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Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Sonny Digital

Here, the Grammy-nominated music producer dishes on his grand foray onto Atlanta's music scene, trap beats, and his thoughts on being underrated in the game.

On a warm, late October afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia, Sonny Digital is quietly tilted back in a swivel chair, greenery in hand ready to light a spliff and get back to work after a pit stop to Smoothie King for a banana-tasting concoction.

The 24-year-old Grammy-nominated music producer is reflecting on all of his accomplishments to date and even some of his mistakes along the way that all worked out for the better in his case. To his right, a guitarist named Josh sits on a futon, as he plays back a recording brimming with just the right amount of bass.  This same small, carpeted room in Sonny's humble abode quietly nestled in the heart of the city housed numerous hits like "Tuesday," Makonnen's 2014 breakout that took him from virtual unknown to OVO Sound's starting five roster. Today, like many others, Sonny clocks countless hours behind production equipment cooking up dope beats. However, instead of supplying the perfect tempo to capture the mood of Future or Wiz Khalifa's latest club banger or deep cut, he's perfecting his own soon-to-be hit.

"It needs to be heard," he says contently nodding to the beat. "I need to get out that [trap] box. I ain’t motherf*****g regular. This sh*t is old news, I been making crazy sh*t for a minute and been to every damn spectrum. I just want people to f**k with the talent and stop holding a n***a back because I didn’t show y'all everywhere I could go with it."

Here, the music producer dishes on his grand foray onto Atlanta's then bubbling music scene, broadening his horizons beyond trap beats, and his thoughts on being underrated in the game for the latest installment of Views From The Studio.

How'd you get your start in producing?
Sonny Digital: The initial reason was that my friends and I rapped and there weren’t enough beats for everybody. So I just started making beats myself.

Who were some of your musical influences?
SD: Production-wise, I was listening to Shawty Redd. That n***a was getting it man. He changed the whole sound. I also was big on getting my hands on anything that wasn’t necessarily mainstream in Atlanta. People always forget about André 3000's importance too. Everything we have in the city is real diverse. You can go in so many directions. I was just the first to go in all those directions and kind of check it all out. If it wasn’t for Shawty Redd, I could guarantee there would be no me, no anybody. Those guys influenced a whole new sound, which turned into something else, which turned into something else, which is what it is today.

What was the first song of yours you heard on the radio?
SD: YC feat. Future “Racks on Racks.” That’s when my name kind of went industry. It was already moving around in Atlanta. You know, when you go to every city you got that one guy who’s on the brink of making it out, but ain’t made it out yet. That would’ve been me if I had never got “Racks.” If you think about it for real, we did shift the whole Atlanta music scene, took the steering wheel and just turned it.

True. “Racks” was a big hit for Atlanta, it was like a resurgence of the city's dance and trap roots combined, and it introduced a lot of people to Future too. How did it come about?
SD: I just emailed them beats. I used to hang with Gorilla Zoe and he used to be at Block ENT, and YC was signed over there. I just happened to send YC a beat and a couple of months later he started emailing me from some weird email asking about the beat. I honestly ain’t know who it was. I don’t respond to nobody I don’t know. He kept on hitting me though so one day I just hit him back because if someone is persistently hitting me then I know it’s serious. I hit him back and I found out who it was and that was that. I sold that bih for $300 though.

Wow, that’s crazy.
SD: Yeah, I mean, technically, they gave me my credit. See where I messed up was that I didn’t put my tag in there. People didn’t hear Sonny Digital so they didn’t identify me with the song. A lot of people today are just now finding out that I go back that far and I produced that song. It’s the same thing with “Same Damn Time” because my tag wasn’t in there. So it’s been like a catch up game with everybody. They’re just so far behind when it comes to me. People honestly just don’t know, although I feel like they should know. 

A lot of people stamp producers with a certain sound, but would you say that there is a specific Sonny Digital sound?
SD: No. You know, that’s a gift and a curse though because every time I put something out people can’t identify it quickly. The way people are, they lazy, they don’t want to go do the work and find out where it came from. But then again, it’s a good thing too because there are some people that do, do that and go look and then they’re like ‘aw sh*t, I f**k with this n***a’ and check out your entire catalog. At the same time though you have a lot of people whining, saying you've got to do something different, but as soon as you do something different, they say, ‘what the f**k is this, where the other sh*t at?’ It’s like dang man, what the f**k do y’all want?

Since there isn’t a consistent sound, would you say that there’s a formula to your creative process?
SD: I just be chilling and really going off of vibes. I just go in and f**k around and might find a cool ass sound that I personally like. It’s interesting the way I look at vocals because I don’t necessarily look at vocals as f***ing vocals. I look at it as an instrument and I’m just finding that one thing that’s missing to make it all sound good. It could be the difference between a beat sounding good and great. That’s just how I look at it, as far as when I’m making beats and stuff.

I heard you made Makonnen’s “Tuesday” in your house.
SD: Yeah, we made it in this room. I’m still here [laughs]. It’s more cost-efficient and it just makes more sense, especially if your neighbors ain’t tripping and you don't require a lot of people around, which I feel like if you’re working then you shouldn’t have a gang of people around anyway. Then again, you got to think about it, I’m young too. I don’t have a girlfriend, no family, nobody to really answer to so I can stay at home and really just get all my work done. We’re in two-thousand-fu****g-fifteen, going on 2016, all you need is some head phones and your laptop now. We don’t need no major studio, let’s be for real. You can record it here, in numerous places. It ain’t no place where you can’t record it. 

One of your biggest placements to date has to be Beyoncé ‘s "Bow Down / I Been On." What was that experience like?
SD: That all came about when I linked with Polow Da Don after hearing that he was interested in what I was doing. It always shocked me though because I was never like this big producer, so I was wondering why’d he be worried about what I got going on when he’s like one of my favorite producers. But when I went down there and met him, he was cool. The first day we met we worked on that “Bow Down” track, which was supposed to be for Rihanna but she had a deadline for her album and we didn’t meet the cut. So then he told me that Beyoncé had picked it, the song came out, and that was the song that came out and that was that. It was just a quick little play; it ain’t anything that I really glorify. Hit Boy actually did the “Bow Down” part, and I did the “I Been On” part where it’s the slowed down Texas sh*t.

Do you feel like people fully understand the importance of the producer today and respect their influence? Or do you feel the term is used loosely, although everyone has to start from somewhere?
SD: That is true but I think people should look into what they’re doing before they actually start initiating a name and taking it and running off with it. Because a lot of n****s, they not producers. A lot of n****s be temporary producers, taking up room. N****s be hot today and be gone tomorrow. So it’s like man, make sure you want to do this before you call yourself that. You can be a beat maker first. I ain’t going to downplay it, nothing like that, but I feel like before you actually hop in, you need to figure out and make sure you want to do this. Are you going to innovate this? What’s going to make you a producer? You sounding like me ain’t going to make you any better my n***a. Do your own sh*t.

So tell me about your friendship and working relationship with Metro Boomin. It unfortunately seems rare these days to have two producers who are killing the scene constantly collaborating. 
SD: That’s the bro, that ain’t no friendship. That’s all it really is and we just make beats together from time to time that just happen to be fly. We first linked when he hit me up a long time ago. Then he ended up going to school down here at Morehouse. We ended up linking after that and we just became real cool. It’s always been love. Ain’t nothing like he wanted something or I wanted something from him. He looks out for me and I look out for him. I look at him kind of just like my little brother. I really f**k with what Metro doing right now. He really pushing the culture.

Speaking of the culture, I feel like there's a definite void of female producers in the game. Man, what's good? 
SD: I don’t know. I be stressing that too. I be telling people, like if there was a female producer(s) that came through right now with some hard ass, crazy beats right now,  that sh*t would go crazy! WondaGurl is really holding down that lane right now and doing her thing. She’s extremely crazy and amazing on the beats. A few of us stayed with her for a month or two when we worked on Rodeo and she just stayed in the room all day just make beats all f****g day. She just be cranking new b*****s out all day like on crazy. And she young too. She getting it in though. But if there were more female producers, not saying taking her spot or anything, but just to really solidify the female lane, it would be crazy. You know history repeats itself for real though. It ain’t no Missy Elliott of our time though. I'm waiting.

Do you feel that you are underrated at all? What do you think is going to be able to change that in your mind?
SD: The problem right now is that people got me boxed in. They want to put all of us like Metro, TM88, Southside, and Zaytoven in the same category. It’s crazy because that’s really all of the producers in Atlanta, but everybody got they own box, they own indefinite sound. You can’t compare Zay’s beat to a Sonny Digital beat or a Metro beat; it’s that different. But we are placed on the same projects though, so people hear it on the same frequency. I understand why it happens. With me personally, I been on so many different spectrums. I don’t know if people underrate me though. I think it’s more of people not knowing. If they knew. A lot of my records, I just caught the short end of the sticks of all my records and stuff. But right now, I’m starting to get a little more recognition for all the work that I’m doing. If I can tell every single person right now, all the records that I’ve done, from way back when, letting them know I been had y'all rocking. Like when I do my shows and I run through my hits, I see all these people eyes light up like damn, this that n***a that we've been looking for. 

You DJ'ed during Makonnen's "Loudest Of The Loud" Tour, did that help your producing skills at all or make you think of producing in a different way?
SD: I’m not going to lie, it did. It gives you an idea of how crowds move, how to move a crowd, and what specific songs always move a crowd. It opened up my eyes. It’s like making a beat live, testing it out in front of the people and seeing how they react to it. And it helps you put together songs and stuff too. You just got to analyze a lot of things as you play songs. I don’t know. It teaches you a lot though.

Has your production style changed since you first started?
SD: It ain’t really changed, it just elevated. I’m real open minded. You see my boy in here with the guitar, and I’m supposed to be a trap producer, right? Come on now [laughs]. We just going up. I still got the same outlook and I stay true to the trap sh*t too. I mean, I make that stuff, but at this point it’s second nature, it’s something I’m never going to forget how to do. Right now I’m dibbling and dabbling into new, next level stuff.

Which I'd assume as getting back to rapping since you've been putting out songs here and there lately...
SD: Yeah. Something lately has me thinking that I want to do this artist sh*t all the way. When I put it out, I didn't even really know how to describe it or what to even call it. Off top, when you hear Sonny Digital or anything affiliated with that, it just affiliates with trap automatically. And as soon as the song comes on, you hear something that reminds you of some guitars or some electric guitars or something rock. So the general public just been putting stuff together and calling trap rock or trap metal or whatever. It's actually kind of hard. And it makes sense though and it’s really a open lane. My boy Josh brought up a good idea that the music I'm making doesn't sound like something you just go and rap on stage. I think it might require a band or something like that and we put on a real show. So that might be in the works, something like that, some crazy sh*t like that.

Did you have any reservations of stepping in the booth because people have this thing against producers-turned-rappers?
SD: Yeah, man, that's weird as hell and f***ing backwards. It don't make no sense though because if a rapper is making beats they get praise for that, but if a producer is rapping on his own beats, it’s like ‘why you doing that?’ It's funny because most of these producers be telling these artists what to do. Basically, a lot of these songs you hear today are products of the producers so people self consciously already be liking them. I don’t care though, it’s a community for this though now. It’s a whole other realm for that sh*t. When music is good, you can’t deny that, period. I’ve been making music for a long time now, and now I feel like it needs to be heard. Like I told you already, people been f*****g with what I been making for the last couple of years, knowingly or unknowingly. And that’s the good thing about it. A lot of people f**k with me and they don’t even know it.

SEE ALSO: 

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Ester Dean

Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Tommy Brown

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Bibi Bourelly

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Bobby Brackins

Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Frequency

Views From The Studio: Meet Producer WLPWR

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Stacy Barthe

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriters R. City

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Then & Now: Common Details How He And J Dilla Collaborated On The "Thelonious" Track With Slum Village

J Dilla and Common had a really tight creative bond and, at one point, lived together in L.A. So you know that Common got dibs on all of his hot beats first. They were hip-hop brethren just trying to work together and of all of their collaborations, living and posthumous, the track “Thelonius,” is the sharpest intersection of the two legendary artists' careers.

A singular song fit for two albums, the cut was placed on Common’s fourth studio album Like Water for Chocolate and Fantastic Vol. II, Slum Village's classic sophomore album. “Thelonius” as we know it was in a way an accident...a soulful snafu that we get to enjoy forever. In this excerpt of VIBE's Then & Now video franchise, Common shares how the song manifested unplanned, willed into existence by Dilla’s uncompromising creative compass.

The story is brought to life with artwork by visual artist supreme, Dan Lish (@DanLish1), the man behind Raekwon’s The Wild album artwork. The illustrations you see in this video are a small fraction of what you can find in his upcoming book: Egostrip Vol 1 – The Essential Hip Hop Art Book, a psychedelic visual history of hip-hop to be enjoyed by the genre’s oldest and youngest fans alike. 

Today is the last day to support Lish's Kickstarter for the incredible project. Click the following link for a copy of your own: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-lish/egostrip-book-1 

“I picked up on what inspired me about the artists, whether it be a certain lyric from a classic song or my perception of what may be going through their mind at the moment of creation,” says Lish.

There is much more to be said about all of these artists. For more stories on Common’s catalog, including several more Dilla cuts, stay tuned for the upcoming episode of Then & Now, where we dig deeper into notable tracks in the career of one Lonnie Rashid "Common" Lynn, Jr.

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Quavo Is Introducing 'Fan Controlled Football' To The Culture

From their penchant for popping tags and name-dropping designer brands in their rhymes to the obsession with diamond-encrusted neckwear, the Migos are the modern-day poster-children for decadence and opulence. But when it comes to balling, group member Quavo is a seasoned veteran, literally and figuratively. Notorious for his appearances in NBA all-star celebrity games, where he routinely dominates the competition, Huncho has built a rep as one of the athletically gifted hit-makers in music today.

Although he's known for his skills on the hardwood, football is definitely among his passions. His newest endeavor, an ownership stake in Fan Controlled Football (FCF), the first professional sports league to put the viewer in the coach's seat and the general manager's office, in live time, finds him putting his focus back on the gridiron. Having inked an exclusive, multi-year streaming broadcast partnership with Twitch, the FCF will be the first professional sports league to be fully integrated with the streaming platform with the potential to explode in the digital age, where user interest and participation is the main recipe for success.

Having tossed the pigskin around as a Georgia high school football star, to Quavo, it was a no-brainer to get involved with the innovative league on the ground level. “We are building a brand and something different in our league – with the fans. They are in control and get to pick the team names, colors, logos, and more,” said Quavo said in a press release. “I’m really excited because FCF is fast-paced, high-scoring 7v7 football and you are in control. You go from sitting on the couch watching TV and pressing buttons on the remote to actually pressing the buttons on the plays.”

Played on "a 35-yard x 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones,” the Fan Controlled Football league will kick off in February 2021, with a four-week regular season, one week of playoffs, and a Championship week. The league will consist of former elite D-1 athletes, the CFL, XFL, and the Indoor Football League. Broadcasted live from the FCF’s state-of-the-art facility in Atlanta, each game will be 60 minutes in length and will allow the viewers to play a hand in the final outcome on Twitch.

Aside from sports, Quavo has been relatively lowkey on the musical tip as of late, with two years having passed since a solo release or a Migos album. However, according to him, this delay can be considered the calm before the storm, as he assures him and his brethren are primed for one of their biggest years yet. VIBE hopped on the line with Quavo to talk Fan Controlled Football, what he's got cooking in the studio, and his foray into TV and film.

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You're the newest team owner at Fan Controlled Football (FCF). What about the league piqued your interest and made you wanna get involved?

It's just showing my interest in the game of football and just trying to put a twist to where it's fan-controlled, fan-involved. A lot of times we watch the game, you watch the game, you just have some concerns. Sometimes you feel you can make the plays or call the play, [with FCF], you can sit on the couch and make the play. I just think we came together to make something crazy like that. I feel like it's something hard, it's something new, it's something fresh. It's a new beginning to something, like giving ni**as a chance. Giving D-1 players who couldn't make it to the league a chance, giving ex-NFL ni**as a chance if they still got it, [and] to go with the fans. When we saw the Falcons lose the Superbowl LI, we [fans] just knew what plays to call, we knew to run the ball. We were up 28-3. All we had to do was hold the ball, but we wanted to air it out and we made a mistake and lost to Tom Brady. Just like when Marshawn could've won a Superbowl. If they'd have given him the ball on the two-yard line. We knew that Marshawn Lynch was supposed to get the ball, [but] they wanted Russell Wilson to win it and the New England Patriots caught an interception. So that's how we're trying to shape it, we're trying to make something new.

The FCF will be live-streamed exclusively on Twitch, which has become one of the leading platforms for eSports live-streaming and will kick off in February 2021. Do you feel the FCF has the opportunity to fill that NFL void during the spring, particularly given the fan engagement that FCF enables?

Most definitely, cause after the Super Bowl, it just feels like you just want another game. You feel like you want one more game. and coming from something [where it's] eleven on eleven players to seven on seven, I feel [there’s] still a difference. After coming from watching the game and the regular politics, the regular structure of the game, now you're getting to be involved in a game that you can control. You can pick the jersey, you can pick the helmets, you can pick the jerseys, you can pick the coaches, you can pick the plays. I just feel there are two different dynamics [between the NFL and FCF). You come from sitting on the couch and pressing the remote to actually pressing the button on the plays."

Speaking of fan engagement, the FCF is the only professional sports league that enables fans to call the plays in real-time and puts the viewer in control of a game’s outcome like never before. Have you ever had that experience, as far as fantasy football?

Nah, but I'm into Madden. You can sit at home and pick your plays [with FCF], it's just like the lifestyle of Madden. It's like a reality of Madden. You're playing with people at home, with these unique athletes, and it's seven-on-seven.

As an Atlanta native, how significant was the FCF’s state-of-the-art facility being in your hometown in your decision to come on board as an owner?

It's very important. We got top-tier talent here, so it's opening up opportunities for a lot of guys. We're just glad it's in the south, it's like a hub. Everybody loves Atlanta and everybody wanna be here. Everybody wanna play and the weather is good.

NFL Super Bowl Champions Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, boxing legend Mike Tyson, and YouTuber and podcaster empire Greg Miller are among the FCF's team owners. How does it feel to be competing against some of the most accomplished athletes and entertainers in the world? Have you had the opportunity to meet with any of them?

Most definitely. I have a good relationship with Mike Tyson. I've met Marshawn Lynch, it's a blessing. I feel like we're not competing right now, I feel like we're building a brand. I feel like we're building a league. I feel like we're trying to make the world understand what we're bringing to the table and what type of game we bring to the table, you feel me? I feel we're trying to create something different. Once we get the ball rolling, it's all together and moving into a real FCF league, then we'll get to compete. Of course, we all wanna win, but right now, we're just trying to get the foundation and the basics going and letting the strength of the owners and the relationships show on the field.

Being that you'll all be working with your respective fan bases in shaping your team’s personality and identity, any thoughts about what the team’s name will be? 

Man, I wish I did, but it's so straight strictly fans that you never know. Just like with music, can have an idea that is a smash, and then the fans don't think it is. You gotta strictly listen to the fans on this one. You gotta listen strictly to how they want it because it's the point of the game, that's the point of the league. We gotta let them control this game and then we the players and we the people that's listening to the people, the culture. FCF stands for culture, too, you feel what I'm saying? We listen to the culture, we're letting the culture run the field.

How involved will you be in the drafting and scouting process for your squad?

The fans make the draft, fans get to see everything. Open books, everything. It's an open thing, it ain't nothing to hide over here. The fans control it all.

In addition to sports, you've also been delving into acting, with cameos in shows like Atlanta, Star, Black-ish, and Ballers. Earlier this year, you appeared as yourself in Narcos: Mexico. How did that opportunity come about? 

Narcos reached out. We [Migos] had this song called “Narcos” on the [Culture II] album and we went and shot [the video] in Miami and everybody thought it was a Narcos movie scene and it ended up being Madonna's house. So we just shot that there and then they reached out to us. I think Offset had a performance somewhere and Takeoff had to do something and I just ended up being free that day and I went and shot it in New Mexico. I had fun, I loved it.

Do you have plans to pursue any supporting or leading roles in film or television?

Hell yeah, most definitely. I've been sitting down and having real great meetings with directors and people that got some movies in the works for 2021. I feel like I’ve got some good spots. I don't wanna tell it cause they’re gonna make some announcements. It's coming soon.

It's been two years since you've released a solo project or one with the Migos. Can fans expect any new music from you anytime soon and what are your next plans on that front?

Most definitely, hell yeah, we're shooting videos right now. We’re vaulting up a whole lot of videos so we can give you music and visuals at the same time. “Need It," the song came first and then the video. Right now, we wanna get a lot of videos and a lot records in the vault and smash [them] all at once 'cause it's been two years.

Pop Smoke's passing was one of the more tragic events in rap in recent memory, but his debut album, which you appeared on throughout, has been one of the most successful and acclaimed projects of 2020. How has it been seeing how the album’s been received, especially after you and him developed such a bond in a short time?

I'm happy. I'm proud of him, that was my partner. We did a lot of records, we spent a lot of time together and I feel like the album would've did even more with him being alive. A lot of people's album just go crazy when they die, I feel like his sh*t would've still went crazy. He had the momentum, he had the buzz. He was having fun. He was hot, he was fresh, he had everything ready.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Toots Hibbert performing at Hammersmith Palais, London in 1983.
Photo by David Corio/Redferns

Remembering Toots Hibbert

The best singers don’t need too many words to make their point. Otis Redding could let loose with a sad sad song like “Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa” and get you all in your feelings. Bob Marley got pulses pounding with his “Whoi-yoooo” rebel yell. Gregory Isaacs melted hearts with nothing more than a gentle sigh. Toots Hibbert, who died last Friday at the age of 77, could sing just about anything and make it sound good. One of the world's greatest vocalists in any genre, Toots paired his powerful voice with the understated harmonies of Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias to form The Maytals, a vocal trinity that never followed fashion and remained relevant throughout the evolution of Jamaican music—from the ska era to rock steady straight through to reggae, a genre named after The Maytals' 1968 classic “Do The Reggay.”

Whether they were singing a sufferer’s selection (“Time Tough”), a churchical chant (“Hallelujah”), or the tender tale of a country wedding (“Sweet and Dandy”), The Maytals blew like a tropical storm raining sweat and tears. The lyrics to Six and Seven Books,” one of The Maytals' earliest hits, are pretty much just Toots listing the books of the Bible. “You have Genesis and Exodus,” he declares over a Studio One ska beat, “Leviticus and Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges and Ruth...” Having grown up singing in his parents' Seventh Day Adventist Church in the rural Jamaican town of May Pen, Toots knew the Good Book well.

The Maytals broke out worldwide in 1966 thanks to the song “Bam Bam,” which won Jamaica's first-ever Independence Festival Song Competition, held during the first week of August as the island nation celebrated both independence from Great Britain in 1862 and emancipation in 1834. They would go on to win the coveted title two more times, but “Bam Bam” was a singular song with a message every bit as powerful as Toots' voice. “I want you to know that I am the man," Toots sang. He was young and strong, ready to "fight for the right, not for the wrong." The trajectory of "Bam Bam" would not only transform Toots' life but make waves throughout popular music worldwide.

"Festival in Jamaica is very important to all Jamaicans," the veteran singer stated in a video interview this past summer while promoting his latest entry into the annual competition. "I must tell you that I won three festivals in Jamaica already, which is “Bam Bam,” “Sweet & Dandy” and “Pomp & Pride.” Toots described that first festival competition as a joyous occasion. "Everybody just want to hear a good song that their children can sing," he recalled. "Is like every artist could be a star."

In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of "Bam Bam" winning first place, Toots looked back over the legacy of the tune that made him a star. "I didn’t know what it means but it was a big deal," he told Boomshots. "You in the music business and you want to be on top and you write a good song and you go on this competition and if they like it then it becomes #1." After The Maytals won, the group was in demand not just all over the island, but all over the world. "We start fly out like a bird," he says with a laugh. "Fly over to London."

"Bam Bam" went on to inspire numerous cover versions, starting with Sister Nancy, Yellowman, and Pliers. It would also be sampled in numerous hip hop classics, and interpolated into Lauryn Hill's "Lost Ones." But according to Toots, he did not benefit financially from these endless cover versions. "People keep on singing it over and over and over, and they don’t even pay me a compliment," he told Boomshots. "I haven’t been collecting no money from that song all now."

 

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“This man don’t trouble no one... but if you trouble this man it will bring a Bam Bam” Original Maytals Classic @tootsmaytalsofficial 🎶 All them a talk, them nuh bad like Niya Fiya Ball ☄️🔥💥 via @tonyspreadlove . 💥💣🔫#Boomshots

A post shared by Word Sound & Power (@boomshots) on Sep 12, 2020 at 8:19am PDT

When Toots began singing in his parents' church, music was not seen as a career prospect, and the profits were slim for Jamaican recording artists in the 1960s. "Those days we get 14 cents for the record to play on the radio," Toots said. "I get three shillings and five shillings for a number one record, which I had 31 number one record in Jamaica... It’s not about money for me. It’s about the quality that Jamaicans need to go back in the festival jamboree... You gotta talk to the children."

On the poignant “54-46 (Was My Number),” Toots recalls the dehumanization of his arrest and 18-month imprisonment at Jamaica's Richmond Farm Correctional Center for what he always insisted was a trumped-up ganja charge just as his music career was taking off. The song's crescendo comes two minutes in when Toots breaks into a scat solo that cannot be translated into any language known to man, delivered with palpable passion that made his message universal. During Toots' ecstatic stage performances he would follow this riff by commanding his band to “Give it to me... one time!” Then the 'd make 'em say Uh!  (Way before Master P!) “Give it to me... two times!” Uh! Uh! And so on and so forth until Toots worked the place into a frenzy.

The Maytals' live show was so explosive that Toots began touring all over the world, opening for rock megastars like The Rolling Stones and The Who. While Bob Marley richly deserved the title King of Reggae, his friend Toots was performing internationally before The Wailers, and remained a force to be reckoned with throughout his life, blazing a trail for generations of reggae artists to follow in his footsteps.

On his Grammy-winning 2004 album True Love, Toots recorded some of his greatest hits with a host of legendary artists, many of whom were also good friends, including Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Eric Clapton. His 2006 cover of Radiohead's "Let Down" was a favorite of the band's, who used to play it on their tour bus. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood called Toots’ version “truly astounding,” according to Easy Star Records Michael Goldwasser.

Toots supported himself and his family by touring all over the world. During a 2013 show in Richmond, Virginia he was singing John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" when a teenager in the crowd threw a vodka bottle at the stage and hit him on the head. He suffered a concussion and had to stop touring for several years. As his first album in a decade, Got To Be Tough was highly anticipated when it was released on Trojan Jamaica label August 28. On the cover the former boxer and lifelong fighter can be seen throwing a punch. Just a day after the album dropped, Toots came down with symptoms similar to COVID 19. Within a few days he was hospitalized where doctors placed him into a medically induced coma from which he never recovered. As his Tidal obituary pointed out, he passed away exactly 33 years after his old friend Peter Tosh died by gunfire.

Songs like "Just Brutal" from the hit different now, with Toots pleading for more love in a world gone wrong. "We were brought here," Toots sings. "Sold out. Victimized brutally. Every time I keep remembering what my grandfather said before he died."

“I’m feeling alright,” Toots said the last time we spoke, while he was still sidelined with stress issues due to the bottle-throwing incident. "I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling just cool because is Jah works. You seet?" I asked him if the song "Bam Bam," was about him—a peaceful man who should not be provoked—or else. "Nooo don't trouble him," Toots said with a laugh. "It’s gonna be double trouble, triple trouble. A lot of trouble."

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