Richie Spice

Richie Spice
Richie Spice perfectly embodies what has become the archetypal Rasta-Moses: a dread wordsmith whose mission is to "lead the youths dem outta destruction,” to quote his song. And the fact is, while many reggae artists attempt to fulfill this austere office, Spice fits it like it was tailor made for him, perhaps only missing the fire and brimstone of a Chuck Fender or Capleton.

Spice grew up with music as the family business — his older brothers are Pliers and Spanner Banner — and first left his own indelible mark on new roots reggae with "Earth a Run Red” in 2004. In the Streets of Africa, a 2007 release, saw the singer continue his meteoric rise in the reggae world and also firmly cemented his style: lyrics that raise awareness about global crises, with the occasional hymn to the herbs thrown in, overtop lush full band arrangements of some of reggae’s most prized riddims.

Spice’s new album is called Gideon Boot, a reference not only to the Book of Judges but also symbolic of faith against all odds. The title track is a resurrection of the Slicker’s "Johnny Too Bad” riddim and gives the album its centrepiece, as Spice injects the classic track with a radically new reading and lays bare his mission. Spice’s prophetic hope for a brighter future and pure joy at its imminence is palpable on tracks like "Babylon Falling” and "Rise.” He issues an order for vigilance against "dutty Babylonians” in "Bad Lamp” and duos with Gentleman on "Let’s Go,” a song about the power of reggae to heal the world’s ills. In contrast is his frustration over racial profiling and his call to stand bold in the face of airport interrogations and dehumanizing strip searches in "The Plane Land,” a song based on personal experience of an immigration official throwing away what Spice describes as an over the counter liquid stimulant that he uses to warm up his voice before shows.

I'm going to start with a hard question: how come your new album is so good?
Because we always spent time on the music so that when we go out there it's acceptable to the people, you know? We try to stay away from mediocre thing in anything we take part in.

What is a "Gideon Boot”?
Gideon Boot mean, you know, right now, if you check the world, it's like [the book of] Revelation going on inna the world. Worldwide.

In what way?
Like a food crisis, you know, the youth them right now have lack of education, need help also. So the people right now need to lace up their shoes and get themselves together. We have to stand up for the younger generation, which is the future.

So Gideon Boot symbolizes trodding through Babylon with your actual boot?
I mean, trodding through the situation of life, you know? Through this world right now, which means, and they check it out now, the world becomes corrupted. I mean a whole trodding to the fullest, you know. Not necessarily have to mean shoes, but get yourself together. Your whole act together. People must get them act together right now. Stand up for the youths dem. The youth need help right now. The world is a Gideon.

The world is a Gideon?
Yeah, that you have to trod through day to day. So you have to have on your shoes to walk through Gideon.

On the song "Gideon Boot” you say that your job is "Fe lead out the youths dem outta destruction/And tell the people they should know right from wrong.” Do you see yourself as a teacher, instructor, a preacher of the truth?
Most definitely. I see myself as an instrument of the Almighty to defend the people who are facing the struggle and the people who have gone astray.

So is that the role, do you think, of the reggae singer? To be an instrument of the Almighty?
Well, I can only speak for myself, because I have seven brothers but they have seven different minds, you know? In life you have a right and a wrong, a good road and a bad road, so I try to choose the good. Choose righteousness, you know?

And you see this as your mission?
Most definitely.

You also sing: "Me nah go stay around and see bad tings and keep me mouth pon mute.” Why do you feel that you have to voice an opinion?
Because the world situation is what I and I go through. We are all here in this thing together. We see things happen to the youth, suffering out there in the street, can't find food, can't find much money to go to school. We know that it can be better, you know, the situation can be better. We have to speak. If you see it and you don't speak…Jah gave you the message to speak up so that somebody can render some resistance. If you see it and you don't do anything about it… we all face the punishment and get the judgment.

How much of this emotion is coming out of the violent situation in Kingston?
Well, not just Kingston alone. When I check it worldwide, it's a world crisis. Things are happening worldwide. When I play the music I don't just play the music for Jamaica. But for the people who face it out there in the struggle worldwide, you know?

Tell me about the song "The Plane Land"? Is that a true story?
Definitely. I don't remember where we're coming from, but some immigration guy really treat me ragged. This thing that I was traveling with in my bag, a stimulant, the guy take it out and throw it away. You know he cuss and throw it away, on an ignorant meditation. I tried to explain to him that we were on tour and it was cold and this was a kind of thing that I use to warm up me voice. So I try to explain to him but he threw it away because he was in an ignorant mood, a meditation. you know?
When you write a song do you have the riddim in mind that you are going to voice over? Or does the producer choose the riddim?
Well sometimes I have a rhythm in mind and sometimes they'll play the rhythm and I’ll sing around it. And sometimes I get the rhythm by myself and listen to it and the melody come up to ya, and it just work out. You know, it happened more than one way.

On "Gideon Boot” you use the Slickers’ "Johnny Too Bad" rhythm. Did you have that in mind already?
No, I didn't have that in mind. I just go to the studio and hear it. Bobby Digital play it, and I say, "this is a nice rhythm,” you know? So he copy it and give it to me and I take it over and listen to it, and work on it and try to figure it out. And that's the way I got "Gideon Boot.”

Were the songs on Gideon Boot written as a full album or were they more a collection of singles?
For the album, Gideon Boot, right now, the songs were written based upon an album in mind, you know?

What is next for you? Touring this album for the next year?
Ya, so far. Working on it, timely as time goes by, not in any hurry. Trying to play the music and play it in a form that mean when it come out it always sound better than before. Because it try to grow on a level you know? But otherwise we still working on promoting this album. We going to Africa, also Europe. We’re also planning on touring America.

Do you still continue to put out new singles in Jamaica while you do this stuff all around the world?
Yes, because you always have to be there in it, keep the vibes there every time. I don’t put on any singles from the other days still because this album have been busy away. But they’re still making and playing riddims, you know, setting up for the next album. But we don’t plan the recording as yet.

Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me.
Yes, it was a pleasure talking to you. Love and Respect every time.