Jamaican Reggae singer Gyptian has been consistently supplying romantic, melodic and conscious music to reggae and dancehall lovers worldwide, since the start of his career in 2004. However, a song written well over a year ago, accompanied by the simplest piano riff, has catapulted him onto the billboard charts and into international super-stardom we caught up with him to find out more.
‘Hold You’ was written well over a year ago and now it has become a huge hit all over the world. How does that feel?
I am just as surprised as everybody else. ‘Hold You’ did a lot for me. I’m a very lucky guy.
The last time I counted, there were about seven remixes of ‘Hold You’ going around. Is there a particular remix that you really like?
I like all the remixes I’ve heard. Obviously mine is the original and you can’t beat that, so I love my version the most.
The remix featuring US rapper Nikki Minaj really helped to push the song worldwide. How did that collaboration come about?
Nikki heard the original version that I did and she really liked it. She went ahead and did her part to the remix and when it was finished, she put it on twitter and it just took off from there. Obviously Nikki has millions of fans and people who didn’t know my music before started to listen to it because of her.
What is she like to work with?
I didn’t really have that much interaction with her. She always has a huge entourage around her so we haven’t really been able to communicate the way we should. Hopefully further down the line we will be able to.
Do you have any other big collaborations in the pipeline?
I just did one with Mary J. Blige and Busta Rhymes called ‘Anything You Want’. Look out for it, it’s a big tune! Apart from that, I’m willing to work with all artists. I admire all artists. So anybody who wants to work with me, come at Gyppie!
How did you get the name Gyptian?
I used to tie a t-shirt around my head when I was younger and one day I was hanging out with my friends... I was sitting down with a t-shirt wrapped round my head; twisting my beard and someone said ‘he looks like an Egyptian’ so we just took the ‘E’ off and you get Gyptian.
How did your career as a Reggae singer begin?
I had always sung in church and so on, from when I was a small boy. My family moved to Portmore -which is just outside Kingston- when I was 22yrs old and that’s where I met Ravin Wong. He had a little studio where artists would hang out and record, cook and sleep, like a little family and that’s where it all started for me. Ravin has helped a lot of Jamaican artists get their start in music and he is what really started it all off for me too.
You were born in the Jamaican parish of St. Andrew. What was life like for you growing up?
It was bad and good, normal but not easy, easy and not normal... but we made it! In Jamaica we have a saying ‘You pass the worst’ which means you get through it. It had its good side and its bad side. We were poor but I had good people around me and I had good parents. My mother was a Seventh Day Adventist and my father was a Rastafarian, so I had a whole heap of God as a child (laughs).
How does the Jamaican Reggae music scene differ to the Reggae music scene here in the UK?
The major difference is... this is the UK and Jamaica is Jamaica. Jamaica is the home and the origin of Reggae music. Nobody can make English music like English people and nobody can make Reggae music like Jamaicans. It’s in the blood, you’re born with it.
Often, you hear people in the UK talk about being ‘from the ghetto’ or being ‘raised in the ghetto’. As someone who has experienced the ghettos of Jamaica first hand, explain what life is really like for the people who live there?
It’s not easy man, young girls get pregnant from the age of 12 - you can pass through a place and see a big old man with a little young girl. The police can just come and kill your brother, your sister, your mother, right in front of you and without question. All you can do is stand there and watch as the body is being taken away. There is violence, there is crime and there is poverty - real poverty. You don’t have hot water in the ghetto. You don’t even have a shower in the ghetto. The shower is outside under a running pipe that everybody shares. If the pipe is full up with people you just have to get a bucket and bathe on the street. What I see people calling ‘ghettos’ in England is like paradise to me. There aren’t any ghettos here. Maybe a different kind of life, but there aren’t any ghettos.
What advice would you give to any up and coming artists?
Don’t run to the music for any shelter. A lot of people just see artists on TV and think it’s an easy way to make money. Maybe that’s why there is a lot of music with no basis or feeling - because the artists making those songs are not real to the music. You have to be real. You have to really want to sing in your heart. Then you have to be focused because the lifestyle of a music artist looks like a bed of roses, but it’s not. It’s a bed of lions, crocodiles and hyenas, so you have to be ready for all of that too. Obviously, when you are in you are in, it’s a very blessed life, but you have to be prepared and you have to be real.
You have developed a very sexy image lately. Where did that come from?
The girls say I’m sexy and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’m just giving the ladies what they want. I didn’t say it, they did. They see some sexiness in me and I just endorse it. I am a new era of reggae. This is not Bob Marley, it’s not Dennis Brown, it’s not Peter Tosh. This is Gyptian, a new thing... and sex sells (laughs).
So will you only be making ‘sexy reggae’ from now on?
As you see it. Whatever I feel at the time, that’s the music I will make. There are many sides to Gyptian apart from the sexy side.
What can we expect from your album ‘Hold You’?
This album is pretty much a lovers Rock/Reggae album. There are 15 tracks altogether. ‘Beautiful Lady’ did a lot for my early career, so we put that song back on the album and there is also ‘Nah Let Go’ which is my second single. So we’ve had ‘Hold You’ and now it’s ‘Nah Let Go’.
What has been your worst experience on stage?
I’m always calling out the wrong names of places when I’m on stage. Say I am performing in England; I’ll be like ‘Japan! How you feeling?’ and I’m not in Japan, I’m in England (laughs). Sometimes, it’s because I’m always moving from one place to another, or I’ve just come off a plane... your mind can trick you.
‘Nah Let Go’ is out now on VP Records