Rough, Rugged and Real: Red Fox

New York-based dancehall rapper Red FoxIf it wasn’t for New York-based dancehall rapper Red Fox, this website would probably have another name; maybe Reggae Vibes or Dancehall Vibes.

His 1997 collaboration with Rayvon, Bashment Party, helped establish the term ‘bashment’ as a fashionable adjective for contemporary Jamaican music, and we liked it so much we named this blog in its honour.

Over the past 25 years, Fox has released a series of landmark singles and played a major role in the development of Shaggy’s career.

Below, Fox talks about the dancehall scene in New York; explains the difference between working independently and signing to a major label; and reveals why he is releasing more music now than ever before.

You’ve released a couple of big hits in 2013. Is it fair to say you’re experience something of a comeback?

I wouldn’t say comeback because to me that would mean I’m trying to create what once was and this is a different time from years back. At this present moment, I’m approaching the business completely differently to how I did when I started so I would just say I’m moving forward.

How is the scene different from when you entered it in the late 1980s?

Today, it’s a digital market with a lot of social media and everything is all about the internet. Back in the late 80s, we didn’t have a clue about any of these things so we did it the old fashioned way by hitting the streets and [rapping] on sound systems; people got to hear about you through word of mouth.

If you went to record and were off-key there was nothing to put you in tune; you’d have to go home and figure it out. Today, you’ve got so many different pieces of equipment that can make someone sound like they can sing. There is more image marketing than anything else so it’s a whole different situation.

When you try and stay true to the music, you have to really balance how to capture the audience because they are very brainwashed by controversy and the attention-grabbing stuff people use to sell music now.

You’ve just released a track, Hot Like Fire (above), for British rapper Serocee’s Jambrum label. Tell us about that…

I was in Norway on a tour of Scandinavia and met Serocee. We exchanged numbers and when I came back to New York he sent me a track. I really loved it because it kinda reminded me of a hip hop dancehall flavour; a New York bounce. When I heard that I got into a New York vibe and just started writing.

It has a very good crossover potential because I made the hook easy to understand and sang it in a very smooth tone. It’s a real party-type song; that makes you feel good when you’re in the club.

Your latest song with Rayvon, No Other Like You (above), is big in Jamaica and topped the reggae charts in New York earlier this year. How did that collaboration come about?

A friend of mine suggested I check out this yout’ called Musical Masquerade who had an idea for a song. We met and I saw that although he is in his early 20s, he has a great plan and is really serious about making a difference in reggae music. He came up with the idea, I liked it, called in Rayvon and we went to the studio and mashed it up.

As the artist responsible for landmarks singles such as Come Boogie Down, Down in Jamaica, Born Again Black Man, Ghetto Gospel and Bashment Party – do you think you get the recognition you deserve?

That can be looked at in many ways. In everything, there always has to be a groundbreaker and that person doesn’t normally get a lot of recognition because the people who come after do.

But you have to look at it on a very spiritual and deep level whereby; I was the groundbreaker for a situation and this person came and got the recognition, but these steps needed to be made to get the music further.

I can say: ‘I was a part of the development of dancehall on a certain level at a certain time.’ So you feel good about your contribution to the music and don’t really worry about the fame or whatever. You get what you’re supposed to get and keep it moving. That is satisfying to my soul.

Is it true that you helped launch Shaggy’s career?

Shaggy was a protégé of mine in the late 80s. We both came to America from Jamaica in the mid-1980s and linked up through Brooklyn-based sound systems Gibraltar Rock and LP International. During that time, I had a couple of records out and in used to get booked for a lot of shows and would take Shaggy with me.

At the time, he was in the army and getting ready to fight in Kuwait. To be honest with you, I felt so bad about him going to war and didn’t know if he was going to come back so I began to take him everywhere I was performing, and if I was recording for a producer, I made them record him too.

Do you still have a good relationship with Shaggy?

Yes, we’ve partnered up and run his Ranch label. I play a vital role in terms of coming up with ideas and grooming young acts.

You’ve been in the business for over 25 years and have seen a lot of artists come and go – what’s the secret to your longevity?

First and foremost, I give thanks to God for giving me awareness and the ability to check the present time and not get caught up in the past.

I think that’s a mistake a lot of artists make; they’re trying to recapture what they once were. I try to stay within the present time and acknowledge the moment and what’s going on in this era.

Your debut album, As a Matter of Fox, was released by a major label, but now you work independently. Which situation is better?

Working independently is better if you have the time, energy and focus to make it happen because you become a boss and that means you have to live and breathe what you’re doing and be ruthless.

There is no time for mistakes because you have to employ people who are depending on you to feed their families.

With a record company, they give you the money and do the work and you can just focus on making music. It’s a give and take type of thing, but at the end of the day, independents are better because you make much more money, get to develop yourself as an entrepreneur and create something you can hand down to your descendants.

What’s the difference between the scene in the US and the scene in Jamaica?

Good question. In New York, the scene is a mixture of cultures with all different types of nations, races and faces so you have to really know how to present a dancehall song for everyone to get into.

In New York, like London and the major cities in Canada, the majority of Jamaicans try and stay in touch with their roots as they don’t want to feel like they have lost it in any form; it’s all psychological.

In Jamaica, you can sing a song that only Jamaicans are into because of the environment; but someone in New York won’t necessarily relate to that record. In Jamaica, what you see is what you get [laughs].

If you had the power, what’s the one thing you’d most like to change about your industry?

I would change how the music is played. Right now, it has become a hustle, flea market type of thing. Dancehall has been rocking since the 70s, from the days of King Stitt and Count Machuki and in 2013, I feel like we are supposed to be way further than we are.

There was a point in the early 1990s, when hip hop had to follow dancehall; I can clearly remember when dancehall was bigger than hip hop in New York City.

I feel like we got caught up a little too much with internal rivalries and the payola thing where you have to have a certain amount of money to get your song on heavy rotation [on radio stations].

I’m not knocking anybody’s hustle, but what happens is that sometimes you have an artist with a very good song who cannot get it played because he doesn’t have the money to pay selectors to push it.

Regardless of whether a song is good or not, it’s gonna get pushed because it’s been paid for so what happens is a lot of distasteful music gets played, we keep losing the audience that follows reggae and the genre is continues to struggle.

Even though we are so many years into the game now, we still don’t have a 24 hour reggae station in New York; you’ve still got to search your dial and God bless if you catch a little bit.

What advice would you give an aspiring artist who is new to the business?

First and foremost, put God first. When you do that, it tends to make you unselfish, and when you become unselfish you begin to serve, and when you begin to serve you get creative and inspired.

I like to serve so that even though I may not become a millionaire, my youth might become one. Serve and God will give you every tool you need to stay prosperous.

Stay original and don’t follow trends because trends only last for a while. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and take risks. Just do yuh ting.

What does the future hold for Red Fox?

Tomorrow speaks for itself. I can tell you at this present moment, I see great things happening and I really give thanks. I feel very blessed to still be relevant at this time. Right now, I’m recording more than I ever did.

I used to put out two songs a year, but right now I have around seven songs out. I’d really love to develop my own label where I can produce and help the younger cats because they need guidance.

A lot of reggae icons have been selfish by having great achievements and then going away to a far place and living out their royalties without giving back to the youths who are coming up.

Instead of criticising the youths about their inability to deliver good music; go and help them; because they need help and won’t refuse it.

Buy Hot Like Fiya and find Red Fox on Twitter and Facebook.

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