Summertime in Jamaica, you can’t beat it. In fact, pretty much anytime in Jamaica is time well spent as Mr. G will tell you. The rudeboy producer and performer recently paid a visit back to the island where his family come from and we dropped him a line upon his return to talk about the trip and the influence his heritage has on his music and also take delivery of some holiday snaps together with a special little mix he’s put together for us… something a little unexpected but utterly classy and perfect to kick back to.
Tell us a bit about your recent trip to Jamaica?
I go there every year, my mum’s there. I go back and check she’s ok, do any work that needs doing and so on. I did that for five days then I went down to a place called ‘Jake’s’, which is down on Treasure Beach – it’s a piece of Heaven. When you’re there, you look out to the sea and you drink rum and eat lobster until you pass out. One of the days I was there, I went on a boat trip with the friend who I’d gone down there with and the Captain, Dennis. We went up the Black River under bridges that normal boats can’t go under because they’re so low and the captain then proceeded to cook curry lobster, fresh, with escovitch, rice and peas and rum punch. On a little piece of land in the middle of nowhere, listen… that makes me know I’m living. Went we back via Neptune Bar, which is a wooden shack built by rastas on an area of sand surrounded by the sea. So I was at Jake’s for four days, then back up to my mum’s, did the final five days there, then back home. I spent a lot of time listening to soundsystems and the radio and it’s food for thought I can tell you.
Did you spend a lot of your youth in Jamaica as well?
Yeah, I’ve been going there since I was very young. I’ve seen Jamaica change, it’s quite interesting because this was the first year when I could actually see that it’s moving towards America. Things like, everybody raving about a new supermarket, when it’s like Walmart. Jamaica never used to have things like that. In there you can buy things like fish, cooked chicken, cakes, rum… at much cheaper prices, the locals can’t compete with that. After we went in, we were driving away and I see a big piece of land that’s been cleared, so I asked, “What are they doing there?” and someone said, “It’s going to be a Walmart.” Things like Walmart will change the island completely.
What influence has this trip had on you both personally and musically-speaking?
Since the album and my father’s death, it’s the first time I’ve been back and I’ve had to be ‘the man’. I can’t emphasise that to you enough because, when your father’s around and you’re in Jamaica, you’re always seen to be ‘Mr McBean’s son’. You’ll never be anything more. Now, for example, when he passed away I had to go to the jerk chicken place, which is in the darkest, roughest, dodgiest piece of road you can ever imagine; batsmen go there, there’s been shootings in years gone by but the food is phenomenal. I decided to walk the two miles to get food for everybody, even though the family asked me if I was sure I wanted to go – I said, “You know what, I’ve been coming here so long, everybody knows my father’s gone, they all came to the funeral. They know who I am, I’m gonna walk there.” It might’ve been foolhardy because I could’ve been jacked anywhere along the road – but I walked all the way, and everyone was like, “Farda McBean, farda McBean”, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is great’. Bought my food, met a man from Leicester on a day trip, and went back.
Since coming back after listening to some of those soundsystems… all I can say is that the music I’ve been making is bass heavy.
We guess you must have listened to a lot of sound clashes and been into soundsystem culture from a young age?
Yeah, I was a box boy. I used to carry speakerbox for soundsystems so I could get in free to shebeens, weddings and so on. You carry the speakers in, sit down, eat the curry boat, drink the rum.. as I got older I became a selector.
How important is soundsystem to the music you make and play?
It’s everything. Everything. It’s the whole embodiment. It might sound bad but I enter every arena to do battle. When I’m playing live, I’m there to tear down the place. I don’t care who’s on before or after me because that’s the only way I know. I’m not coming to be second best. The same when I’m making music. When it gets played through that system I want people to be like, ‘What the fuck is this, man?! It’s incredible!’ because that’s the only way I know how. The whole thing with dropping the bass out, is solely from dancehall culture. When I DJ, when I’m making music… even when I’m in the studio listening to something else, I’ll flick out the low end, let the track ride out for a bit and flick it back it in. It’s all from a reggae attitude.
How do you imagine the music you make would go down in Jamaica?
That is my dream. I’m ticking off my ultimate list at the moment and it’s beyond my wildest dreams, but at the top would be to play a Mr. G set on a soundsystem in Jamaica. Because I know the weight of bass I would give them, they would understand it, because it’s reggae basslines. My basslines aren’t your average… they’ve got reggae steppers, batty rider.. they’ve got something you’ll feel. So do that on a soundsystem, with the extra sub, I’d have died and gone to Heaven!
What about the rest of your family in Jamaica, have you played them any of your music?
No. Nope, you can’t do that. You just can’t. Your life would change completely because you’re in a country that’s a developing world but there’s still extreme poverty. If you see me in Jamaica you’d be like, ‘Is that you, Col?!’ because I’m sporting a grey beard, undercover. Even Sean Paul, he was on my flight home, the man was so under the radar with his dress sense you couldn’t even tell it was him. You don’t rub it in people’s faces, it’s a respect thing.
How would you say your cultural identity, being British of Jamaican descent, filters into your music?
The bassline is Jamaica, it’s always going be about the low end. I don’t compromise that. I would say I’m 60% Jamaican in the music, 30% New York and the rest British. New York is the second biggest influence on me, period. I was part of the UK thing, but I didn’t hit me as hard as New York did; those records destroyed me.
What do you think the future holds for your relationship with Jamaica? Can you imagine retiring there?
This place, the UK is home. It’s great because now I’m doing OK, I go to the airport, or I’m walking in the streets or going to the shop, people go, ‘Oh, you’re Mr. G’ and it’s nice. It’s really nice when you get that in the place you call home. I don’t get that in Jamaica. I’ve watched it change from the days when we were all running after the Americans, to the whole world running after the UK. People still think I’m from Detroit, which is bizarre. It’s a great honour, actually.
What does it mean to you to have that Jamaican lineage?
I’m proud. My dad was a big fish in the local community, as a kid I didn’t really have a father because he was so tied up with all the things he did. I hated it at the time, but as you grow older you realise you know more than most because of his involvement. Some people say they know Jamaica, but they’ve only been once. I’ve been to some of the darkest parts of the island, where you stick out like a sore thumb, hung out with cousins in the roughest parts, those experiences make me what I am. I’m proud now. It’s sad, but it took me all these years, I’m a proud Jamaican. I love music and I play so much Tubby, I’ve got back into, shockingly, Bob Marley – the Kingston 12s. I don’t know if you know but all the Bob Marley stuff that we have here, there’s an original version that was on a label out of Kingston, that was even better; raw, more feeling. The label was called Kingston 12. I went back one time and heard ‘Concrete Jungle’ in a different version, Bob did it the rough way before he did it the smooth way, so I’ve been going back and buying all the old Kingston 12s. I play a lot of reggae, and what always gets me is, ‘How the hell did they make a bassline like that back in 1962?!’, on a four-track analogue thing in a shed that was 100 degrees plus!
Tell us about your relationship with rum?
Oooh, I’m sipping a rum now! That is my way of life. From being a child, watching my dad playing dominoes and he sticks his finger in the rum and says, ‘Hey, taste that boy’. As you get older he gives you the end of one of the glasses he’ drinking. By the time I was an adult, I could drink most people under the table all day and all night. I learned about rum from touring on the road, ended up getting a good collection together, learned about how it was made, went on rum factory tours… ended up spending my life chasing rare ones. Now my friends know, they always pick me up rare ones when they’re away. I have a light rum, nothing too heavy, when I’m making a track. Once I’ve got the groove and I’m mixing down, a stronger one paints the picture. Finally, when I’m engineering, I get bad one, something that’s gonna trip me out, some 70% madness. I know that I’ve only got half an hour before it takes me out. If the rum is right, the music is right, the valve at home has been on all day, the sound is warm, I’m in a nightclub in Jamaica. The following night, I listen to it with a nice, calm rum. Everything I do is rum, rum, rum.