Jah Thomas was an important figure on the Jamaican music scene during both the roots era of the '70s and the subsequent dancehall decade of the '80s. Besides releasing several DJ sides of his own in the latter half of the '70s, Thomas also came into his own as one of the island's top producers for both singers and DJs. Many of these sides found their way to the dub studios of King Tubby, who transformed a wealth of Thomas' riddims into a some of the best dub tracks to emerge from Jamaica.
Born Nkrumah Thomas in Kingston in 1955, Jah Thomas was named after Kwame Nkrumah, the celebrated African nationalist who secured Ghana's (originally the Gold Coast) independence from the British at the beginning of the 1960s. Although not much is known of Thomas' early years, his first foray into the highly competitive Kingston music scene came in the mid-'70s. Thomas' story begins with the legendary Channel One studio, where the aspiring DJ first cut tracks as one of a crew of young chatters in the mold of innovators like U-Roy, Big Youth, and Dillinger.
Open for business in 1973, Channel One was set up by the brothers Ernest and Joseph "Joe Joe" Hookim on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston. Besides cutting sides by such singers as Gregory Isaacs, John Holt, and Leroy Smart, as well as vocal groups like the Wailing Souls and the Mighty Diamonds, Channel One boasted a DJ roster that not only included Thomas, but other burgeoning young toasters like Trinity, Clint Eastwood, Ranking Trevor, Doctor Alimantado, and the relatively seasoned Dillinger, as well. Thomas' first big Jamaican hit was "Midnight Rock," which was cut by producer GG Ranglin in 1976. Thomas would later use the song's title as the name of his own Midnight Rock imprint.
Over the next two years, more hits followed, including "Cricket Lovely Cricket," one of many DJ versions of the time using Slim Smith's "My Conversation" riddim (it proved to be one of the most successful of the many Studio One riddims used during the dancehall era, with other hit versions coming from the DJ Lone Ranger ["Barnabus Collins"] and singer Barrington Levy ["Collie Weed"]). Eventually Thomas inked a deal with the London-based Greensleeves label and released his debut LP in 1978, Stop Yu Loafin', which was cut at Channel One by Joseph Hookim.
Following the longstanding trend in the Jamaican music industry, Thomas proceeded to hook up with a variety of local labels to put out some additional albums, including Dance Hall Style on Daddy Kool and Dance on the Corner for Abraham. As is made clear upon listening to these records, Thomas' gruff vocal style was akin to the singing/toasting style brought to life by the DJ innovator Big Youth in the early '70s.
Joining the ranks of contemporary dancehall knob twiddlers of the late '70s and early '80s like Henry "Junjo" Lawes, Linval Thompson, Gussie Clarke, and Winston Riley, Thomas began making his presence felt as a producer with sessions for both DJs and singers. Thomas worked with some of his DJ peers, including Ranking Toyan and Soul Imperial Hi-Fi star Early B. Of the many singers Thomas produced, the standouts include Michael Palmer, Barrington Levy, Barry Brown, Little John, Johnny Osbourne, and Sugar Minott. The big smashes to come Thomas' way, though, were Tristan Palmer's 1981 hits "Entertainment" and "Joker Smoker" (the later chronicling a hapless spliff roller using all but his own store of herb for the big blunt) and Anthony Johnson's 1982 chart-topper "Gun Shot."
Although Thomas did contribute to a smattering of sessions as the '90s came round, including sides by Gregory Isaacs and Shabba, his latter-day profile has been mostly very low-key. Like many of Jamaica's most important and talented musical men and women, Jah Thomas will probably not become as well-known and celebrated as, say, Lee Perry, Tubby, or Duke Reid, but his place in reggae's history can't be denied.
Q: What was your inspiration when making the tracks featured on the "Greensleeves 12" Rulers"?
A: Musically mi always like the ghetto style, ya nah. Where I did grow inna Jamaica was lil ghetto, so I was just inspired by from what I did see.
Q: How did you come up with the concept of "Joker Smoker"?
A: The ting that did inspire me when writing that tune, is a time I spent in England. Me did role with one yute that used to drive me around, so everyday me used to link up with him, and him always used to beg a spliff or beg me a rizla or even a cigarette, so me just call him a joker smoker.
Q: Are you pleased with the outcome of the album?
A: Yes mi very pleased with the outcome of the album, mi feel say it shows mi as an artist and as a producer. It's going to do well.
Q: On your album you worked with the likes of Triston Palmer, Little John and Bunny Lie Lie, Are you still in touch or do you work with theses guys?
A: Yeah man me still friends with dem, and mi still record tune with dem. We're planning to do a reunion tour very soon.
Q: What's your relationship like with Europe and the U.K.?
A: Well... I haven't been over to Europe since 1999, but still have contact with a lot of friends in England, most notably Blacker Dread. In terms of the rest of Europe tings are good, mi av people from all across Europe send me request for mi dub plate dem and send dem out.
Q: How would you describe yourself, to people that are not too familiar with Jah Thomas?
A: When mi ah produce a song, mi work closely on the concept with artist, mi nah just produce the song and give it to the artist, mi work them on the melody and the verses. I see myself more than just a producer.
Q: What have you got planned for the future?
A: Recording some new stuff for the Midnight Rock reunion, and to record some more modern stuff.
Interview & photo provided by Greensleeves Records
Not many people can get away with having two stage names, but Ricky Rudie aka Bling Dawg can. His moniker would suggest that he is aggressive, territorial and fierce but actually he is increasingly affable and laidback until it's time for work. This 'bling-bling canine' is then quick to turn the jokes into hard-hitting lyrics, pen his life experiences onto paper and channel his mood into the microphone. Un-muzzled and unafraid he commands attention, defends his territory - the stage -and growls fiercely into the microphone to incite widespread vibes and entertainment pandemonium, "It's Ricky Rudie a.k.a Bling Dawg!!"
Bussing out in the late nineties was by no means an easy feat for Bling Dawg (born Marlon Ricardo Williams) but his assertive self-proclaiming delivery and style had the audience 'sayin his name each and every day'. After leaving Portland at age 11 to live in Miami, Florida, Bling Dawg returned to Jamaica in 1994 primarily inspired by Louie Culture, also a Portland native, to get into the music business. Three other artists, Dugsy Ranks, Beeko Bailey and one such Rodney 'Bounty Killer' Pryce also passed on words of encouragement to the young talent and thus began Ricky Rudie a.k.a Bling Dawg's irrevocable journey into music.
Radio 'lapped up' his first #1 hit 'Circumstances', a collaboration with then label mate at Shocking Vibes, Beenie Man and following in heavy rotation was 'It's Major, It's Minor' and 'If A Shotta Ting'. The new deejay's fan base exploded when patrons heard lyrics of 'Say My Name' and "If U Nuh Like Bling Dawg': "If yu nuh like Bling Dawg gwan go suck an egg". The hilarious song was followed by reinvention of the artist; Ricky Rudie a.k.a Bling Dawg dropped his Ricky Rudie stage name and was called thereafter just 'Bling Dawg'.
"They caan floss like we do, caan touch we levels…man flavour brand new like fresh cold vegetables..." proved to be a prophetic line by the artist because his fresh flavour was evident with subsequent successes like 'Nicky -Ann', 'Roll Out' and the acclaimed collaboration with lyricist Vybz Kartel, 'Phone Call'.
The following year Bling Dawg reinvented himself once again and enlisted all the ladies in his aerobics class: "You ready for Bling Dawg's summer aerobics class baby' With a hot video and himself a few pounds lighter, Bling Dawg developed his 'Summer Body' and belted out another platinum innovative hit 'Exercise' on the Jonkanoo riddim. Certified hit-maker Bling Dawg then became a member of the exclusive group The Alliance, which consists of fellow DJ's Bounty Killer, Wayne Marshall, Mavado, Aidonia among others, undeniably a group of amazing talent.
For his 2006 endeavors, Bling Dawg recorded on the season's hottest riddims like Inspector, Yellow Tape, Sweat and Tropical Storm, amassed an enviable following for his annual event Summer Jam, opened his own Barber shop Bling Kutt Barbers and is getting ready to drop his first album.
A regular performer in New York, London, and Miami, Bling Dawg is more than just an average DJ, he is superlative. He has worked with famed musicians and engineers such as Sly and Robbie, Q45, Steven 'Lenky' Marshall, Don Corleon and the renowned Salaam Remi who have all certainly complemented his own musical talent. For future projects he aspires to do some work with international producer Dr. Dre and Mad House genius Dave Kelly.
Q: Dawg, you haven't dropped an album for a few years now, when can we expect an album from Bling Dawg?
A: Me never drop an album yet, mi av whole heap of mix tapes but not an album. By the end of the year you should see an album from me, right now the focus is on releasing some singles, to build up some hype.
Q: You used to use the name Ricky Rudie, are you still using this name?
A: Yeah mi still ah use the name Ricky Rudie, for people to recognize me. That was my name from the stage show days, earlier in my career. But we move on with times ya nah.
Q: You're an important member of the Alliance along with Bounty Killer, Mavado and Busy Signal. When do you plan to release an album with the crew?
A: There is a lot of talent in the Alliance and it forces you to always be on top of your game, which is a good ting because it makes us individually better and as a collective it makes us stronger. Yeah the album ah soon come, but right now the focus is just releasing singles, but we have been talking about it, no solid plans have been put down, but it's unpredictable... anything can happen.
Q: You recently recorded two songs on a Shane Brown riddim, "Warning". Can you tell us more on your relation with Shane Brown?
A: Shane is a bedrin more than an associate. He shows me love like a brother. As a producer we worked a lot together. When I first started to record, Shane and the Juke Boxx crew showed a lot of interest in me, which as help me progress in my career.
Q: When will we see you again in the U.K.?
A: Next time I headline a show in the U.K. or on tour with the Alliance, other than that I don't know. Right now I'm just putting in the work, building up the hype, I didn't do much recording in 2007, I opened up a barber shop, Bling Kutt Barbers, and my focus was more on a business venture more than recording, but this year mi back pon recording the singles dem with an album on the way, watch out for it!
Interview & photo provided by Greensleeves Records