DJ Tropical Interview: Keeping Dancehall and Reggae Alive

DJ TRU-1 Interview with DJ Tropical 6/22


TRU –1: So I did some research and I found a lot of examples of your sets, but I couldn’t find anything on your background and how you got into DJing and producing. Do you want to spill that at this time?


Tropical: I got into DJing from High School. My immediate family owned a radio station. I went there to do graphic design, because I was a graphic designer. I started out doing graphic design but I liked all the DJs,. they were putting their songs together. I told my family member I wanted to be a DJ. They didn’t want me to DJ. I got my chance when someone didn’t make it to work on time.


That’s always how it goes…


And that’s when they asked me to…I couldn’t do the two. I couldn’t be the DJ and the graphic designer at the same time. They asked me to make up my mind, so I told them I wanted to do the DJing which wasn’t paid but doing graphics was paying me. I took that chance to become a DJ. I didn’t have no name, because my real name is Kevin Sergeon. So, I didn’t have a DJ name. They told me to get a DJ name and I came home in the evening and I wrote down some names. I wrote down three names and I said to myself “any of these three names that I choose, this is going to be the name I’m definitely going to work with. “ So, one was DJ Sunset one was DJ Star and one was DJ Tropical. Tropical came about. So Tropical came about. I took that challenge, you know you have the Tropics, you know you have the things that the name is going to come with. You have tropical riddim…. I went back to work and told them my name…Tropical… people were on the ground literally laughing. It took some time but I got some beating for the name you know?


What were you spinning at the time?


At the time I was playing all genres. At that specific time early in my career as a DJ I got fed up at the point where I said I no longer want to DJ because I aint getting no money. I’m just doing this at night and my name aint building. I was not getting the recognition I think I wanted at the time. I went on and continued and decided that I was going to turn a police officer. Yeah, because I needed a steady income and DJing wasn’t doing it for me at the time. So, I did my police test and I passed, while I was heading into Kingston, a Sunday evening I remember, to take some documents to the police station, I got a call from Jenny Jenny which is Faith’s friend, the popular Jenny Jenny, same evening… Jenny Jenny called me herself and ask me to work Monday morning, and I was like “this is the same morning I was supposed to take my documents to the police station. I only went to 92FM for one day, and I used that one day and created such an impact, another life changing moment in my career. I made an impact on that one day that Jenny actually made me come back 2 other times. And from there on they liked my style of playing—the station only plays reggae and dancehall, local music right. I made an impact there. From there on, I’ve been doing it until I actually got a call to get a contract with the station. that I started working you know, going on the road, meeting new people, getting out there making my name, making new friends. You know how it goes having to build a character—you have to network. I’ve been networking, basically. I used to make beats back then but not that as prominent as now, so I didn’t know nothin’ about keys or the right drums or the right songs. I was just banging beats; I was just getting things—putting things together—which I listen back at times and I’m like, “What was I thinkin’ you know?” Ya so… I have a few friends that actually recorded on them, I still have my artists here that started out with me in the beginning, you know? Ya man, so I then said I wanted to venture off into production, not just being a DJ or a radio DJ because I know that in this lifetime, I’m never gonna go a 9-5, right? So, I know that music has to work. So, I ventured off into beat making before I even started into producing. I started beat making, just making beats and giving it to artists—younger artists—just doing it for fun for them and after then on, I got into mixing and so I started mixing my music. I couldn’t wait on persons to mix my music for me. I’m impatient—when it comes to certain things, I’m very much impatient. So, I couldn’t wait on things like those and people to get things done for me. I like getting things done myself. I went out and I watched videos and I called—I have a few producer friends—I called them to just have a listen, to just give me a listening ear to my music, you know? From there on, I’ve been mixing my music, getting it out there. I wasn’t doing it properly, releasing it properly—I was just putting them out and I didn’t think anything, that this was it. But over a period of time, I actually learned and grasped things, what to do, and how to go about it properly. Yeah, man.


Which tracks are you most proud of that you’ve produced or made beats for?


Alright, I must say a song with Charlie Black, it’s called Whining Vixen.

I’ve been a part of a lot of younger talents’ music. I’ve helped a lot of younger artists such as “Alkaline”, and “Prohgres” … I’ve helped play their music on the radio when nobody, no one else is looking at their stuff, before they became who they are now. Yeah, so, I’ve helped in numbers of careers. I was there when Busy Signal was recording “Watch Out for This”.

I was there at that moment, ya know? And to see that song take over the world in such a short time, I was happy to be a part for that process as well. Yeah, man.


Thinking about the past on one hand and the present on the other hand, what are some of your favorite riddims or producers? Which ones do you really rate?


From the past, I can‘t leave out Donovan Germain from Penthouse, I can’t leave out Sly and Robbie, can’t leave out Robert Livingston, The Great Bulby… ya know? Just to name a few. Rory from Sly and Robbie Studios as well. These producers are around—they taught me some stuff—and as for the younger generation… You have the Chimney Records, I’m very much close to them. I can call them anytime and ask them questions if I really need to. You have Sean and RedBoom, these are the persons that area doing it now and mixing dancehall right now. You have Simpac—newest and youngest—doing it now, J Crazy…so quite a few of them… Anthony Records. I am the best of both worlds if you ask me, the older and the newest of the producers. Yeah, man.


Talk a little bit about your work flow and maybe some of your favorite gear or VSTs and things like that… Talk a little bit about your process.


My process is… I can use all DAWs… I can use any DAW to make a beat. I can use all DAWS from Ableton to Fruity Loops. I started out using Fruity Loops and I stopped when I actually got Reason. But I’m now using Reason, Reason is my go-to DAW. As a matter of fact, reason is the only software—the only beat making software besides Pro Tools, that is actually on my computer—my machine—right now. I used Logic for about four years straight and then after that I came back to Reason when Reason started using VST because that was one of the main reasons why I paused Reason for a bit because I couldn’t use some of my favorite VST like Nexus and Stylus. I use a plug-in called Hybrid as well, one of my favorites. I have a few favorites, and my Kontakt Instruments as well… some native instruments I use stuff like those to put together a beat.


Do you do much sound design or do you use off the shelf sounds?


No, I’m a sound designer. I can’t really use off-the-shelf stuff because I think that’s someone else’s idea. I like to create my own stuff even if no one likes it. At the end of the day, I’m still proud that I am the one who actually did this, I started this. Like I’ve been trying to sample stuff into Dancehall since 2013, 2014 I been trying stuff. It wasn’t right musically, but it’s sounded good. Right. Musically, a musician who goes to school and knows that this chord matches with this one and this key matches with this one will hear it and say, “No, something is wrong about this”. But to me as a DJ and producer, I merge stuff and it sounded good.


What kinds of stuff are you sampling?


I sample phrases, I sample bars. At the time before sampling actually was a thing now that everyone is now sampling, I am not sampling. Big up to those who are sampling. What I find now is you have programs that comes with samplers now like the Arcade and the Splice. But the thing with those that I personally don’t like is when everyone has access to the same songs and find out that this producer uses this song and then you’[re not using it. Who really owns that song? Yeah, so I personally don’t like it for that reason. So, I really don’t use those anymore and if even if I do use one of those sampling things, I’m going to make a major difference to mine because you’re not going to hear this and go, “Oh, I know where to find this sample.” No. Even if you hear something from it, it’s different. I’m gonna change it.


Right, make it your own.


Yeah, man. Make it my own, man, take it over.


What advice would you give a producer that is just starting out? What would you want to tell them?


I want to tell them don’t stop trying and you need to network. Don’t be afraid to link an artist. DM them. Social media is at a place right now where the phone is in the artist’s hand, ya know? Don’t be afraid to get out there and don’t just give away your stuff like that to random persons. Understand the business. Everything is on the internet. I learned from the internet. The internet is my college right now, when it comes to music, or anything you’re doing in your career. We all have access to internet even if we don’t have it our own house, our neighbors probably have it. We have to use it, use it wisely. Networking is key being that you’re a young producer. I am still a young producer, I am still reaching out to persons. Even though I work closely with Busy Signal and I work closely with Charly Black. Those two international acts I work closely with them. Yeah, man. So just b3e confident in your craft and just do your best and reach out to persons, you know? No one’s going to find you if you’re just here and no one knows you’[re the baddest or the best riddim maker, No one is going to know if you don’t out yourself out there like that. You just gotta get yourself out there, do your little videos, post them on your social media platforms, ya know? Things like those Just get out there, man.


Do you want to shout out or name anyone on the internet that’s helped you learn? That’s been valuable for you?


Earlier I called some names, those names would definitely be them.


I want to ask you some controversial things. In your opinion, this is a question I think Noah Powa asked a lot of people on the internet and that is, “What makes something dancehall?”


What makes something dancehall? I guess it’s the bones. The groove, you know? That boop boop sound. For me it’s that boop boop, – boop boop, boop boop, it’s dancehall. Yes, that’s what I would say.


If that’s the case then what is your opinion of things that come out lately like trap dancehall and things like that?


Nothing is wrong with trying somethin, you know? I personally… I don’t have a problem with the trap music because persons overall don’t like change and we don’t expect to stay in one place forever. If I find that everyone is making trap, I’m not gonna make trap, I’m gonna make dancehall. So, someone just needs—some producers, instead of bashing me, the producers that are actually doing the trap music, “You go ahead and make your dancehall, no problem. Go and make your dancehall”. You know what I mean? I personally don’t have a problem with the sound of the trap music. Yeah, man. I don’t have a problem with it.


I read some things about you and your opinions on foreign music. What have you done to promote and spread the culture of Jamaican music in Jamaica?


Alright, number one, remember, I work at a radio station that only plays local music.


When you say “local music” what do you mean by that?


Reggae and dancehall. Nothing else. So, we play strictly reggae and dancehall. At the time, they were saying reggae was dying. So, my suggestion was that other stations could put a little more reggae into their time slots so that half hour, half hour they could do maybe like two and a half hours of local stuff. When I travel, I don’t really hear a lot of reggae. They play their music, which is fine.


When you travel to other countries, you mean?


Right, yeah.


You don’t hear much reggae?


No, you don’t hear reggae like old. You hear other genres.


Right.


Right, so I suggested that we’d play more local stuff, you know? On our radio station to get it wider.


It makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting to me that so much foreign music—I can understand why people have an appetite, and historically have had an appetite for foreign music in Jamaica. But, being someone that is so into Jamaican music, it’s just surprising to me that there isn’t more Jamaican music being played in Jamaica.


Right. That is it.


But it’s good that you’ve championed that and you’re behind that music because it’s music I love and I know many others do as well.


Yeah, man.


What’s something you’ve learned as a DJ and producer that you wish you knew a lot time ago?


Something that I learned… alright, I used to do a lot of chops in the music, a lot of effects in my songs. I would kill the effects in a song. I learned that it’s annoying. It is annoying. Put yourself in the listening mode instead of just a DJ vibing and a producer making a track. Listening as a listener, I could hear all the stuff, like “Oh, I don’t like this”.


It’s kind of tradition though, isn’t it?


Yes.


With all the effects and things like that. There are some local DJs on the Caribbean stations here and they go crazy with the effects, they go over the top.


Right, I learned that when you’re vibing and you’re playing a song and you’re making all this noise, the person listening to you is not gonna enjoy the music, you know? Imagine your favorite song of all time and you’re driving on the highway and to have your radio on and you’re vibing and all you hear is “BO”, “PULL UP”, “YO” That’s a fact when they say, “Radio is dying”. When you find out persons listening to Spotify and Apple Music and Audio Max and Soundcloud and YouTube, whatever platform. Persons are used to a particular—they have a particular listening style. A little listening, a little talking now and then, a touch of effects here and there… If you’re playing the song for about 2 minutes 45 seconds and out of that 2 minutes and 45 seconds and you’re playing it at a certain speed and you’re effecting out too many songs… No. I used to be like that. I even at one point I took offense when a person says, “You’re noisy man!” I wasn’t getting it until I started traveling and listening to the radio and DJs were saying you say things here, touch a little horn here, touch a little effect here and then. Oh okay, so this is what you guys have been doing. I took that as a part of my package.


I saw you doing a little scratching too on some of your sets.


Here and there, I try on some stuff. I don’[t really do much, yeah.


I think, for me, from what I saw, your selection is so strong that that carries a lot of weight: You pick the right song.


I like what you’re saying. I’m going to share this. It’s not just me they’re playing. Before I do a show, I have a laptop and I prepare. Preparation is always key. Yeah, man. I choose the best songs like Okay, so you’re not going to see me playing any at all. I’ve watched DJs like… where am I gonna go next after this song? No, l I set my stuff. There are times when I set my stuff and other ideas just pop into my head but I always have an itinerary for my song, my song selections. Like okay… this song is gonna come right after so you feel that mood already. I’ve already gone through that. So when I play I’m just running smoothly. I find that much easier. Yeah, man. When I prepare my stuff I find that easier on the ears and on my mind so my mind doesn’t have to be all over the place when I’m playing. I’m just mixing through my set and when my time is done, another DJ takes over.


What are some projects you’ve been working on? What should we look out for from you?


Best kept secret… I’m here right now mixing… I’m going to have like two and a half songs on Charly Black’s album that is coming out in July or August, I think. Universal. I’m here mixing a song with Busy Signal. I’m the producer. Charly and Busy Signal on one track. So, you’re the first to know this other than the two artists and me and my team who knows. No problem you have the exclusive.


That’s exciting


I’m here right now so as soon as I’m finished with this interview I’m going to finish that track. I have like three songs on the album. I worked on Bounty’s Song as well… I prepared the mix and all of that. Me and RedBoom… we did that.


Bang Bung song?


Yeah, I premixed that song. If you check the credits… Yeah, man. I do a lot of that. I can’t remember them at times when I do them but the greatest thing is that when I do stuff like this, it’s a great feeling. It’s a very happy to feeling to know that, “Hey I was a part of that, I was there”. The presence of me being there touching all of those songs. Trust me, Bang Bung isn’t finished yet. Look out for the remix coming out soon.


Oh, really? who’s going to be on that?


Some of the big names I worked under yesterday. You know? So, look out for some BIG BIG names soon. Other than that, I’m still promoting my riddim, it’s called “Dig Road Riddim”. Busy Signal is on it, Charly Black, Renee 630, J Rile, Shakka Dax and Frassman Brilliant. That’s between me and my best friend and business partner, Crawba Genius. yeah man. Stay promoting that riddim. That’s the other thing about music, we don’t just try to flood the market with all these songs. We promote, we give some time. We have a lot of songs, we can just flood the music, flood the market. Tropical, Channel 17 Records is my recording label so anywhere you see Channel 17 Records, that is definitely me. I have songs and other riddims like Drop Di Riddim.

I have Devine Sanction and Hard Target riddim and a song with Busy Signal called “Di Na Na Na”. I produced that song as well.

I collaborated with Charly Black… I make most of Charly Black’s beats, he has his own label. It’s called multitalented music. I make his beats and I mix his songs. I be on the production side of Charly Black’s label as well as Gorilla Music which is owned by Busy Signal which produces Bang Bung as their first official Signal that Gorilla Music Source has produced. A lot of music to be heard.


A lot of good music, too.


A lot of good music. I record Busy as well, I’m one of his engineers.


What’s your relationship with him like?


He’s me bredda. Outside of music, inside of music, we just work well together. Yeah, man. Busy is a work-a-holic.


I guess, yeah! He’s on everything these days.


You find Busy here at like 6 AM in the morning and he’ll be outside and when you wake up you see him outside and then we work right through the night and we cut off maybe 12, 1 o’clock and I guarantee you by the next day, he’ll be here by 8 in the morning to record like 8, 9 songs a day.


That’s impressive
Yeah, man. He’s a work-a-Holic, and we have that drive we just want to get things done. Ain’t gonna find me calling Busy to be here. He’s gonna say “alright I’m on my way.” We work well together.


Thank you so much for taking your time to sit down and talk to me today.


Yeah, man. Blesssings.

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