Junior Toots, son of the legendary Frederick “Toots” Hibbert ofToots and the Maytals, had to take a close look at his message when he first started performing as a rapper.
“I realized that I needed to go back to my roots,” he says, “because the rap was going toward violence and I didn’t want go toward violence. I wanted to go toward consciousness, the direction that would stop young people from being violent.”
He grew up with his father’s music, which was largely influenced by the sound of American artists such as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, James Brown and the Jamaican signature rhythms of reggae, ska and rock steady. To these set of tools he has added modern trends, such as reggaeton and R&B, which he imbues with his socially conscious lyrics. He is collaborating with other artists and blending new sounds like he did in his song “Seek the Truth,” which features Iranian vocalist, Sol Atash, singing in Farsi.
“My message also is to get people to widen their horizons and to look outside of the box that they are living in,” he says, adding that those living in violent areas should work on finding a positive way out.
“If you stay in the areas where there are guns and bullets,” he says, “sooner or later they will find you.”
A former dancer who appeared regularly on MTV during his high school years, Junior Toots realized early that he needed to work on his voice and his sound if he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his dad. He still tours with his father and is scheduled to open several shows for the Original Wailers, which keeps alive the music of Bob Marley, but most of his concentration is geared toward his solo career. He has produced four albums, including his recent release, “A Little Bit of Love,” which was reproduced thanks to donations made through the Kickstarter fundraising site.
The 40-year-old singer sports a look that resembles reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff, as does his sound. A father of six children, Toots says it’s difficult to combine his household life with his career. He started his family at age 24, and focused on building a strong bond with his children. Now that the relationships are strong, he can hone in on building his career — a full-time challenge.
“There’s lots of pressure,” he says, “you don’t get to sleep well, you don’t get to eat well and it takes a toll on you.”Then you have to go the next show and be ready like it’s the first show.
“It could be 10th or the 20th show, and whatever is going on emotionally, you have to kind of block it out to do the music. You have to make sure that everybody is having a good time because it’s not about you, is about the fans that come to the show.”
This is what he learned from his father, whose group is credited with coining the word “reggae” after the release of its 1968 tune “Do the Reggay.”
Junior Toot’s message echoes that of Bob Marley’s children, who have maintained their father’s musical tradition while incorporating new ideas. He says he would like to collaborate with the newer generation of the Marley family.
“I’m working on establishing myself so that I can be somebody they would want to work with, not just because of my father.”