By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Mr. Vegas.
In the strictest sense of the term, a “Discovery Artist” is one who lies beneath the surface of all music scenes and is waiting to be “the next big thing.” However, there are some who have experienced success in one part of the world but not quite as much in another.
Mr. Vegas from Kingston, Jamaica falls into this category of Discovery Artist.
Vegas has been writing and recording dancehall/reggae music since the late ’90s, a time when it seemed like every American high school band was adopting their own bastardized version of reggae with ska-punk. He got his start in the most fertile city for creating dancehall music, Kingston.
He eventually worked his way up to hanging out at recording studios, namely Big Ship. It was there that he got noticed by recording a cover of the Fugees’ cover “Killing Me Softly” with his own reggae twist.
Kingston has been described as the “Graceland of reggae” with Bob Marley as their Elvis. With different discernible musical genres claiming different cities (modern country/Nashville, dubstep/London, bands you never hear of until SXSW/Austin), reggae’s home is in Kingston.
“If you’re an entertainer, that’s where you have to go to get that break,” says Vegas. “You have to go to Kingston. Kingston is like a vibe, the production that comes out of Kingston, you can’t find that anywhere else in the world. That’s the hub.”
Vegas has collaborated with Shaggy — yes, the man responsible for 2001’s best song, “It Wasn’t Me” — on his 2012 album, Sweet Jamaica. While to American audiences, Shaggy is the toasting lover boy who released a laughable-in-hindsight single, he is known as a great philanthropist to Jamaicans.
“He’s a hero in terms of how he conducts himself and how much he gives back to the community and stuff he does for kids, and also the amount of records he sells. You can’t beat that, y’ know?” explains Vegas. “He has this huge charity in Jamaica where he has these concerts and donates all of the money to a children’s hospital. They’re able to get free healthcare. I think that’s great for him to be doing.”
Upon mentioning the silly premise of Shaggy’s hit song, Vegas hit on an important point about the nature of art and how it can be used to further loftier goals.
“When it comes to entertainment, sometimes we have to find ways to get people’s attention to our music because that’s our livelihood,” says Vegas. “Sometimes we make music but behind the scenes there are artists that are responsible. Every entertainer is looking for a good topic.”
So what are Mr. Vegas’ topics? What is he bringing to the table?
“I just listen to what people say, you know? I listen to names that girls call girls, sometimes I hear girls cussin’ out each other and I pick lines up from there. Sometimes I see people doing a certain dance move and maybe I put a name to the move and do a song about it. Just like how [Americans] are known for ‘Teach Me How to Dougie’, in Jamaica we might see a move and we call it a name and it’s a big song within our community because the dance move is popular.”
Mr. Vegas has a calm demeanor when discussing his home country, even when the subject of cultural appropriation for use of comedy comes up. The example given was Red Stripe commercials, in a sense making fun of the way Jamaicans speak to sell beer, and how he feels about that.
“It makes me feel like people are looking at Jamaica. I want to do the next commercial with that person, that’s putting us on the map,” he says. “When someone mentions Jamaica, Jamaica is just a small country, when someone mentions Jamaica that’s taking on recognition for the rest of the world.
In a way, Mr. Vegas is on a crusade to spread the good name of Jamaica to the world. He recently recorded a song with Beyonce which he describes as “a good look for any artist” getting Caribbean music off of their islands and out to the rest of the world.
Aside from exposing Jamaican culture to the world, he mostly sings about women. Some of his songs titles include “Give It To Her”, “A Gal Nuh Like U”, and an album titled Bare Tingz with a woman’s butt and legs forming the “A”. The answer he gave was more TLC than 2 Live Crew.
“I mostly do songs for the ladies. It’s a good feeling for me to go to a concert and see the females getting crazy, that’s big for me. When you go out and women can take on the dance floor and they can dance by themselves without feeling harassed, some of my songs are just for the ladies to have a good time. That’s just me.”
In 2008, Vegas announced that he was retiring from music for a while to focus on raising his children, of which he has five. In the end, the retirement did not pan out because of his children’s individual needs to eat. This was Vegas’ side of the story:
“I think I tried to get away for a minute but it unfortunately or fortunately did not happen. I just felt like I was doing music for so many years, it almost felt like going around in circles. I had this song called ‘I Am Blessed’ that came out and it did so well. It just reminded me that I have so much to be grateful for,” says Vegas.” The song came out and more shows started coming in. Of course I can’t turn down money because I’ve got kids to feed. I just think music is a part of me.”
With Vegas’ new album Bruk It Down 2.0 coming out next month, he’ll be further putting off this retirement. Don’t call it a comeback.
To help put some more food on Vegas’ table, click here .
Check out the music and interview with Mr. Vegas on the new episode of Discovery Corner on BTR!