June 28, 2013


Z-Trip: My 5 Essential Reggae Songs

Photo Credit: Z-Trip
Photo Credit: Z-Trip

"It's like someone telling you you're going to remix James Brown or Led Zeppelin. This is such coveted music that i don't want to f-ck it up."

DJ/producer Z-Trip has taken on giants before—see 2007's remix of Jackson 5's "I Want You Back"—but the genre-busting producer faced a new challenge remixing Bob Marley's "Punky Reggae Party" alongside dub pioneer Lee "Scratch" Perry for the recently released Legend: Remixed.

"The email [asking me to participate] went to the wrong address and by that point, everyone had already picked out the ones that were 'the ones'," admits the DJ. "But it just so happened that Lee was in Los Angeles and was down to collaborate. That changed the whole thing. He meshed right in, like, 'We should put some more delay on the piano,' et cetera. He goes into the booth and does four takes, each at seven minutes." 

The finished remix finds Z-Trip, currently on tour with LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Ice Cube and De La Soul for Kings of the Mic, nodding to the present while retaining the original track's structure. "The way I approached it was to make something current, tempo-wise, dubstep-heavyish at the top of the remix so if someone's mixing out of that current sound, they can go right into this," says the producer. "I wanted to take it, strip it down and reassemble it as a beefed up, 2013 version of itself."

To celebrate the album's release, we gave Z-Trip the Sisyphean task of picking his five most essential reggae songs.

1. Bob Marley & the Wailers, "Lively Up Yourself" (Babylon by Bus version) (1978)
This one is the epitome of what this music is supposed to sound like live. This was the first live reggae I ever heard, so up until this point, I always heard it in the studio. The call-and-response that hip hop has, I heard it in this, plus the message was positive and it made you want to dance. So where hip hop came from, I felt like there was a piece of that in this.

2. Buju Banton, "Untold Stories" (1995)
This is one of the first time I've ever heard a reggae tune as a slow jam that was just more of a ballad. I remember hearing this in [New York record store] Rock and Soul and I went to go find this. I grabbed the record and they had a a player in the back. I put the needle on the player to listen to it and the guy in the back was like, "Hey man, you can't f-ckin' play LPs. Don't you read the sign?" I was like, "I'm going to buy it!" I heard the song and it touched me so much, it was like, "I need to find this song now." Back then, you would have your memory of a song and you would carry it for three months until you found that record. I wanted to hear it again so bad, I just cracked it open and played it. I had to take it off after he yelled at me and was like, "F-ck!" Barrington Levy's "Vice Versa Love" also stirred that same emotion. 

3. Cutty Ranks, “A Who Seh Me Dun" (1996)
That's where I first heard [the oft-sampled phrase in hip hop] "Six million ways to die. Choose one." I heard this the first time in New York. I was always digging for hip hop records, but there was always this following of people who were into reggae and hip hop. It was a small community; these guys like Bobby Konders, Supercat and Cutty who rode the fine line between hip hop and reggae. Those were the hard records to find. There's all these records that were hip hop records just with people toasting on them. When I first heard this, I was like, "Oh this is basically a hip hop record." There were others before it, but this was the one that crossed over and opened up this lane for a proper hip hop/reggae connection.

4. Steel Pulse, "Dub’ Marcus Say" (1982)
There's a million dub records that I think are amazing, but most of the dub records came out in the early-to-mid 1970s and I wasn't hearing current dub as much. When I got exposed to Steel Pulse in the mid-1980s, I would buy the 12" and I would hear the dub version of the current record. This was the first time I heard current dub treatment to current songs. I only identified with the older stuff. I identified with this tune immediately and it was like, "Oh wow, people are still doing this."

5. Burning Spear, Marcus Garvey (1975) and Garvey's Ghost (1976)
People have to understand the whole point of having a record and also having the dub version of it. I'll go in on the importance of the dub; the importance of somebody coming up with a hot tune and on the flip side making a dub version that people would go around and then record their own vocals over. It would keep extending itself to one root and then the branches. I love that because as a DJ, if you got the hot tune, but you also have the version, it unlocks the opportunity to have an MC toast on top of your sh-t or throw something else on top of it. Having an album is great, but having the components that go with it is huge. You can't lose. It's important for people to understand the dub component in its context. Garvey and Garvey's Ghost is a good A/B because I remember buying both records and realizing, "Oh, this is why they did that." It opened up the idea of why doubles were important in the context of deejaying.  

Z-Trip also shared these exclusive photos of Perry. "I had to take pictures," he admits. "I'm a fan like anyone else." Check them out below.

Photo Credit: Z-Trip
Photo Credit: Z-Trip
Photo Credit: Z-Trip
Photo Credit: Z-Trip