Eddie Murphy knows reggae. In 2013, the actor, comedy icon and erstwhile R&B singer threw many for a loop when he unveiled “Red Light,” a stellar reggae track featuring Snoop Dogg, as his first new musical offering in 20 years. But unlike Snoop, whose calculated Jamaican reincarnation met an inevitable backlash, Eddie has received a largely positive response from his seemingly organic foray into the genre.
Now he’s returned to it for “Oh Jah Jah,” a new single set for iTunes release January 27th through the distribution arm of Caribbean music specialists VP Records. Like “Red Light,” the track brims with conscious lyrics informed by current events, but Murphy, who collaborated with dancehall icon Shabba Ranks for 1993’s “I Was a King” and lampooned reggae’s political bent in the classic SNL skit “Kill the White People,” says he has no plans for a Snoop Lion-style LP. Speaking from his home outside Los Angeles, the entertainer spoke on the story behind the song, his love for everything from jazz to country and the status of Beverly Hills Cop 4.
Coming back into music after 20 years, you’ve done two reggae songs. . .
That’s a misconception. I stopped putting music out 20 years ago. I’ve never stopped making music. I’ve always had a facility for recording at the house. I’ve stayed in the studio for years and years. Twenty years ago there was a bunch of motherfuckers just putting records out that was actors. I didn’t want to be one of these motherfuckers dropping tracks on some ego shit, trying to be the actor-singer. It always looks weird when you see the actor singing in the video. You’re always gonna be like, “What the fuck is this?” I didn’t want to be part of it. I’m not trying to get no paper, or get more famous off of this. I just do it, and I love doing it.
Are you working on a reggae album?
Nah. We did “Red Light” and I liked how it came out, so I put it up on the computer to see how people would respond to it. I don’t have a reggae album. But I got other reggae tunes, I’ve got R&B stuff, I got rock. I got one hip-hop track but I’m not rapping on it, Snoop is. I got 20 years of collaborations with other musicians just on the shelf.
Eddie knows. I know when some shit is wack, and I know when some shit is good, and when it’s great.
Are you planning to release an album soon?
If people respond to [“Oh Jah Jah”], then I might. If people don’t, that shit will just stay on the shelf where it’s at. And I’m cool with that. I’m cool with all my shit being on the shelf until 100 years from now. Everything comes out 100 years from now. Any artist that did anything, once you’re gone, they go looking through all your shit. Like this scrap of paper that you drew on. If I’m doing a movie or if I’m going onstage, that’s me being funny. But music, I do that all the time, for free. And if you do something for years and years and years and years, eventually you gonna get a little better at it. I got some stuff now.
Is “Oh Jah Jah” any sort of statement of faith?
Oh no, no. I’m not a Rasta. I’m doing a reggae track, reggae artists they say Jah, so I said Jah. I can call God Jah and not be a Rasta. The lyrics lent itself to this whole reggae feel. The first lyric in that song goes, “The devil’s on the move.” Originally it was “Ebola’s on the move,” but I was like “Ebola’s gonna be over, and the song will be dated.” I wrote that track the first week that Ebola jumped off, and Ferguson was going on – it was pulled out of the headlines. To say this stuff, it has to be reggae. You can’t touch on none of this with an R&B track, because people will shut down to it. But do a roots reggae song that feels like Bob Marley type of stuff, you can say it.
People were surprised by “Red Light” – that it was Eddie Murphy making reggae, and that it was pretty good. But if you look back, you’ve dabbled in reggae throughout your career.
I wouldn’t say that I dabbled in reggae. How should I put it without sounding pretentious? The same way you can see me sit at a table in a movie and be six different people, the mother and the uncle and all these different things, when I’m in the studio, I can do that, too. I’m not trying to be a recording artist and have a certain type of music for the radio. Over 20, 25 years, I got just a library of different shit. I can go right now and put out an album in any genre. I can go right now and put out a country album. Or jazz.
Eddie knows, I’m aware when something is wack. I know when some shit is wack, and I know when some shit is good, and when it’s great. I know when somebody did something special. I keep score! And I know when I’ve done something that’s wack. And I’m not putting out no track that’s wack. I can give you a track now and you can go “Oh, that’s too much from Eddie Murphy the actor and I can’t hear it.” But you play my track and you don’t know who it is, you’re gonna go, “Hey, who is this?” I can’t make a wack track because I know what wack is.
Do you have any plans to perform music live again soon?
You know what, if I drop one of these tracks and it jumped off, I would go out and do some shit. My fantasy I always be having when I think about getting onstage is to do everything. If I came back and did stand-up again, I can’t just be like the other standup comics. To have a real hot band, play some tracks for about 40 minutes, the curtain drops and then you do an hour of jokes? That’s a unique-ass show. [Laughs] That’s the ultimate vision.
Are you really filming a new Beverly Hills Cop movie right now?
Nah, they still trying to get that script right. I’m not doing a Beverly Hills Cop unless they have a really incredible script. I’ve read a couple things that look like they can make some paper. But I’m not doing a shitty movie just to make some paper. The shit got to be right. I just finished doing a movie called Cook, with Bruce Beresford. He directed Driving Miss Daisy. It’s not a comedy, though. It’s a drama.
Is it a tearjerker?
Yeah, it’s a tearjerker [laughs]. I’ve never really done anything before that was straight-up drama. I read the script, and it really touched me, and I said “OK, let’s go do some shit I never did before.” Because it’s not a big, giant comedy, nobody was even aware it was going on, but it came out kinda fly. I haven’t seen anything yet but it feels like we did something special. I’m real excited to see how it came out.