Nana_2017
Jessica Xie

Views From The Studio: Meet Producer & Songwriter Nana Kwabena

The Ghanaian producer, who’s worked with the likes of Janelle Monae and Jidenna, opens up about making the perfect groove.

Just a few days before his earth strong in March, I join producer Nana Kwabena with a few of his friends at Negril, a Caribbean eatery in New York’s West Village. After wrapping up our interview a few hours earlier, we find ourselves discussing the origins of Afrobeats -- the sound that has taken over music in recent years, thanks to artists like Drake, Wizkid and close friend and collaborator, Jidenna. As we chat, he explains how Afrobeats has a connection to Hiplife, a Ghanaian style that blends hip-hop and Ghanaian culture. But this is not the first lesson I would learn from the intriguing thinker.

Like a true leader, Nana leads most of the conversation we have as a group, a trait that pulsates through his veins with pride, thanks to his late grandfather, Chief Nana Atta Agyeman IV, who was killed during his reign in Sefwi Bekwai, Ghana. But like all origin stories, it’s best to start with the present.

Born Nana Kwabena Tuffour, the 31-year-old has racked up a number of producer credits for his work with John Legend and Janelle Monae, but his most known tunes derive from fellow Wondaland labelmate, Jidenna. The Brooklyn transplant co-produced the dynamic 2015 jam “Classic Man,” which elevated the artist into the mainstream and earned them their first Grammy nomination. He also helped create “Long Live The Chief,” which found further acclaim when it was featured on the Netflix-Marvel series, Luke Cage.

In February, Jidenna released his debut album, The Chief, filled with references to his Nigerian roots paired with political and social themes that might’ve been lost in translation by critics. The album jumps to different genres and themes like owning the party on "The Let Out" featuring Nana, falling deeper in love with "Bambi" and dismissing the opposition with "Long Live The Chief."

During our chat, Nana explains he’s not bothered by the mixed reviews The Chief received because the project resonated with those who propelled Jidenna into the mainstream. Opening the same week as Future’s "surprise" album, The Chief debuted at the later chain of the Billboard Top 40, with over 14,000 equivalent album units sold. Despite the numbers, fan commentary ringed louder than actual album sales.

“The amazing thing about hearing the general public's opinion is that while you can tell that the reviewer was just trying to connect it to the thing that they're most familiar with, the comments section [say otherwise],” he explains. “That, to me, is telling. Even your own readership disagrees with you. What does that say? Now, having said that, I do think that even in today's day and age, we live in such a popcorn culture where everything is immediate. Back in the day, when they would have great albums like Black On Both Sides or Illmatic, reviewers got to live with [them] for weeks before [a review] ever came out. And today, people drop albums out the blue, out the sky, without you knowing. Beyonce will do that. Future will do that. One day someone's going to figure out how you can drink water and you just got Future's new album and you didn't know it. But the beauty is that it did resonate with the people that we want to talk to, and it's great. In a lot of ways, it's like morse code. There's these situations where that's the little wink to all these guys across the room and then there's the others that aren't supposed to see it. Then you guys are like,‘we got each other.’”

The family vibe Nana describes is also one he shares with the rest of his Wondaland family. To understand his view from the studio, you have to respect the vision around it. Founded by Janelle Monae, the label serves as a hub for artists Roman GianArthur, Alex Belle and Isis Valentino of St. Beauty, Jidenna, Nate Wonder and Chuck Lightning of Deep Cotton and Monae herself. In an interview with Billboard in 2015, Monae explained her vision for the “revamped” label. “The label-as-family vibe is no accident,” she said. "We looked at what Puff and Jay Z have done, Jack White and Prince as well. But I'm also really inspired by strong women in business, like Mellody Hobson and Queen Latifah."

While sitting at VIBE’s NY headquarters in an all-black get up paired with a black Fila cap, Nana describes his first creative process with Wondaland as a musical and spiritual retreat. “The focus wasn't on music,” he shared. “The first two-three weeks we were down there, we weren't really working on records, it was all about really just taking the time to find the synergy between all of these spirits. So, from Roman to St. Beauty to Janelle, herself to Jidenna, to Deep Cotton to Nate and Chuck. When you can actually find that venn diagram between all those people, when you go to make music, it just allows for you to create something that doesn't sound like you're trying. It literally just feels homegrown and organic, essentially.”

With his mind, talent and spirit leading the way, Nana opens up on finding inspiration through his Ghanaian culture, working with Jidenna on The Chief and plans to transcend his creative ear.

VIBE: How does your personal story fit into the synergy you and Jidenna have?

Nana Kwabena: Where do I even begin? You want to go into the origin story right now?

Sure.
I'll start with my grandfather. He was the person that I was named after. My grandfather was a chief in Ghana, in the western region. His story was that before he became the chief of the village, he was actually a pharmacist, so people would come to him and get herbs and medicine from him–kind of the medicine man, if you will. But over time, he became the chief of his village. A chief being no different than a mayor over a district, essentially. It's like an Italian godfather kind of thing. He was a very, very principled man. He was someone that had a vision for his tribe that expanded very, very far. There's this thing called the "Great Law of Peace" in order to become an Iroquois chief. You have to possess the ability to see seven generations—seven.

There was a certain faction of his elders that were against him because they're realized they couldn't control them for their own agenda. They would make all of these allegations to have him removed. We have thrones in Ghana, we call them stools. So they would have all these allegations to try to have him go to court and have him removed from the stool. The first one they made up was allegations of him going to people's houses and taking soup off the stove to throw it on the ground, which is totally what people do, right? It went to court, was delayed for awhile, but temporarily for as long as it was in court, it had him off the stool essentially.

After the allegations were dropped, he goes back to the stool. Second time, they do another thing—make up some false allegations—same thing. He goes through this process again. The third time, he refuses to remove himself from the stool. He's like, 'I've let you guys do this enough. Naw, I'm staying by this stool. This is false. You guys are not going to be able to control me.' So he was very, very resilient and stuck with his mission's focus and the legend is that my father said there was a moment where he threw something to the ground. I don't know if it was a staff, I don't know if it was powder, I don't know what it was. But apparently, there was some moment where he threw something to the ground and a herd of bulls stampeded the meeting place. This is what legend has, this is what he [my father] was told when he was young. So, I remember hearing that story and being like, 'Wow, that was incredible.' But then fast forward, what wound up happening is that faction of elders organized a militia to assassinate my grandfather. They killed him in his palace.

I remember coming back from New York for the first time actually and having that story. We were catching up and reconnecting because we had known one another for some time. This is at a time where he had just lost his father. He was also a chief in Nigeria and he was named after his father. Then here I am with my story about my grandfather being a chief and me being named after him, and I remember connecting with him on that level.

When I found out about that bull story, I came back and told him. Then he shared with me the story that wound up becoming the intro to the album.

 

That’s incredible.
He's a tremendous person, a great spirit, and a great visionary. We come from families where you couldn't be an artist. You had to be a doctor or lawyer. You had to be someone that it'd look like, at least on paper, that you were the American dream. So if you wanted to be a musician, it's like, 'Why don't you just stay back in Africa and just play drums?'

Jidenna has aligned himself with social issues like police brutality and black pride. How does this affect the music you guys make?
We come from a line of studying people like Bob Marley, Fela Kuti and even MJ. These people were masters of their craft, masters of their sound, masters of their genre. But I think, in particular, they knew the way in which you could actually penetrate someone's mind and introduce them to new ideas, but you have to get them to move first.

Lately, I've been calling it yoga. Music is just yoga to me right now. If I can just get your body to just stretch and move and open itself up, then your spirit becomes open, too. So for us, we love the era, particularly in dancehall music or reggae music or roots music. Often times it'll be music you can dance to, but if you actually read the lyrics, and actually listened to what the f**k they're talking about, they're talking some revolutionary sh**.

Why do we divorce the two? Why is it such that you have to go to one place to get this or that, why can't it be that we can get both at the same exact time? So, for us, our mentality is in all this trap dancing stuff, that's cool. With afrobeats kind of coming into the mainstream, I feel like its people are slowly like, ‘Oooh, this is a little different.’ My goal is to get to the hips. Fela knew how to get it to the hips. For me, as a producer, I'm like, ‘Cool, we gotta just shift this whole thing because if I can get people's bodies to move like that, we can say whatever we want.’ Even thinking of the song “Some Kind Of Way,” if you strip through all of the lyrics and just have the melody, what remains is the beat.

It sounds just like a pop-medium record, but on that same record we're talking about, “No matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter what religion you are, no matter what God you pray to, someone's going to feel some kind of way about you.” Why live through that lens of trying to get people to actually take you and accept you instead of just being who you are? It's just that kind of juxtaposition that makes the music magical. We just like to call it party and ponder music.

I loved the tribal aspect of the project. When I listen to the album, it feels so communal.
Yes, definitely! A lot of the records are created that way. It was similar to Eephus, so when Janelle had us come down to Atlanta, we were staying at Wondaland. And Wondaland is a wonderful place—grass carpets on the floor, grass walls, and vineyard kind of things, and they'll have wine glasses on the wall. We were sleeping in teepees on the grass. It was amazing. We did yoga everyday, we were cooking for each other. The focus wasn't on music. The first two-three weeks we were down there, we weren't really working on records, it was all about really just taking the time to find the synergy between all of these spirits.

It’s crazy because, in today's day and age, it's so common for people to be distant from each other, or create music where someone makes a beat and the producer sends it to the artist. To me, sometimes you'll hit some stuff. Most times, it's uninspired. You can tell when something has… you can tell when you listen to a Michael Jackson record, right? You would hear him, Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton. In their relationship, all the different dynamics of what they were dealing with, you could feel a spirit and an energy in the music that was unlike no other. For us, we just kind of operate the same way.

What else is the Wondaland family working on right now?
There's always secret projects. This is going to be the year of Wondaland. There's a lot of amazing music coming out of Wonderland right now, it's going to shift some things. So, I'm really, really excited about Rome, to John Arthur to St-Beauty to Janelle, herself.

Outside of that, I'm also working on my own project. Kind of a DJ-producer album. Just working with people that I've met along the way that I've really enjoyed their music. Outside of that, we're working on a short film. Going back to narration and story telling and what not. I've always been someone who loved the idea of using music to tell stories that haven't been heard before. There's this story that I co-wrote with some friends of mine, actually, here in NY and it's been around for about three years. We literally did our last shoot day on Sunday, so it's going into edit. I'm going to be doing the score for it. It's just another way for me to be able to tell different stories.

Is there anything else you want the readers to know about you?
Umm, man. Where am I at in life right now? Let me zoom out. 2017.

2017. It is the year for creative expression.
Definitely. You can't even be the same kind of creative in a Trump world. I think that in a lot of ways, it's been great. Now the goal to me is a long term strategy. When I talk about resistance, when I talk about marching, it's just that one. I think that what I really love to do and work on is what we call the 100-year plan. How do we, beyond just telling these stories, really create something that shifts? Here's the beauty of it, art is always the spearhead though. It always has to be the first thing that galvanizes people. You look at revolutions throughout time, it's the thinkers, the writers, those people that world different than the world that they're seeing. They spark the minds that come. To me, art plays such an integral role and it's real.

I think for us, and what we're trying to build, when we talk about that bridge back to Africa, it starts in the music first. But it sure as hell doesn't end there. Over time, in this story, you'll get to see the next couple of chapters. But that's where my mind is thinking about in 2017. I'm thinking about 2027. I'm thinking about the next ten years after that.

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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

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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