No-Maddz Interview: Artist You Need to Know – Rolling Stone
×
Home Music Music Features

‘Dub Poetry’ Duo the No-Maddz Are Busting Out of the Reggae Niche

In their quest to bring their genre back to the mainstream, the Jamaican duo hooked up with Idris Elba, Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire

No-Maddz

Reggae duo the No-Maddz is trying to answer the question "Who is the new Bob or Tosh?"

Wayne Lawrence for Rolling Stone

artist you need to know ayntkOn a recent visit to New York from their home country Jamaica, the No-Maddz pop into a record store and seek out the reggae section — only to find a few scantly filled bins near the back. “They treat it like it’s niche,” sighs tall, lanky Sheldon “Sheppie” Shepherd. Everaldo “Evie” Creary, his equally dreadlocked, sleepier-voiced bandmate, nods. “Peter Tosh with Mick Jagger, Chris Blackwell with Bob Marley — those days, the music was exposed to people who were taking it outside of the niche,” he says. “Who is the new Bob or Tosh or Mick? Who is gonna collaborate?”

No one can say the No-Maddz haven’t tried to return reggae to the days when its leading names crossed over to rock and pop without diluting their music. For the two decades leading up to their ambitious new album, The No-Maddz Heaven on Earth, the group — once a collective, now a duo — has worked at keeping the genre grounded, while incorporating styles like disco. In 1998, Shepherd and Creary met in drama club at Kingston College, the renowned Jamaican high school. “I was a teenage boy, so we do things for girls,” says Creary. “I did a performance with the drama club there [because] Sheldon was killing it with poetry. When I saw that, I was like, ‘Shit, girls love it.’”

The No-Maddz (a play on both “nomads” and, Shepherd says, “no madmen”) began as a school performance collective of over a half dozen members (the number needed to qualify to compete in local competitions). “We started with dub poetry, which is musical,” says Shepherd. “Every word comes with its own melody and sound. We were bringing something new.”

Shepherd and Creary worked day jobs — from teaching basketball to working at Jamaica’s Chamber of Commerce — but kept thinking big. They parlayed their theatrical training into acting gigs (2010’s Better Mus’ Come, about Jamaican gangs), and Shepherd became a published poet. The No-Maddz also appeared in a Puma ad, which used their bubbly chant “Puka Poo;” the funds from that job allowed them to travel to Germany to record some of their earliest songs. Shepherd had no problem taking corporate cash. “I see some artists making such great music and I look at them and say in order for their music to get out, someone has to believe in them,” he says. “We were very blessed to get those funds so we could invest in our product. I don’t even want to think about it if we didn’t have that.”

With producers and reggae mainstays Sly and Robbie, the group cut a crossover-minded debut album, Sly & Robbie Presents No-Maddz, in 2016. “Sly had a formula,” Shepherd says. “He wanted a particular sounding chorus and a DJ vibe in the middle. Toward the end of the album, it got bit rough[er], like our original sound.” For Heaven on Earth, their far earthier second album, the duo opted to work with Major Lazer MC Walshy Fire. “I’d seen them before and knew how special they were,” says Fire. “If you know anything about Jamaican theater, you know these are key guys. I was like, ‘Man, I want to help these guys.’”

Upping the crossover ante, Heaven on Earth blends in hip-hop (on “Beat Dem Down,” a collaboration with friend and actor/DJ Idris Elba) and cinematic production. (The title song features dramatic flourishes like gospel choirs and a string section, reminiscent of Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.) “They’re not one thing,” says Fire. “They’re actors, poets and artists. Their music isn’t dancehall or reggae — it’s poetry, like Nina Simone or Gil Scott-Heron. I wanted the album to feel like a soundtrack to a movie, but them starring in it.”

Shepherd accepts his role as a brand ambassador for reggae. “Somehow people still see reggae constantly from the past,” he says, “but it needs international eyes on it, a more global spectacle. I think we’re growing steadily. I would prefer it to be quicker growth, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Newswire

Powered by