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Legendary reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry is all about his business.
Courtesy of Widestream Films

'Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes' Documentary Revisits The Jamaican Music Industry's History

New music doc tells the truth about Jamaica's recording industry—and how its pioneers suffer from shady dealings.

Lee "Scratch" Perry has seen it all. The notoriously eccentric reggae producer, vocalist, and visionary has created classics with artists ranging from Bob Marley & The Wailers to The Clash and The Beastie Boys. A literal living legend, he may be the only person on earth to have collaborated and quarreled with such iconic Jamaican producers as Coxsone Dodd, Joe Gibbs, and King Tubby—and outlived them all. When he burned his own Black Ark studio to the ground in 1979, people called him a madman, but Scratch just has his own way of doing things.

One rainy night in the English countryside, filmmaker Reshma B sat with Scratch in a spooky old mansion, interviewing the man who's also known as The Upsetter, The Super Ape, and Pipecock Jackxon for her film Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes, which has its worldwide debut today on Quincy Jones's Qwest.TV and Jay-Z's Tidal.

Scratch was describing to her why he preferred the sound quality at Studio 17 in downtown Kingston, where he recorded immortal tunes like "Trenchtown Rock" and "Mr. Brown" with Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer long before The Wailers took the world by storm. "One of the studios was humming," Scratch explained—demonstrating the problem by imitating the low hum. Next, he changed to an irrititating high-pitched sound, like a cold wind blowing. "But Randy's wasn't humming or Randy's wasn't [shhhh-ing]." Moments like these make the Studio 17 film a rare treat for music lovers seeking to understand the creative alchemy that makes reggae the most mystical and misunderstood music in the world.

Hailed as "one of the finest reggae documentaries ever made" by acclaimed author John Masouri and "a magical piece of work" by veteran UK reggae radio DJ David Rodigan, the Studio 17 doc premiered in late 2019 on BBC television where it was viewed by over 1 million people. Plans to hit the film festival circuit in 2020 were put on pause by the pandemic, but the film is finally streaming worldwide just in time for Reggae Month, the international celebration of Jamaican music that kicks off today, Dennis Brown's birthday, and runs through Bob Marley's birthday on February 6 all the way until the end of the month.

But for people like Scratch and Reshma B—whom VIBE readers know as the Boomshots correspondent who does IG Live interviews with all the top dancehall stars—every month of the year is reggae month. Scratch, who will turn 85 next month, describes reggae music as "a spiritual organization that I put together," which isn't much of an exaggeration. "It was like a weapon, a revolution weapon," he said. "Redemption music. Sufferer's music. Music to let you have freedom, set you free."

As he spoke, Reshma B noticed that Scratch's red suit was covered with dollar, pound, and Euro signs, apparently written in Magic Marker. While posing for a picture at the end of the interview, he pulled back his lips to show his initials embossed in gold on his teeth. Upon closer inspection, Reshma noticed that the L was a pound sign and the S was a dollar sign. "Call him crazy if you like," Reshma says, "but Scratch is all about his business. Revolutionaries have to eat too."

One quality that sets Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes apart from most other films about Jamaican music is that the filmmakers do not shy away from telling the truth about the economic exploitation faced by many reggae pioneers. "Homeless and down on their luck—that's the story of the average Jamaican musician," says Ali Campbell, the lead singer of the UK reggae band UB40. "A lot of the people that we consider to be stars were being ripped off by the producers in Jamaica and in London and were making great records for boxed chicken."

Although UB40 has enjoyed the success of chart-topping reggae hits like "Red Red Wine," the group started as a bunch of unemployed lads in Birmingham, England. (UB40 is the name of the Unemployment Benefits form British citizens must fill out to go on the dole.) "I grew up in West London listening to UB40 in my house," Reshma B recalls. "One of my favorite songs was 'Kingston Town,' but like most people, I didn't realize that they didn't write that song."

While making the documentary, producer Reshma B and director Mark James tracked down Lord Creator, the Trinidadian singer who originally recorded the song (then titled "King and Queen") over a ska beat at Studio 17. Although he was a household name in Jamaica during his heyday, Lord Creator told Reshma that he received no royalties for all the hits he made. He was destitute when he found out that UB40 had covered one of his songs, and the profits from its success changed his life forever. But not all reggae stars of yesteryear are so lucky.

Even a legend like Scratch has suffered from bad business deals. "We have a lot of songs but in those times we just tried to get them to the outside world, and we didn't have enough money to do it weself," he explained to Reshma B. "So we have to give it to another company, but most of them don't like doing promotion." Despite his extensive catalog, Scratch earned much of his living by appearing on music festivals all over the world—before the Coronavirus put a stop to live performances, that is.

"I respect the fact that UB40 made a point of registering all of their cover versions with PRS, to ensure that the original composers of these classic tunes are properly compensated," says Reshma B. "Ali Campbell's father was a singer and songwriter himself, so he instilled that in his kids."

Fathers and sons are another major theme of Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes, which tells the story of Clive Chin, firstborn son of Vincent Chin, the Chinese-Jamaican entrepreneur who founded Randy's Records and opened the recording studio upstairs. Clive fell in love with studio life, learning the art of production from his dad and the many iconic artists, musicians, and engineers who would pass through the studio on a daily basis. Clive and his schoolmate Augustus Pablo linked up at Studio 17 to record Java Java Java, one of the world's first dub albums, and Clive and his father amassed an extensive catalog, much of it released on the famous Impact! record label.

In last year's book Rockers, the late filmmaker Ted Bakaloukos described the experience of visiting Randy's Studio 17 during the mid-1970s: "Kingston proper. The center. Busses, cars, bikes, noise, dust, honking, and way too many people... There is a small street, more like an alley, with a few parked cars and bikes and a dozen or so guys, dreads, leaning against the wall on the shady side. This is the legendary 'Idler's Rest,' next to Randy's Record Shop. It's where musicians, singers, and hangers on get together every day. It functions as a private office, employment agency, public relations agency, and talent show for many singers and studio musicians, and young upstarts looking for a place in the music business. Next door at Randy's Record Shop they're spinning the new 45s. The sound, blending with street noise, flows around the corner."

Footage from Bakaloukos's classic reggae film Rockers appears in the Studio 17 doc, along with stories from people like Scratch and Clive and his stepmother Patricia Chin, who ran the record shop while her husband worked in the studio. Their voices, and those of the musical geniuses who would gather each day at Idlers' Rest, enliven the film, shedding light on the way artists whose music went on to make shockwaves around the world would end up literally singing for their supper.

When political violence in Jamaica forced the Chin family to relocate to New York in search of a better life, they left in such a hurry that they abandoned over 1,000 reels of audio tape. The documentary tells the story of Clive's quest to rescue that treasure trove of precious recordings, which miraculously survived in a storage room for years despite the ravages of Hurricane Gilbert, looting, and intense tropical heat.

Patricia Chin, who has recently published her own memoir titled Miss Pat, went on to build V.P. Records, the world's largest independent reggae label, in Jamaica Queens. Clive's son Joel became an A&R executive for V.P., working closely with chart-topping acts like Sean Paul and Beenie Man. Joel would often encourage his father to do something with the tapes that he'd rescued, but somehow Clive never got around to it. Then in 2011, Joel was tragically murdered in Kingston while coming home to his wife and infant daughter. As a way of honoring his son's memory, Clive resolved to restore the tapes. In the process, he discovered a never-before-released song by Dennis Brown, the late great Crown Prince of Reggae, which can be heard for the first time in Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes. What better way to celebrate D.Brown's birthday than to watch the documentary right now?

"This film has taken a long time to make because there's been so many twists and turns," says Reshma B. "But that's how life is." Although the filmmakers look forward to the day when Studio 17 can have a proper screening in major cities like Kingston, Jamaica, they've been able to make the film available to Qwest.TV subscribers—and free of charge for the next seven days on Tidal, where Reshma B curates all the reggae and dancehall content and writes the monthly column Murda She Wrote.

Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes will be featured as part of Tidal's first-ever Reggae Month celebration, packed with carefully curated playlists honoring Jamaica's legendary recording studios, producers, and pioneers. "Shout out to Tidal for showing love to reggae on their home page for the first time ever," says Reshma B, "We've taken it all the way back to the legends of the ska era, and gone straight up through classic dancehall, paying homage to the culture all the way. Look out for new content dropping each week throughout February."

Born out of struggle, reggae has been preparing longtime listeners for challenging times like the ones we're living through now. "This is a music that was made because people needed a way to survive," says Reshma B. "What better way to get through the rough times than to tap into that message?" There may have been some delays in bringing her documentary to the world, but as the old Jamaican saying goes, nothing before the time.

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50 Cent And Kenya Barris Developing TV Series Based On 'The 50th Law'

Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is teaming up with actor and director Kenya Barris to create a television series based on Jackson's New York Times bestseller, The 50th Law, co-written by author Robert Greene. The Power executive producer and black-ish creator will join forces to create an original show that will stream on Netflix. No word on its premiere date or who has been cast for the series.

In true, 50 Cent fashion, Jackson took to his official Instagram to celebrate and share the news. "Netflix now you know this is a problem, Kenya Barris is no joke," reads his post's caption. "And if me and you ain’t cool, you ain’t gonna make it. 😆Let’s work! 💣Boom🔥 🚦GreenLight Gang #bransoncognac #lecheminduroi #bottlerover"

Jackson will serve as co-producer by way of his G-Unit Film & Television company which has a hand in Starz's Power Book II: Ghost and ABC's For Life. Barris will work alongside his #blackAF co-executive producer Hale Rothstein for the pilot and show's script under his production company, Khalabo Ink Society.

Speaking of Khalabo Ink Society, Barris' and his company will have a hand in a couple of upcoming projects: Kid Cudi's upcoming adult animated music series, Entergalactic and MGM's upcoming biopic on the career and life of comedy legend, Richard Pryor.

Fif's G-Unit Film & Television imprint, more original programming is on the way: Power Book III: Raising Kanan premieres this summer and Black Mafia Family has begun shooting its series debut. His current shows —Power Book II; and For Life—have been renewed for another season on Starz and ABC, respectively.

Jackson and Greene's The 50th Law is a semi-autobiographical book that tackles lessons around fearlessness and strategy while including inspiring stories from 50 Cent's life and tales from notable historical figures. It went on to be a New York Times Bestseller in 2009.

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Questlove Is Directing A Sly Stone Documentary

The Roots' own Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson will be directing a documentary about the life of Sly Stone, founding member of legendary funk band, Sly and the Family Stone.

The untitled feature film "follows the story of the influential artist, king of funk, and fashion icon Sly Stone, a musician who was breaking all the rules at a time when doing so was extremely challenging, even dangerous. The pressure of explosive mainstream pop success and the responsibility of representing Black America forced him to walk the fine line of impossible expectations."

“It goes beyond saying that Sly’s creative legacy is in my DNA," said Questlove in a press release. "....it’s a black musician’s blueprint....to be given the honor to explore his history and legacy is beyond a dream for me.”

“Sly’s influence on popular music and culture as a whole is immeasurable, and what his career represents is a parable that transcends time and place,” expressed Amit Dey, Head of MRC Non-Fiction. “Questlove’s vision, sensitivity and reverence brings the urgency that Sly’s story and music deserve, and we’re excited to be working with him to bring Sly’s story to life.”

The project will mark the four-time Grammy Award-winning artist's second directorial project (see his Sundance award-winning Summer of Soul) by way of his Two One Five Entertainment production company. Award-winning actor and rapper Common will serve as an executive producer via his Star Child Productions along with Derek Dudley and Shelby Stone via ID8 Multimedia. Derik Murray and Brian Gersh of Network Entertainment will serve as producers with Zarah Zohlman and Shawn Gee as producing partners.

The film's official title and release date has not been announced.

Earlier today in partnership with BET Digital and Sony Music's “This Is Black” Black History Month campaign, an animated music video for the group's 1968 hit single, "Everyday People." Revisit the classic song down below.

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FX's 'Hip-Hop Uncovered' Shows How Big U, Deb Antney, Haitian Jack, Bimmy & Trick Trick Hustled The Game With Street Savvy

Rarely do the strong survive long enough to tell their story in their own words, so bear witness to some of the most notorious deal makers and street shakers in FX's new docu-series Hip-Hop Uncovered. Hailing from hardcore locations all over the map, California's Eugene "Big U" Henley, Queens, New York siblings James "Bimmy" Antney and Deb Antney, Detroit's Trick Trick and Brooklyn's infamous Haitian Jack, represent the mind and the muscle of the rap world's background boss section, where the real money and moves are made.

After last week's two-episode debut (Feb. 12th) of a six-episode season, we have the cast member's thoughts on what it was like taping the show and why they participated in the series. Remember, these storied behind the scenes executives are normally in the background, but are now telling their important stories that weave their importance in the industry that shapes the world...hip-hop.“A true dime is steel-heavier than a dollar.” Watch Hip-Hop Uncovered Fridays at 10 pm ET on FX.

Deb Antney: "By doing the show, it was very therapeutic. I’ve opened up and let you get a glance of what is in my Pandora’s box. I’ve shed pounds, even inches. I’m truly grateful I’m here to tell any part of my story. Now get ready for my book Unmanageable Me.

The show allowed me to showcase my truth the way it needed to be told. The Debra Antney way!

Being Debra Antney was not always glitter or gold. Like most, I went through some things. I was defiantly a product of my environment, it made me who I am today! I always knew how to get myself to the top and that’s exactly what I did. Thank you for being a part of my journey."

 

 

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Big U: "I loved filming this show. It brought up so many memories going back to the house I grew up in, remembering those special moments with family. It was fun to sort of relive my past, but the best part was really seeing my evolution. I’m such a different man today than I was back then. I feel good that the world will get to see the person I’ve become. I did it because for the first time, I knew I could be in full control of my own story, especially since I’m an Executive Producer on the series."

 

 

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Trick Trick: "[Taping the series was] weird as f---!! Because, I’m not used to that type of attention. I’m very private, but oddly enough, it was somewhat... refreshing!

[I did the show] because Big U called.”

Bimmy:

"Well, I choose to do the series because I was told who was involved from the cast to an all-Black production. Taping was like me living my past all over again and we show[ed] the world how we really lived and the things we went through."

Haitian Jack: "Taping the series, to me, was definitely a great experience.  Everybody that was on there, [producers] Oby, Rashidi and everyone else were very polite to everyone and we got everything we asked for.  When you have a crew like that, it makes it really easy for you to work with it.

[I did the show because] I like when they started to say, 'Let’s dig back into the past,' because that’s what my life is all about, the past.  The fact that Big U came up with it and hit me up with it is another reason because I respect what he is doing out there with the kids and his foundation. So I didn’t mind teaming up with him and everybody else, Deb and Trick Trick, Bimmy. I think we have a great cast and I’m proud to be a part of it.  I think we did it because we all knew where hip-hop came from because we lived it.  We wasn’t just some people who just popped up out of nowhere and started blogging about it. We were there.  We watched the deaths, we watched the lifetime prison sentences.  We lost a lot of friends to death and prison. We all lived it.  They are going to get a good account of what went on in the 70s and 80s."

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