Lukie D, the R Kelly of dancehall, talks to Al Fingers about his early days, Air Supply cover versions, and getting kuff inna di dance.
YOU WERE BORN IN COCKBURN PEN, WEST KINGSTON?
Straight! The Pen!
ALSO KNOWN AS SEIVRIGHT GARDENS…
Well some people call it Coburn Gardens or Seivright. I guess it’s just a prettier way of calling the community, because Cockburn Pen sounds kind of raw.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP THERE?
Well, I mean, it’s the ghetto you know? It’s moulding you. It’s football on the streets, it’s rain falling down, playing in the rain. I was there when the politics war was going on, you have to hide under your bed and stuff like that. It was rough. I grew up as a rough youth. It was just me and ghetto, with my singing, going from dance to dance in the night, trying to get a piece of this damn pie that I’m hearing about all my life. I mean, growing up in Cockburn Pen was not a bed of roses, but it’s the ghetto, it’s no different from nowhere else.
SUPERCAT WAS ALSO FROM THAT AREA…
Yeah, Supercat is from Cockburn Pen. I’m on one side, he’s on the other side. Admiral Bailey is from my side. There’s Daddy U-Roy. There’s a little place called Tower Hill where a guy called Derrick Irie is from. There was Bananaman, Little Twitch.
DID YOU SEE SUPERCAT AROUND THE AREA WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
Of course, because Supercat used to come to Jammy’s or any dance. There’s a place near Cockburn Pen called the Bamboo Lawn, which is well known for Supercat, Early B and all dem kinda people. That’s long before me still, but since I started getting into the ting, there’s a couple of times where I’ve been to a dance where those guys were, and I’d stand up and watch them, because mi can’t get no chance to hold the mic. Because mi nah want, well in those days they call it kuff.
You know, when they hold the mic and kuff you. “Likkle boy…” KUFF!
THAT HAPPENED TO YOU?
No! But mi nah want no kuff! [Laughs]
YOU COME FROM A VERY MUSICAL FAMILY. YOUR GRANDFATHER WAS IN THE MENTO ARTIST SUGAR BELLY’S BAND…
Yeah, my grandfather George Dennis was a bad bad bad guitarist in the Sugar Belly band. They used to play in this hotel called the Forum Club and I had the opportunity to perform at one of those gigs. I was pretty young, around 8 or 9 and I’ll never forget trying to sing Michael Jackson’s “Ben”. During that time we had a band that would play in the yard. I had a cousin who tried to be a deejay. He would play the drum. Danny would play the guitar. I had a next uncle who would play the bass. And I would sing. We would have that a couple of evenings a week, in the yard. Knock on pan and play guitar and drum. Made out of bone and strings and stuff like that. And the gate would open and the yard would full a people, back in those days. We’d be singing, making noise. And from them times, I knew what I wanted. So I started to learn the keyboard, guitar and bass. And I think that’s paid off for me, because as a singer, if you play an instrument, I think you’re a step ahead.
AND YOUR STEPFATHER WAS THE SINGER DEVON RUSSELL?
Yeah Devon Russell was my stepdad. He was very influential inna my career. He took me to Studio One, because he’s from Studio One and Hi Times and stuff like that. And he’s the one responsible for getting Firehouse Crew together, and taking them to Tubby’s also.
DEVON PRODUCED YOUR FIRST ALBUM, WHEN YOU WERE 16
Yeah, “Golden Rule”, recorded young young inna mi school uniform, at Channel One.
WAS THAT THE FIRST TIME YOU WENT INTO THE STUDIO?
No, but that was the first album I put out.
HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
Well, we went there with the Firehouse Crew, and decided that we wanted an album, something to say bwoy, this is Lukie D stepping out in his career. Devon chose some of the tracks. On there is “Ben”, “Love Will Find A Way” by Lionel Richie, and the rest are songs that I wrote. Playing on the album are mostly Studio One musicians, along with Firehouse Crew at that time.
AT THAT TIME FIREHOUSE CREW HAD JUST FORMED?
Yes. It was Danny, “Wrong Move”…
WHY WAS HE CALLED WRONG MOVE?
Well, Tubby’s gave him that name. The first time we went to Tubby’s Wrong Move was making so many mistakes, I guess he was nervous, and Tubby’s is a thug you know, a real bad man, and Wrong Move was making so much mistake and Tubby’s just say “You know say you ah make so much mistake, every thing is a wrong move, a Wrong Move your name!”. And him just get the name from that, it never leave.
SO YOU MET KING TUBBY?
BUT HE DIED IN ’89 DIDN’T HE?
Well, you can just imagine how long mi deh bout! [Laughs] This is what happened. You see, we live in Cockburn Pen. Next to Cockburn Pen is Tower Hill. You walk through Cockburn Pen on the gully side, you go through Tower Hill, and next door to Tower Hill is Waterhouse, Penwood Road. You go down Dromilly Avenue and there is Waterhouse, there is Tubby’s. The first time we went to Tubby’s, the very first day, they made Courtney Melody’s “Ninja Mi Ninja”. Danny get a tough bass to play. Tough strings. George [Miller] never knew how to play computer drum so Benbo was teaching him how to play. There was an engineer called Banton that now lives in the UK, Peego, and Fatman. They played “Ninja Mi Ninja” and I think they did a track for Hopeton Lindo. And I was there. We used to get $20 from Tubby’s every day for lunch money every day – in those days. That could a share up. Back then I used to see Red Rose, Leroy Smart, Pad Anthony, Trevor Levy, King Everall. So yeah man, I used to know Tubby’s well. He was cool man. And he was a great engineer and good with electronics. He was the one that taught Jammy’s all the electronics. He was a real cool, no-nonsense person, and he had a whole heap of ideas. When Firehouse crew come around he used to say play a riddim, and go around directing how each person should play. Yeah man, a no-nonsense kinda person.
AT ONE POINT YOU WENT TO AMERICA TO STUDY?
Yeah, I went to high school there for a while, and leaving high school I got a scholarship to University of Michigan. But I don’t even think I spent a week there. Because what really happened is that, at that time, I had a song a gwaan in Jamaica, and people started pressuring me, seh “Bwoy, your song ah mash up Jamaica man, you need to come home!”
WAS THAT CENTER OF ATTRACTION?
Yeah, so mi just leave, just like that, straight to Jamaica.
WHAT WAS THE SCHOLARSHIP?
Music. What I wanted to do was lessons in piano, and learn how to give people voice lessons. Because, a basic problem within the reggae music industry is so many people go flat. And as a matter of fact, while I was in high school doing soul and samba and Italian music and stuff like that, we represented the state of Michigan all over the place, and I also got an offer to go to Berkley College of Music in Boston. At that time Al Jarreau and Phil Collins were teaching there, and I went for two weeks and had to leave again!
SO WHEN YOU CAME BACK TO JAMAICA YOU FORMED LUST?
Yeah, 1997. I wanted a group with a different sound. I knew Thrilla U and Singing Melody from Tubby’s and Tony Curtis came after but, we decided to get serious and formed LUST.
AND YOUR FIRST SINGLE WENT STRAIGHT TO NUMBER ONE
Yeah, “Sweetness Of Your Love”. And the rest is history.
BUT THEN YOU LEFT THE GROUP?
Yeah, well I was signed at that time to an independent company called Down Sound Records, and we had issues with the group and my contract, and there were all these problems so I said listen, I’m gonna step away from LUST, fulfill contractual obligations, and then get back into LUST. So that’s what I did.
AND YOU REFORMED LUST RECENTLY?
Well, LUST never break up you know. It’s just that we all had solo careers so we all did our own thing. And last year we decided to do something because people keep asking about it, so we did “Just As I Am”.
WHO’S IDEA WAS IT TO COVER AN AIR SUPPLY TUNE?
It was my idea. I knew the song would be a big song because everybody in Jamaica loves Air Supply. If they come there tomorrow, unannounced, it would be a sell out show. So I thought we’d do it, and it paid off.
HOW DO YOU VIEW THE REGGAE INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW?
Well, right now the quality drop a bit because in Jamaica every man have a studio somewhere in their house. I’m talking about people having a computer and one microphone in their house, in their bathroom or something. The lady next door is throwing some chicken in a pot. Although technology is great and has allowed that, at the same time, the quality has dropped. Back in the day, say at Jammy’s, before you could go through the gate, there used to be a queue. Every morning at 8 o’clock, there is Bobby Digital sitting there, or Squingy, and you had to audition before you could get into the studio. Which mean, in order for you to pass that gate, you had to be able to sing.
DID YOU HAVE TO DO THAT?
Nah! Mi never had to queue. The first time I went to Jammy’s, you know what happened? The next day I was the one sitting there for Bobby. I was sitting there doing the auditions: “No you can’t pass”. First day mi go there! Nowadays a man just seh him have a voice, but this man can’t even sing. However, you don’t have to be able to sing to make music these days.
NOT WITH AUTOTUNE
There you go! There’s this new machine coming out, where you just have to read out lyrics over the microphone, and you put the chords into the machine, and it will transform your voice, singing those lyrics in tune. Can you imagine that!? So you know what’s gonna happen now. It’s gonna be like, yeah there’s this brand new artist on the radio called TV Man – he’s the greatest. But TV Man can’t sing shit! But because the machine set him up, TV Man buss big time!
YEAH BUT A LOT OF ARTISTS CAN’T SING WELL LIVE, SEAN PAUL FOR EXAMPLE
Yeah but Sean Paul not a singer, he’s a deejay. So he’s even worse! Nuff artist think the audience a fool you know. Nuff people think that the audience are stupid. Crazy! Back in the day people in the audience would dance and listen to any bullshit. Nowadays when people pay their money and come to a show, they’ll kill you [if you're no good]. What I think any artist should do, and I’ve done it more than one time – when a show finish, without people knowing it’s you, put on a hat, or a hoodie or something, just walk in the audience when you’re coming out of a venue. If you want to get a first-hand experience of what you did on stage. When the show done, as an artist, disguise and walk out through the audience, and you will bloodclat know. Because they speak their mind when they’re leaving that venue you know! I did that in Brixton Academy. But in terms of Sean Paul, in Jamaica, he’s a star, but he’s not an “in the street” youth. You know what I mean by that – him nah come around. Most of the time I when record, I speak to the engineer. And any engineer will tell you, Sean Paul will spend one hour on one line. One line! I heard that Frisco Kid take long too. I heard that Spragga take long too. But Sean Paul has the crown for that. Nine hour pon one bloodclaat tune!
HOW DO YOU WRITE A TUNE? DO YOU WRITE IN THE STUDIO?
Well, I can do that, but I don’t normally do that. For me, that’s not a good way to record. If I have the chance I’ll take the riddim and go home and write, I’d rather it that way. If you’re in the studio, you record the first lyrics that come to your brain. But if you have time to write, you can find better words. I used to write in the studio a lot though. When I used to record for Fatis back in the days, he would come with his big van, and block my vehicle in. So when I go outside I was like “Who block my vehicle!?”. And he’d say “Bloodclaat Lukie D you nah leave here today”. So I had to go back in the studio and just record over and over. A whole heap of songs I voiced for Fatis. I recorded for him from Music Works on Slipe Road. I recorded for him when he worked at Dynamics. I recorded for him when he moved to Anchor on Old Hope Road. I recorded for him from mi a go to Tivoli school to when I graduated, gone foreign and come back. I recorded for him before Penthouse built. Because I was the very first singer to sing in Penthouse.
REALLY? WHEN WAS THAT?
Yeah, the very first singer! Around late ’80s. When there was still a glue scent from when he just put in the glass in the voice room. He came to Cockburn Pen and wanted Danny [Dennis], Firehouse bassie, to test out the sound. And he asked whether there were any other artists he could use, so me and Danny go up there and test it out, long before Buju and all dem man deh! Yeah, a whole heap a song mi a sing for Fatis. I remember the first time I saw Luciano come in to see Fatis. I’ll never forget the day. Wearing a corduroy suit with a little bag to the side, walking like a real countryman a come! I remember Fatis said to me “Lukie D, mi have a bloodclaat singer you know. Nobody can test him!”.
WHAT ABOUT SIZZLA?
I remember going to pick up Sizzla, when Fatis first started working with him, and he would come to Anchor in his khaki. I used to pick up Sizzla, and look pon Sizzla now!
WHAT WAS SIZZLA LIKE BACK THEN?
Young and humble! Him just a come inna him khaki clothes. And look pon him now! Sizzla has surpassed Lukie D ten times. But I used to pick him up for Fatis!
YOUR REAL NAME IS MICHAEL KENNEDY
Straight! Michael Kennedy.
SO WHERE DOES THE NAME LUKIE D COME FROM?
Well, my dad gave me the name Lukie, as an alias name or whatever, and the D came from the rapping business – Kool Moe Dee, Run DMC, and all that stuff, so the I just stuck the D on the end.
YOU HAVE TWO CHILDREN WITH YOUR WIFE, RIGHT?
Well, I’m not married still, but yes you can call it wife because we’ve been together for years now, since 1989, and we have two sons, Michael and Malik.
SO, YOU’RE A FAMILY MAN
One hundred per cent.
TELL ME THIS, IF JAMAICA HAS THE FASTEST ATHLETES IN THE WORLD, HOW COME THEY CAN’T PLAY FOOTBALL?
Well, what’s really happening right now with the football team is they’re not dedicated to the ting, and it’s not supported the way it should be supported. You have better players that can make it, but are being sidelined. You can’t be a baller and not be dedicated. I spoke to one baller once, and he told me he could party all night ’til morning and go on the field and run hard. If you play ball, you know sey that is bull! You cyant dweet!! Usain Bolt can party hard, but when it’s work time, he does not party.
YOU’VE COLLABORATED WITH MANY ARTISTS IN YOUR CAREER. IS THERE ANYBODY YOU’D LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH THAT YOU HAVEN’T YET?
Yeah man, I’d love to clap a tune with Stevie Wonder. I’d love to clap a tune with Celine Dion or Whitney Houston. I’d love to clap a tune with one of dem bad gospel singer deh. And of course, I’d love to clap a tune with Beres Hammond. Which will happen. Really, trust me, it has to happen, ‘cos Beres is the baddest.
APPLETON OR WRAY & NEPHEW?
GUINNESS OR RED STRIPE?
SLIM GIRLS OR FAT GIRLS?
It depends. I’m not a slimmie and I’m not a fattie! Somewhere In the middle!
VINYL OR CD?
VYBZ KARTEL OR MAVADO? [this interview took place in November 2009, when the Kartel/Mavado beef was in full effect]
None. I don’t want anyone to take that the wrong way. But really and truly, none. And Kartel is my bredren, more than Mavado. Kartel is my bonafide. For a whole heap of different reasons – on a musical level and ‘pon different levels. But in terms of music, me nah dig none of dem ting deh. Kartel is a very very wicked deejay, one of the toughest lyricists around, but I don’t agree with the lyrics. Kartel is a big influence ‘pon the youths in Jamaica, even more than Mavado I think. So use that and control the youth, tell them to do some things. Since you can get them to do things. Tell them say “yo, plant, or find some work”, why you can’t tell dem dat? If Kartel could tell the youth [Singing] “Go to school, find a job”. If him start tell dem dat, dem a go do it. Why you keep telling them to buss your gun? It can’t work man. In interviews both of them keep saying they’re not the reason that so many things a gwaan, because society make it like this or that. Stop saying that man, because you are a part of society. Stop saying it’s not what you’re doing.