Tony “CD” Kelly: Riddim Master

You may not recognize his name, but producer Tony “CD” Kelly’s music might be the reason why you secretly signal the plane, row the boat, and practice the heel-toe before you hit the club. “Bookshelf” riddim “Deport Dem” and “Say Wooee”, are the hits he had a hand in that made Sean Paul and Tanto […]

You may not recognize his name, but producer Tony “CD” Kelly’s music might be the reason why you secretly signal the plane, row the boat, and practice the heel-toe before you hit the club. “Bookshelf” riddim “Deport Dem” and “Say Wooee”, are the hits he had a hand in that made Sean Paul and Tanto Metro & Devonte household names.

Tony Kelly is also the man behind such Hip-Hop/Reggae collabos as “Top Shotta” from the Belly Soundtrack and Foxy Brown’s remake of the Wayne Wonder classic “Saddest Day.” And the list goes on: he produced nine joints on Patra’s 1993 debut album Queen of the Pack, Lady Saw’s “Nice It Up”, T.O.K.’s “Chi Chi Man”, Tanto Metro’s “Everyone Falls In Love”, and the Soca hit “Big Phat Fish” for Machel Montano. He was even on to Reggaeton before the Dancehall spin-off became an American phenomenon.

His work has helped bring Jamaican music to the height of popularity – something Kelly attributes to a more professional approach than in earlier years, when Dancehall artists did not recognize the potential success to be found outside of Jamaica. Alternatives talked to Tony “CD” Kelly about his accomplishments and more. Alternatives: Back in 1996, there was a lot of music coming out of Jamaica that was heard in the US. Then over the last four of five years, American audiences have fallen back in love with Dancehall, which has created a lot of opportunity for the music to be heard. From the standpoint of a Jamaican producer or artist, how do you view that on again, off again relationship with the American public?

Tony: That’s more like a behind the scene issue. I think the time you were talking about is more around ’93, when Shabba Ranks and Patra and Cobra and those people come in. And there was an insurgency of dancehall artists coming up here. But they weren’t organized. They didn’t have a level of professionalism behind them. They kept changing lawyers and kept changing managers. And the companies that were dealing with them got fed up with dealing with all the changes.

AHHA: There also seems to have been a rise in collaborations between Hip-Hop/R&B artists and Reggae artists. Do you think the more professional approach is the reason for that as well?

Tony: The opportunity was always there, it just wasn’t on a broad spectrum as the popularity that we’re getting now. You hear more about the duets with American artists and Jamaican artists. But it was always there. They were always doing collaborations.

AHHA: Explain the whole concept of the “riddim.” When we hear four or five different songs on the same beat, is that produced by one person?

Tony: Yes. 95-99% of the time it’s produced by one person. It derives from the base of this culture in the dancehall, that they call it the jugglin’. What they love to do is, they’ll play the riddim and they’ll juggle everything that’s on that riddim, or most of the things that’s on that riddim. It’s kind of a way of showing the talents of the artists. You hear one riddim, and several different people come with several different ideas.

AHHA: You’ve been responsible for some of the most recognizable riddims that American audiences are familiar with. Is that something that you always wanted to do? Did you want to get that kind of crossover success?

Tony: Definitely! When I started out I didn’t wanna just be a local Dancehall producer. You have to show growth in everything. So, my style is different from others. I’m more of an international Dancehall producer. I do stuff not just for Jamaica, but for the rest of the world. My style is more melodious, so you can really rap to my melodies. Instead of just hearing drum and bass, and then you couldn’t really understand what we’re saying on it.

AHHA: How is Reggaeton viewed by the Reggae community, and how do you feel about it?

Tony: I can’t speak for the community, ‘cause I didn’t really ask, I didn’t hear a vibe or anything negative or positive about it. But I know for myself, I will be working with a couple of Reggaeton artists in the future. I’ve been in talks with Daddy Yankee and his people, and we’re looking at doing a project together. We were talking about doing a song with Daddy Yankee and Shaggy.

AHHA: How do you feel about the style? Obviously it’s not new: back in the day, El General used to remix a lot of dancehall songs by just translating the lyrics into Spanish…

Tony: The first major one was the “Tu Pun Pun” one, right?

AHHA: I think so…

Tony: That was my song! I wrote that for the “P###### Tegereg” song for Little Lenny and El General re-did it – so I’ve been around Reggaeton for a while. I think it’s been said that I’m one of the guys that’s responsible for the Reggaeton sound.

AHHA: Do you feel that way?

Tony: Not really, but okay! [laughs]

AHHA: But you do feel it’s a good thing?

Tony: It’s a good thing. The only thing: when I get into it, I won’t be doing the same sound that’s in Reggaeton now, cuz somebody has to take it somebody has to take it somewhere else. I’m always one of those guys that wanna try something different.

AHHA: You’ve recently received some accolades from the more mainstream side of the industry, with a “Best Reggae Album” Grammy nomination for Red Star Presents Def Jamaica and a BMI Urban Music Award for Sean Paul’s#### “Like Glue”. How did it feel to receive that kind of recognition?

Tony: The Grammy wasn’t really me getting nominated ‘cause they revised the rules and they said that only the label executives could get that nomination. But I think they were gonna make a special case for me ‘cause I did so much work on that album. The BMI award [for Sean Paul’s “Like Glue”] was like the highlight of my career, to be called and awarded among the top brass and talent in America, as having one of the most performed songs was really nice. And to be received very warmly when my name was called out, everybody in the crowd going, “Oh, you did that song? I love that song!” I could hear it in the crowd. That’s what I like – if I’m in a club and one of my song come on, and I see people go crazy, dancing and happy. That’s what I like, I make happy songs. I like to generate happiness.

AHHA: So what’s next for you?

Tony: I’m working on Xavier Aeon’s debut. He’s the first R&B artist I’m working with on my company [K.Licious Music]. And we’re also working on a one-riddim compilation by the name of Katana that’s gonna be coming out somewhere in July. That riddim compilation has Shaggy on it, I [“Ready Fi Di Ride] is gonna be the first single on Shaggy’s album on Geffen Records. We also have Wayne Wonder on it, Tanya Stephens, Bounty Killer [Tony Kelly is also in the studio working on new material with Sean Paul, Elephant Man, Shaggy, Assassin, Heather Headley, Wayne Wonder, Beenie Man, and Interscope recording artist Elan.]