Interview with Shabba Ranks

Shabba Keeps His Rank! 6/17/08

 “SHABBA!  Him deah! ,” says the deep voice in the exact way that everyone who ever hears his name repeats it.  The same powerful way that he is heard in his 1992 “Mr. Loverman” tune.  Shabba Ranks, born Rexton Rawlston, was delivered in the “Golden Parish” of Jamaica, Surgetown.  From his first time picking up a microphone at the tender age of 13 for a school talent show, it was obvious a star would soon emerge.  His career was kicked off in the late 80’s, and before he even knew it, Shabba went from a trouble maker ghetto youth, to an uptown, world famous artist.  Carib Press sat down with the remarkable artist who reflected on the past, explained the present, and revealed what’s in the near future.        

 Carib Press:  Greetings from the Carib Press Family.  Please tell CP where the name Shabba Ranks came from?

 Shabba Ranks:  The name Shabba Ranks come from Africa.  If you check the map of Africa there’s a little town with the term Shabba but it spelled with one “B”.  One of my close friend’s gave me the name Shabba because there used to be a wanted man named Shabba in Jamaica and because I used to love trouble, they gave me the name too. 

 CP:  Like the great Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey, you too were born in Surgetown, JA.   Can you tell me one of your fondest childhood memories of your hometown?

 SR:  One of my childhood memories…well me grow up with my mother and father and food, clothing, shelter and schooling was a major, major priority in my household.  I couldn’t tell anyone that I was a suffering kid.  I grew up in the ghetto but I wasn’t one of the kids that didn’t have my mom and pops around me.  I had proper schooling and proper care from my mother and my father.  I understand ghetto life! 

CP:  A good amount of artist in Jamaica start behind the turntables or with a sound system.  Can you tell me a little about Co-Pilot and any sounds you worked with in the early 80’s? 

SR:  Well Co-Pilot was a named that I received because I was second to the Navigator who always works with a co-pilot.  I used to be on a sound named Roots Melody, then I leave Roots Melody and went to King Jammy’s.  I did a lil ting with Kilmanjaro but my main upcoming towards dj business was under Roots Melody as the Co-Pilot. 

 CP:  Speaking of Co-Pilot, is it true you showed up on stage in a helicopter once too.

 SR:  Yeah, when me start hit big time me said me have to do it in a big time way and me start move different.  I was doing it for my little island, Jamaica, but I wanted the people outside of my island to receive the news and the message of what I was doing in Jamaica.  And when I showed up in a helicopter, people in America start hearing about it, people in Japan start hearing about it, and people in England start hearing about it, people in Africa too.  So by me doing that people start seeking out, “Who is this guy showing up in a helicopter?”  

 CP:  Who are some of your early influences that help paved the way for you pulling you up from a ghetto youth to an uptown artist?

 SR:  Josie Wales, Brigadier Jerry, Yellowman, General Echo.  Those are my influential factors that helped to develop my mind to this ting called dancehall music.  Josie Wales took me to King Jammy’s studio and that’s where I started making records for Bobby Digital.  The minute I went to Jammy’s, I went there with a very brilliant idea of how to make a good record because when I was dj’ing on my little sound as Co-Pilot, everyone was always saying that I was a promising star.  That’s why Josie Wales took me to the studio and introduced me to Jammy.  And from there, that is where I wanted to be.  I just explode man, blow up!

CP:  Shabba, you have accomplished nuff fame and gained nuff respect in the music industry at whole, but especially as a young dancehall artist.  You emerged in a time with artists like Ninja Man, Yellowman, Super Cat, etc.  What do you believe set you apart from the rest of them allowing you to not only be the first dancehall artist to be nominated for a Grammy, but also the first dancehall artist to take the Grammy home twice? 

 SR:  Girls them, the girls them.  At that time I was the only one making records for woman.  When I came into the business, people were saying that girl’s titties are flappy or girls belly’s marked, because you know when a woman has a baby they have stretch marks pon their stomach.  So the type of music that I was making, them other people weren’t making that type of music so that is what gave me longevity in the business.  Yeah man because wherever there is woman, there is love, there is birth of music, there is birth of everything.  Fresh life…anywhere a woman is gathered then fresh life is there, you see?  Me’s a man that dedicate this thing to woman and that is why I stand up until this day.      

 CP:  How did you feel as an individual to have earned your first Grammy that night in 1992?

 SR:   When I received that Grammy, I was on the mission to accomplish that, you know?  Because if you check the tapes that I used to make, you could hear me profess that I am going to make it.  When I finally received the first one, it wasn’t a shock.  It was the second one that was really the full development because when I got the first one people were like, “Cho, that’s just like a luck ting!”  So when me do it again the second time, it was like the mission’s accomplished, you know?  Clarity…yeah man, top class and quality man.  Me one of the first artist that sold 500,000 copies of a record and bring golden plaque to the ghetto.  It was a major accomplishment when I man received that Iyah!  My mother proud, my father proud, me make my community proud, me make me island proud, me make everyone proud!

 CP:  Shabba Ranks is known World Wide now.  I am sure it was some of your earlier moves to make tunes with artists such as KRS ONE, Queen Latifah, Johnny Gill and other US artists that helped cross you overseas.  Was that originally your idea because you enjoyed hip hop and R&B, or how did that all come about? 

 SR:  All of that was my decision.  When I was in Jamaica, I didn’t only listen to my type of music.  I listened to R & B, hip hop…I use to listen to Slick Rick, Run DMC, Keith Sweat, Luther Vandros, Stevie Wonder, the OJ’s.  All of them people’s music used to play in Jamaica and once I start getting popular  I know that I have the power to meet and greet these people to make music with them, so I just say, “Yo! Haffi link, let’s do it!”  And I do it because I am a lover of all music.

 CP:  Till this day, you still seem to have your ears to the streets and stay up to the times.  I hear that tune Gun Session with Vybz Kartel, Akon, and Sizzla get nuff forwards inna dance.  What can the masses expect from you in the next few months or years? 

 SR:  Well back then I made a song that if my breathe doesn’t leave my body then I will always be making music, I will be making music as long as I got health and strength.  But the music industry is not like back then, it’s not the same right now.  And the people that deal with the music industry refuse to deal with someone that know the value of himself and know the quality that he possess.  They are scared to deal with those of us who have been through the politics and the shadyness of the industry.  They rather go to the younger cats and try to deal with them.  They act like they never want to deal with Shabba Ranks because them scared of Shabba Ranks.  But I know say my people want to hear some Shabba music right now but all I can say to my people who apprecialove me, I will always be making my music.  Just keep on listening because the minute I get a chance to start do it like how I  used to do it, then I will be blasting off like a rocket.  I step away just a little bit to take care of my family life and my home life and I start getting kids.  I wanted to take care of my kids but now the kids them get big so me ready to deal with the music to the fullest.  Anyone willing to deal with me concerning music, yo I’m so energized!  Put it like this, my stomach is still flat and I still got my six pack, I am still in shape, not a gray hair inna me hair and not a gray hair under me chin.  Me still deah!  Who ever call pon me to do it, I will not disappoint them.

 CP:   How many youth do you have?  And are they into making music?

 SR:  Two, me have two boys.  They got to be doctors or pilots, or pediatricians.  If they choose to follow the line of music I will not dispute it.  But to a higher level, I’d rather they go forth because their head piece is better than mine.  They are getting better schooling than I did.  Our people need more doctors in our community so if my children can go and study medicine so that they can help their community, it would be so bountiful for me.

 CP:  Being that it’s game 6 of the NBA finals, I have to ask if you are following the Celtics and the Lakers?

 SR:  Straight Boston, you know?  Sorry about it LA, but me’s a man who loves the color green.  And Kobe already have three rings, time for Kevin Garnett to win won now.  It would be so spectacular if Kobe wins his fourth, but it would be special and it would be a blessing and gracious thing if Kevin wins his first.  But I love soccer to death.  That’s my sport.  Back then I thought I would be making money off of music or soccer, but my music career took off first. 

 CP:  Back to the music, do you write your own lyrics?

 SR:  Yeah man, me responsible for everything.  No man inspired or motivated me to do it but God Almighty man.  Me and God alone responsible for that.  Me can read and write properly Iyah. 

 CP:  Would you say that attending highschool in Jamaica influenced your career?

 SB:  Yeah man, it made I man stand out in a way because the motto of my highschool was “diligently persistent, strive for excellence”.  So going to highschool really make me carry myself in a different manner.  Even though me born in the ghetto, it make me know  if I have to deal with a lawyer or a judge, I know how to deal with them.  Highschool is the most influential factor of my life because when me leave Kingston 11, from that day until now, me carry myself different.  That’s why my ways and my movements is so prosperous because me not involved with no trouble, me not walk with trouble.  I keep myself out of the foolishness. The hole of the 80’s, 90’s and even the 2000’s…me a popular, me a Mr. Popular, you know?  Right now me one of the most wanted dancehall artist cause if you ask anybody who they want to see, them say, “SHABBA!  Him deah!”  Right now it’s straight music and music and music, you know?  And more music!           

 CP:  You mention God, your faith must have a curve in your determination in achieving your goals?

 SR:  Yeah man, I believe in the power and I man truly believe in Jesus Christ, my mother and father bring me up that way.  I pray to the Most High and glorify him because Jesus Christ responsible for me life.  Even through the depths of darkness, he provide the path and give me the light to walk the right way.  I have strong faith and belief in the Most High.

 CP:  What’s playing in your music changer right now?

 SR:  Anita Baker’s Greatest Hits.  A that me a listen to!  In order for me to get through me ruggedness and roughness, I have to listen to soul music and stimulate my mind and put some more love in my heart so I can go forward to express my love to the woman them.

 CP:  Would you please take this time to give any last words of encouragement to the people? 

 SR:  My encouragement for the youth is that the world is scared of an educated, black youth.  So get your education, defend and love your education.  It enables you to do right and not wrong.  Because without education you will do foolishness and end up a statistic where the government will only use you to make money off of you.  Wherever the guidance is at, whether it be your mother or father or elders, find yourself with older people.  Know your roots, know your past, so you can have a proper present.  And to all of the man them in the world…every man in the world, help the woman them take care of the kids.  A kid without a father is hopeless.  Every man must take the responsibility of their kids.  Encourage them to go to school because we need more lawyers, more doctors, we need more people to reach the community.  Yeah, love life and live, you know?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. polka
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 07:57:00

    Ya!!!! i feel this…but the reason i wanted this interview was to actually understand the meaning of the word “Ranks” in Shabba’s name, cutty, gappy, scally, bunny and the others..what does that word mean?


    • yassiamini
      Nov 04, 2010 @ 08:17:49

      Well that is a good question. I always thought it was like those artist have used that as their “last name” because they rank high in their art form. Does that make sense? They are top rankin artist therefore, Shabba Ranks. 🙂 That’s my interpretation of it. Thanks for reading.


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