Bobby Hustle - The Can't Hold Me Interview
09/12/2018 by Dan Dabber
Bobby Hustle and I are cut from the same cloth. We are both American-born, non-Caribbean descended, Jamaican music nerds. It’s what we obsess over. For me, that obsession has mostly played out behind the turntables, juggling crusty 7” records in crowded bars for almost 20 years. Since 2010, Bobby’s obsession has bore fruit in the vocal booth, creating a unique and original sound that is relatively authentic, and, more importantly, true to who he is.
If you meet Bobby or me in the street, you may be struck by how little we resemble what you would expect from someone who is involved in the reggae scene. For this reason, we are often underestimated by those who are likely to judge a mixtape by its thumbnail, but our long game shows incremental success with the more Jamaican-centric pockets of the broader global market. This is proof that there are legit avenues for cultural outsiders, within even the most hardcore reggae fan bases, for those who can study the landscape well enough to find a lane that fits who they truly are. Bobby has done this, as an artist, better than any of his American contemporaries, a testament to his dedication to the music and culture of Jamaica.
Because of all that we have in common, Bobby and I have become friends and have had several chats over the last few years. With the recent release of his new EP, Can’t Hold Me, on July 13th, it seemed like a good chance to put one of these conversations in the books for Reggaeville. We recently spoke on the phone while Bobby was relaxing at a café in Humboldt County, California, an area commonly regarded as the best place in the world for cannabis cultivation.
Who is Dominic and why did Gappy Ranks tell you that you are the American Dominic?
Dominic was a European kid from the 80s who basically took over the Jamaican dancehall scene and was performing at a bunch of stage shows in Jamaica - getting real Jamaican credibility before Snow, before anybody. I feel like Gappy probably said that I was like the American Dominic because I get recognition, credibility, and props from the Jamaican community-at-large, generally. I think he compared me that way just because we both are well-received in the actual, authentic, Jamaican reggae community.
In the new single from the Dinner Time Riddim album from Wicked Vybz, Champion, you say, I be in my own lane. I ain't trying to be the same. I realize my position in the game is to be a bridge. I mean I'm trying to crossover like James. What exactly are you trying to say there?
I've been in this game now for 10 years doing reggae music. Pushing it and trying to make it my life and my profession and my career. (I) sort of realized that I neither fit into the Jamaican scene 100% or into the American, foreign scene 100%. I feel like I'm the bridge. Or like a plank in the bridge, right in the middle - right between both. Like I'm straddling both sides of the fence. And my position in the game is to be myself, because nobody's doing it like me. Nobody sounds like me. No American kid has the Jamaican ‘cred’ or whatever that I have. But also there isn’t anybody doing what I'm doing that really looks like me. I just feel like I have an interesting lane to pursue, and I feel like I'm trying to be a bridge... Crossover like James. That's LeBron.
In your own words, what happened to you, in a nutshell, in Costa Rica in 2016?
In January of 2016, I went down to Costa Rica for what was supposed to be a 6-show, 2-week tour to promote It's the Hustle, my debut album that came out July of 2015. I was in Costa Rica for 10 days getting an excellent, excellent reception. The fans were loving it. The radio was loving it. I was feeling like, Wow! Costa Rica could really be a place for me. And sure enough, the universe responded.
I was driving from Puerto Viejo to Jaco Beach, which is complete opposite sides of the country. We got pulled over at like 5:30 p.m. The cops were at a roadblock that I found out later was there everyday, like always. They pulled us over and asked us to get out of the vehicle. Next thing I know, they're saying, Manos arriba! My hands go up in the air because my homie was like, Yo, put your hands up. I spoke NO Spanish at that time. These cops start pulling a couple of packs out of the car and arresting us.
Fast forward and I'm sitting in jail in Limón, which is the drug capital of Costa Rica. I'm sitting in the holding center with a bunch of convicts and killers for 3 days. Then I had an arraignment hearing where the lawyer basically argued that there wasn't enough evidence to keep me in jail. My rights as an international citizen basically said that they had to let me out of jail, but they could take my passport. So that's what they did. The government took my passport, and then the next two years I had to spend fighting with the legal system there to get a trial... Because I'm innocent.
I finally got my trial, and it was delayed a few times, and then we finally had it and the truth prevailed. The truth came to light. I testified. The cops testified. And the court realized that the cops were lying on me. They said that I threw a package out of the car, but I never threw a package from the car. I was there to do music, and music alone. They tried to profile the gringo, and they were unsuccessful. I flew back December 22nd, a few days before Christmas, and I was able to spend the holiday with my family for the first time in two years. It was a joy!
Do you think there was a mix-up, or do you think you were purposely targeted and falsely arrested? And if you feel like you were a target, why do you think they would target you specifically?
I know I was purposely targeted. I was purposely targeted because I was a foreign white guy traveling in a car with two Costa Ricans of African descent... One with dreadlocks. Costa Rica's just like the U.S. It's a racist country. Even though they might not want to admit it, they are. So the cops pulled us over because there was dreads in the car, and then there was a random foreigner in the car with two Costa Ricans.
And then, basically what happened was, the cops fucked up in their search and they found one of the packages on their own, but the other one they didn't find right away. It had fallen out of the car, and the guy who was driving saw and kicked it under the wheel where I was sitting. So when the cops found it later they were like, Oh shit ! We don't know how to explain this. We already did reports on one pound. How do we make sense of this? Blame it on the Gringo.
I got profiled. They thought this was just going to be easy. Let's just blame it on him. Chances are, he's going to run. But they weren't taking into account that I need my passport to live my life and do my career. So I didn't want to run. I needed to be proven innocent. But the cops were like, It's no big deal. It's just some foreigner. He'll get the hell out of here and then we can go ahead and charge this other guy with the pounds.
So they made up a story on me and I'm entirely sure that they did it to save their own asses. It wasn't anything but that. It was just to save their own asses... To cover their own mistakes.
In what ways does the new EP, Can’t Hold Me, tell the story of your experiences in Central America?
If you listen carefully in the beginning, there's a sound bite of a guy speaking Spanish. He's saying something to the effect of, The penalties for trafficking and moving illegal substances or product... And that's a sound bite from the actual court hearing - the trial. That's the judge speaking in the very beginning, talking about what we are accused of.
That song, Can't Hold Me is all about... You know... (sings) Dem courthouse can't hold me. Mi buss di case and fly out pon dem. Keep it real. Ya, a so mi madda grow me. No mi never turn snitch pon mi friends. It's just about the experience.
I'm stoked on the overall project because it has this progression... It's like the feeling of me getting back into my flow. Can't Hold Me is all about the actual experience. Better Way is about struggling. With the Kush with Lutan (Fyah) and Loud City is about getting high as fuck and having people look at you like you're a drug dealer. Track 4, Frass Right Now, is all about partying with your homies because you're home and you're free. Five is all about Cali P - real homies, real family. Real friends, mi nah sell out. Track 6 is about getting back with your girl and really loving your girl. Track 7 is about... I'm still addicted to this music. Let it take me away.
I feel like that's the progression of it.
In Better Way, you sing, Pressure them a pressure we. Poor people feel it especially. Seven years old, right back to 70. And Miss Joanna still a search for the recipe. Who is Miss Joanna and what is the overall message of Better Way?
It's really for all the strongest soldiers. The strongest soldiers get the hardest fight, like Jamiel said. That was my version of that vibe. It's a testament to everyone who's going through trials and tribulations that needs something to push through, and somebody to tell them that they're not alone in it.
And in the second verse of that song I mention Miss Joanna... Miss Joanna is the lady who took me in in Costa Rica. She's a baker. I remember waking up at 4 or 5am and hearing the sound of the bread being needed and the blenders running. They were a hard-working Costa Rican family that took me in. They didn't have to do that. But, you know, they are true Christians... REAL true Christians. They saw that somebody was in need, and they lent a hand. And, yeah, I just said, Miss Joanna still a search for the recipe because she's a hard-working woman and she got her own business, but she still just trying to make it and hold on like anybody else. (They are) still trying to keep her down as a black woman in Costa Rica. And she doesn't have a whole lot that she can depend on, and she STILL gave a hand for me to depend on.
This project makes for a reunion of sorts with you and the guys from Loud City. Who are those guys exactly, what did they contribute to Can't Hold Me, and what do they mean to you both personally and as an artist?
Loud City is Dan Grossman and Mike Gore, aka MG. They are my childhood friends from when I was 10 years old. They're the guys who basically have been by my side through this whole thing of discovering reggae music, falling in love with reggae music really passionately, studying it and learning about it - the culture, the music, the history, the accent, the dialect, the language. All these things. They've been right there with me.
Like I said, they've been my friends in real life for 20 years so we connected all the time, not as much as we should have, but all the time while I was down in Costa Rica. We try to catch up and talk, and they'd send me a riddim or two. They were by my side emotionally and spiritually - not physically, but they were there for me, sending me support, along with so many other people.
The relationship that I have with them creatively is one that I don't have with anybody else, and that's just because we have this familiarity from growing up together. They can tell me when something sucks that I write or that I sing or that I do... A melody that I find. They don't hesitate to tell me. I really appreciate that. I trust them. They produced all seven of the tracks on Can't Hold Me. They mixed it and they mastered it. Really, it's a Bobby Hustle-Loud City joint project, for sure. They are instrumental in creating the Bobby Hustle sound that is on this project.
I really like the With the Kush track with Lutan Fyah and I had a couple questions about it. What was the inspiration to get Dan and MG involved vocally? What was the inspiration for the riddim? It is a re-lick of the Pepperseed Riddim... Was this idea part of the session or was this riddim already in the bank and just chosen for this song?
With the Kush is a track I recorded right when I got back. Lutan Fyah has always been one of my favorite artists from when I was a teenager falling in love with reggae. He also just so happens to be one of the first artists that I personally got to know as a musician in this fraternity of reggae. So anytime we link up, it’s like a family thing. And he had a show in Seattle a couple of weeks after I returned from Costa Rica. And so he was like, Yo Bobby! It's only right that we go in the studio and do something. It’s like I'm supposed to be here because I've been knowing you from the beginning of your career. And I was like, Hell yeah, bro! Let's definitely do that.
So we jumped in the studio with Dan and MG. Lutan recorded another song for them - for their label. Then we sat down and we were talking about what kind of vibe could we get. What could we do? They (Loud City) had been sitting on that beat for I don't know how long. So we were sitting there, racking our brains, being like, Alright... What does the world expect from a Lutan Fyah/Bobby Hustle combination? Let's give them the opposite. We were all thinking that people were just going to expect us to just throw a culture tune together, you know. So fuck that. Let's do a dancehall track. So what dancehall rhythms do you have? Let's go through them. (We) go through them. Oh, that one sick. Let's do that. We did that. And that's how it turned out.
Now, if you listen to that song you realize the only part I sing on that song is the hook. Everything else is Lutan and Loud City. And the reason for that is we originally got Lutan to do two verses. He just went in and banged it out. He was like, What should I talk about? What should I talk about? We reasoned a little bit. I like working with Lutan because we can give him lyrics. He's not one of those artists that's just like, Fuck you. I'm writing everything myself. And then it comes out shitty. Lutan's the kind of artist that writes most of it himself, but if he has any sort of a hiccup he will ask, What do you guys think? So we can contribute a little bit and I like that.
So I laid down the hook and he (Lutan) went in and laid down 2 verses, and I was going to take the thing home to write my verse. I go back to my house to write my verse, come back the next day ready to record, and the song’s done. Loud City’s like, Nope. Sorry. We already did a verse because we want to be on this shit. And I was like, Oh, shit... All right. Let me hear it. And I heard it and I was like, Oh, that's dope!
I don't know if you clued-in, but Loud City is not just in production anymore. They are starting to branch into actual voicing, doing concerts, and things like that. They just opened for Spice recently in Seattle. They've got 20 something songs that they've finished, which haven't been released yet. And they work mad closely with Sparks - you know, ZJ Sparks at Zip FM. They've been working with her for a long time. She really believes in them as artists and wanted to give them a little managerial help. So she brought them down last year to Brit Jam in Montego Bay and then to the National Stadium.
They performed for the Track and Field Competition in Kingston, which is like the biggest event. They were in The National Stadium singing one of their songs. Nobody knew who they were - these two white kids from foreign that just had a real crazy grasp of Jamaican patois. They fucking SHELLED DOWN The National Stadium!!! Now they're in the process of trying to develop their own career as performing artists, not just production.
That's wild, man. I think I've seen signs of them heading in this direction, but it hadn't really crystallized in my brain until you just pointed it out to me.
They've been studying the game for a few years. They see how producers don't make as much money as they should these days, because radios dead and fucking all these lanes for streaming don't pay anything. I mean they do, but they don't pay shit. Their net is cast wide, so they get money from a lot of different people and projects, but it's not what they want. They want to be in more control of going out and getting paid for shows and things like that. So they're basically branching out. They're doing what a lot of really successful artists did, which was to be a producer first. Maybe they couldn't get the songs that they wanted from the people they were working with, so they just decided to do it themselves.
Is there anything you're trying to do differently on this project? And what do you think Can’t Hold Me represents in terms of your growth as an artist?
Well to be honest, I think the production quality from Loud City has improved. So, musically, it's a bit more involved, but it's also like a quintessential sound - what you would expect from Bobby Hustle. So I don't think it's that much of a departure from what a fan of mine might already expect, but the thing is, if you know me for lyrics already, you're going to be impressed because my lyrical evolution, I feel, has been great. I evolved as a person and as a writer. So the experiences that I can draw from and the words that I choose are different and more evolved, in my opinion. And that goes for every single one of the songs on the record.
This is not a big departure from what you would expect if you are Bobby Hustle fan, but it is starting to head in a direction that I'm going to be taking it in the near future, which is less patois... More American sound. More crossover sound. More American concepts. More things that people can vibe with where I'm from. You know? Because that's the irony of what I do. Sure I'm an American kid, but what I've drawn most of my musical inspiration from has been not of American culture. That's why it's been really weird… I told you before. I'm trying to get back into more of my personal roots kind of thing you know? But I don't feel like the album... I feel like it's more of a growth conceptually and lyrically than it is actually in the sound.
Are you planning to do any more touring in the future or has your experience in Costa Rica stunted your motivation to travel?
Fuck no. It hasn't stunted my motivation. I'm definitely going to be touring in the future. I love the people of Costa Rica. They were nothing but good to me. If I let that experience shelter me and make me want to just live in the United States, I think I'd be crazy, bro. The world is so beautiful. There's so many wonderful cultures, so many wonderful people. I'm more than excited to get back on the road. My whole thing is that I wanted to have a new project out with new songs for the people before I started touring again. I've already been saying no to gigs for the last 3 months just trying to get this project out. Now that this project is out, you better believe I'm going to be touring again. I have my passport. I'm ready to go. It's not a thing. I just won't be getting into cars with people that I don't trust.