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VIBE/Stacy-Ann Ellis

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Belly

Belly reveals how he landed on The Weeknd's chart-topping album and more in VIBE’s latest edition of Views From The Studio.

Flight Klub Recording Studio sits on a sleepy, unassuming block in New York City's Garment District, hidden between an inactive thread and supply storefront and industrial scaffolding. It's a premier studio that artists and producers alike use as an escape, a musical getaway to create freely from the radio noise and static cling of the outside world. Despite its grandiose word-of-mouth implications, its front door is actually a riddled freight elevator, conveniently stained with a surprisingly glamour-free garbage stench and miscellaneous liquids puddling in its metal crevices. Nevertheless, it's just the kind of gritty ambiance that Canadian rapper and songwriter Ahmad Balshe, better known by his stage name Belly, works best in.

"I love it here," says Belly, who has spent a decade cultivating a name for himself in the industry, of New York City. While the Palestinian emcee recently rose to acclaim in the states due to amassing several co-writing credits on frequent collaborator The Weeknd's chart-topping 2015 LP, The Beauty Behind the Madness ("The Hills," "Earned It," "Often," among others), those further up north have known him as a solo star whose debut album and slew of mixtapes dating back to 2005, added JUNO Award-winning (basically the Canadian version of the Grammys) to his moniker.

On a balmy August afternoon, Belly is catching a vibe in the metropolis, having chose the dimly lit recording space as the haven to put his newest project on wax. Now, with a Roc Nation deal and his first project in four years pushing his solo career back to the forefront, there's much anticipation built around the wordsmith.

Here, Belly reveals how he climbed Canada's rap ranks, landed on The Weeknd's chart-topping album, and the one word that describes signing to Roc Nation nearly a year ago in VIBE’s latest edition of Views From The Studio.

You have a very diverse background, being born in Palestine and moving to Ottawa, Ontario before your teen years. How did you get into rap? 
When I came to Canada, I would see videos on TV and stuff, and I was like, "Yo, this is me right here." My first two albums that I ever owned were Doggystyle by Snoop and Ready To Die by Biggie. I used those albums to learn English because I was still using broken English. Those albums shaped the sound and style of my music today.

That's interesting. Prior to forming your own musical taste, what were your parents playing in the house? 
Honestly, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. Aside from like Arab music, that was like the only foreign music at the time that we were listening to.

Would you say your background has influenced your music at all? 
Growing up in the Middle East taught me to be hospitable and respectful. It gave me a lot of culture and made me very family oriented. At the same time, it taught me how real life actually is. By the time I made it to [music], it was like a whole different world. It was like a complete culture shock. I think all of my experiences kind of shaped what people hear today. I try to always include my actual experiences in my music. 

Can you recall what sparked your interest in songwriting specifically? 
When I was really young and in school, I used to write poetry a lot so I was really good at rhyming words my whole life. I think that was like my prerequisite into writing songs and making music.

What were those first bits of poetry about?
I was always trying to get some girl so I'm sure it had something to do with some girl I was trying to get or some poem for the prettiest girl in school or something like that.

Did you get her?
I always get her [laughs].

So, how did writing poetry in school service itself into a career?
Well, before [a career] I put out a series of mixtapes in Canada, which nobody was really doing back then, and we did crazy numbers with them. That's what really led to me even being known enough to be able to drop songs like "Pressure" and my early singles.

"Pressure" was one of the standout singles from your debut album The Revolution, which won a JUNO Award for the best Rap Recording of the Year. What do you think helped your rise? 
I think it was something new to everybody. I kind of learned the game from this side. I was coming out here a lot, learning things and just watching the hustle was like the most eye opening thing for me to see the real street hustle that took place, selling CDs on corners and all that and having street teams really wilding out, making a difference. When you go somewhere presence-wise, people feel it. They just all walked in dressed the same. This is like the takeover, and I think I learned some of those things and brought it up north, and it was like unstoppable. Nobody had ever seen nothing like that before.

There weren't any other artists on that same wave at that time in the city?
Nah, I wouldn't say there was. When I first started doing that, there was nobody doing that or no one at least to my knowledge doing that. For me, when I was basically trying to reapply what I learned up north, I wasn't thinking about singles, and I wasn't thinking about mainstream or crossing over. I didn't care. I cared about making mixtapes. That was like the coolest sh*t to me when I came, especially coming to New York and seeing culturally how much impact a mixtape can have on your life, and that's really how I came in the game was with the mixtapes. By the time I did the mainstream stuff, it was like that's the only thing left for me to do. I had three successful mixtapes at that point, and it was time to do something else.

Many people today, mainly in America, were introduced to you through The Weeknd. 
Man, he's a real one. He's one of the special souls in this thing, and he's been the same since I've known him. I've watched his life go from having nothing to having the ability to have whatever he wants, and he's still the same guy, and everything is focused on his music and how good his music is. Like the amount of genius that he brings to the table when he walks into a studio is like the reason why he's still here, and he's been able to put out so much music and people can still f**k with him on both sides. His songs can go number one and culturally he can still impact just as hard, which is something a lot of people lose. Like they have one or the other, but I feel like he still has both.

How'd you guys end up working together? 
We actually didn't work together for like the first three, four years we knew each other. We were just homies. We were friends. I was doing my thing; he was doing his thing. When we worked for the first time together, it was just naturally. Just walked into the studio like, "Oh sh*t, this is hard. Let me jump on this." That's how we came together. We never forced it.

Haven co-written many platinum and number one songs, is it ever hard to find that balance of what you should give away to another artist and what you should keep for yourself? 
I think nowadays it's a lot easier for me because I know who I like to work with and who I don't like to work with, and then I know when I make something that kind of feels like me, [where] I have too much of my personality in it to give it to somebody else, that's when I know that I got to keep this. I honestly don't really do songwriting sessions anymore if it's not with people I actually f**k with.

What would constitute somebody that you f**k with because there are some people who treat it solely as a business and keep it pushing. 
I think just someone that I have a real relationship or at least like a real friendship--even if it's not a friendship--like a real connection with because it's going to translate into the music. As good as you can be, if two people with stank attitudes walk into a room and want to make music, they can both be geniuses, and they're going to make sh*tty songs. That's just gonna happen because the vibe isn't right, and the energy isn't there.

What's your writing process like?
I think for me, I write my best songs when I'm tormented. Even with songs and songwriting and stuff like that, I can't sit there around a bunch of people and do it. Like I have to be by myself in my own feelings, in my own thoughts and then I think I can express some of the sh*t that I don't feel like I want to say around everybody. Once it's in a song, it's in a song. It doesn't matter.

How does that lend itself to The Weeknd's multiple chart-topping hits?
With him, it's all him. I'll be honest with you. Like it's all his vision. It's his creativity. It's his conceptualizing. That's his baby. That's his masterpiece. I've been blessed enough to be thought of when he needs me and when I can complement something he's doing, but I could never take credit for the stuff I've done with him.

Earlier you mentioned your best work is done when you're tormented. Do you ever get writer's block or feel like you have to go and live life to really hone in on what you're saying?
My schedule doesn't allow it. I've been trying to take a vacation for two years. I just want to go somewhere for like four days, but just doesn't happen. This is all I do. Every day I walk in here, I know I can create something. I'm confident, and that's why I never feel no way about trying to hoard my music because the minute you do that, subconsciously you're telling yourself that you can't deliver something like that again. With me, I'm so open with giving away music because I feel like I can walk back in here and do it again.

That's interesting, especially after the whole world waited for Frank Ocean's album for four years. You also had a similar time lapse between your most recent project. 
I can only speak on myself and for me, but I did have people waiting for a long time, I can't lie. Sometimes people have to realize it's more than just songs and putting out music. It's mental health involved a lot of times, and a lot of artists go through personal s**t. A lot of artists are emotional and, again, I speak from my own experience and my own views, but that's what caused me to not even want to be in the spotlight anymore. I was loving the fact that I was just writing songs behind the scenes, still getting to make money and make music, and that was cool for me, but this is cool too so this is the part of my life I'm living now. If I decide one day I can't handle this mentally no more or whatever the case may be or this is taking too much of a toll on my family or whatever it is, what's to say I'm just gonna be able to pump out music for people every day? We do have a certain obligation as artists, but we also have certain responsibilities as human beings to ourselves and to the people we love. It's a hard line to walk. I'm learning that right now with just so many things changing for me recently and just seeing how [I'm] losing certain people along the way and just things that you've never expected. My music is only half of it.

in real life.. life goals || roc/xo

A photo posted by Belly (@belly) on

You've been signed to Roc Nation for almost a year now. I'm sure that was a full circle moment for you. 
It feels amazing and it felt amazing to know that Jay Z personally was the one who wanted to make this happen. [He's] someone I've idolized my whole life so it's still crazy to me.

Your most recent release was Another Day In Paradise, which was your foray back into the spotlight as a solo artist after having lots of success behind the scenes, ultimately leading up to your signing to Roc Nation. How did you feel about its reception? 
Working with everyone on that album was incredible. Honestly, it was just really dope getting to work with [Lil] Wayne. I wasn't actually in the studio with him, but just to know that he was on one of my records, that's like a dream as a young rap guy coming up like, "I gotta get Wayne one day," and I got that. I think the reception, like I said, I don't make music to try to be like, "Yo, this one is going to crossover for me." I make music that I know my fans are going to love, and in doing that, I know they're putting other people on to my s**t and that it's growing like that, and every year it gets a little bit bigger, and it doesn't have to get crazy. It just has to grow, and it's grown. That's exactly what the project did. When I dropped it, my fans loved it. They thought it was one of my best pieces of work ever. That's the most I could ask for. That's who I cater to.

Is there anything you feel like as an artist and songwriter that you haven't gotten that you deserve?
I'm humble man. Honestly, I can sit here and tell you what I expect. Just to even be able to do this--the most important thing for me is to be heard. To a lot of people, they want to be seen. I rather be heard. As long as people hear me, and I have that platform, and I have people's ears, what more can I ask for? I'm going to sit around and complain that someone has it better than me or people look at somebody in a different way that I feel like I should be looked at? What am I going to do? I'm going to make music for the people who love me for it. That's who I'm here for.

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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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Courtesy of Biz 3 / FCF

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

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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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