From Jamaica to Seoul
Singer strives to introduce more Koreans to reggae
For many reggae artists, working with the likes of the Marley family is just a dream. For Korean reggae artist Skull, it is a dream come true.
The singer released his collaboration track “Love Inside” with Stephen Marley and music partner Haha this March and said that while it didn’t fare so well in Korea, it’s currently in the top 10 in Jamaica.
“In Jamaica, the promotion usually takes three or four months. It’s not quick like in Korea… We released that song at the end of March and now we can see it on the Jamaica charts,” he said. “I always think that collaboration is really meaningful to us and meaningful to the Korean reggae market.”
And it’s not his only collaboration to be recently released. He dropped “Get Rich,” featuring Sizzla, at the end of May and said he has another big collaboration track set to come out in September, though he coyly evaded the question as to who it is with.
“It’s still a secret,” he says with a laugh. He does admit that it is a big Korean artist, though not an idol.
The dreadlocked singer confesses that he has a bucket list of Jamaican artists he hopes to someday collaborate with, including the likes of Damien Marley, Buju Banton, Capleton and Beenie Man. The last is performing at Seoul Soul Festival this month, and Skull says he hopes to have the chance to meet him there and hopefully check one more artist off his list.
Meeting major Jamaican reggae artists was nothing short of “lucky,” as the 10-plus-year veteran of the Korean reggae scene puts it. His introduction to the Marley family came about two or three years ago when a school friend introduced his music to the Jamaican owner of his favorite restaurant in Canada. That owner happened to be friends with Rohan Marley and immediately said that he needed to introduce the two. Skull and Rohan exchanged numbers and began communicating long distance until Rohan came to visit Korea a year later and they met face-to-face.
Though that connection, Skull was introduced to Stephen Marley. For years, Skull asked Stephen to do a song with him – it didn’t happen until he sent him a track that Stephen liked. It’s an accomplishment that isn’t easily achieved by many artists, according to Skull, even other Jamaican artists.
“Stephen Marley told me, ‘You are the first Asian artist that I’ve worked with.’ Because so many Asian artists really try to work with him, but he keeps saying no. But this time he said yes. Lucky me,” he says with a laugh. “I love the moment when Stephen said, ‘Skull, represent reggae and the Marley family in Korea.’ So now I represent him. That’s why he works with me.”
And it’s that collaboration that Skull says helped him land his collaboration with Sizzla. He went to Jamaica in February to meet with music industry insiders, and many were willing to work with him because they respected that he had worked with Stephen Marley. “They know it’s really hard to work with him. Even in Jamaica, it’s a very big deal.”
More than that, Skull is honored to work with these influential reggae musicians and to have them treat him like family. The music video for “Love Inside” was filmed on Super Bowl Sunday in L.A. and when Stephen called to say he would be late, many of the American staff said that he wasn’t going to show because it was game day. No one works on Super Bowl Sunday.
“But he came to our location and we shoot together and his energy is very positive and energetic,” Skull says. “Me and Haha really felt happy. Cause you know, sometimes, we feel like, ah, he is a superstar so maybe he’s cocky. But he’s very humble.”
Not only that, Spragga Benz, a well-known dancehall DJ, went out of his way to drop by the shoot on his way to the airport.
“I feel like, wow, they really see me like their family… He didn’t need to stop by there, but he stopped by and then says, ‘What’s up?’ I was very, very happy,” he grins.
Skull hopes that by doing these collaborations, it can help encourage Korean music fans to open up to more Jamaican reggae artists, adding that he does the collaborations first of all because it’s his dream as a reggae artist but also for the Korean music scene.
“I want to introduce that kind of awesome reggae artist to Korean people,” he said earnestly. “At least, my fans or reggae fans or Korean people who are interested in music, now they recognize, ‘Oh, Skull and Haha said Stephen Marley is dope, so maybe he’s dope.’ They are getting familiar with these great names and great artists.”
Ultimately, Skull hopes that it will help the Korean reggae scene, which is small though still growing. He thinks one way that is currently helping is idol artists using reggae in their music, like the recently released “Why So Lonely” by Wonder Girls. “Some people will just like them, but some people, now they think, ‘Oh, this is reggae music? This is very good. I better Google more reggae music.’”
Hopefully this newfound interest in reggae will help “make the pie bigger” for Korean reggae artists, so that some day they can all share in the success.
His latest single is set to drop this month, and Skull says unlike his last two tracks – which were geared more towards the Jamaican audience and included Patois – it is more for the Korean market. He has many tracks ready to go and plans to continue releasing single after single, showing all different “vibes of reggae” from dancehall to lovers’ rock, just so that there is something for everyone.
“I will keep releasing songs and maybe you guys can choose. Maybe the next single, some people love it and some people hate it. But another single, another single, another single. Maybe you can choose,” he laughs.
Emma Kalka is a freelance writer who runs the blog “Discovering the Korean Underground” on Tumblr, which focuses on the Korean underground music scene and community.
“Love Inside” MV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ciu_lDomtdg
“Get Rich” MV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9ihR_YebEI
Photos by: 3rd Bass