Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Assassin aka Agent Sasco - A Decade In Dancehall

Assassin aka Agent Sasco
 "I guess when you operate with a certain level of integrity, and you are not willing to do some of the things that get you the publicity, i.e. bleaching and freaking out, then maybe you don't get hyped."

In the run up to this interview, I could not help but notice that the list of names for Jeffrey Campbell has been gradually extending over the years. However, being most widely recognised as Agent Sasco or Assassin, the latter two shall continue to be the most prevalent. Being an artist boasting longevity, consistency and relevance, he is undoubtedly one of the most talented and honorable lyricists to ever grace the Dancehall scene. Even if you don’t necessarily know him by name, I can almost guarantee that the majority of you have raved to his songs, requested a pull up, and even recited some of his lyrics such as "Eediat ting dat!" Never being afraid of talking how he feels, in this interview he talks to me about staying true to his beliefs, how he has managed to stay so relevant a decade in to his career, and how him and the Boardhouse Family plan to run the place

General Gen: You are one of the most talented and consistent yet under rated artists in the Reggae and Dancehall scene at the moment. So for those who aren’t already aware, who is Agent Sasco?  
Agent Sasco: Well I've been representing myself and Dancehall & Reggae music for some 10 years and it has been good, we've had a good journey. I don't subscribe to the under-rated argument, I would call it under-hyped because anybody who has any knowledge of Dancehall or Reggae music cannot dispute that I am one of the premier players, or one of the most talented whether it's in terms of writing, live performance and all of the faculties. So as no-one will deny or dispute that, there is ratings. But I guess when you operate with a certain level of integrity, and you are not willing to do some of the things that get you the publicity, i.e. bleaching and freaking out, then maybe you don't get hyped.

General Gen: How exactly did your career in the music industry begin, and could you take us through the journey of Assassin? 
Agent Sasco: My experience with music began as early as I can remember; being a toddler trying to put words together and learn my favourite songs off the radio. So music has always been a part of my life in a more than casual way! Throughout primary school and high school, I would DJ at class parties and concerts so it was always a part of my life. Then in high school at around 16, one of my school mates was Spragga Benz's nephew and Spragga ended up recording a song which I wrote, and through working with Spragga Benz, I naturally made the transition to professional recording.

General Gen: Who are your influences? 
Agent Sasco: Well first of all its music itself, I fell in love with music when I was young. My other influences in terms of artists were Prof. Nuts, Lt. Stitchie at the time and Papa San. I was born in the early 80's so I listened to the premier players such as Admiral Bailey etc. but it was more the music itself, I was just fascinated with it. Automatically you develop a certain respect for people who are doing it on a certain level. So in chronological order it went to Shabba Ranks around that time, and then after Shabba it was Buju. So naturally Buju was a big influence. Then it went from Buju to Beenie and Bounty Killer. Spragga Benz was also one of the people that I respected. Loving and respecting the music the way that I do, I am able to appreciate all the players, especially those who do it on a certain level. So people like Baby Wayne who was a genius in his own right, Capleton, and reggae people still influence you because it’s just the whole culture.

General Gen: Over the years, you’ve gone from Assassin to Agent Sasco. What influenced the change of name and what is different now? 
Agent Sasco: It's not necessarily a change of name; it's actually an extension of myself in terms of giving one side of Assassin's whole identity. Assassin is still pretty much assassinating them in a more hardcore Dancehall sort of vibe. That's where I got the name in the first place, in a high school clash. Agent Sasco is a more mature side, doing a different brand of Dancehall and Reggae. Then of course we now have another dimension which is Wash Belly. The term is a Jamaican term of the last born from a mother. Wash Belly is a new dimension which is like going back to being outside of music, looking in, and trying to break. At that time you have a certain level of zeal, and with that comes a sort of attitude and a different level of creativity so I'm trying to mentally go back to that place. So far we have had one song which was recorded with that Wash Belly perspective.

General Gen: As a recording artist in this scene, it has to be said that you are one of the few that has managed to stay so consistent and relevant over the years. How have you done this? 
Agent Sasco: It's going back to the whole question of hype, respect and so-called ratings. I've been able to be consistent because my recognition, or my journey and my success so to speak has been solely because of my talent. If your talent is sincere, then more than likely you will be able to reproduce what it is that you need to reproduce. That being good songs and songs that people can respect, so you won't be relying on gimmicks or any form of novelty. If you're consistently able to produce good songs, you will become consistent. As I said, it's just under the merit of being good at what you do and there is just no disputing that.

General Gen: Not only are you a recording artist but you are also one of the parties involved in the creation and development of the company Boardhouse Records. Can you tell us a bit about that and how it all started out? 
Agent Sasco: Well Boardhouse is where we started out! A board house in Kintyre is where I grew up. There were two boardhouses in the yard. My mother, my sister, my brother and I. Then in the other board house was my uncle and my cousin Bones who is also a member of the Boardhouse family so that's where it started. Boardhouse Records as a company is about contributing in a significant way to Dancehall and Reggae music; preserving the art form and doing things out of respect for the music. So it's not about trying to come and scrape what you can scrape, or abuse the industry in any way. It really is just about contributing and that has also been what Assassin's mission has been so it is consistent with what I'm about.

General Gen: Focusing now on the artists, who is currently signed to the label? 
Agent Sasco: We have Lady Ali and Ricky Frass, and we're currently looking for other talents. Lady Ali is going to do big things. She really is just pure Dancehall; she has the delivery, the looks, and the attitude so we're just taking the time to get the album across the seas. Of course we also have Flippa Maffia who is a part of the Boardhouse family, ya dun know Flippa the flossing King, not much to say about Flippa, he is just Flippa. Then you have Ricky Frass who is another young talent. We're just focusing on developing these people and helping them realise their full potential.

Since then, Boardhouse have signed another recording artist Scacha who you will find featured on the latest mixtape 'River Stone Buss Dem Head.’ Boardhouse Records have already made their mark in the scene being the record company behind extremely successful riddims such as ‘Look Gal’ which Elephant Man’s ‘Nuh Linga’ and Assassin’s ‘Wha Do Dem Guy Deh’ were voiced on.

General Gen: One of the biggest riddims to be released from the Boardhouse Records camp this year (in 2011) has been ‘Run Di Place.’ On this riddim there are tracks from yourself, Bounty Killer and Elephant Man. Do you mind telling us who actually produced the riddim, or do you like to brand the riddims as being created by the collective as a whole? 
Agent Sasco: We work closely with the musicians. This riddim in particular was made by Suku at Ward 21 and we make sure that we are a part of that process. We are there choosing songs, choosing the beat, that type of vibe. The riddim was supposed to be exclusive and somebody suggested that maybe we could put a Bounty Killer on the riddim so I put an idea together; I put a song together, and sent a voice note with the idea. He loved it, he came and recorded it. From there Elephant Man heard the idea and came and did his thing. It was very much sought after but we decided to keep it as just the three songs so that the songs could really get some breathing space, and it has worked out well. As I said, we try to preserve certain elements of the hard form in terms of even the creative process. Now that we have computers and everyone is locked up in a room somewhere building a riddim, we try to keep it as a group effort. We have more minds involved and therefore we have more ideas.

General Gen: Going back to you and some of your most recent tracks, there has been a lot of speculation regarding your tracks ‘Run Di Place’ ‘Talk How Mi Feel’ and also ‘Yuh Madda.’ Featuring lines such as “Oh, a mussi true mi nah bleach mi face!” and “Certain things mi nah go do fi market miself/ Mi nah put out no freaky photographs with miself,” it has been speculated that these tracks are aimed at Vybz Kartel, is there any truth in this? 
Agent Sasco: I do the songs and I leave it up to people to interpret what they will. It's as simple as that. I design my songs to get a certain response and I'll leave it at that.

General Gen: Putting all of the controversy aside now, you are one of the Dancehall artists that people respect and regard highly for a number of reasons; such as singing conscious lyrics which can easily be related to, and saying what’s on your mind. Is this something that you thrive on as an artist?  
Agent Sasco: I believe in integrity amongst a lot of things, and I believe that integrity comes with a certain level of responsibility to not compromise yourself or compromise your values. In a time where a lot of things get swept under the carpet so to speak, and a lot of people are reluctant to have a back bone and believe what they believe, and say it and trust that they are saying it with conviction so that it is understood without question. I am one of the people that believe that I can say what I want to say, believe what I want to believe, and stand behind it 100% so people respect that. The option is just not an option for me.

General Gen: Your track JPS on the Big Dog Riddim which stands for ‘Jamaican People Stress,’ is a perfect example of your conscious lyrics which can be related to by many. In the track you described JPS as a ‘disease,’ but for people outside of Jamaica who do not understand what JPS is, could you elaborate on this idea...
Agent Sasco: (Laughs) JPS stands for the Jamaican Public Service, and people are just concerned. In Jamaica we have an issue with some of their policies and procedures, and people just think it’s an unfair setup as a result of the whole monopoly situation. So you have exorbitant bills and bills which don’t seem to have much explanation so it’s become a sort of disease. The song was done in relation to a peaceful protest which was being organised called 'Black Out Fridays' where people were supposed to wear black. The song was done in accordance to that to be a theme song for the day.

General Gen: You mentioned recording songs under the name ‘Wash Belly’ earlier; will that be something that you continue to do in the future? 
Agent Sasco: Yes I try to challenge myself on various levels and I already explained the idea behind that whole (Wash Belly) thing. It's good to keep that youthful exuberance I guess. Especially ten years in, you have to try to find ways to rejuvenate yourself and to keep sincere.

General Gen: Apart from the tracks that we have previously mentioned, what current tracks or projects are you promoting and working on at the moment? 
Agent Sasco: So we have the new project that we’re working on which is the Dutty Cartoon Riddim, and we’ll also be going back to Jamaica to do some more work but you can expect the Dutty Cartoon Riddim. As a matter of fact, the Dutty Cartoon Riddim is called the Dutty Cartoon Riddim because Dutty Cartoon is present within the song, but we might change the name of the riddim. So at present, there is a song called ‘Dutty Cartoon,’ which you can listen out for.

General Gen: Before we wrap up and I let you get back to rehearsing, is there anything else that you’d like to add? 
Agent Sasco: I just want to say nuff respect to the people who love and respect Dancehall music. Also the people who continue to make the music successful, people like you who spread the word and that’s about it, so nuff respect!

Agent Sasco & General Gen

Starting the year as they mean to go on, Assassin and Boardhouse Records have now released their brand new live mixtape ‘River Stone Buss Dem Head!’ Featuring a number of tracks on Dancehall classic ‘Showtime Riddim,’ this mixtape is surely going to be one of the hardest to come out of 2012! Download it now by clicking here or on the image below.

Interview by General Gen
Twitter @iamtheGen

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