Do you remember the days of the cassette mixtape?
The mixtape is often overlooked as a critical part of the Jamaican music industry. How else would the people hear what is new and hot outside of attending street sessions, live stage shows or night clubs? How else would you relive the memories of a particular dub from the night before? Artistes from around the island, and sometimes beyond, flock to a select few technicians of the art every week to premiere previously unreleased tracks hoping to catch the ear by onlookers and to be added to a compilation about to be released by the vendor with the widest reach. In a practice that saw its zenith in the mid to late 90s with, what is now, the antiquated technology of the cassette tape. The making of mixtapes, now on compact discs (CDs), has not really seen a drop off in importance in face of the Internet and it’s open freedom of its users to search for, and often find, whatever audio delights their heart’s desire.
While it is now easier to acquire archival footage of what happened the night before through mobile phones and other devices, there is still the ongoing problem of delivering new music to masses without enlisting the help of the bottleneck red tape of the local radio airwaves. This is where men like Cassette Jones in the past and Dj Don Kingston in the present day come in. We at BACKAYARD and Buzzebly have made the decision to profile the two aforementioned to garner a better idea of what it is to be the musical gateway for hundreds of Jamaican music aspirants.
What is your history in terms of music?
My history in terms of music started at the age of 3. My old man did have a sound system, yuh see mi, and him string up every weekend and pon di weekend all wi friend dem inna di neighbourhood gather. Him have special stool wah him put me pon, him gimmie di mike and tell mi seh repeat everything him seh. So mi learn how fi seh two likkle ting over di mic. From dehso now, mi find out seh mi learn fi put di needle pon di turntable and put on di record dem and then press di play button, learn fi set pitch and dem ting deh. When mi turn teenager now, any weh di music deh mi start gather. So mi start guh Dunoon and yuh have cassette man like Jack Sowa a Half Way Tree and yuh have King Jerry downtown. Mi used to pass and hear dem play and when mi hear dem play mi start gravitate to the various sound systems: SilverHawk, Stone Love, Exodus, Nuclear and Jamrock, 4 x 4, Bass Odyssey, Lees Unlimited dem sound deh yuh nuh.
So how did you make the transition from that to selling cassettes?
Mi did start do likkle trimming fi earn some extra money a mi yard, mi did need a way fi entertain di customer dem. So dem same cassette a now, mi start buy dem. When mi start buy dem a now mi start notice a difference inna di sound. Some have better sound quality in terms of highs, mids and dem ting deh. I buy from various cassette vendor and di one with the best quality to me now was Jack Sowa so mi find di location fi get wah mi need and everything did up. So mi start trim people inna Portmore weh mi come from. Word start spread seh mi a barber and di great Malcolm X come siddung inna mi chair. Him never start play Stone Love yet him did a play a sound called Red Heat from Naggo’s Head. So dem very same cassette deh him used to tape dem and carry dem come a di yard weh mi a trim. Mi used to play dem and when mi play dem mi find out seh people used to ask mi for dem. So me and him mek a tradeoff. Me trim him fi free and him gimme dem tape yah, so mi start duplicate dem. People start ask mi for dem and so mi start sell dem, mi find out seh the sales of the cassettes start out weigh di money mi did mek off of di trimming at the end of the day. So mi mind seh mi fi done wid di trimming after mi done Dunoon and then that was di beginning of the whole ting basically. Mi did a look one location fi do mi ting couldn’t find nuh location so one a di customer dem did have a stall at one meat shop inna Crossroads. Mi ask him if him know any weh and him seh him will check out fi him place. August 18, 1993, was di first day mi embark pon dah ends deh, inna Crossroads wid a car system, equalizer, preamplifier, 2 speaker box and a car battery, you know what I mean right deh so it start.
When did you actually start to produce mixtapes and why?
It was because of lack of variety. You did have more sound system than mixes. People did waan like a straight Shinehead or a straight Ninjaman or a straight Sanchez and dem ting deh. Yuh nuh really get dem ting deh from the sound system, nuh man nah guh really stand around the sound system and do mix fi you. Mi find out seh mi haffi start invest inna record and inna CD now. So mi guh record shop every day yuh nuh, like Aquarius. So it was because of di lack of variety mek mi start mek mi own likkle ting dem.
How did the location of your shop in crossroads assist in the spreading of your name and brand?
Well, is a central spot, you need a place where the population pass through fi a good five hours a day and have a diverse mix of people. Everybody from the 14 parishes at least link up dehso at least once a week. Mi did need a way now fi people fi identify me from everybody else. Nuff cassette man did a do dem ting deh so mi did need like a business card. Mi did find some old recording of some man pon an amination record a seh (faux British accent) “I was an assistant to Mr. Jones, I was closely associated with him, fine gentleman”. Every tape mi mek mi put it at the beginning and at the end. Surprisingly, mi start sell hol’ heap a cassette so it require mi fi get a likkle bit more professional. Mi did start link wid artiste weh established out deh yuh nuh get a likkle one drop from dem yuh nuh like General B, Daily Bread, Elephant Man, Harry Toddler, Kutchie, you name it. Mi start tag that all over the tape dem wah mi mek now and you know foreigner come in pon di weekend or holiday and dem buy and carry guh back a America, England, Canada and even round Jamaica. That was how di name spread.
Which year would you say was your biggest?
Ahh, dah one deh is a hard one. Mi would a seh ’98 – ’99 when “ShowTime” (riddim) come out, yuh nuh, Dave Kelly production dem did out that hol’ era. Di hol’ “Joyride” (riddim) dah year deh was di biggest for mi.
When would you say the demand for your product slowed down?
Mi would seh when more vendors did come inna late 2001 into 2002. In 2002, yuh did have di copyright infringement law that did come in. Basically di fine did outweigh wah we did a mek at the time. Yuh did have cassette man weh nuh put een as much work but dem buy your product and a put out inna di streets. Dem a sell your product fi less than 50% of wah yuh a sell for. So mi woulda seh yeah 2002 dah year deh.
Do you remember which song or session or mix was the most in demand?
Mi woulda seh some oldies Jammy’s ,”Caan Believe My Eye” by Bounty Killa di year when that come out. Is one video mi di tape it off a and carry guh a studio guh clean it up and then put it pon a dub and put it pon a mix and sell it. So di song was definitely “Caan Believe My Eye” and di dance or mix that in demand the most was Killamanjaro vs King Addies I think a 1995, yeah that was the most in demand wah mi can remember.