Sometime ago a friend, who knew I was into reggae, suggested we'd go to this weekly Reggae Nite that had been happening in NY for years. The night was called "Downtown Top Rankin," had 2 floors, a top floor of modern reggae, played on computer and CDs, and a downstairs, with DJs on a stage playing a very broad selection of Jamaican sounds, strictly on vinyls.
Here I interviewed Jeremy, the mind behind it all, a legend in the NY reggae scene. He started a sound-system called Deadly Dragon Sound in the 90s in Chicago, then moved to NY where it became an establishment for everything Jamaican, a record store in the heart of downtown NY on Forsyth, a radio DJ and finally put together the party, once at Happy Endings, now at the Delancey. If it's Thursday night and you're a friend of mine, you'll probably get a text from me just saying "Reggae Nite?"
Hi Jeremy, how are you?
I am pretty good! Looking forward to the New Year!
How and when did you get into reggae?
Hmmm...that's a tough question. Basically, I started collecting hip hop 12"s back in 1979-1980; Mean Machine, Funky 4 all early hip hop. I was getting into punk rock, so bits and pieces of reggae came through the air for me. At the same time, I had a rather serious dislike for hippies, and I hated the 'reggae' that they listened to -- Bob Marley and Peter Tosh Island releases (which I still don't like).
So, as the 80s progressed and I was getting more and more into hip hop, I was also finding that I liked hip hop that had some dancehall elements to it, so I started exploring dancehall. When I played it, I always told people that I played DANCEHALL, not reggae, so I wouldn't be lumped in as a hippie.
By the time the 90s came around, I was more focused on reggae than hip hop and by the late 90s I dropped the pretense of having any interest in music other than reggae, which meant I had the joy of going back and discovering all the great 60s and 70s Jamaican music I had never paid attention to.
How was the scene in New York back in the day?
Well, in the 80s I wasn't really so much in the scene -- just dabbling and discovering. But the 90s were a different story.
New York was in the midst of a Reggae rennaisaince -- a lot of the drug money that was flying around NYC and was turned into record stores, record labels, sound systems, etc. There were great NY artists whose style was not only big locally, but getting love in Jamaica. For the artists and sound systems, it was great because they were making real money for shows. Venues expected sound systems to actually provide a SOUND SYSTEM, so that aspect of the culture was on lock.
For people like me there were endless [stores] for records with all sorts of specialization and crazy back stock that they wanted to get rid of. You could easily spend an entire day going to the Bronx (Moodies Records) to Brooklyn, buying everything from the newest riddims in the Fulton Mall to old Rock Steady from Coxsone himself. For me personally, it was just fun! I hustled a position at a NY label called Signet Records. It meant driving these great artists around to studios, stage-shows and radio shows. I learned so much from that and a lot of those artists are still my close friends. I guess, [the city] was more edgy back in the day. A lot more violence and all that. But honestly, what I think of when I think of that era is cold Red Stripe, a spliff of bush weed, low ceilings, massive bass and beautiful, laughing Jamaican girls trying to teach me how to bogle.
When did you open the store?
I think it was 2005! I got married in 2003 and shortly afterwards started the website, so yeah, 2005 sounds about right.
You put together and DJ many parties, radio shows, and podcasts. How many records do you own?
Man...A LOT!!! My personal collection probably ends up somewhere around 100,000 records. I have narrowed that collection down to a pretty focused group of tunes that I draw from in terms of selecting.
When did you start downtown Top Ranking?
Five years ago! I really wanted to do a night that dealt with revive styles - Rocksteady, Ska, Roots and Foundation. I think that vibe still comes through although more new tunes are dropped now than when we began.
What are three memories that come into your mind when you think of downtown top ranking?
Hmmm....Okay. My birthday a couple years ago and I dropped Glen Brown's Dirty Harry (which is an instrumental cut) and Screechy Dan grabbed the mic and rocked Amy Winehouse's Rehab dub plate, "They asked me to switch to a different sound and I said NO NO NO!" Wicked!!!
Mark Professor's guest set a few years ago caught a wicked vibe with classic UK tunes from 60s to 80s. And then a few weeks ago, we had a night that went seamlessly (in terms of music and crowd for me). A of us selectors got deep into the record boxes but managed to hold the crowd the entire night -- which can be rare when the selections get as deep as they did that night.
What are your favorite 3 sound-systems in NY clubs?
My favorite 3 soundsystems in NY are Downbeat the Ruler, Jah Wise (Tippa Tone) and Earth Ruler.
Who's your favorite reggae selector (anywhere in the world)?
Shit....that's tuff. Different people have different specialties...Probably Downbeat and me!
Will reggae never die?
Die? Hmmm... no, because the music is so good and covers so many bases that it will always exist in a state of re-discovery. But, I do think Jamaica is in a crisis in terms of new music. It was a terribly destructive thing when the vinyl market dried up in Jamaica in the late 2000s and people went first to CDs and then quickly switched to MP3 -- having no product, no tangible evidence of the music effected the ghetto most of all -- a lot of ancillary people lost their jobs, people that would save up to release one 7" lost hope and oddly the job of bringing back real reggae vibes has seemingly fallen to the more middle and upper class Jamaicans who have sparked a bit of a roots revival; but for me reggae without the ghetto is like reggae without a bassline...kind of crappy.