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Shabba Ranks

Shabba Ranks

As Shabba Ranks (Rexton Gordon) is about to be honored by the government of Jamaica with the Order of Distinction (OD) on Monday, October 17, for his outstanding contributions to music and to brand Jamaica, here is my true and accurate recollection of the beginning of his journey.

It was a day in October 1987, I was running a bit behind schedule to catch my return flight to New York, I had my radio show on Thursday night/Friday morning. Usually, I would stop by the various record companies to get the latest releases. This particular Thursday afternoon I only had time to stop by one and I decided to make it Tuff Gong Records. I figured it was off Marcus Garvey Drive, and I could just jump on it and head East straight to the airport – at least, that was my thinking.  Yvonne Spencer, my local representative, was in the car with me, and as I pulled up to Tuff Gong, I got out the car, left the engine running and hurried across the street. I believe it was Mrs. Cecile Wilson (Delroy’s wife) who attended to me and the promo records.

Shabba Ranks

Shabba Ranks

As I rushed back to the car and started to reverse it to head for Marcus Garvey Drive, Yvonne said to me “don’t look now but ah deh boy deh name Shabba Ranking and you should hear what he was saying about you” – while doing my reverse maneuvers, I was able to get a quick glance, to see this Shabba Ranking, and this is what I saw. There was this handcart man that was always in front of Tuff Gong selling bun and cheese, cigarettes, cold beer, icy mint, etc…and stooping on the ground beside him was this guy – it would appear this guy had a piece of stick playing in the water from the melted ice – Yvonne had told me not to look, so I was barely able to see his face. Once I was straightened out and on my way, I asked her what was it he was saying about me, she said “while you were crossing the road, the man was pointing on you saying to him ” you see ah man deh, ah him you need to know, ah him ah bring all the artists dem to foreign.”  Yvonne further said, in a loud voice for her to hear – Shabba’s response was “who me? dem man deh nuh carry me go ah foreign…you nuh see how me Black and ugly…no sah dem man deh nuh carry me go ah foreign” I was like “what? he really said that? why would he say something like that about me? I was so hurt to know an artist would think that of me. Shabba had two songs at the time that I was aware of, “Needle Eye Pum Pum” and “Original Fresh” which I didn’t give much airplay to, so I believe his statements about me were based on that.


After dinner was served and I put up the stray on the American Airlines flight, I began looking out at the clouds over yonder. It was such a beautiful site, God’s creation never seized to amaze me. I was reflecting on what Yvonne had told me about what Shabba was saying, it bun me so till, I was hurt, I couldn’t believe an artist would say such a thing about me, after all, I thought I was bringing these artists to America based on their talent and popularity…wow, I wasn’t aware I was basing it on looks and skin color…wow! In the same moment, I said to myself “watch me and that Shabba Ranking, I am gonna teach him a lesson…watch me and him!” And as soon as I could talk to Yvonne, I told her to go find Shabba and get his information, she was a bit surprised at my instructions “after all him say bout you, you gonna work with him?” I told her not to worry about it. In a few days, she called me back with Shabba’s information. She said he had a valid passport with the dreaded “red stamp” in the back. In those days when the US Embassy denied you a visa, they would stamp the back page of your passport with the “red stamp” indicating that you have been denied a visa. Every artist hated that stamp! I asked her how he got it “he said a guy from New York, David Levy (Dehved) from the Underground sent him a flyer to take to the embassy to show them that he was gonna perform there, and the officer asked for the work permit petition, he Shabba had no idea what the officer was talking about, so the officer stamped his book and told him go file for a work permit. She also said Shabba was very reluctant in giving her his passport, saying him no want no more red stamp, but because it was me, he gave it to her. I told Yvonne that it is not a problem for me, I can fix it. So I took his information and placed it on file.

Shabba Ranks greeted by fans on his arrival in Kingston in 2012!

Shabba Ranks greeted by fans on his arrival in Kingston in 2012!

At Sting that year (1987) Professor Nuts and Major Mackerel mash up the place, Yvonne wasted no time in getting me their information. Reggae Sunsplash and Sting were the events that determined the immediate future of as artist. Downbeat The Ruler had his annual birthday bash in February, and I usually provided him with the hottest dancehall artists out of Jamaica. With other local artists, Nuts and Mackerel were definitely headlining the package. However, for some reasons, we were one artist short, I asked Downbeat if he had ever heard of Shabba Ranking, he said “yes man…you can get him?” I believe Downbeat also mentioned something about Papine or Standpipe regarding Shabba. I told him I have Shabba’s information on file. The decision was made right there and then, Shabba will come for Downbeat’s annual birthday bash in February 1988. And from 1988 to 1991, no other person but me would he allow to touch his passport. To be continued, the arrival of Specialist and Sony Records.

Clifton "Specialist" Dillon

Clifton “Specialist” Dillon

Congratulations Shabba, this is your destiny, God used me to take you on your way to greatness, I am very proud of you. However, don’t forget that Juiceman that pointed me out to you, don’t forget Yvonne Spencer who told me what you said. God bless!




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