California based skate-shoe company Vans who have developed numerous footwear/merchandise lines inspired by bands ranging from Bad Brains to Metallica have entered into a partnership with Queens, New York based Reggae independent VP Records to create the Dub Rockers sneaker. One-hundred and twenty pairs of the black mid-top accented with the Ethiopian/Rastafarian colors, red, green and gold, will be distributed throughout the summer, part of the promotional campaign for VP’s latest imprint, Dub Rockers,
The label’s debut is a Dub Rockers compilation, scheduled for an August 27 release in digital, CD and vinyl formats. The album’s ten tracks pair VP’s Jamaican artists with several American reggae acts that have amassed large fan bases among Vans’ target market: the skating and surf boarding community.
The first single “Only Man In The World,” a sultry lovers rock duet featuring Hawaii’s Anuhea and Jamaica’s Tarrus Riley was released in March and has sold over 6,000 digital units; the song’s video directed by Janelle Dyer (below).
Vans also sponsored professional skateboarder John Cardiel, who moonlights as reggae DJ Juan Love, to create a series of Dub Rockers mixtapes in the months leading up to the album’s release, coordinating tracks from VP’s extensive Jamaican catalogue with songs by American reggae artists. Cardiel will also spin reggae selections at the Dub Rockers late August album release party to be held at Brooklyn’s House of Vans, an indoor/outdoor concert venue and skate park, with a capacity of 1,200.
VP recently sponsored the 4th annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival (May 24-26) in Monterrey, Calif., attracting nearly 30,000 patrons with a lineup that included three California-based bands heard on the compilation, Slightly Stoopid, The Expendables and Rebelution. The label will also support the Afropunk Festival at Brooklyn’s Commodore Perry Park on August 24 and 25, which features a skateboarding competition. Vans, meanwhile, will push Dub Rockers video content and postings through their social networks, which include more than 10,000,000 likes on Facebook and 139,000 Twitter followers.
“This relationship has many marketing opportunities: we can do shows, create products together but most important is the relationship to authenticity; we come from the action/sports world, they come from the reggae world so bridging gaps is very meaningful to both parties,” says Kurt Soto founder of Vans’ Music Program, which includes their annual sponsorship of the Warped Tour.
“Our goal is to expose Jamaican acts to an audience that may be unfamiliar with them, but also legitimize in a sense what the American guys are doing because Caribbean audiences can be unreceptive to outside acts playing reggae,” adds Mike McGraw, VP’s Director of New Media as well as an avid skateboarder. “This is something new for VP; ultimately, we hope to sign Jamaican and non-Jamaican bands to the Dub Rockers imprint.”
Creating greater awareness of veteran and contemporary Jamaican artists among the predominantly young Caucasian followers of American reggae bands while, conversely, exposing American bands to Jamaican reggae’s core African-Caribbean listenership provided the inspiration for the Dub Rockers compilation, says A&R Christoffer Mannix Schlarb, VP’s former Director of Publicity/Radio Promotions and founder of the company’s digital division. “Reggae is a niche genre that doesn’t need division between Caribbean and American fans. I thought if we produced tracks that drew an authentic connection between Jamaican and American acts, it would appeal to both audiences,” offers Schlarb, now CEO of the reggae-influenced digital label Dub Shot Records. Dub Rockers’ co-A&R is Olivier Chastan, President of Greensleeves Records, which VP acquired in 2008.
The first track recorded for the project was “No Cocaine” featuring veteran Jamaican band Inner Circle (also known for their “Bad Boys” theme to “Cops”) fiery Jamaican sing-jay Capleton and Slightly Stoopid. Founding member, guitarist Roger Lewis says the American bands’ desire to play Jamaican music parallels what Inner Circle was doing during their late-60s formative years. “Back then we were listening to the Impressions, the Beatles, trying to copy the foreign-man style. Slightly Stoopid, SOJA been doing the same, except they were learning our ‘70s tunes; it’s a real humbling experience to see how much we influence these kids,” Lewis revealed.
The proliferation U.S. born and bred reggae bands over the past 10-15 years stems from the seeds planted in the mid-70s by Jamaican legends including Bob Marley and The Wailers, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, especially through “The Harder They Come” film/soundtrack; their music established reggae’s indelible popularity here, particularly among a (predominantly) white college age audience. Since then a new generation of young, mostly white American musicians have embraced reggae, integrating elements of rock and hip-hop. Several of these bands have so finely honed their skills they are no longer considered mere imitators but instead vital contributors to an evolving art form eternally rooted in Jamaica but with ever-lengthening branches that stretch across the globe.
VP’s development of the Dub Rockers imprint recognizes the shift in the reggae market as American reggae bands, buoyed by years of incessant touring and strategic online/social media marketing, consistently outsell their Jamaican counterparts.
On this week’s Reggae Album chart, for example, Strength to Surive (ATO) by SOJA (from Arlington, VA, heard on Dub Rockers alongside Germany’s Gentleman and Jamaica’s Tamika on the reggae-rock-dancehall mash up “I Tried”) is No. 3 after 69 consecutive weeks on the tally. Peace Of Mind (87/Silverback) by Rebelution (paired with Jamaican sing-jay I Wayne on the herb anthem “So High”) is No. 4, following 72 consecutive weeks and Hasidic reggae chanter Matisyahu’s Spark Seeker (Fallen Sparks/Thirty Tigers) sits at No. 6 with 45 consecutive weeks; all three titles have resided in the top 10 since their (2012) chart debuts. With Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated (RCA) at No. 1 the sole (non-compilation) Jamaican reggae artist album in the top 10 (Marley: The Original Soundtrack notwithstanding) is Sizzla’s The Messiah (VP) debuting this week at No. 7.
Peetah Morgan, lead singer of sibling group Morgan Heritage, who drop their ninth studio album Here Come The Kings (VP) on June 11 who are the only band with Jamaican roots to ever play the Warped Tour (in 2001 and 2002), says the punk rock/jam band audience that attends Warped and supports American reggae artists should have been aggressively courted years ago. “This is something we spoke about when we did the Warped tour, back when bands like Slightly Stoopid were opening for us. How did these American bands find their audiences? It is a circuit you have to tap into it. VP represents most of Jamaica’s reggae artists yet markets mainly to the Caribbean community, which doesn’t buy records; Chris Blackwell didn’t market Bob Marley to the Caribbean.”
For Dub Rockers Morgan teams up with John Brown’s Body, on the Subatomic Sound System remix of the Ithaca/Boston based band’s hard-hitting social critique “The Gold”. “We are all doing reggae but for totally different fans,” added Morgan. “Both sets of artists are interested in crossing into each other’s territories and this project is a great tool for that.”
As expansive as the title is, “Reggae Golden Jubilee” does not do justice for just how culturally rich this new box set it is. Spread over four CDs, with an accompanying 64-page booklet rife with photos and commentary, the lavish set is the equivalent of a college course on the past 50 years of Jamaican popular music. Curated by Edward Seaga, a former prime minister of Jamaica who was born in Boston, educated at Harvard, and also used to be a record producer, the set uses 100 recordings to trace the chronology of the island’s music. Ska gives way to rocksteady and reggae and then to dub, dancehall, and deejay. (Released on VP Records, the box set is available only as a physical product.)
The persistence of VP Records – who now turn their attention to the mighty Fred Locks - in the issuance of its ‘Reggae Legends’ series, is to be heartily welcomed. Whilst this artist might never have reached the dizzy heights of some of his contemporaries from the 1970s golden era of roots reggae, none will have missed the everlasting impact of his ‘Black Star Liner’ release. Fred Locks is so called due to the length of his locks. This growth was sparked by Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in 1966, though his new found faith was rewarded with eviction from the family home!