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V Books: Hanif Abdurraqib Tributes A Tribe Called Quest In 'Go Ahead In the Rain'

Essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib has captured the authentic feeling of fandom in his latest book, 'Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest.'

A Tribe Called Quest were already icons when founding member Malik Taylor, the rapper known as Phife Dawg, died in March 2016 from diabetes complications at the age of 45. When the group capped their career by releasing their final album We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service that November, they completed one of the greatest comebacks in music history. Fans who had grown up listening to Tribe shape the sound of hip-hop in their ‘90s prime rapturously received their final work critically and commercially. Essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib, author of acclaimed collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, has captured the authentic feeling of fandom in his latest book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest.

Go Ahead in the Rain is an efficient summary of Tribe’s history, from their origins on Queens boulevards through their occasional contentious live reunions in the ‘00s and into their finale. But the heart of Go Ahead in the Rain is the author’s own relationship with the group and their work. The book’s cover calls it a “love letter to a group, a sound and an era,” and entire chapters are written as letters to principal figures such as Q-Tip, Phife, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

Abdurraqib ambitiously blends the universal and the personal: the first chapter traces the roots of hip-hop and jazz back to rhythms preserved by enslaved Africans in the Americas, and the author crystalizes those centuries of history into a story of his father rebuking a micro-aggressive middle school jazz teacher. Tribe’s albums, infused with the jazz from their own parents’ record crates, were among the few hip-hop works approved by Abdurraqib’s parents in an era where media scaremongering around N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew made the genre taboo.

Go Ahead in the Rain further functions as a pocket history of a hip-hop golden age, illustrating Tribe’s importance through collaborators and rivals. It’s illuminating for fans of the group, but even hip-hop novices will be moved by Abdurraqib’s book. It’s a tribute to A Tribe Called Quest and a tribute to the power music has to grow with the listener. It’s a book for anyone who has secluded themselves in headphones, pressed play, and heard themselves singing back in someone else’s voice. VIBE spoke to Hanif Abdurraqib by phone from his native Columbus, OH about grieving for Phife, paying tribute to Tribe, and the deep cut that gave his book its title.

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How did your work on this book begin?
The work on the book began when Phife died. At the time I was working for MTV News, and I had to write a quick elegy to Phife. I thought about how uniquely specific A Tribe Called Quest was in shaping a part of my identity that I've held onto for most of my life: my comfort in the weird, or comfort in the absurd. Or comfort in the things that don't feel quite right to everyone. I found myself wanting to celebrate that, even more by the year of 2016.

Because our new normal, especially around news cycles and political violence, is understood as a low, kind of consistent hum that has interwoven into our everyday lives, it can be forgotten that 2016, at least for a lot of folks, was really draining. It was especially violent, and especially heartbreaking in numerous ways. And I think 2016 saw another reshaping of the current political protest movement, and what I saw as a shift in people's very clear demand to turn their attention towards protecting those they love, right? Protecting their people first.

I think Tribe's album coming out, they spoke to every corner of this. I don't know what I was expecting in 2016 when the album dropped. But I think what I took away with this album was, speaking not only to a singular political moment, but speaking towards the whole of these moments we've been living in for a while.

So do you see this book as preservation of that Tribe myth?
Yeah. It all came to the forefront for me because in the weeks before the last album came out, I was in a high school doing a reading to some 15 year olds. And they had really no access point for A Tribe Called Quest.

I needed to write about what A Tribe Called Quest meant to me, as someone who was young, and who for a while could not have a lot of rap in the house, but could have A Tribe Called Quest in the house. How they catered toward an era before theirs. How they catered towards jazz, and sounds that, at least in my house, my parents could appreciate and welcome in. N.W.A. wasn't getting in the house.

And so, I wanted to write my way to an understanding that what I lived through was real, because I think if I didn't do that, I would take it for granted.

Take for granted your own memories of your relationship with Tribe?
Yeah. And take Tribe for granted themselves, right? When someone dies, musicians particularly, the question that comes around is “how good a job did people do to honor this musician while they were still here?” I saw myself asking that after Phife died, and wanted to start that path of reconciling that.

Because I loved Phife. Phife was immensely important to me. Not just as a rapper, but how he sat in the makeup of A Tribe Called Quest, and how he was in some ways rebellious, and hard to control, but magical all at once. All those things meant such a great deal to me, but I didn't articulate that nearly enough when he was still alive.

And with this book I am thinking, what can I do beyond the grief to honor a group I love? In doing that I wanted to also be clear in saying, yes, this is about Tribe, but it's not only Tribe. It's Native Tongues, it's Mobb Deep, it's N.W.A., it's Wu-Tang. It is inside an ecosystem in an entire era that truly shaped me, and deserved my returning to it in a state beyond grief.

So you returned to the sound of that entire era, not just Tribe?
Because so much of Tribe is at the beating heart of what has happened in hip hop ever since they became prominent, they've been pace-setters for the genre, and particularly for a lot of production techniques that exist and are still being utilized now. I found myself returning to hip-hop from '87 to '96 primarily, because I think I had to do that in order to make sense of the A Tribe Called Quest album trajectory. How do we get from People's Instinctive Travels to Beats, Rhymes and Life?

You have to immerse yourself in the music happening around Tribe. I'm a Beats, Rhymes and Life apologist or whatever. I don't think it's as bad as people suggest it is. I also understand that it's not their seminal work. But in a way, that album was made in response to what was happening around it in hip hop. I write about this in the book, that album failed for some as a Tribe album because it was the first one that wasn't setting trends, but it was responding to trends.

Listening in this context, listening to bridges I wasn't getting to hear before was important. It was important for me to listen to Mobb Deep, and see how Mobb Deep is kind of like A Tribe Called Quest in a funhouse mirror. It was critical listening that I had never thought to apply to this particular musical lineage.

In the book’s conclusion you mentioned quite a few modern acts that you see as sort of descendants of Tribe: Anderson .Paak, Joey Bada$$, Isaiah Rashad, Danny Brown. Is there any one common thing that they all share with Tribe?
I think that, even beyond what they share with Tribe sonically, all of them are invested in risk. Tribe made a template for risk taking. Risk taking was the idea that failure is an impossible thing, right? When you look at old interviews of Q-Tip, especially around the making of The Low End Theory, at no point did it occur to him that there would be failure. There's that iconic Q-Tip quote where a reporter asks him if he was afraid of a sophomore slump. And he responds, "Sophomore slump? What the f**k is that? I'm making The Low End Theory." It's like, I can't even fathom a sophomore slump because I'm making the most important thing I've ever made.

I think that there is something about that energy that's on Malibu with Anderson Paak, where he was like, "Why are you talking about anything else? I'm making the most important thing I've ever made." Especially for him, someone who was homeless, who is actually trying to build a legacy that will sustain him for a long time. I see that urgency in him, and in Danny Brown and Isaiah Rashad, where even their misses are coming off the back of a really big swing.

I think the overarching critical response to Beats, Rhymes and Life and The Love Movement felt like some kind of drop-off because failure is fine if you're taking a big swing in the process. But if you're kind of just coasting and you still kind of stumble, it's not as appealing. It doesn't look as sexy.

What is the difference between We Got It From Here versus their last two records, in terms of the swing, the effort that they're putting forth?

I think We Got It From Here is more monument than album. They spent a career climbing the mountain, and We Got It From Here is them chiseling themselves into the mountain one last time.

What's amazing about We Got It From Here is that it's so angry. A lot of people don't think of Tribe as an angry group, at least not explicitly angry. Even though The Low End Theory is teeming with political commentary, it's also balanced by the very basic tongue-in-cheek nature that comes with being in Native Tongues. We Got It From Here balances anger and grief in a very uncanny manner. When you spend an entire career, an entire life playing to the very intricate subtleties of the sonic landscape Q-Tip was shaping, and the very aesthetic landscape Tribe sat in, lengthwise you just run out of fucks. When Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were murdered on back to back days of the year, when the American political system sold people yet another bad cheque. I was so heartened by the unbridled anger that exists on We Got It From Here, because I think so many other groups would have chosen a lot more gentle send-off.

They put out an album that viscerally responded to the absurdity of the times we are living in. And that's what they chose to ride off into the sunset, very literally. The last music video “The Space Program” ends with three of them walking off into the sunset. In the grand kaleidoscope of black emotion, anger is one of many that America wants to reckon with least. So to see that with a face and with those songs was beautiful.

One of the most compelling ways the book works is the way that you continuously tie yourself to the group, and I think one of the through-lines of that relationship is that, in a lot of ways, they were underdogs in the same way you were. They're willing to be weird and absurd. After some of the accolades and success that they've had, do you still see them as the weird and absurd group, or do you think that they've taken a more central codified place in the culture?

Oh, they're more central in the culture. The things that made them weird are the things that now make people beloved. They were one of the handful of groups that were pushing their shoulders up against a seemingly immovable door of weirdness, and whimsy, and not always wholesome but somewhat trying idea of black liberation. And then that door got open and they were one of the first in the room. Now the room is overcrowded, but they’re still the ones who got the door open.

I don't think of them as underdogs, because their legacy is so built on several moving parts that are still driving the culture forward. But I do think that in a certain time in my life, when I most felt like an underdog, I relied on them to chart a course for me.

How did you decide which portions to write as letters addressed to individual people?

I think all of the time about if I'm doing a good enough job of very plainly saying, “I love what this person has done for my life. I have lived a better life because of the way this person I do not know has enhanced it.” Which on its face is a kind of silly thing. But I wanted to make that sentiment stand up. The way that I found I could do that was to somewhat foolishly enter into a conversation with the central growing heart of this whole affection I have.

I did want to talk to Tribe as if they were responding to me, because for me it feels like we've been in conversation for our whole lives, and I wanted to represent that on the page. The only way I knew how to do that was to write those letters to them as if they would respond, or I might be getting something back, or as if I am responding to something they've told me. Some incredible secret that I've carried for a long time.

Have you sent a copy of the book to Tip, or Ali, or Jarobi?

No. Cheryl Boyce-Taylor has a copy. I might send one to Ali, and then I think I'm just going to let the chips fall where they may, you know? I know this sounds a bit ridiculous on its face, but I didn't write this for Tribe to read it. And I didn't write it intentionally as a strict biography that placed me as an expert on Tribe, because they're experts on themselves.

I wrote this book particularly for people who are fans of a single artist, and have spent any time in their life trying to untangle what it means to honor someone and all their complications, and all they've meant for your own complications. How to best articulate the way you see yourself reflected in the songs you love. That's who the book was written for.

What was it like to get clearance to republish some of Cheryl Boyce-Taylor’s work in the book?

She read an excerpt and approved it based off the excerpt, which was really kind, because I was very nervous. I think she's an incredible poet. And it felt irresponsible to write about Phife as a writer without also writing about the fact that he came from a writing mother, who undoubtedly influenced his relationship with the sound, and with metaphor, and with punchiness, and with his clever maneuvering of language. So it felt really irresponsible for me to write about all these glowing things about Phife's skill set without also stressing that that skill set wasn't born out of nowhere. And so, yes, she read an excerpt and gave us permission for the poems. I was incredibly thankful for that.

I'm currently in the process of trying to track down Ventilation, Phife’s solo album, after reading your discussion of it. It's been a while since we've heard more, but there were announcements that Phife had another solo album ready to be released. Do you have any expectations around it if it does ever come out?

My opinion around posthumous releases has changed as I've gotten older, because I've seen so much music come out that seemed as though the artist maybe would not have wanted it in the world. And I've become more immersed in the creation of my own art, and I know that so much of that creation comes down to the final moments.

Last night I sat in my living room and laid out all the poems for my next manuscript on the floor so I could see them, and adjust them, get them into place. If I were not here, if I were not living, I would have to trust someone else with that. And who else has that particular vision but me who wrote those poems, and has a feeling for where they should move, right?

And so I don't know how done Phife's rumored solo album is. But if it's not done, if it's not like mixed and mastered, I maybe don't want it at all, because I don't want to remember anyone I’ve loved by the half-finished art they left behind.

How did you decide on Go Ahead in the Rain as the title?

I loved the lyricism of it, and I love the finality of it as a title. I love the idea of water in that which can make a person clean. I like the imperative of, go ahead into the unknown. That song is like a deep, deep cut. I like that it was asking of a reader. I wasn't necessarily interested in a known entity. I'm interested in what's most lyrical and speaks to what the book is asking.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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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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