Interview with Gappy Ranks
05/03/2016 by Gardy Stein
Chapeau! Someone who takes time out of his busy schedule to visit afflicted children around the world and tries to ease their suffering with whatever he can afford deserves our deepest respect. Simply put, in doing so, Jordan Lee Williams (better known as Gappy Ranks, a nickname bestowed on him because of the characteristic gap in his front teeth), sets an example for everyone to follow and acts as a shining hope for mankind. It is no coincidence that this Shining Hope is the title of his celebrated 2013 release – the artist seems to be able to mould any experience, good or bad, into positive, uplifting music. And he just did it again! With Guide Me, Gappy has just released his fourth studio album, and his current World Tour didn't stop Reggaeville from tracking him down in Nicaragua for a short interview. Here's to the children, the guidance and the songs:
Greetings! Last time we met in Hamburg...
Yes, the show with Million Stylez!
Right, and since we didn't get to do a full interview then, we'll have it now. How is the World Tour, what did you experience so far?
Every day I experience new things, you know, wherever I get to travel and sing Reggae Music. Just by visiting the different countries and cities around the world or just by meeting different people in different cultures and communities around the world… this is what I use and have been using in my music, so it's important for me. Never stop learning!
Which countries have you been to on this current tour?
I was in Africa first: South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. We made a documentary about the trip. And last week I was in Jamaica, doing some recordings. Now we are here in Nicaragua and we have a show tonight in Bluefields, a really nice part of Nicaragua. Then the next stop is Cuba, and then back into Africa, Gambia. And then... I mean, the list goes on and on, we'll be back in Europe, and into the United Emirates area, then back to America in August, my first time at Reggae on the River. Then into Canada in the summer and I have a small tour in the UK for the late summer as well. So it's really really busy!
Was this your first time in Africa?
No, I was in Ghana a couple of years ago. But it was my first time in Africa to see the different sides of Africa. Because you know, Africa is a continent and the different countries all bring different things which makes it the special place it is. It was great to see the differences from a city like Johannesburg in South Africa and a whole different concept to a city like Jinja in Uganda. Still in Africa but two completely different spectrums... as I say, these things help me in my music because it broadens my horizon and the things I want to sing about.
What was a special moment or an experience that left a lasting impression on you on this tour?
There was a time when we arrived in Jinja in Uganda. We actually arrived at the crack of dawn, you know, at the sun lighting. We were just about to check in to the hotel, a nice hotel, four stars, right on the side of the river Nile, but right across the road from the hotel was a completely different aspect of life. You know, the living standards were one of the lowest I've seen around the world and the people who were living there were really poor, and there was a lot of children. I'm a father myself, I have three children, and any time I see young children in the state that they were, I have to think about my own children. And I couldn't check into the hotel, I couldn't see how I could sleep across the road from a community like that, so I told the promoter to take us to the nearest supermarket and we just bought some treats and things that we thought the people might need. Actually it was Easter Sunday also, I didn't even remember that, because we've been on the road and all, but it just happened to be Easter Sunday, so we just went out and showed love to the local families, love to the kids, and done what we can. Nothing is more rewarding than helping others, especially people who are worse off than you are. And I try to implicate that now, since that day, wherever I go in the world that needs this kind of help. Obviously, not everywhere I go there is need for this kind of help. But whenever I'm in an area or city or country where I can do something for the people in need, I'm going to do that.
Even now, after this interview we'll be going to an orphanage. We just purchased some stuff in the local supermarket... the same thing as we did in Uganda. I mean we are in a beautiful place right now, Bluefields, and obviously the structure is different from Africa, being Central America and all, but we've heard about this orphanage and the kids down there, and a lot of them are suffering from Down Syndrome, so... we are just on our way there. If Reggae music has put me in a position where I can put a smile on the kids' faces especially, then I'm all ready. The big man and the big woman, I will more leave my music to encourage them to better their lives, but the kids.... they are innocent, we have to do what we can do to put a smile on their faces, even if it's only for a minute.
For sure! That's wonderful... Respect for that! What would you advise people who are willing to help but who maybe don't know where to start or where to send support to?
I would just advice anybody to go and take a look for yourself, you know, there's nothing like the grasp of reality! When reality hits, you better know what your heart tells you to do. Everybody's aspects and approaches are going to be different, you know. There's lots of things you can do, even if you just give a simple "How are you?", that can make somebody's whole day, so it's different approaches, but it's reality! So, go out there and see for yourself, whatever is happening. Like, it's rich and poor people all around the world, you know what I mean, and in these situations the kids are affected the hardest, you know, they feel it the most. That's my opinion anyway, so... just go out there and see for yourself!
Did you perform in Africa as well?
Yes, I had a show in South Africa, in Johannesburg, and I was booked to perform in Uganda too. Also in East London, which is on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the cape region that gave us Mandela and Steve Biko and... a lot of African heroes! It was great to perform there, as a lot of artists do not venture to those parts.
Did people know your music? Did they sing along?
Yes, most definitely! Even the local radio station which had the music on playlist and things like that, so the people know my music, and the music that they don't know, this is my job as an artist to get them accustomed to who Gappy Ranks is, so.... I'm not afraid of going to introduce myself as an artist. You can never go to a place an expect people to know all about you and all your works. In my opinion, that will almost defeat the whole object. It's good to build relationships or to create new relationships wherever you go!
What about Jamaica, you said you did some recording?
Yes, we were just recording and visiting some friends and family, I was just over there for a few days, but I'm definitely going to be in Jamaica more often. That's one thing for Gappy Ranks, I need to be in Jamaica more often, it's just getting the time to get over there, with my schedule and my personal family life, because, as I said, I'm a father of three and every day I'm away from my kids it hurts me. They love me and support what I do and I couldn't do it without them.
I feel you! Recording means that you are working on new stuff already... but you just released a wonderful album!
Yes, today actually, I just released it my fourth album titled Guide Me, a thirteen track album. I'm happy to reach this milestone in my career, and I hope that people like what I've presented to them. It's my fourth album and the title track Guide Me is definitely expressing what I want to bring across. We are all looking forward to learn more and to be better and to do better. You know, there is no better guidance than what comes from the Most High, the people we love, the people we look up to, our parents, our friends… We all need guidance, nobody can say they don't need a helping direction or so. So this is what this album is about, I guess it's almost like a cry, me myself I'm asking for guidance. As I said, I never stop learning.
Yes, thanks for sharing this wonderful music with us! I love the lyrics, it brings so much consciousness across… How long did it take you to compile the songs for this one?
I wouldn't call it compiling. Me, with my music, I don't like to have a manufacture approach to any music I do or the way I put out my music or the way it comes together. This whole album, Guide Me, the 13 tracks fitted naturally. I haven't said that I'm going to make these tracks just for the album, or… everything was done naturally and with love, you know what I mean. My point is, I am always making music. I stay in the studio when I'm not on tour, not performing, and I'm always recording, always recording on different genres, trying to create new ideas, new styles, trying to find new approaches to the music, and this is what I love doing, so I just continue with it.
The only feature on the album is J Boog. Why did you choose to do a feature with him?
Apart from J Boog I'm reaching the heights that he has reached now. So I'm extremely proud of him. And to have him on this album, it's a great thing. You know, he is a good friend of mine, I think I met him like six years ago in California. We've done shows together, we worked together… this is the first song you guys have heard, but we've done three songs together already. And J Boog is… as I said, the song is called Natural Vibration, and that's what it was. The song was a natural thing that came together, it wasn't a planned thing, just a natural song that was created and I chose it because I thought it will fit the album.
On the cover we see an artwork by Claudio "Prof" Donzella. On the wall are some letters spelling Pelpa. What does it mean?
Pelpa means different things in different parts of the world. In the Spanish communities it is referred to as Ganja spliff, it's also a northern town in Iran named Pelpa. But my perspective of it is from the Dancehall Jamaican perspective which comes from the great dancer Bogle Mr. Wacky and Fyah Delly Ranks who is also an artist and a producer friend of mine, we have a collaboration. They brought it to the forefront in the nineties, so I just read back into the millennium years, so people started to call me Pelpa. But my perspective on it is Pelpa is independent, Pelpa is loving, caring, it looks after the children, and Pelpa is this ambition, it's ambitious and human. So there is good and bad in that. I like to take people at their human side instead of any nobility or class or race or nothing like that.
That's what I love about the track Red Blood too, that's where we have to reach! Ambition is a good queue also, as you are not only singer, performer, songwriter and so on, but producer as well. So you have your own label, your own studio…
I launched my record label in 2010. You see, my first album was all recorded on a laptop. Stinking Rich, Heaven In Her Eyes, some of my classics today were recorded on it. And that same laptop got destroyed by a cup of hot coffee that was spilled on it. And I named my record label Hot Coffee Music just to get some positive out of a negative thing (laughs). And yeah, I produce for artists like Busy Signal, Gyptian, Bugle, Redman UK, Chino, Alladin, many many artists I've produced for and I want to continue to.
And on your homepage – it took me some time o find it because it's not gappyranks.com – I read about an artist called Jevaughni. Who is he?
Gappyranks.com is not my official website, I need to claim back that domain. My website is www.iamjacoblee.com, you'll find the documentary there as well. Jevaughni now, he is a multitalented individual based in Kingston, Jamaica. He is an artist, composer, songwriter and producer. He actually produced the track Wonderful for my album. He composed for many many artists, and now he is launching his own record label Riddim Sky Records, and I'm definitely active in promoting new talent, wherever they are around the world, so he is just one of many artists I just feel, I have the urge to tell the world "Yow, look at that artist!" We all need it, and I love to see new artists rise!
And I love to see this kind of support you are giving to other artists.
Definitely. From the UK where I'm based we have this artist named Don Andre who is now in Jamaica tearing out the whole place. I was over there with him the other day and we linked up, and just to see him rise it makes me so proud. We got to look out for the new talents that rise!
True! But now we are looking forward to you and your Guide Me Tour. What is the most important message that you want to bring across to the people?
I would like to encourage the people yes, to buy my album. Which artist wouldn't? But before you buy my album, first of all I would like to tell the people to take care of their priorities. Make sure you pay your bills, look after your kids, buy the things that you need in your house, your food, your utilities and all things like that. And if you have something left over, go and get my album. Whatever you take from it, it's going to be individual for the listener. I don't want to tell people "Take this from the album!", every listener is going to have a different perspective of it, and that's how I want to keep it, that's how I always kept my music. Even me myself, I still learn from my music! I not only sing for the people, I sing for myself, I don't separate myself, I'm a fan first! And I'm grateful for people like Lennart Tacke, it's great when your management and your team has the same vision like you do. I'm going to continue to do my best, to do what I can do. Obviously music, music has opened up doors where I can do things from music, and I'm going to try whatever I can do, especially for the youths.
And it's very much appreciated. Thank you so much. Safe travels!