An ability to sing or deejay over anything from vintage Studio 1 rhythms to the latest one drop and dancehall, as well as an astonishingly prolific workrate ("I have to feed him riddims" says manager Pierre Bost) have resulted in hero status at home and runaway success abroad. He's even ventured to Jamaica to perform in the bear-pit that was Sting 2009 and emerged unscathed. To mark the release of his first full length album 'Put The Stereo On', made up of said vintage backings revived by fellow West-siders Peckings, Angus Taylor was invited to the Harlesden home studio where the piercing-eyed gap-toothed star knocks out tune upon tune day and night...

Gappy Ranks

You've been kind of drip feeding your fans with singles and then an EP before your album release. Was this approach deliberate?

Yeah, I like to think so. Because there's a lot of music coming out of the world and while it's not a competition, it is a very competitive market. So just to get your music out there and be heard and to stand amongst already established artists out there who have already broken through and get the airplay – as well as the ones who are doing it for fun and still get the airplay! – it was very important to send out the right material that would touch the people. Then they would come back and listen to what else I had to offer.

Why did you go with the Peckings project for the full length album?

Well that's a tricky question because to be honest you don't get the final say as an artist! It's your album but there's a whole other ballgame to it - this is what happens. But then this is not the only thing Gappy Ranks has to offer and they know that and the world knows that already. Gappy Ranks - Put The Stereo OnSo I'm kind of happy in a way that this Studio 1 album has been released as the first album because Studio 1 is what brought most of the genres today and you have to remember where you're coming from before you know where you're going. Studio 1 was playing in my house a lot and these are the forefathers of reggae and dancehall music we know today. Everything has branched off that and you have to pay homage. Put The Stereo On is about bringing people together and that's what I like to think my album can do – bring generations together. You're hearing a youthful sound on rhythms that are thirty or forty years old. It's hard to bring generations together but we've done the job and that's what Put The Stereo On is all about.

It's interesting what you say about "bringing generations together" because an obvious comparison would be with Bitty McLean's On Bond Street. But where Bitty was really going all the way back to the old school vibe, your delivery and digitally altered vocals bring something different to the table, right?

Yes and even the topics, like Pumpkin Belly. It talks about topics of today. So I'm talking about today's topics to the sounds of that era. It's like bringing a computer back to when no computers existed. Fashion repeats itself and so does music. The world is a cycle and things come around and go and this is part of it.

Lots of readers will be familiar with Tenor Saw's Pumpkin Belly. Tell me about the meaning of yours?

Well there's the old saying, "How water walk go a pumpkin belly?" and there are lots of interpretations of what that means. How I said is "nobody knows how water gets in a pumpkin's belly" so that song is telling you, "don't judge anybody" because you don't know how they got there. I'm saying to youths that might go and pick up guns or weapons or drugs that maybe if they knew the circumstances or the consequences of that they wouldn't do it. That's what that song's all about, facing the consequences and acknowledgement.

In terms of long-playing releases we've seen two sides to Gappy Ranks. The very contemporary one-drop/dancehall side from the EP and the raw Peckings vintage rhythms one. How many more sides are there?

I'm a Gemini which is definitely a part of it. I fall under a very creative sign (if you're into the whole star thing!) and I'm a very creative person. But I think the majority of it has to be down to the fact that I live in London, which I like to think of as the capital city of the world and it's very multicultural. I could walk not even five minutes from here and pass thirty or forty different nations and all these things I incorporate into my music. Making reggae music helps you travel to different parts of the world, unlike some other genres which do well where they come from, i.e. hip-hop. But reggae music takes me to parts of the world other people may not go. And all these things broaden my mind and help my music to mature. Music is the biggest form of communication and if you cannot communicate on a world scale then I don't think you can communicate at all. So all my music has different types of music, different types of voices, different types of mood, these are all emotions that are played out.

What was your upbringing in Harlesden like?

Well Harlesden is like 90% reggae area and a 90% Jamaican area so it's been a very big influence in my life. Gappy RanksSome of my happiest moments were spent here and a lot of dear memories that I hold close to me. But it wasn't a paradise location – far from it. It was very hard. Both of my parents are immigrants from the West Indian islands. They started afresh when they came over here in the late 70s. We had to struggle. I am the next generation that was born here and I haven't forgotten my roots but I am very patriotic about this place where I come from Harlesden – especially in the reggae business. Because if you've come to the UK as an international reggae artist you've come to Harlesden. Three minutes away you can see if you pass the Magistrates Courthouse, that's where Island Studios was where Bob Marley recorded the Exodus album. So the history's all around from Bob Marley to Alton Ellis to Buju Banton to Bounty Killer to Cutty Ranks to you name it! They know this area.

And Harlesden is also considered by many to be the backbone of the UK reggae scene. Did you know many home-grown or first generation immigrant artists when growing up?

Oh definitely definitely! You cannot forget Chukki Starr, Sweetie Irie, Governor Tiggy, General Levy, the late great Rudy King, the late great Tubby T and REDD who's still here, Gregory Praises, Sneaky J...

And going back even further you have Delroy Washington, Vivian Jones...

Delroy Washington, Frank Dunn from the Cimarons, Vivian Jones, Vincent Nap, Junior English. Yes I grew up around those artists. I could take you to them now! They're like five minutes away! I know where they're all hanging out! These are old guys but they're still together as a community. I know where they all are.

I am very patriotic about Harlesden – especially in the reggae business. Because if you’ve come to the UK as an international reggae artist you’ve come to Harlesden

I take it you grew up with reggae in the house. Did you go through a phase of rejecting it?

Never! Because reggae music is love and brings people together. I was always a people person. I've always loved attention and to perform and reggae music helped me to it - especially coming from that background - so it was very important to me. There's been a lot of bad publicity about reggae music but I think the people just never got to know reggae as they should have. It's the same thing that happened with rock music and punk music. It was the same way they dealt with them. That's why you heard Bob Marley come and sing about being a reggae-punk. Anything that rebelled against depression and oppression was always given a bad name and shunned. But it should never have because this is the revolution and the revelation you see me? Reggae music will always be here and it has always got its fight but we're still young - it's not even sixty years old. Not a lot of people know that but it's just turning sixty and we've got to celebrate reggae music. If you compare to history in the history books, sixty years is nothing. We're still growing, we're still young and there's a long long road to go so I hope that one day people will be reading - even if it's just a little inscription - about Gappy Ranks. Then I'll have done my job.

I know you've been asked this before but how has the Dominican side of your family influenced you and your music?

Very very much. I spent a year in Dominica. It's a very very poor country, a French speaking island and there was just a very different aspect that brought me closer to the world. The last time I was out there was in the year 2000 so it's been ten years and I hope to return there to do a big show. I'm very very proud of my roots and where I come from because if you're not proud of where you come from you can never go anywhere.

Football references also appear in your lyrics. Were you a keen player? What other activities did you do at school?

Not really! I loved the whole idea of playing the game. In primary school I remember I played one game with the school and then one more game in secondary school. I was like a... (pauses) they saw it as I wasn't good enough – as in I didn't behave well enough – to be in the team! A lot of my teachers used to see my music as a distraction. Maybe there were one or two – I think my parents have a couple of school reports – that saw what that "distraction" really was. It was creative and maybe my teachers couldn't handle it. Because there's no such thing as a bad student – only a bad teacher.

A lot of my teachers used to see my music as a distraction. It was creative and maybe my teachers couldn’t handle it. Because there’s no such thing as a bad student – only a bad teacher

I spoke to Everton Blender about you name-checking him in Long Time.
I know you don't sit down with paper and pen and write but how does that song relate to your youth?

Longtime is about how Gappy Ranks now is in the studio and he's going all around the world and performing so the time that I used to spend – not really lazing around – it's just that there are no opportunities and there's nothing really to do, especially here in Harlesden NW10. That's why you see so many kids just walking the streets or just hanging around. It looks like they're just being lazy but there are no opportunities. So sometimes we'd just be hanging around on the corner and just cracking jokes and I used to be doing that with a lot of people and I don't want them to feel like I forgot about them. And it's not just me – I'm sure that you yourself, when you moved into your new job that you're doing right now, there were some things you couldn't do like maybe party all night!

Too true!

So this is what Longtime was all about – remembering the people you used to hang around with and the things you used to do. It's not that you don't want to do it any more. There's a difference between not wanting to do something and no time for it! It's like single parents who have to work jobs endless hours of the day and they don't really get to see their kids. It's not that they don't want to see their kids, it's that if they don't go out and work who is going to feed their kids?

With successes like Stinkin' Rich and Heaven In Her Eyes, did it take a while for you to realize how big a tune you'd made or did it hit you straight away?

Definitely. You know the feeling of a song within the first three or four seconds. It's an instant thing – and that's how I write my lyrics as well. It's instantaneous. It's almost unexplainable. It's like going to a Leonardo and asking him how did he paint this or how did he mix his colours. He probably doesn't know how to explain it to you. But with Heaven In Your Eyes, for example, I remember voicing that song and that peace and tranquillity, that serenity. It was the same day I recorded Mountain Top. Heaven In Her Eyes followed Mountain Top – it was like climbing to the mountains to reach the heavens! I felt sad, I felt happy, I felt all these emotions at one time. I think that's why that song has taken off how it is because it hits all emotions. And that's what music is supposed to do.

How I write my lyrics... It’s instantaneous. It’s almost unexplainable. It’s like going to a Leonardo and asking him how did he paint this or how did he mix his colours. He probably doesn’t know how to explain it to you

You even go in a deep roots direction towards the end of the album. Thy Shall Love is my favourite track on the rhythm I associate with Kenyatta by Joe White. Could you see yourself making a deep roots album?

Anywhere my music is taking me now I shall follow. That's why I say Thy Shall Love Thyself and Thy Shall Love One Another. Because before you can love anything you have to love yourself. If you listen to the opening line of Put The Stereo On I say "Roots and Reality. That Inna We Blood" so I can definitely see myself doing that. There's a whole load of stuff we've got for the people out there. There's a plan ahead and we hope we've made the right plan and the right choices but even if we haven't we'll learn from our mistakes and continue making music to the best of our ability for the people of the world.

Now, you, like many reggae and dancehall artists use pitch corrective software like AutoTune. What do you think of the arguments that it is used too much in the music?

Well firstly, I don't use AutoTune myself. I use Pitch Control which is a slightly different device. But what you have to remember is you have to embrace modern day technology. IGappy Ranks mean, without social networking Gappy Ranks wouldn't be heard where he is now so I embrace the old with the new. You have to respect all these things, because I'm sure, when the 456 Reel-To-Reel came in, people asked what happened to whatever it was they had before! In history some people will always shun change but it's changing. The music is changing and we have to embrace it every day. You have to quote artists like Mavado and Vybz Kartel who have changed the whole music game within the last five years. It's just a different way of creative thinking and that's what music is about – being creative and being whatever you want to be. Go to the Tate Modern and ask, "why did the artists throw that on there?" Because they wanted to and they had to!

Generally, the UK scene is viewed by artists as a closed shop where upward mobility is hard. How have you broken through into the international scene?

Never give up and have good people around you. I've got a great management team, a good label behind me, good friends, good family and I've grown up in a great community. They've helped me reach this stage: selectors like Allan Brando, Silver Star, Quincy, Beat FM, Unique FM, Radio1Xtra, Choice FM, Daddy Ernie, and it's gone nationwide and international. And people like yourself asking me questions about my life and documenting it. These are the things, even if it moves slow like a snail - and I've been doing this thing a very long now! I've seen Beverley Hills where a chandelier costs 3 million US dollars - that people could buy two houses with here in the UK - I've seen that lifestyle and I've seen the lifestyle where you have nowhere to sleep - when you're walking the streets when people are in their bed at night - so that's how I've managed to do it. By never giving up and seeing and believing and respecting and honouring. That's what the album Put The Stereo On is about: honouring and respecting and communicating and bringing people together.

I've seen Beverley Hills where a chandelier costs 3 million US dollars and I've seen the lifestyle where you have nowhere to sleep - when you're walking the streets when people are in their bed at night

We all know Europe and the US are bigger markets but would you say Reggae is getting more popular in the UK now?

Definitely! This is where the reggae came through before it reached the rest of Europe and America. The artists weren't going to America or Europe to voice - they were coming here to London. I'm not even just talking about reggae, I'm talking about this capital city we live in. Movies were made here. We look out of the window in London and it's dark and it's gloomy and we've only got the summer to look up to the sunshine - but look beyond that and there's potential and there's power! Because I always say, "If you can do it in London you can do it anywhere". It goes back to what I was saying - just keep on believing. Look at Sir Alan Sugar. Look at Levi Roots. A black man and a white man, both coming from broken parts of London and look where they are now - these are multimillionaires of different trades. Why can't Gappy Ranks do that? Why can't there be a footballer round the corner who someone bought some boots and walked into a club and they said, "You can be the next Rooney"?

Would you say your success has come at a good time or are you part of the reason for reggae's success?

I'd like to think that, but you know what? You have to Give Thanks. I have an album I'll be releasing in November called Thanks & Praise and it's all about giving Thanks & Praise. I believe in the share of blame: you always take your fair share. But also in the share of thanks: you always give it away. I can't take the credit and the thanks for all this.

People have high hopes for you in the same way they do for someone like Tarrus Riley in Jamaica. Do you feel the pressure?

No I don't because, firstly I believe I can do it, and, also, I'm an adventurist and an opportunist. If you do positive things then these things will come your way. I feel proud that I am one of the artists who have made this happen but I have to remember the artists who were there before me. Look at General Levy: I can switch on my kickboxing channel and they'll play his song. This is international and he comes from my neighbourhood. The late great Tubby T - rest in peace - everyone knows his name around the world. There were many before me who gave me the power to do this and there will be many after. So it doesn't stop at Gappy Ranks just like it never stops at Sean Paul and Shaggy.

You were meant to play One Love Festival on August 7th. What happened?

Oh Gosh! We left out and approached Wood Green on the North Circular and there was gridlock. I was supposed to perform at eight o'clock sharp. By ten to eight I was on the phone to the promoter who didn't believe we could get there in time so he cancelled the contract which in turn took the band off stage at the same time. We reached there at ten minutes past eight. It was the first time it's ever happened to us but it was gridlock and there was nothing we could do. We had to think about safety so we couldn't go onto the shoulder and drive like the police! We were just like every other individual that was in the traffic. But at the same time we still went down there and showed love to the fans. We still did the press work so while they didn't get to see me perform a lot of fans did get to take their pictures with me and got autographs. So I'd just like to send our apologies to the One Love people and the citizens and council of Essex.

Final question, what's next? Will there be a Special Delivery album?

There will also be an album out in November named Thanks & Praise and in between there will be singles released independently. I've just done a collaboration with Tony Matterhorn called Just Tell Dem that will be digitally online. I've just done a song called New York which is a song about my travels through New York talking about the different places I've seen and the things I've been through. And the producer who did Stinkin' Rich [Macro Marco] will be releasing a tune called Girl Next Door on his Dutty Romance album. There's going to be a whole heap of mix cds, I'm going to keep on working constantly. Go online, go to my MySpace, follow me and talk to me on Twitter. I'm always on Twitter - it's very social! - go on Facebook and join the fanpage or just Google Gappy Ranks and in between - who knows? I'm a very creative person and I'm spontaneous so if you hear a collaboration between Gappy Ranks and Celine Dion - don't be surprised!

If you hear a collaboration between Gappy Ranks and Celine Dion - don't be surprised!

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