Tonight over at the Echoplex, another round of Dub Club is going down, and this month is set up to be a special treat for reggae fans. Three legendary MCs, Johnny Osbourne, Wayne Smith, and Ranking Joe will be hitting the stage tonight with a live performance not to be missed. A few days ago our good friend Jungle Riddim got on the phone to chat with Ranking Joe, who he’d met 5 years ago at the Kava Lounge in San Diego, where Joe made Riddim his first live dubplate in his apartment across the street.
Jungle Riddim: Your sound is specifically your own, and a lot of people have come through and you’ve been a leader to them. Let’s talk about one of your teachers, U-Roy. What’s one of the lessons from him that you still keep with you?
Ranking Joe: The thing that I remember that he taught me is to be creative and spontaneous in your lyrics. Creative like, so you can work across the board on a different riddim. When a different song is selected, you know, you have to be spontaneous so you can be ready for it. You have to be able to have it in your head, chop it, and put it in with the melody right on time. You’ve gotta have timing too.
Your career has gone through several generations of DJs and MCs, and you’ve inspired many that have come along, like Eek A Mouse, and countless others. What advice do you give the youth and the people coming up as they go on this path?
Be creative. Create a style for yourself. Make your trademark that people can identify you with. Different artists are different people. You might get inspiration from different artists and start off sounding like other things, but you’ve got to venture to make a style for yourself.
What keeps you motivated to stay original and keep developing your sound. Where does that inspiration come from?
You have to find things that you want to talk about and that other people want to talk about. The news, what’s happening in the ghetto, things like that. You have to teach the people about what’s going down, remind them of their culture, and remind them about feelings of love and unity.
What keeps me in the business and makes me want to do it is because I enjoy it and I enjoy the creation process. I learn, I get more creative as I grow.
You’ve also got to do it out of love. I don’t do it for the money, there is none… it’s all for music. For the love of music. From you, and from the audience and the fans.
I’ve seen you a lot in California, you’re also based in New York and Jamaica. Where do you call home?
Everywhere I am I can call home. Wherever people can appreciate the music, you know? Wherever the movement is. Right now I’m in New York, I’ll go back to Jamaica, that’s my “home” I guess, but I travel, Europe, Brazil, Israel. You work with people all over, and that becomes your home.
You’ve got a show coming up at the Echoplex here in LA. Tell us about that.
It’s been 10, maybe 20 years now [that I've known Johnny and Wayne]. It’s gonna be a very very very, hot, blasting show for the fans. We electrify each other, cuz we’ve been working together for a long time now. I’m looking forward to it. Gonna do my thing.
One last question. Your work with Easy Star All-Stars, especially Dub Side of the Moon, had great success. I’ve got three copies on vinyl and the DVD myself. Doing that project, did you find you got some cross over fans?
I did it with friends, Michael and Eric, we came up with this project. Listened to some sounds, dialed it in, it was a massive project. It definitely created new fans for me. Especially from the tour, in London and stuff. The vibe at the shows brought out a lot of fans. We work well together. They’re still doing projects. I work with them whenever I’m in town, they’ll call me, and I’ll give my service to them always.
Ranking Joe left the interview with a special remark, one that all musicians should remember: “Music is the food of life, and you’ve got to keep it fresh with different spices.”
Be sure to check out him along with Wayne Smith, Echodelic Sound, and Johnny Osbourne tonight at the Echoplex. Tickets are only $10 presale and $15 at the door. There’s also a nice podcast from the crew below: