What brings together a tattooed hip-hop artist and a veteran reggae artist?
Article by Jen Cheshire aka Reggaewerx
“B4TheFall” is a collaboration between heavily tattooed hip-hop artist CARPETFACE and veteran reggae artist JIMI LYONS. It is the first single released from an upcoming album by the duo. Like myself, you are probably wondering how this unlikely duo got together and if you know either of them it would seem even more unlikely. CARPETFACE is extremely outgoing and his brain seems to be on overdrive with ideas both in music and community activism. Jimi, on the other hand, is a quiet, humble rastaman, who thoroughly meditates on everything he does before doing it. Let me give you a little background into how I came to know about this project.
As I once worked in radio and subsequently ended up on a mailing list, I am often sent unsolicited music. I don’t always have time to listen to it so it’s usually the reggae music that gets first priority. I don’t generally listen to hip-hop music, so the fact that I listened to a single by CARPETFACE must have been predestined. The single had been sent to me by an overenthusiastic team member who was helping with his marketing. It was the hip-hop/jazzfusion track “Painstaking Arranger” from his 2nd solo album “Cognitive Diss” I did what I usually do when I get sent music that I rate, I wrote back and said I liked it. To my surprise, I received an email the following day, from CARPETFACE, thanking me. We’ve since kept in touch so when he was ready to release “B4TheFall”, a duo with veteran reggae artist JIMI LYONS, he sent it to me. What follows is the story behind the project.
CARPETFACE, real name Adam Russell, was born in Wembley, UK. He has been a drummer since the age of 14yrs and since then has developed into an acclaimed hip-hop artist and producer. His first studio job at the age of 22, was remixing a track by Lee Scratch Perry for Mad Professor’s Ariwa label. CARPETFACE has released records steadily over the years and has been proclaimed as “One of the UK’s most talented underground artists” by Rough Trade records. He has released records on many different record labels and has formed his own label, New Bias Records. One of his songs, “Don’t Get It Twisted” was voted “Runner Up” for Best Single – 2nd place out of <1400 international releases in Wigwam Radio International Radio Awards in 2017. CARPETFACE has made many collaborations including with US rap legend Donald-D, UK dance heroes The Stereo MC’s, and Young Einstein. He has performed on stage supporting the likes of Ice-T, De La Soul, Lords of the Underground, The Pharcyde and many more established hip-hop artists. DJ Format described him as “Wembley’s answer to The Beastie Boys.”
CARPETFACE has always been an activist, using his hip-hop platform to speak out (or shout) about many injustices not only in the UK but around the world. In 2003 he was asked to participate as a hip-hop artist in a “last chance” workshop for young offenders. As CARPETFACE himself had been a bully and a “bad boy ” in his school days, he could relate to the kids, so he agreed. After this, he was contacted by organizers of workshops every now and again to participate. As these were paid workshops this became another source of income, rather like a performance gig.
After the birth of his son, CARPETFACE settled down and realized that with his connection to children, combined with his activism, he could educate future generations by combining song and public health information, although in his words he could be “a little preachy” at times.
He was approached by Beats House Records in France to write a song and he agreed as long as his portion of any money generated went to charity. The song was called “ 1-2-3-4-5 Wake Up”, a song about welcoming refugees. The song and the subsequent tour was a fundraiser for the Refugee Community Kitchen. The 15-day tour of Europe, from Cornwall to the French Alps and back raised £2.2k in cash donations and filled a truck with food and blankets donated along the way. Although this was very successful, CARPETFACE realized it was just a drop in the ocean, a short-term solution to an ongoing problem and that something sustainable was needed. He also decided that as an artist, just donating the money he made was not the most cost-effective way of doing charity work. His next step was to take a course to learn how to set up and run a non-profit organization. he then turned his record company NEWBIAS Records into a non-profit Community Interest Company NEWBIAS CIC, which acts as lead SW UK partner for London-based urban regeneration org “Respace Projects” – winners of 2019’s Sustainable Cities Award for Innovation.
Because of his rapport with youth, CARPETFACE was often asked by people he knew to try and reach their troubled kids using his musical talents. It soon became obvious that to continue this he needed a space to do so. He was donated empty office space but this was not ideal, a Youth Club type of setting would have been better. Unfortunately, the government has stopped funding for Youth Club programs, which has been suggested is one of the reasons for the massive acceleration of gang activity and knife crime in the inner-city areas. Having recently been donated a caravan (mobile home) CARPETFACE and a team of like-minded activist friends “up-cycled” memory foam and carpet and created a “pop-up” Youth Service Unit with A.V production suite, live room and an overnight emergency respite facility for young beneficiaries.
CARPETFACE then set up a new division of NEWBIAS CIC using the name of his workshops, “HEADSKILLZ“
Headskillz Centres was born in 2018. Using donated caravans, donated unused land, materials that would normally end up in landfills and donated time and skills by tradesmen in the communities, HEADSKILLZ is now creating pop-up Youth Clubs with a pilot unit serving North Cornwall in SW UK – and also developing an “Open Soundcheck” workshop installation tour for young people, before the doors open, at applicable music venues wherever he’s booked to perform in 2020
JIMI LYONS was born in London to a Jamaican father and a Guyanese mother, both part of the Windrush Generation. His maternal grandfather was a Warrant Officer in the Guyanese Volunteer Force and performed with the band. The band was invited to the UK to perform at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd in 1952 and Jimi’s grandfather stayed and became a citizen. He then brought his family over and that was how Jimi’s mother came to the UK. Jimi had music in his blood which became obvious later. His mother made sure all the children had music lessons and JIMI learned piano.
At the age of 10, JIMI had a paper route to earn a little money of his own. On Saturdays, he would follow his dad into town and while his dad was in the pub he would go to the record shop and hang out listening to music and buying records with that money. He can remember the counter being higher than he was. He would buy records by Big Youth, I Roy, U Roy, and Dennis Walks among others. As an adult, he has been privileged to spend time with these heroes from his childhood.
When JIMI was 12 his mother left his father and returned to Guyana. Jimi took his record collection with him and he became popular with the older people as he introduced them to reggae music. His uncle made him aware of Bob Marley’s music and he was hooked. He started playing bass guitar in his school band and was also the main vocalist. A teacher from a neighboring school took him around to local venues and backed him while he sang and played. He sang a lot of Bob Marley songs which weren’t played in Guyana at the time as it was considered incendiary.
By the time JIMI was 15 he became a much more serious student. He was having a hard time dealing with his parent’s divorce and the return to poverty in Guyana, so he was determined to get out of that situation. He graduated when he was 16 and took a position as a bank clerk. In his spare time, JIMI read a lot and further educated himself. When he was 17 JIMI’s mother returned to the UK, taking her children with her. This allowed him to continue his education so he enrolled in the City Literary Institute where he became certified in all aspects of music and learned to play piano and guitar to a higher level. In his spare time, JIMI would frequent the places where the musicians hung out. Through a family member, he met Ross Andrews of Basement Studios where he recorded his first record “Firing Line”, an original song, which had a cover of Bob Marley’s “Wisdom” on the B side. After that, he met Wally Frazer, a record producer/benefactor who introduced him to the big names of that time, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Junior Delgado, John Holt to name a few. He traveled to Jamaica and recorded several singles produced by Junior Delgado and engineered by Tappa Zukie but at that time Jamaica didn’t really support artists who were not born in Jamaica and his style of reggae didn’t fit into what was popular in the UK, having a heavy Soul influence, so his singles didn’t really take off. One big influence in JIMI’s life was Danny Simms, the music business entrepreneur who recorded Bob Marley and The Wailers in their early days. Danny became his mentor, guiding him along the way. Dancehall music became very popular in the ’90s but JIMI didn’t want to go in that direction, so although he didn’t stop writing, he put his music career to the background.
JIMI has been constantly involved in music in various capacities over the years and is very well respected in the reggae industry for all he has done to help others. Despite all his connections, he hasn’t pushed the catalog of music he has built up over the years. JIMI LYONS is getting older now and has realized it’s time to build a legacy with his own music.
Listen to B4TheFall Here
Every year JIMI LYONS curates the Rasta Village at the One Love Festival, the UK’s premier reggae festival. CARPETFACE and JIMI have a mutual friend who had been trying to link them for a couple of years so Jimi invited him to the festival and he turned up with five friends including CARPETFACE and his young son. JIMI gave CARPETFACE the opportunity to perform on the showcase stage. During the first day of the festival, CARPETFACE ’s son developed a severe toothache that the first aid people couldn’t handle but the nearest hospital was many miles away, so JIMI offered to take them. It was during the trip to the hospital and back that they talked and built a strong connection. JIMI discovered that CARPETFACE was born on the same date that his daughter passed away, which was also that Saturday of the festival. It brought a closeness to him on a very difficult day. After the festival, they agreed to meet up again.
CARPETFACE was in London with another hip-hop artist soon after so they called in on him. They were surprised to see the studio in JIMI’s house and they got to work making music. CARPETFACE was due to go to Europe to perform with this artist but was let down so he and JIMI continued working. Enter the duo.
CARPETFACE and JIMI LYONS have created enough material for an album of which “B4The Fall” is the first single to be released.
** “B4TheFall” is a direct reflection of this uncertain time of desperate societal decline, public outrage at widespread corruption and fear of imminent environmental catastrophe. “B4TheFall” tells the story of how we got into the mess we’re in, taking the listener on the emotive journey from the birth of humankind, through our subsequent corruption, greed and separation from nature, to the present-day injustice, hypocrisy and inequality built into our current social systems, with the final anthemic chorus-hook filled with the hope of survival, redemption and prosperity for future generations.”**
The independent record and the subsequent video were entirely produced at Headskillz Southwest, an off-grid studio and youth support center and community hub based in SW UK, a project previously mentioned.
2019 has seen this unlikely duo of CARPETFACE and JIMI LYONS craft a bank of conscious and uplifting cross-over material, enough to become an album. The album will contain tracks appealing to all ages and multi-genre music lovers, bringing back the classic male duo with a twist.
**“100% of profits generated from all digital and merchandise sales of this record will go towards funding our latest youth-support project “Headskillz UK” delivering a wide range of support initiatives stemming from engagement in creative practice to disadvantaged young people in urban and hard-to-reach areas across the UK over 2020”**
** Quotes from the “B4TheFall” press release.