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Friday, February 4, 2011

How Bob Marley, and Urkel, influenced Jack Preston (Reggae Legends Week)

Whether you’re talking about Jamaica or Haiti, South Africa or the slums of New Orleans, the cry of the oppressed plays a similar chord. So it’s not surprising that grassroots hip-hop and reggae have always shared a connection that extends beyond the bouncy, melodic grooves and into the very heart of the music. Consider the complexity in Bob Marley’s simple 1974 cry: “Them belly full but we hungry, a hungry man is an angry man…” Thirty-plus years later, Atlanta-based hip-hop renaissance man, Jack Preston makes a declaration on “Trouble” that resonates in much the same way: “It’s tragic the way they try to rape my people of they passion/system designed to take the last of they ration/I’m on that brash sh-t…”

"Trouble," Jack Preston

The emerging emcee and musician — performing at Saturday's Automatic Classic hip-hop showcase at Pal's Lounge in honor of Reggae Legends Week — gives his take on why, location and era aside, the link between reggae and hip-hop is as blaring as the music the artists create.

How has reggae music personally influenced your sound?
JP: When I started getting into the music, the first thing I did was pick up a guitar, and I think the obvious or kind of natural inclination was to look at other examples of musicians who play. I ended up re-discovering reggae in a different way as a musician. A lot of the earlier songs that I learned were Bob Marley and Dennis Brown songs. In my earlier days of making music, and playing in bands, we did a lot of reggae music. Even though now I do more hip-hop stuff, that spirit and energy is prevalent in my sound today.

People know you’re an emcee and producer, but what instruments do you play?
JP: I play guitar, piano and drums and percussion. I’m learning accordion and mandolin.

Wow. Accordion and mandolin? Why?
JP: [Laughing]. Yeah, I’ve found myself around quite a few folk artists over the past few years. I’ve found myself gravitation towards the sounds that those instruments produce. I don’t know a lot of artists who have experimented with bringing the worlds of folk and hop-hop together, but I’m hoping to present a fresh perspective. Plus, wouldn’t it be dope to see someone rap and play the accordion?

It would, actually. It could work for you because you don’t look like Steve Urkel.
JP: Actually, I do often wear plaid shirts, suspenders and high water pants. I guess I was more influenced by Urkel than I realized.

The overall political and social message of grassroots reggae and underground hip-hop sort of line up. Why do you think that similarity exists?

JP: Roots reggae and hip-hop were both born from similar conditions—oppressed people who needed to express themselves. The music will always speak to people because in those conditions, because people need to express themselves and relate as a community. There are plenty of hop-hop artists around today who are willing to do their part to speak and raise awareness about the full affect that oppression has on our people. Just as many roots reggae artists have. We are willing to stand where those who came before us stood. We are gathering and celebrating for and with the people.

Where do you currently see the influence of reggae on indie soul, hip-hop and even rock?
JP: I’ve been coming across a lot of musicians who work with effect pedals, and that was especially prevalent with dub reggae. People don’t always attribute reggae with the extended use of special effects in music, people tend to look at psychadelic music for that, but reggae was at the forefront of experimenting and seeing how far they could take drum and vocal effects. That’s what I’m seeing as an influence today, whether artists know where it’s coming from or not.

Since Bob Marley in particular influenced hip-hop so much, do you feel that as a whole, hip-hop, or even soul has lived up to the legacy he, and other artists like him, built?
JP: I wouldn’t say that hip-hop or soul music as a whole lives up to any particular legacy more than any other. As you know, there are many sides to each of these genres. But I will say that in terms of the legacy of Marley and other reggae artists specifically, you can definitely find quality hip-hop, soul and rock artists who are carrying the torch. Historically, there have always been voices willing to bring awareness to the social, political and environmental issues that affect us all. As we get further into the century of potential financial and environmental crises I wouldn’t be surprised if these voices became louder.

Your album art, which you create, is as ill as your music. How do your visual artistic abilities meld with your musical creativity?
JP: As an artist I see my self as a creator period. Music is at the forefront right now, but I began as a visual artist and got into music later. It’s like moving from doing visual art, to playing the guitar, to playing piano— it’s all coming from the same source. So basically I’m receiving information and inspiration and passing it along to the next person.

Automatic Classic celebrates reggae legends with Ka'Ra Kersey, Devon Lee of Hot Heavy & Bad, Starchile, G.R.E.A.T. Scott, Liuns Den, Mike Flo, Chop, and Jack Preston. Additional music by Abashaka and Mafiosa MC Ekundayo. $5-$10. Sat. night, Feb. 5. Pal's Lounge, 254 Auburn Ave. See full list of Reggae Legend Week events, Feb. 5-12.

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