Access sat down with General Levy, the English ragga artist behind tracks including Incredible, recorded with M-Beat. He talks festivals, streaming, and authenticity…
I grew up in the 70s/80s in Harlsden and was heavily influenced by the West Indian culture, particularly Jamaican reggae – I was around the DJs and selectors who eventually influenced UK reggae and dancehall. We had UK MCs such as Tippa Irie, Smiley Culture, Papa Levi, Macka B, Daddy Freddy, and the late great Tenor Fly, RIP. I was blessed to grow up around Jesta Records, and was influenced by local soundsystems including Volcano and Yardman and Tippatone name a few.
In my mid-teens I joined Third Dimension and was then elevated to bigger sounds such as Tippatone and Java who played all over the UK in various venues from school gyms and youth centres to small clubs. I caught the end of the golden years with the help of Fashion Records and later elevated to do classic underground tracks with artists who gave me credibility on the dancehall/reggae circuit.
After becoming a recognised artist by 1993, I was approached by independent UK label Renk Records to put some lyrics on a jungle track, totally not expecting the impact it was going to have on the scene and urban music. I did Incredible in a one take vocal in Vons Studio, Holloway. My energy was the exact thing they wanted and I perfomed the track like a dub plate: laid back, and not precious. I will always remember Jamiroquai was next door in the studio at the time, which I took as a blessing.
Reggae has been a influence on many genres of music. You have the world in your palm now and can select many genres. Streaming has made things more accessible but has changed the way an anthem can be made because previously it was dictated by street momentum. Now its the ‘word on the net’ not ‘word on the street’ that makes or breaks a track. There’s no more selling white labels out of the boot of your car.
This new medium has given record companies a chance to manufacture artists, but I personally think the quality went down as they pushed more quantity.
It was pirate radio in the 80s that made people pick up some authentic reggae music where the DJs had no hidden agenda. They played it for the love and it was unscripted, giving a home to tracks not eligible for the mainstream. With the internet, you can now market yourself completely as an artist, and that might be a good way forward.
After having a top ten hit with Incredible, what broadened my fan base was Ali G using the track in the movie In Da House. This took my fan base to another level, reaching people who didn’t even know reggae or jungle but loved the movie.
Incredible was a cornerstone track. The first fully formed jungle track to hit the national charts so it’ll always be in the DNA of UK urban culture.
The Ali G movie opened up the chance to do a lot of festival bookings I love festivals – they’re an absolute pleasure. People can smoke and drink in peace and enjoy nature and good music. I did festivals including Summerjam, Rototom festival, also later Boomtown, Bestival and Glastonbury and more recently Shambhala in Canada.
There’s some good music out there now, but where we used to get soul food, now we’re getting McDonald’s 20 minute fast food.
America has always had so much great stuff coming out: rnb, rap and soul. I always liked US and Jamaican music production, from Dr Dre to Scott Scorth, Timbaland, Swiss Beatz, Mannie Fresh. Also King Jammy, Penthouse and Sly and Robbie.