Trae Tha Truth
Trae Tha Truth poses with his one-year-old daughter, Truth, at the VIBE offices in midtown Manhattan.
Jenny Regan

Trae Tha Truth Won’t Let Himself Cry, But He’ll ‘Exhale’ Instead

Jay-Z once said, “I can’t see them coming down my eyes, so I gotta make the song cry.” Houston rap general Trae Tha Truth has a similar sentiment. In fact, he can count each time he’s wept on one hand. “I just think I’ve groomed myself to not really know how [to cry],” he says. “My only form of crying is probably why I got so much music. I can go in there and release that on records.” But with the year he’s had, no one could blame him if he shed tears. His close friend Nipsey Hussle was murdered this past March, and a custody battle means that he can only see his infant daughter Truth one week per month. Both loved ones provide emotional anchors for Exhale, Trae’s 11th solo LP and his first ever without any guest features. The toll of the year is reflected on the album through songs like “Nipsey” and “Letter 2 Truth,” and it’s just as clear from sitting down with him: his eyes droop with weariness as he responds to questions at the VIBE offices, his voice never rising above the distinct lower register heard in his raps. It’s Nipsey Hussle’s birthday and one of his few precious days with his child, and instead of having time at home to process the accompanying feelings in private, he’s on a press run in NYC with his entourage in tow and his daughter securely cradled in his arm.

Between his music career and caring for his family, Trae also dedicates substantial time to serving his community and building businesses. He’s taking his stake in the headphone and speaker industries, through his partnership with Bumpboxx wireless retro speakers and the co-creation of Wavzs, which is touted as the “world’s loudest wireless headphones” with 10 drivers inside the device. In 2017 he garnered press for his Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and scholarships and has continued his philanthropy in partnership with Simple Solutions to rebuild homes and help families avoid eviction. And he also just released a coloring book with his friend You Can’t Draw Johnny. In a conversation with VIBE, Trae reveals the few times he’s shed tears, recounts his relationship with Nipsey Hussle, hints at how J. Cole is involved in his new album, and shares how he maintains time apart from his daughter.

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VIBE: Since today is Nipsey Hussle’s birthday, it feels only right to start out about him. Both of you have a lot of similarities in terms of giving back to your respective communities—you do a lot for Houston, he did a lot in Cali. Did you guys ever exchange ideas or work with each other on those types of things?
Trae Tha Truth: I think we just always supported each other. I definitely brought him down to Trae Day, so he can see how it operates and how much of a breath of fresh air we can be to our community because they really need it. The stuff that we do gives them hope. He used to tell me all the time like, “man that’s dope, I’ma make sure I turn up on my side.” I remember having a conversation with T.I. and he was like, ‘All of us together are like Voltron. Because you have Nipsey there, you got him, then you got me down here. It was just all-around so. I’m just glad I actually shared an important part of each other’s lives because we experienced a lot. Music was probably the least of our relationship, it was more of a family thing.

What did you guys talk about?
All kinds of stuff. I’m going to court now for my daughter, we would talk about that. That was actually the last conversation that we had, was talking about what the process would probably end up being like. As far as me doing it the last time, it was probably maybe a month or so before he passed. We talked about all kinds of stuff. We really just be rooting for each other in so many aspects. I remember many of times I’d just put out projects or something, and he may hit me on a text just out the blue with one of the names of the song and then give me a thumbs up. It was always like that. We got a long, long history from all kind of scenarios, pictures, videos, did a lot of shows together. Not even on tour, just like we would pull up to some party to bring one of the other ones out. First and foremost, happy birthday to him.

Now the song “Nipsey” is a really personal song. I almost felt intrusive listening to it. I felt like I was listening to a personal conversation.
That’s what it was, though. With this project it wasn’t made to make music, it was me venting my conversations. I held one with Nipsey. I held one with my daughter. It’s me actually talking to them. It makes me more comfortable because that’s easier for me to vent when I’m in that state of mind doing music. I’m not thinking [about] what’s going to be creative. I’m just speaking from the heart.

How difficult is it to find that zone? How long does it take for you to tap in?
Not long at all, because one of the things I specialize in is venting, pain, and the struggle within the music. So when it comes to that aspect, I do that like no other. That’s why everybody went to the song and it made them feel a certain way. Because I’m unable to show the sadness emotions, I don’t know how to cry. So what I can go do is I can go vent, and you can hear that song, and if you end up shedding a tear to that song, then I did my job. That’s as if I was you. That would be me crying. That’s why I’m so well at what I do with my music.

Now the album is called Exhale. What are you exhaling? What are you letting you go?
It’s not that I’m necessarily letting go. I think I was just letting it out, just life itself. Like I say from losing one of my close homies, to fighting for my daughter, to past relationships. Everything I was feeling, I just had to get in there and let it out. It was my form of, you know how you be frustrated and you go outside and just scream and just get the sh*t out and you be like, “whew.” That was my form.

The album has no features.
None at all.

That’s not normal for you.
I always make history with my features. I always make people step they game up. But it don’t stop, I’m pretty sure them days will come back easy. But this one I feel like who could exhale better than me, for me. My story is my story. It was that and it was long overdue because I never put a project out without features.

Which is crazy because it’s been a minute. I mean, it’s been a minute for your whole career. How long have you been out?
Two decades.

How is that process different creatively? I mean obviously, you’re writing more verses. But how else?
It’s just all about what I’m feeling at the time. You gotta realize you’re talking to a person that do 40-50 songs a week. Just sitting in there, when I do a record instead of me instantly hearing something and saying “oh he gon’ sound dope on this with me,” it’s just “nah, let me get this done.”

Whenever it comes to no features, everybody always brings up J. Cole, platinum with no features.
Believe it or not. I haven’t told nobody, he definitely... he’s part of what keeps this album inspired. They’ll find out later when the time comes, definitely. That’s my little bro. That’s all that matters.

As you said you make history with your features. I was watching a video for “I’m On 3.0” today, that record has everybody. How do you get that many people together? It’s like from all different age groups, all different areas.
It’s all the relationships I got. When it comes to me, it’s more about the family thing. It’s not about who’s doing what at the time. It’s like I have my own personal relationships so I can call any one of them. And then you know I was doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes for a lot of artists that people don’t know. That’s the easy part.

How do you build all these relationships? Is it a matter of everybody coming to Houston and hitting you up?
Some come to Houston and hit me up. Some I move around there, but it’s all relationships. With me it’s all genuine ‘cuz when it comes to artists I don’t need nothing from them. And anything they got going on I can have going on, too. So if you come to where I’m from you can walk in the building and I can walk in the building and it’s just as much as respect for me. When it comes to that they know, “he good with or without me, so if he f**kin’ with me, he f**kin’ with me. That’s what he wants to do.” It’s not he f**kin’ with me ‘cuz he needs something my pride will have me not asking for sh*t.

One of the standouts on the album is “Even Tho It’s Hard.” Really painful song.
That was produced by Business Boss? And somebody else. “Even Tho It’s Hard” it’s definitely the reality side of it but it gives a lot of people a good feeling. They love that record. It just gives them some type of spunk, you know what I’m saying. Even my son in Houston, he loves it. So now when you go to talking about painful on the album I would lean more towards “Nipsey” and “Letter 2 Truth.” So “Even Tho It’s Hard,” it gives you a church feel. That’s for us. It can be struggle or the soul – if it gives you a good feeling, that’s what it is.

As you said “Letter 2 Truth” is also a painful record. It’s about your daughter, who you have a custody hearing for soon.
That’s me talking to her one-on-one. So if ever in life something happens to me, she can always revert back to that and she can hear her daddy talking to her. Mmmhmm. I go to trial next week.

So what has that process been like?
Very stressful. It’s times when I didn’t come out of my room for weeks at a time. It’s stressful, man. You just gotta get to a point where you gotta shake it off, and I’ve accepted it for what it is. I see her the one week that I get out of a month and we have the most fun on earth. And she goes back, and I sit and I ride it out, count the days down to the next month. But one thing about everybody that knows us or sees us, they know our relationship. So no matter what any court, any person, or anything, or anybody tries to do, me and her are always going to be close. And it’s crazy she realizes at a young age, usually, it takes till they get to an older age to understand. But she knows when I walk in the room ain’t nothing but daddy.

You said a few minutes ago that you can’t cry?
Yes. It’s been very hard. I think the last time, it’s crazy, I can count [the times] on my hand. That’s how much I remember. One, when my brother got two life sentences, when my other brother got killed, when I found out that my middle son was going through stuff as far as having seizures and kinda lost his strength in his legs where he doesn’t walk. Other than that, people tend to lean on me as the hard one, like “he going to deal with it, so we just gotta let him be him.” And again my only form of crying is probably why I got so much music, I can go in there and release that on records.

So you can’t cry because you’re too busy supporting other people you mean?
No, not that I’m too busy supporting other people. I just think I’ve groomed myself to not really know how. It’s like I work well under pressure. I’m kinda just prepared for a lot of stuff.

After Hurricane Harvey, you led relief efforts. How has Houston recovered since then?
It’s still a lot of stuff behind the scenes that people don’t see. It’s still a lot of people who never rebuilt their homes and lost everything. It’s still a lot of people who just can’t catch a break to catch up. Most definitely. It’s always work for us to do. And that’s as far as me and my team: me, BJ, Mr. Rogers, the Relief Gang. We just constantly across the board, that’s what we doing. It never stops.”

You do a lot of work in Houston to help other people, and when people do so much of that work, people don’t really think about the toll it has on them. To see a lot of the bad things they see or to put so much of their time into helping other people. So how have you recovered since Hurricane Harvey?
I mean, I believe I’m content. It was never really about me, it was about helping others and I’m constantly doing that. So I don’t necessarily say that I did recover or didn’t I think I had the time to focus on myself. It’s more about what I can do and what I’m doing with everybody else.

Last year you had filed another lawsuit against RadioOne and UrbanOne with the radio ban. Are there any updates with that at all? How frustrating has that been?
Very frustrating because it’s been a decade. But the problem we’re having now is the person who had the case on their desk didn’t re-elected, so when they didn’t get re-elected, they kinda got spiteful with a lot of the cases that was on their desk. Threw a lot of it out, as is. So they didn’t have to do the work on the exit, and ended up throwing mine out. So I had to appeal it but I’m just at a point in my life, it just is what it is. I got so much other stuff going on, I got so many other blessings. It gets stressful to a point it takes away from my kids, just my energy. So I’m just like whatever. What the homie up above got in store for me, is what it’s going to be.

You also said that you’re rebuilding homes? Let’s talk about that.
We have found homes that people maybe in debt [are] about to actually lose them completely and we find ways where it can get paid off and you can make a little money, too. To start a new life as opposed to people just being stripped of everything. And also the process of that we grabbed the home, so now we’re buying different stuff throughout the streets and the neighborhoods. We kinda control it to where people don’t necessarily get forced out at the same time, with our partner as simple solutions.

When did this inherent desire to help people come from? Not everybody does it.
I think anything I do, I’m dedicated a thousand percent. So if I say I’m going to help people, I’m just going to keep going and just not going to stop. It’s a different feeling when you can walk in a building and you see a kid with a shirt that says “Trae My Hero.” and you inspire people in a different way when you do things like this. I remember it’s been times when people walk up to me and be like, ‘Man, on my life, I planned on hitting the bank this week’ and they were going to crash out to do what they could do to feed their family. But moments that we come through before give them that breath of fresh air where they can start to grasp new thoughts, and other ways where they can try and figure it out and got somebody showing them that they do care, and we’re here to help. It plays a part in many ways.

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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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