Interview by Rob Kenner (@boomshots)
Super Cat had the reggae/hip-hop crossover zone on lock with early '90s joints like the "Ghetto Red Hot" remix and the "Dolly My Baby" remix that shed an early light on a young up-and-coming Jamerican MC known as Biggie Smalls. The Don Dada has been missing in action for a few years now, but this past Labor Day he shocked the world by stepping on stage up as Shaggy's surprise guest at Hot 97's annual On Da Reggae Tip showcase. Since then he was booked to headline the 30th anniversary stage of Sting, known as the "Greatest One Day Reggae Show on Earth." The last time Cat performed at Sting was 1991, when his clash with Ninjaman drew the biggest crowd in Sting history. He's returning to that stage in a few days—but don't worry, if you can't make it down to Jamrock December 26, you can catch the action via pay-per-view or webstream it on BringTheSting.
Before catching a plane back to Jamaica, Cat chopped it up with Boomshots in a wide-ranging interview that touched on the history of reggae music, why you should never call it dancehall music, and how its helped hip-hop grow creatively and from a business standpoint. Of particular interest were his remarks about Heavy D and the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy. Check the dialog right here, or jump straight down to the video if your patois skills are up to par.
You are one of the first dancehall artists to incorporate his own label and take control of his own business with the Wild Apache label. How important was that in your career?
Don’t let them trick the youth them and keep talking about dancehall music. That is a mis-education and we have to straighten out that.
Respect for I and I getting the influence from some of the people them who is producer before I and I. And we learn that from Gregory Isaacs. People like Barrington Levy, Toyan, used to get a one riddim and walk with it under we arm go to Tubby’s and know to voice weself. Still only thing we were playing in dancehall… what dancehall is—they are venues. We play so many dancehall in the parishes, and what we were playing in the dancehall is reggae music. [sings] “A Reggae music what we want cause ah it make me chant/And if we play it from the whole night/We ah go play it till morning light.” Don Angelo. So a reggae music we woulda play inna dancehall.
Don’t let them trick the youth and keep talking about dancehall music. That is a mis-education and we have to straighten out that. What dancehall is—they are venues.
So what happens is some people kinda have it in a mis-educated way where they say "dancehall music." There is no difference in the music. Caw the roughest music weh ever play inna dancehall ah the great part of the reggae web live today. When you play man like Philip Frazer [sings] “I will never let you go.” Michael Prophet weht tell you say [sings] “Man to man is so unjust/Sometimes I don’t even know who the fuck to trust.” A the toughest part of the music… [sings the horn line from the tune.]
So you used to mash up dancehalls with foundation reggae music.
That is what we use ram the whole of the dancehall them. Solidified reggae music from man like Barrington Levy. [sings] “Your honor please I want a quick divorce/Girl I’m loving in a backward force/Please Mr. Judge don’t let me wait/I want this thing yah cut offa me right away.” A them tune den we woulda lick up. And a tough part of reggae dat web live—never die. So they can’t come round yah with no gow [trickery].
Did you ever select a sound? Cause you have a selector’s mind. You have tunes on your mind.
I play the whole of the number one sound them. The whole of the number one sound.
OK. So as a DJ you select records same way.
Yeah. I used to work for Killamanjaro. Every time we have a clash I personally would have to go to the studio to make the songs them. Especially when we have a tournament, we call it clash tournament. Dada haffi get the tune dem ready for the resident. For if I haffi knock a bwoy if we even the president inna this war watch ya, we even haffi take over them government.
Serious lyrics dat.
Sound dead in the arena.
You no see we a talk bout murder long time from 19 round so? So we no play with sound ting.
So we carry the sound go up deh up deh up deh until it reach all up inna London. Sir Coxsone web a trod with Mr. Demus and Saxon. So we come ya build Addies Hi-Fi inna Brooklyn, sound killa. Then we forward to show business with live band.
Now we left that level. We haffi work with a band. Cause when you take it to a band level, you ah deal with showmanship. And to keep the music strong, after you conquer the reggae music through all these venues, you haffi come live it with a band. The only way to orchestrate it is with the band. If you nah orchestrating with a band, then you ah run second. After you ah champ through the whole of the dancehall them, ah pound reggae music, and you become a household name within show business, you haffi take it to showmanship. And showmanship is working live onstage with a band. If you can’t perform with a band then you don’t reach the level of showmanship. And showmanship is where the music live in the heights of heights of Ites.
Yes. That’s a whole different art form than chatting on sound system.
I-orchestrative. The music live.
Since the last time we had a chance to reason we lost a soldier named Heavy D. You and him did some great work together over the years.
Yeah man. Him come help we pound the reggae ting man. And the whole of the ting dem weh him pound a number one. Me and him and great dance master—reggae top top top—ah de top, Frankie Paul. That’s a number-one tune.
“Big and Ready.”
Yeah man and “Dem No Worry We” and all them ting.
Yeah so me ah say God bless him soul cause a top soldier. Ah the first big heavy man me ever see move light.
[Laughs] A serious thing. He also gave a 45 of yours to Salaam Remi—“Dance in New York”—you heard the story?
He give the 45 to say Salaam, say, “I think something could be made offa this” and then Nas come make a big hip-hop record off of the sample of “Dance In New York.”
Well Heavy is a man who have a insight of the thing yunno. Him see it before it happen. Caw he prove that to I yunno. I never know Heavy D so Heavy know I. So him say to I, tracking I for about three years straight, I is one of his favorite performer in reggae—plus Brigadier Jerry, and there was somebody else he mentioned.
He has good taste.
Yeah—and him say he want to do something with reggae music. Still at the time I didn’t know what rap is except for two tune that hit in Jamaica. [raps] “Hip hop hippety hop and you don’t stop rock till the boogie de beat….”
Sugar Hill Gang.
And there was another [sings] “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting [sings the horn line]/Them kicks was fast like…” Y’understand. Them two thing hit there. So I was lettin’ him know, “I don’t know nuttin’ about this rap.”
So the guy following me for three year. So since we coming from Jamaica where 50 cent a stick and a dollar a quarter—that was a draw of the marijuana. So when you keep talking about rap, rap, rap, I thought him was talking about wrapping a draw of weed. So when I was tired of what him talking about, 'cause I couldn’t get the message across, I said, “Why the fuck you don’t give me some of what you wrap. So let I can smoke the ting and you can tell me the fuckin’ ting. I tell you everything is great.”
So then one of Heavy’s sidekicks said, “No no no no. Nuttin’ like that. It don’t mean smoking. What you guys call DJing, here in the States we call it rap.” I said, “Oh fuck, I gettin’ what you saying now.”
So that’s the time I told him that the only two songs I feel familiar with from their time is “Kung Fu Fighting” and the hip-hop hippy.
Sugar Hill Gang.
The Sugar Hill Gang. I didn’t even know the name of the artist but I know the song. So Heavy say he wanted to do a song on a reggae. I said, “Heavy, I don’t know how to pick a riddim track since you’re a hip-hop artist. Why don’t you do this—pick the track you like and we get this ting done.” So he went for Winston Riley Techniques, number one song, [sings] “I’m in the mood for love…” [sings the bass line]. And I just send for Frankie Paul and say Frankie Paul hold this melody together. Say we gonna do something with the great Heavy D. Bam Bam number one in three weeks.
A classic piece of music…
Now you were also one of the first artists to have Biggie Smalls on a record with yourself.
That was a next majestic thing because I was signed to the major label and they wanted to market hip-hop with reggae, which at the same time, I didn’t have any full insight of. Still I don’t have anything against hip-hop. They are culture and I and I is roots.
So they run through a whole lot of meeting before it went on the road. And they were saying they wasn’t giving all these venues for the tour to happen and a lot of record company came together. And we went to some meeting and they are saying the venues to reggae—if reggae is not on the bill, there is not no tour going on. So they asked us how we feel about this.
We said we don’t have any problem. We see these people coming out of broken homes like some of us coming out the ghetto. They call their thing projects here, the same thing we call housing scheme in Jamaica. So we didn’t have any problem rubbing shoulder together, bringing the wheel forward and it happened there.
They were remixing reggae with hip-hop. They said it was a marketing strategy and we were at a major label. When you get a job you don’t tell the company how to market the thing to make the music sell.
So Third Eye, which was a group with Biggie Small, Jesse West, Puff Daddy, they just didn’t end up doing the remix, they end up so excited about the record—it was a number-one hit already at the four corner of the earth—they just apply their self to the work and I myself, I am not into cutting people short or cutting people out, so I just say “let it roll.” It was one of the biggest song that they ever see to the fullest time with reggae and across hip-hop. And today, Puffy is what Puffy is—great.
And he’s got a big billboard in Times Square.
Yeah, but him need to check for some of them Jamaican youth and put some money in them pocket and sign some Jamaica youth and drop some of them million U.S. inna them pocket. 'Cause he must remember that reggae take him off and put him in a rocket—and Dada never stop it. So Ispect it yunno.
Bless up my youth!