Ranking Joe

Ranking Joe
Ryan Moore’s M Records, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has three discs out right now, and veteran dancehall deejay Ranking Joe has the pick of the litter. On the mic for well over 30 years, he was an inspirational figure to early dancehall stars Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales and remains fleet of tongue. Lately, Joe has appeared live on Blood and Fire’s Sound System shows and recorded with Jah Warrior and Mad Professor. Here he’s backed by the same musicians who contributed to the concurrent M Records disc by former Black Uhuru lead singer Michael Rose, and many of the rhythms are versioned from that album. While the Rose album is a delicate flower, World in Trouble shows Twilight Circus robustly dub-wise production technique and Joe’s steady flow in full bloom. As it was at the dawn of the ’80s, Joe’s style concentrates on flow above and beyond lyrics, and the trilling vocals and biddley-bong exhortations never wear out. Rhythms ricochet all around him and massive cuts like "Wake the Nation” have the power to unite fans of contemporary and vintage dancehall with music lovers far afield from reggae.

Has your success in the last five years been a result of your involvement with Blood and Fire? Blood and Fire has done me ’nuff good in terms of meeting the fans in Europe. Steve Barrow was a friend before this came up — he was A&R for Trojan and he was wanting to get a sound system together and asked if I was interested. So we went to Europe and did some gigs; me and U Brown and Joseph Cotton and that went very well.

How did you hook up with Twilight Circus? (Ryan Moore) called Dominic at Blood and Fire and said he wanted to meet me. He came to London and we did two tracks (on Foundation Rockers, last year). Then he came back and said he has some new rhythms. He sent me over to the Netherlands and we did a couple more tracks… he’s a very, very creative guy, and he just wants you to be yourself, like you’re playing a sound system.

What’s your take on the current state of deejaying in Jamaica? People are less mindful about what comes out of their mouth. You’ve got to be accountable for what you say; when you’re young it’s one thing but as you get older you start to overstand [sic] more. You can motivate and elevate people by what you’re saying. You can’t just say anything — people are going to hold you accountable. You might gain the world but lose your soul.