Tarrus Riley and the elephant in the Reggae room no one wants to talk about.

Tarrus Riley
Tarrus Riley

Yesterday was a bitter sweet day for me. As I went to the Entertainment section of the Jamaican Star I was greeted with an article that the great Tarrus Riley was on the billboard Top 100. No surprise, Tarrus Riley’s voice, lyrics, music and delivery are always on point, so this was expected. Then I read that this was the singer’s firs time on the Billboard top 100 and I almost drop my laptop.

I would have a thought that Riley would have hit the billboard top 100 multiple times, from his album “Parables” alone. The album contains classics like Lion Paw, She’s Royal and Beware. So it is difficult to swallow that none of those songs made it to billboard and am not even mentioning song from his other albums that if they are not as great as Parables, they are pretty close.

Not to be disrespectful, but reggae artists and bands like SOJA, Matisyahu and Rebelution are not worthy to tie Tarrus Riley’s shoe lace when it comes to the quality of reggae music that they put out. Of course, Tarrus Riley being a humble Rasta Man will never say, but me being a brawling bald head will say it ALL DAY: These white reggae bands that are always on the billboard chart, both with albums and singles are nowhere close to Tarrus Riley in talent.

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So it begs to ask the question that everyone shies away from, the elephant in the room if you will. Does complexion play a role in reggae’s marketing and marketability? Or it is something else? It can’t be a lack of marketing why Tarrus has never been on billboard before. After all, he was distributed by VP Records; the same label that distributed Sean Paul who has seen the billboard chart multiple times.

Could it be that the reggae fans who can afford to buy the music, only love the music when it is presented by those with lighter complexions? I mean, for all the classic songs Tarrus Riley did and couldn’t get on the billboard chart, but team him up with a few white producers and a white female singer and that did the trick, whoa, he is in billboard.

We have to take success however it comes. However, in order to achieve more success, we cannot ignore what the metrics are telling us. No business can be successful without great data analytics. Right now, the analytics are saying that you need people who are of lighter complexion involved in a reggae project for it to achieve a great level of success. Just look at the most successful reggae distributors, executive producers and producers and you will have your answer loud and clear.

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People can lie to themselves, but metrics don’t lie, unless there are human errors involved in putting those metrics together. It is like Jesus and Christianity; Jesus had to be portrayed with blond hair and blue eyes else the majority of Christians today, would have never accepted him.

I will end by saying this: If you are a reggae fan and the album “Parables” by Tarrus Riley is not in your collection, you are really missing out on one of the reggae gems.

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22 Comments

  1. I remember how nuff people in the Caribbean never know Gentleman was a white German to begin with. Marketing is an issue.

    • I am an African America. I love old school R&B, some rap and roots Reggae. Unfortunately, this not jus the fault of racism in the music industry by the artist the Black artist themselves, like in America, every time they do a duo with them, they weaken the Blackness of the music. Kymani’s latest album with the cultural thief white boy is an example, if you are a Ras then you are part of the Black power movement and you should know better, we need the Peter Tosh/Bob Marly’s back.

    • Yep. Some people will definitely say that. I don’t know what is the problem with us. But a lot of us think that we should not be financially successful as the other man… If we are, we must have done something right like sell our souls to the Illuminati.

  2. I think you also have to look at who is buying music (versus free download) and how that could be an impact on chart success. The demographics.

  3. Well iyah! Reggae music has different meaning and value to different people. The supporters of reggae are much more massive abroad than they are in the Caribbean. So for their own motives they will support their own before anyone else. A reggae artist like Mr. Tarun Riley, value his musical content more than the so so chart position and fame. Your observations are valid though iyah.

  4. Bands like SOJA, Matisyahu, and Rebelution are U.S. based artists, tour the U.S. far more than Tarrus Riley ever has, and have been able to build a strong grassroots style American following. These artists (more so SOJA and Rebelution) have toured the states since they were playing shows to 10-50 people a night and have built their way up building a strong U.S. foundation. Tarrus Riley, being from Jamaica on the other hand hasn’t toured the states nearly as much as U.S. billboard reggae artists. On top of that, the reason why an artist such as Sean Paul was able to breakthrough to the American market is because VP was able to sell him as a hip hop artist to get major radio airplay. Also, Tarrus Riley is not the main artist on the song featured in the top 100 billboard charts right now. Major Lazer (main artist of the song Powerful) had a niche in that the United States loves to rave, and his music appeals to that market. Also, Ellie Goulding (other supporting artist on the song Powerful) is a music “star” at this point in her career, so almost anything she touches is bound for success. It’s no hidden fact that Jamaica is nowhere near the best performer in the world economy, so the U.S. being the world’s largest economy definitely influences who is going to be on the Billboard charts, especially top 100 charts. Tarrus Riley and most Jamaican reggae artists do not have the advantage of appealing to the U.S. market in ways that U.S. reggae artists do. Also to mention, Matisyahu’s Spark Seeker album is not reggae at all, but is a pop album, and that album had a few pop hits that really made his name pop out to the American public. Many Jamaican artists bring with their music the Jamaican culture. Many American reggae consumers that are not used to reggae (usually white Americans) are culture shocked by some of this music, whereas bands like SOJA, Matisyahu, and Rebelution are American-based, and their image and many of their lyrics and go hand-in-hand with American culture these days and the white American can relate more to these artists. Don’t get me wrong, Tarrus Riley’s music is much better in comparison to most if not all U.S. reggae bands (I can’t stand Rebelution, Iration, newer SOJA, etc.), however American reggae artists tend to have the upper hand in consumerism (white Americans, mostly college kids), which is what the Billboard charts represent at the end of the day (consumerism, that is).

    • On point, this is one time I will agree its not all about color, when these reggae acts are sitting in Jamaica waiting on the big bucks , those white Reggae bands are touring the country in mini vans ,making all sortsof sacrifices, building their fan base. It comes down to marketing, and sales. A hot song in Jamacia does not necessarily make it to billboards in the U S unless you have the machinery behind you and it takes more than your core market record labels.

    • As Sean Paul’s, former manager, this is the best answer I’ve seen hey to this continued topic about light skinned vs dark skinned Reggae artists. Well said. You’ve covered all the bases. And for those with short memory, Shabba Ranks achieved Gold sales status back in the day. The same man who managed him, Clifton Specialist Dillon, now has triple platinum success with Omi. It has to do with the management team and the understanding of the industry with label support who knows how to work records as well….. And still… What Aaron said above 🙂

    • Actually.. Omi prove the point of this article. Cheerleader was released couple years ago to limited success. It was then remixed by a white producer and what do you know, biggest hit of the summer. That’s exactly what the article was talking about. Tarrus Riley never got on billboard until he hooked up with Major Lazer.

  5. Tarrus deserve much much more. What a legend he is. This song he done it is wicked an wrong — pree the video n u will see nuff weird shit at play. Something that is a waste of tarrus talent. In my oppinion tarrus should stop playing with vevo n the mainstream cos it is only gonna tarnish his career because next up they will want him wear a dress n do some real fuckup shit. im sorry i sound badmind to some but im just being real. mainstream a bare fuckry a foot an it no lie — obvious for any to see — soo allow billboard what of it? Focus on building our own billboard for reggae revelutionaries like tarrus, capleton, sizzla, suga roy, u roy, luciano, jesse royal, chronixx, protoje all the fireman u done know that mainstream will never allow them be in a good light, either they black brown pink a yellow!

  6. … And don’t forget: reggae was dead for many many years in the jamaican picture. It was all dancehall somehow., while england artists pushed the sound to new levels to the european market! Jamaica is over all a crowded little place. Not very accessible for outsiders.
    So, the white/black elephant here that you propose is way to simple to explain. And btw, why do you think it has any value to be on the charts? It doesn’t say anything about the overall quality of the reggae – it only says much about marketing and common taste of comsumers and sales – as stated above!

    • Reggae was never dead in Jamaica. NEVER! There were times when dancehall was getting a lot more play on the radio and in the streets, but reggae was never dead. Don’t get it twisted.

  7. How dare you hate on Matisyahu…acting as if being black in reggae is somehow more difficult than being a White Orthodox Jew. Take your lame racist opinion and gfy. Your boy ain’t sold that many albums cause either he is not good enough or has bad mgnt. Troll on.

  8. You something else. This site should be called “Reggae News for the race-obsessed.” You do understand that Billboard rankings are based solely on records sales, right? If it were based on true talent alone Tarrus would be top ranking every week of the year. It is an insult to Tarrus to compare his music with that of SOJA, Rebelution, etc. But like it or not, those bands sell more records than Tarrus. Why? Because they have a wholly different sound and vibe, a fusion of rock, reggae, and pop that has much wider appeal than the brand of reggae that Tarrus sings. It has absolutely nothing to do with race. Like you say, when Tarrus teams up with another artist to record a crossover tune he gets much more exposure. What you should be doing is hailing up Tarrus for staying true to himself and his own sound in the face of the stark reality that in doing so he is confining himself to a much smaller audience. You act as if Tarrus audience is black. WTF? His audience is predominantly white. If not for white fans reggae would have never left Jamaica to begin with. Blacks don’t dig reggae. They never have. And one more thing…you seem to have a deep seated resentment of white people. Again, reggae would still be confined to the clubs and hotels on the North Coast had people like Chris Blackwell not invested millions upon millions of their own money into Jamaican artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Inner Circle. Reggae would be nowhere if not for whites like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Comer, Randall Grass, Gary Himelfarb, Chris Wilson, Duncan Browne, Bill Nowlin, Robert Schoenfeld, Sir David Rodigan, Beth Lesser, Steve Barrow, Mick Hucknall, Adrian Sherwood, Mike Cacia, Pete Holdsworth, Penny Reel, John MacGillivray, Chris Lane, John Masouri, David Katz , Lee Jaffe, and Jeff Walker (read about Jeff Walker and how close he and Marley were). Those are just the ones off the top my head! Consider Chris Cracknell and Chris Sedgwick, two white Londoners who launched Greensleeves in 1975. By the mid-1980s they were distributing once-obscure reggae records to every corner of the planet. Same with RAS Records. Same with Shanachie. Heartbeat. Nighthawk. Man, reggae would have never made it without these dudes…Check yo facts and come correct…Bless

    • Similac Child, your stupid ignorant post just confirms the sick pathetic demented mentality of a lot of White folks. You know absolutely nothing about Reggae music, Black music in general or Black people for that matter yet you pontificate like you do. You sick parasites are seriously deluded into thinking Black people cannot tie our shoelaces or wipe our asses without you. In your laughable post, you know absolutely nothing about the thousands of Jamaican expats migrating into UK from the 1950s,. 60s, 70s, & 80s plus the thousands of Black soundsystems, reggae bands, singers, door to door record sellers, record shops, and reggae distributors that pushed Reggae music in the UK and Europe from the 1960s onwards. You know absolutely nothing about the soundsystem culture the started in the 1950s by the Jamaican expat Duke Vin, bringing over records to the UK, you had Black people in record stores and doing door to door record selling before Chris Blackwell got into the business. You had the Jamaican Palmer Brothers in the UK with their PAMA label in the 60s who got into the record distribution business in the early 70s and created Jetstar Phonographics. You also know nothing about the thousands of Black revellers in the UK who were packing the Ska, Rock steady Reggae sessions, clubs and blues dances (House sessions) 7 days a week during the 60s & 70s so I don’t know what kind of bullshit your trying to say regarding “Blacks don’t like Reggae”, …… No reggae label or distributor outside of Jamaica was bigger than Jetstar. Trojan Records was big before Jetstar took over as the No1 record distributor in the mid 70s but Trojan was run by a Indian man called Lee Goptal. So I don’t know what Bullshit your talking about regrading “without White people, reggae would be nothing”. STFU and GTFOH with your typical White bullshit and learn to think before you open your mouth. Even in America in places like New York had a slowly rising reggae scene in the 1970s that was supported by Black revellers and Black soundsystems operated by Jamaica expats.

      All you White fools do is infiltrate, usurp, co-opt & appropriate everything that Black people create, then your White writers engage in revisionist history like you’re trying to do.

  9. This article completely takes away what Reggae really is. It’s not about being white, dark, yellow, or red. It’s not about billboard charts, millions of fans, money, or any other popularity contests. Reggae is about love, peace, and the message in the music. The only theory that is correct behind this lousy article is that Tarrus Riley is a humble rasta man, and doesn’t give a shit about why his music doesn’t sell as well in the states. Reggae artist respect each other from all styles alike. Take your damn negativity else where and spread the good vibes.

    • Citylife, was you there in the Jamaican studio’s in Reggae’s inception?? Was you inside Black people’s head when they created this new style in the late 60s?? Why do you White people always try to be the ‘spokesperson’ for things your race is not indigenous too nor fully understand?. Reggae music doesn’t need you to speak for it since you have no clue of what the musicians at the time was going through, what they saw etc etc. Just because you bought a copy of the commercial Bob Marley ‘Legend’ album the other day, it doesn’t make you an ‘expert’ or spokesperson, on Reggae. Plus don’t try to ‘shut up’ the writer who has highlighted an issue that many Black reggae rans, especially Jamaicans know about. How do you know “Reggae artist respect each other from all styles alike?” Do you know every single reggae artist personally? Have you interviewed every single one of them??? Coz from the comment you made, it seems like you’re just a White dude trying to deflect away from the pressing ‘race issue’ of the international and corporate label Reggae business.

  10. White so called reggae artists are nothing but culture vultures singing dumbs hippie lyrics and bring branded reggae. This is what the record labels wanted and dumb black Rasta loving everything and everybody allowed the poison ivy to take over the house and destroy the foundation.

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  1. Jamaican Reggae is dying.

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