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Assassin aka Agent Sasco on keeping the dancehall flavour and killer hip-hop collabs

Reggae | Tuesday 25th August 2015 |

We’re blessed with one of the hottest reggae dancehall artists around right now. We’re talking about a man who first set foot in a recording studio back in 1999 and gave you hits like ‘Wah Gwaan’, ‘Straight’, ‘Idiot Ting Dat’, ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ and of course ‘Sekkle An Cease’, all of which won him a legion of fans the world over. He has featured in iconic publications like Rolling Stone Magazine and XXL Magazine, and his music has been championed by 1Xtra in the UK and New York’s Hot 97. He has collaborated with reggae dancehall artists like Marcia Griffiths, Bounty Killer and Shaggy. Not content with that, he has gone on to be central in game-changing collaborations with international artists like Raekwon, Melissa Steel, Kardinal Offishall, Lil’ Jon, Kanye West, and his chorus on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Blacker The Berry’ is beyond belief. It’s Agent Sasco, Assassin up in the building!

This is one of the hardest interviews for me because I’m a fan, every lyric and every tune I love, and the catalogue is big!
Nuff respect. Give thanks man, give thanks.

What’s it been, thirteen years in the business?
Well it’ll be fourteen now because I start 2001, and it’s been a journey of learning. I love music so I’m always a student of the music to this day and I’m just as excited about the music itself and just trying to learn as much as I can.

And dancehall moves fast, and artists come and go but you are a consistent feature in dancehall. Not only that, look how you have taken it to another level now where you are becoming a fixture amongst the hip-hop artists as well, so how have you managed not only to maintain a relevance in dancehall but extended it to another genre?
Well first of all by not trying to stay relevant so to speak because if you try to stay relevant there is a nice prescription list that you get of the things that you’re supposed to do, and from day one I made a promise to myself, no matter what I do in my lifetime, when I look in the mirror I should recognise myself, both physically and in terms of values-wise. I just keep it real with myself and I think after a while people get to appreciate that, I’m not trying to put on no show, all I wanted from morning, from three years old, as far as I can remember, I want to learn this thing that I love so much. I love it without knowing what it really was, me don’t know why, me just love this thing, so I think that sincere love for the music is what allow me to do the things that allow you to have a 15 year career, because whatever you accomplish is on the merit of it not because of no PR stunt.

The business is full up of enough people stunting, Twitter and Facebook run the thing. Do you feel as though lyricists is a dying art? When I listen to your lyrics, it’s like every one, every lyric seems to be carefully placed.
If the listeners are a dying breed then lyricism will go and be a dying art, as long as people listen, I’m good with that. It’s not even about the popularity contest either, it’s not about that, and as I grow and mature I start to realise that the music that give me the most fulfilment is the music that really touch people in a deeper way than just entertainment, like when somebody can say to me, “I listen day in day out, them tunes talk to me”. You can choose to spend your talent doing frivolous things, that’s great but when you really have someone tell you something like that, they must recognise that you can do something great with the gift you have. Like I said it’s not even about any remuneration from that or any reward, it’s just personally the type of fulfilment that I get from that. And then again, the respect I have for the art form, there’s no way I can half ass a verse, me wanna get it right, right is relative but you know what I mean. When I go in the booth and record something, me really want to do it with the best of my ability, and do something I really love.

It’s a landmark for me because every time an Assassin tune come up, me just have to get it, have to listen to it. First listen the lyrics and message, second the rhythm and then listen the flow, three times I’m listening!
And you have some line where it’s all two weeks in! Pick a few lyrics and we can examine them.

When you said ‘when we roll round pon your block’…
‘Nah badda feel say we won’t spray’, so you roll pon your block but then roll on is a type of deodorant, and of course spray and the aerosol can. When I started to really fall in love with the music it’s them kind of things there that amaze me and make me marvel. Professor Nuts is one of the first DJ that I respect as a juvenile, and I could appreciate him telling stories in a kind of way that’s relatable, he tells a story and it’s still a rhyme, and the more me grown I start understand different devices and you can structure your lyrics in a way where it is more stimulating for the right kind of listener. You’re giving people a little puzzle to fill out so ‘when we roll round pon your block/Nuh badda feel say we won’t spray’, so your roll on the deodorant, spray the deodorant, aerosol can, but at the same time you talk about a different thing, that’s fun to me.

2003, Trifecta Riddim, ‘Straight’, tell me the creative history behind that tune.
I try to challenge myself sometimes, so I said to myself “you know what, I’m gonna use one word and make a song with one word”,and we just pick the word “straight”. And I never write lyrics ever, I never written down a song before, so for me it’s conversational, so like with ‘Straight’, find how many things I can say about straight. It’s not real freestyling like I just come off the top and record at the same time but kinda like “what could I say about straight?”, so that’s how I approach it.

‘Idiot Ting Dat’, 2006, you have 290,000 views on YouTube with that.
Once again, “idiot ting dat” is kinda like a saying we have in Jamaica. Once again, go back to the Professor Nuts scenario, “idiot ting dat” is so much a part of Jamaican culture, where you can find so many things to talk about in a real life, so we just take that scenario and put it in a song, simple as that. And that is one of the quickest songs ever written and recorded, that was done in like ten minutes from me get the idea to actually recording and done. I swear it’s less than 20 minutes. Think about it, it’s so easy, based on the song construct, two lines to describe a scenario and then you go to “idiot ting dat”, but then the scenarios were so easy to find, them eggs right in front of you.

‘Anywhere We Go’, let’s get into that.
That was the first time getting the opportunity to work with Dave Kelly. I go high school throughout the nineties when Dave Kelly had dominated things, and so of course Dave Kelly would have been at iconic status in my mind. As somebody who’s so close to the music, how is it that somebody can put out tune after tune, work after work, riddim, after riddim and just dominate things, so of course to work with Dave Kelly, turn on extra student mode, me watch everything, listen everything he say, because you don’t get to be a Dave Kelly by accident, so definitely me try and learn as much as me could in the time I spend round him. When he played the riddim, first of all the tempo, that’s like comfort zone to the ten power because it allow you to explore melodies, go through different flows and do more with it. What really get me, you see the mix what Dave Kelly give the tune, in terms of just listening back the verses, so that was just a great experience. Personally I was a fan of Dave Kelly and to work with did mean a whole heap, and to get a massive song out of the whole thing, it was just like cherry on top.

You ventured into films, Shottas, any more films in the pipeline for you?
Yeah it’s something that I definitely be welcome to. That was a good experience, it give me a newfound respect and appreciation for everybody and their craft, and I don’t mean just acting wise, but everybody on the set, so many people contribute to a movie. I love movies so to understand that so much go into it, I have new appreciation for people and roles. When I walk into a rehearsal, I don’t walk in like “yeah I’m the artist and therefore everybody else they further down the food chain”, no, everybody have a role to play and each role is critical to the next role so on the set of that movie is where I really come to appreciate that.

Your record label now, Boardhouse Records, what’s the concept behind that? I know you released two albums, do you intend to sign more artists?
To be honest with you Boardhouse was a joint venture with my brother and myself and since then we kinda changed gears, so I’ll be launching my personal record label shortly.

So we have to talk about this, I was so pleasantly surprised to hear when you was on the Kanye West tune ‘I’m In It’ on the Yeezus album, that was released in 2013. For me it was you’re getting the recognition for your talent that you deserve, so tell me about that whole situation.
How that came about now is that friends of mine they work at Gee Jam and Kanye’s people come in to record some stuff for a compilation album, so it wasn’t supposed to be for a Kanye album necessarily. They say “yo we need some people, we need a Jamaican ting, get some artists we can work with”, my name did get included in that pool, so it was a bunch of people go down there. So I drive down to Portland, they play some things, record a few verses, help people to write too in the session, and then yeah me do five verse, a few chorus, and then me leave that evening, so that was October of 2012, that’s it. By March 2013 me get a call, “yo look like the man might use one of them tings you record, they might look for you”, that was the last thing me hear until the album leak. The next thing me know, the album come out and it’s one of the things me record. Going back to the whole idea of what your talent deserve, that whole Kanye West verse, Yeezus album thing, was purely on merit of the work, so it wasn’t because Kanye did meet me and decide “yo you cool, try to put him on my album”. Kanye wasn’t in Portland, nothing like that, it was a for a different project and he end up putting it on Yeezus album. Once again it’s off merit, and of course my responsibility in the whole scheme of things is to make sure when the opportunities come, me can take advantage of them in the best way possible, so that was a good vibe. And then the Kendrick Lamar thing came about through Kardinal Offishall, me do some work with Kardinal, so when a producer come and say “we need some Jamaican vibes pon a ting, see what Sasco can do with it”, the rest is history you know.

For me your best hip-hop collaboration is ‘Soundboy Kill It’. I play that at least three months straight! Gimme the creative history behind that.
Give thanks man. Sound killing and sound clash is part of the culture and so when me hear a hip-hop tune come and say something about soundboy, me like “what?!” Anyway, I was in the studio with Jerry Wonder in New York, a big, big producer, so Jerry play some tune, and he’s like “oh I got the record”, man press play on the thing and the whole studio shake, and Melanie Fiona go off and Raekwon come in and destroy a verse. He said “yo, you think you could do something on this”, so right away we just go in.

You’re here in the UK, working with some sessions with BMI, is that for an album coming out?
Well we just decide to maximise the time that we have in the UK. I actually came for the writer camp but then my manager linked me and said “yo some people from London hear that you’re in town and are reaching out for some stuff, I think you should stay and get them done”, so did some things with Cadenza, I was in studio earlier with Carla Williams, writing a wicked track. Some things will be for an album and some do some features, but since that whole hip-hop collab I must mention Kardinal Offishall featuring Assassin ‘OG’.

You have a brand new single with Shaggy, ‘Mix Up’.
Yeah we just shot the video for ‘Mix Up’, it’s been out for like a year but with each week the song seem to get bigger so we decide to add some visuals to that, look out for that. Look out for the album later this year, Agent Sasco, me not titled yet but a new album not far out.

Any sneak preview on who might feature on the new album?
This album is more reggae vibe, authentic rub-a-dub reggae sound. As it relate to international collabs, you might have a bunch of that coming forward but I can’t say necessarily for the album.

Right, right, right. Speaking of a reggae vibe, ‘Sekkle An Cease’, is it that kind of vibe?
If dancehall make it on the album it’ll be of that variety, ‘Sekkle An Cease’, ‘Mix Up’ would be the more dancehall flavour on the album. I’ve a new song named ‘Africa’, produced by myself and Major Label Music, some young producers I’m working with, so listen out for that.

When are you performing in the UK?
I’m not sure but you can for sure know that when it’s gonna happen it will be on the Instagram, it will on the Twitter, it will be on the Facebook so just stay tuned, keep it locked.

One final question, what’s your most memorable experience on the stage?
It would be a disservice to so many other moments to pick one, but I have had situations where people cry when me up on stage. I performed ‘Almighty Protect Me’ and this lady dropped down and start crying because people use the music in so many powerful ways, and you might feel like you’re just performer but it reach somebody in some different ways, so I have them powerful experiences. My fulfilment come from, sometimes you’re performing a place with five thousand, ten thousand people and you make eye contact with somebody, and you just see them experience it in a whole different way, them things really give me some value.

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