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Angela Morris

Kuk Harrell Tracks His Career Journey From The Golden Arches To The Grammys

The award-winning vocal producer dishes on how signing on for the fast food company’s “Where You Want To Be” campaign put into perspective the skills he attained from McDonald’s as it applies to his career today.

Thirty-five years ago, Kuk Harrell designed his foray into the music industry while taking orders at a Chicago-based McDonald’s. The Grammy-winning vocal producer once worked at the fast food conglomerate as a crew member, then a manager before he became the go-to voice captain for artists like Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, Usher, and more singing heavyweights.

As his writing career began, Harrell wrote jingles for McDonald’s ad campaigns, helping to craft the melody around the fast food restaurant’s “ba-da-ba-ba-ba” tune. In a full-circle moment, Harrell added to his McDonald’s lineage (his mother and two sisters used to sing background for radio and television commercials in Chicago, including for the golden arches), by signing on for the franchise’s “Where You Want To Be” campaign. The initiative pairs a McDonald’s employee with an established person within whatever field the employee is interested in pursuing, allowing them to spend a day and learn the ins and outs of that business. Ayana Lea was selected to shadow Harrell, a moment that re-instilled a sense of passion within him.

“It was refreshing to be able to look back and she gave me a picture of where I was 35 years ago starting out,” Harrell says. “When you get in the music industry, and especially on my level, you’re moving around so much and you’re dealing with people so much every single day and the expectation is so great, you could lose that sense of excitement and freshness. The thing I really picked up from her was just the fresh passion that she has and she’s looking forward to where she can go.” For Harrell, that journey has landed him five Grammy Awards and a scroll of credits from Janet Jackson to The Whispers.

Harrell chats with VIBE on his mission to have the Grammy Awards recognize vocal producers, Rihanna’s ANTI album following its three-year anniversary (while he remained secretive on her upcoming project, Harrell shared that there’s growth from ANTI to her new album), and how his time at McDonald’s still impacts his career today.

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VIBE: How did you know McDonald’s would be a springboard to the next level?
Kuk Harrell: For me, I’ve always been fortunate. People that have a passion for music, they’re always fortunate because that’s something that’s always there as opposed to not being sure. For me, I was really fortunate that that passion was always there. I was also fortunate because I was already committed to doing music so there was something in my mind that made me focus on it. I was able to see I need to do life while I pursue my passion, meaning I needed to get a job so that I can have a life and while I have this job I can still pursue my passion. Passion is music. A lot of times we’re very lucky if we get success doing music. The stereotype is you either just do music and you don’t work and you’re hoping that this could generate money. I was fortunate that my family really instilled in me that you have to work while you pursue it. That was a huge blessing for me.

When you’re working with an artist, are there skills from McDonald’s that come in handy?
Absolutely. The soft skills, responsibility, and teamwork. Those are extremely important in what I do right now because, especially with the clients that I have, it’s really important to communicate and to be a people person. I say this all the time, you can be extremely talented, you can have all the talent in the world and be the best songwriter, the best producer, the best keyboardist, but if your people skills are lacking you’re not going to go too far. After a while, people will realize it’s more of a nightmare being in the room with you as it is, so I credit my experience at McDonald’s. I appreciate it because when you’re standing at that register you’re interacting with people, person after person after person and you have to be like a blank canvas. You don’t know where these people are coming from, what’s going on in their minds and in their hearts, so I love the fact that you’re able to figure out right away how to respond. I learned that at the window. Then being a manager I learned that you have to be a great leader. A great leader is a person that really knows how to communicate with people based on where they are as opposed to a blanket personality like, “I need to speak to her this way” or “I need to speak him this way,” “motivate him that way” or “motivate her this way.” That’s all McDonald’s training for sure.

Looking at your Instagram recently of your Grammys, you said you’re in love with the journey. How did you reach that point where you love what you do?
My cousin [Tricky Stewart] and The-Dream, we wrote the song “Umbrella” for Rihanna and I realized once that song blew up and became what it was, I just sat back and was reflecting on the process of it, how it happened. I realized that everything up to that point was my desire. I was reaching for everything and trying to make everything happen, trying to make a career happen. But when “Umbrella” happened, that song was actually written...it kind of happened. There was no effort about it. Then it wound up on Rihanna, she cut it, it became a worldwide smash. Through that process I realized, “Wait a second, without any effort we were able to…” something was able to happen in my life that became life-changing for a lot of people. At that point, I realized I wasn’t worried about anything at that particular time other than just living life. I wasn’t searching for it and it happened. It really directed me back to, “Let me just make sure I always keep my mind on the journey, the life experiences, the most important thing in everything that I do every single day are the interactions with all the people that I meet.” How I can impact their lives and how they can impact my life. That’s the richness of life for me. Not how many Grammys I have, not how much money I can make. It’s the people along the way.

 

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I’m in love with the journey!! Go get it!!!

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Especially since your expertise goes back to the ‘90s, with R&B acts and pop stars, what has been the biggest shift in vocal production from then to now?
I would probably say the fact that there is a thing called a vocal producer because it really didn’t exist. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back at all, but I’m the pioneer of vocal production (Laughs), you know what I mean? I carved out the niche of a vocal producer, and even that makes me think about the journey because now I’m doing things every single day. I’m having conversations with labels, I’m having conversations with artists, I hope to have conversations with the Grammy board just letting them know this is a thing. People want to do this. Almost like I’m a union representative for people who are trying to do what I do. There are certain things that I have to fight for in order for it to continue to be legit like royalties and getting our points as opposed to just being in the studio with somebody doing all this work and we just got a check for it. Like no, this work lives on forever so we need to make sure we get paid for it.

What goes into vocal production?
The vocal producer is responsible for how the artist sounds on the record, not just sonically, but we carve out with the artist how they sound, how they approach the vocal, if one part of the song needs to be breathier, I’m hearing all of that. I’m going, “Sing it more breathier, sing it sexier, now sing it more edgy.” We’re carving out the emotion of the performance.

You’ve worked with Pentatonix and they solely rely on their voices to be the instruments. How do you help a singer, not necessarily in that format, use their voices as instruments?
I start from the foundation that they’re already a great singer and even if they’re not a great singer that they have vocal ability. At that point, it’s all about instilling confidence in them, getting them out of their head and just getting them to a place where they can just perform. That goes back to what I was saying about being a manager at McDonald’s: how do I lead? I noticed that this person has a shy demeanor but they’re a pop star, or they’re a pop singer, so how do I get the best out of them? It’s all about leadership, teamwork, and motivation.

Have you worked with an artist that you’ve noticed tremendous vocal growth?
Absolutely. I’m not going to say who it is, though. (Laughs)

 

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Now, down to business! #workflow #vocalproducer #vocalproduction #songwriter #purpose 📷 by: @angelamphoto

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Can you describe that growth process?
It’s confidence because a lot of times when an artist goes in the studio they’re in their head a lot. That’s the other thing the vocal producer does, he brings confidence to them and just lets them get to a place to where they’re not thinking about, “Am I doing it the right way?” They’re not thinking about anything other than, “I’m just here to do what I do and I’m going to be the best and I trust that that person has my back and will make sure I sound great.” When I hear records with artists that I started with or we start together and I don’t produce them anymore, when I hear their records now, I hear that confidence and that’s life-giving. That’s an extension of me, that’s an extension of my spirit that they’re continuing on in.

Vocal production can also apply to rappers, too. What was it like working with Cardi B on her Invasion of Privacy album?
It’s a great experience, they’re all great experiences. I get to work with the best of the best and it’s always exciting because I get to work with either a great vocalist or a great rapper. The thing that’s the same is it’s all based on either melody or rhythm. I’m initially a drummer so it’s all about rhythm and I can sing as well so it’s all about melody. With Cardi, just making sure the pocket is right. It’s exciting because I get to carve out audio pictures.

How much of that journey is your talent and the artist’s? I know you said you have to bring out certain things out of singers, but is it a give and take?
It’s 50/50 because that’s where the soft skills that I learned at McDonald’s come together. The person has to feel like it’s a partnership. They can’t feel like I’m a producer coming in trying to make them do what I want them to do. First of all, I have to realize that they’re the artist, not me. It’s their record, so I’m here to bring what I do to enhance what they do. As long as they feel like it’s 50/50, everything goes extremely smooth.

And it can also hit the listener in a different way. To reference Rihanna’s ANTI album, a lot of people herald that as her best project from top to bottom. I think she found a lane within that lower register pocket, and ANTI’s songs can fall into any genre. What was it like working with her on that album?
It’s always amazing and with that particular album because it was a groundbreaking album. It took us three years to make the album and that was hard because it was highly-anticipated. But it was great because we all learned so much in working on the album. That’s the other thing. I love how for me it always keeps going back to the people skill. We had a lot of different things we had to make sure that the album was as we were working on it. There were times it created tension within all of us that worked on the album, nothing crazy, but just creative tension. With that, for me, also puts me in a place where I have to ignite my people skills: “Okay wait a second, we’re doing this. Let’s all make sure that we’re connected as people so that the creativity can flow.”

Is there a song you had the most fun recording?
I would say “Higher” because we worked on that. Her vocals went to another level with that record. And the other one is “Work” because I never worked with Drake before. To see Drake walk in the room was like “Oh snap!”

On “Higher” as fans, we’ve never heard her vocals reach that raw of a level. What was it like getting her to that point? Was she reserved about it?
She’s not in a shell at all. It was just that record was great because it was a challenge for us. It was just a thing that goes back to what you were saying — growth. It was a record that caused us to go, “We can do this, we can nail that record,” and we did.

With the vocal DNA of an artist, let’s say with Rihanna, she works with a lot of big-time songwriters like Sia and Bibi Bourelly. When she sings their songs you can tell automatically that’s a Sia or a Bibi Bourelly song. How do you navigate the vocal DNA of an artist? Is it rooted in the songwriter in terms of how they craft the melody or is it rooted in the singer?
It’s rooted in the singer because they are the artist. As a vocal producer what I’m doing is making sure I keep the characteristic of their voice and their personality so that they don’t get lost. That’s why the consumer loves the artist that they love especially if there’s consistency there with that artist. We take the songs and just enhance the songs.

Do you think the Grammys will become less important to artists and hold more weight to those behind the boards?
I think so because if I’m understanding you correctly, there are more people that are speaking up and speaking out because we’re carving out more niches. Vocal producers, engineers, and it’s not they haven’t wanted to, it’s now things are changing even more and more. The industry is changing and it’s taking different people, even how records are made now it’s different. There wasn’t a vocal producer before, but now there is a vocal producer. Why is there a vocal producer? Because he is focusing on making sure that that artist sounds great. That’s all I worry about. I don’t worry about how the kick-drum sounds, I don’t worry about how the snare sounds, I don’t care about the keyboard. I do care about how that vocal is blended into the track. That performance is going to live forever so I think as we continue to speak up and make the Grammys aware of all that I think they will honor that for sure. And they have, they do it with Best Engineered Album, Best Artwork, and I think we’re getting more categories. I’m pushing for Best Vocal Producer. They already have Best Producer of the Year. If we do Best Vocal Production I’d be mad if I don’t get one of those. (Laughs)

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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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