Written By: Camry Brown
One of the most remarkable and promising of the second generation of Jamaica roots reggae singers, Tarrus Riley, the son of Jimmy Riley, who has had a long career as a solo artist. Also, as being a former member of the Uniques and the Techniques. Like his father, Riley has a sweet, nuanced tenor vocal style, although his first connection with the Jamaican music scene was as a DJ.
“What do I do? I live. I’m a living person like everybody else, y’know? Who am I? I ask myself that a lot y’know? A Rasta man. I’m a real man. And when I say I’m a man, I take care of my day to day responsibilities.
Riley taught himself to play keyboards and several percussion instruments and began writing his own songs, many of which had strong Rastafarian and consciousness-leaning themes. His first album, Challenges, was produced by the great Jamaican Saxophonist Dean Fraser and released on Yaman Records. It yielded a couple of big reggae chart hits, including the song “Larger Than Life.” Riley’s sophomore effort, Parables, which appeared in 2006 from VP Records. It, too, generated a big single in “She’s Royal.” Riley has done several concert appearances with his father, who is, along with Tarrus’ mother, Lavern Tatham, very active in mentoring and supporting his son’s career.
“My father, he is the one who introduced me to music on a professional scale, but really the music I grew up on was Bush Montana. That kind of music was the kind of music that inspired me, but I didn’t really choose to do music. I really was just doing music for fun, y’know? It was DJing, and I just loved it. I like doing it a lot and spending time doing it until there was nothing else I wanted to do. I just wanted to do music and because my father is a singer, I had access to be around musicians and that kind of stuff. I play a little guitar and piano just to write my songs. I’m not a guitarist, I play that stuff to keep my ears in tuned”
He made his recording debut as a teenager. In 2004, Tarrus released his debut album, Challenges. Riley has consistently racked up awards for his work. Among his accolades are Best Singer, Male Vocalist, Cultural Artiste, Song of the Year, and Best Song. Some of the awards institutions which have rewarded Riley include the Youth View Awards, The Star People’s Choice Awards, EME Awards, and the Reggae Academy awards. Tarrus is the holder of Jamaica’s CVM TV’s 15th Anniversary Award, held in February 2009, for the ‘Most Admired Song in the Past 15 Years’ for the hit “She’s Royal”.
“In the beginning my musical influence was more where it’s called dancehall. It’s later when I started growing up ya’mean? And loving music. When I grew older, I like singing and instrument playing and stuff like that. The fact is that I’m still young. I just started my career early. Dancehall was the music I grew up on, so when I started to really love music, I wanted to do more things. And I found out being a Jamaican rapper is kind of one style, and funny enough; nowadays everybody is trying to push creativity to the limit y’know? From singers and so on.”
In 2009 Riley released his third album Contagious on Cannon Productions. The album was distributed by VP Records. It contained the hits and a cover of a Robin Thicke original. 2010 saw the release of the chart-topper “Protect the People”, which scaled several charts in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. Early 2011 saw the release of the Black History-themed “Shaka Zulu Pickney”, which was featured on a Nyabinghi rhythm album from Bombrush Music. The video for the song which was directed by Storm Saulter was well received upon its release.
“Even though the rhythms I was doing, more of dancehall kind of thing. It was more of the reggae rhythm because what happen is the term. Dancehall is not the same thing. Nowadays, people would call the fast reggae music dancehall. Shabba Ranks and all nem use to breakout on the international scene and all that. The Beanie Man’s, the Jump Man’s; that kind of thing came with that and that became a genre dance hall, but really and truly, those men are reggae artist, y’know what I mean? It’s a thin line. It’s almost like hip-hop and rap music.”
The single titled Powerful with Pop Star Ellie Goulding, with over 57 million views on YouTube Tarrus’ The story angle I was looking at is the fact that he is an artist who does not fall into the norm of Jamaican artists he does all types of music. Soca (collated with Machel Mantano and Bunji Garlin), Reggae, Dancehall, Pop Music. It’s also imperative to him to just do music never try to box him in. Riley’s songs retain ties to the Jamaican roots tradition while still managing to sound distinctly contemporary. In addition, his strong stage presence gives him crossover appeal and marks him as a coming force on the international reggae scene and being versatile outside of his norm.
“Those songs did a lot of great things for me and brought me into different arenas, and places where you wouldn’t see a Jamaican artist, is seen there. So, it’s cool! I’ve helped a lot of artist behind the scenes, whether I’m a song-writer or encouraging artists and stuff like that. Eventually, I’m going to get my hands wet in some producing. What I’ve learned is that there are different kind of people that like different kind of things; and even me, I like different things. As far as being versatile and doing things braggadocious or nothing like that, like I really believe in my talents and I’m pushing creativity to the medal. My foot is on the floor. I have to do everything.”
In honor of Jimmy Riley (May 22,1954-March 23,2016)