MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, let's talk music. If you were anywhere near a nightclub or turned on the radio a few summers ago, you no doubt heard this song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD YUH")
MARTIN: That was "Hold Yuh" from Jamaica's reggae and dance hall star, Gyptian. And now he's back and making waves in the U.S. with his latest album, "Sex, Love, and Reggae." And Gyptian is with us now. And as the album title suggests, this conversation may not be suitable for all listeners. With that being said, Gyptian, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
GYPTIAN: Thank you for having me here.
MARTIN: Gyptian, where did you get that name from? That is not your given name.
GYPTIAN: No, it's not my given name. I mean, I won in this talent search in Portmore. That's really where the whole thing started. I was just there, wandering about. Then I hear my name called. That's my birth name, Windel Edwards. And I was like, what the?
MARTIN: Windel Edwards?
MARTIN: Yeah, that isn't as sexy as Gyptian. I have to be honest with you.
GYPTIAN: I hate that name from when I was growing up, man. From when I was growing up...
MARTIN: Well, it wouldn't be great as a reggae name. It's a good accountant's name, but...
GYPTIAN: Called me Windel Edwards, and I was like, what? But then you have to understand, nobody was really there until I started singing. It was an original song. The first song I sung was a hit. And I just left, back in the city - back again, and look, then I'm at the studio. And everybody wanted to know, what's the name for this artist? At the time, I had a shirt tied around my head. So I looked like an Egyptian. A pharaoh, they say.
That's how the name thing started up. Someone got scared and I said, well, take off the E off of the Egyptian. Can't look like the pharaoh, then. Just call him Gyptian, you know? And that's how the name Gyptian really came about. It's not something that we planned for. It's not something that we looked up to find, oh, the real meaning of an Egyptian or anything. It's just a Jamaican theme thing that people just see you, or comment on your look, and that's your name. If you have a big foot, you named foot.
MARTIN: If you have a big foot, your name is...
GYPTIAN: You're named Footie. If you're super black, they'll call you Blacksie. If you're brown, they'll call you Brown. If you're - you know? That's just Jamaica. If you act silly, your name's Sil or Silly, you know? That's it.
MARTIN: I'm tempted to ask what my reggae name would be? Can I get a reggae name?
GYPTIAN: Let me see. Let me see.
MARTIN: Unique, I like it.
MARTIN: Thank you.
GYPTIAN: Yeah, man, Unique, yeah.
MARTIN: Unique, OK. Well, that's what my album's going to be.
MARTIN: My debut album's going to be "Unique." Thank you.
MARTIN: I appreciate you. I appreciate you. You've been a big star in Jamaica for a long time now. But in the U.S., you're kind of on the cusp of the big breakout. And I wanted to ask if that's really important to you?
GYPTIAN: I mean, yes. It's important because, I mean, I don't want to be branded as the hottest Jamaican artist, or the hot Jamaican artist alone. You know, pretty much, I want my music to reach worldwide - all over the world, where people can enjoy themselves and find it to be a fundamental thing, you know?
MARTIN: Do you find it different - being here, performing in the U.S.? Do feel like you have to change anything about what you say or what you do or how you do it to be successful here?
GYPTIAN: I mean, for me, it's all about being me, you know? It's all about bringing my culture to the table. It's all about other people knowing what my culture is all about. I mean, certain things you got to adapt to because when in Rome, you got to do some of Rome's stuff. You know, but at the same time, you don't want Rome to make you forget where you're really coming from.
MARTIN: Let's play a little bit from the album for people who aren't familiar with Gyptian and what he does yet. So let's play a little bit from "One More Time." It's from the new album.
(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "ONE MORE TIME")
MARTIN: What were you going for with this album?
GYPTIAN: I mean, a newer market, you know? Showing people that Jamaican artists are versatile. Showing the world that Jamaicans artists can sing anything that they sing. But it's just that we are reggae artists and dance hall artists. But at the same time, it's music. And I don't think music should ever (unintelligible) they're putting it on our music. Our music is not as a lot of people might make it seem. You know what reggae does? Reggae sing the truth and show you what's supposed to be done and what not supposed to happen. You know, it's all about the truth of the people, the eyes of the people, they speak in the music because they can't really get the chance to go up there and tell the prime minister or the politics people that this is what's needed and what supposed to be done. No, but you could hear it from this song.
MARTIN: These are some of the titles from this one now. OK, now I know the title is "Sex, Love, and Reggae." OK, I know. "G Spot," "Vixen," "Sex, Love & Reggae," "Non Stop," "Turn Me On," kind of a theme we're working here. Tell me why.
GYPTIAN: I mean, pretty much, it's more like a composition. You know, like a story. Each thing leads after the next one. So it's all about...
MARTIN: But I'm saying 90 percent of your life is outside the bedroom. So what I'm wondering is, is it just this particular album? This is what's on your mind, or...
GYPTIAN: Yes, it's a big factor in my mind, but it's not alone in my mind. You know, it's just a big part of Gyptian mind.
MARTIN: Because you're...
GYPTIAN: I'm a Scorpio, you know, and that's my nature.
MARTIN: Because you're a Scorpio, and that's your nature.
GYPTIAN: Yeah, I'm a Scorpio.
MARTIN: I know the album cover is kind of racy, a little steamy, you know.
MARTIN: I know you worked hard to get that look. But when you talk about reggae that speaks truth to power - and I'm not just talking to you - I'm just saying, so much of music these days seems to be about sex - about getting it, you want to get it, why isn't anybody else getting it, you know, let me show you how much - how well I can do it. And I just wonder why that is.
GYPTIAN: It's a new time, you know? Modern time - but for me, no. You still can listen to my music. It's all about love and the right things. It's not like something explicit that you don't want to listen to or anything like that. It's all about the smooth vibes, not something telling the ladies that - yeah, yeah, yeah. No, you got to have respect for the ladies because...
MARTIN: Oh, really?
GYPTIAN: Yes because...
MARTIN: OK, let's play - let's play this one. Let's play "Non Stop."
GYPTIAN: Man, it's all about the physical fitness.
MARTIN: Oh, it's about physical fitness?
GYPTIAN: Yes, Insanity.
MARTIN: Workout tape.
GYPTIAN: Yes, Insanity.
MARTIN: Workout tape, got it.
MARTIN: OK, let's hear it. Let's hear it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NON STOP")
MARTIN: I've got no question it's hot, but this is a workout - this is a workout...
GYPTIAN: Definitely, it's like Insanity, you know.
MARTIN: OK. Now that we've cleared that, if you're just joining us, we're speaking with dance hall - reggae star, Gyptian. We're talking about his latest album. It's called "Sex, Love, and Reggae." Somehow, I don't see workout tape on this title anywhere. I didn't see that. I missed it. I missed that. It's in there, but I...
GYPTIAN: That's what it said. Look, it said "Non Stop."
GYPTIAN: They say in Insanity - you push yourself to the fullest. And so, I mean, for me, you know, I got of a lot, a lot, a lot of women fans, like, worldwide. That's the biggest thing for Gyptian - the ladies. So therefore - you got love me like that. So listen, keep these girls fit, keep them beautiful. Whenever they come out my shows, they can find a husband or a boyfriend, etc., etc. You know?
MARTIN: Oh, that's what you're - you're inspirational.
GYPTIAN: It's all about - yeah, pretty much, you know? Yeah...
MARTIN: Inspirational, got it.
>>GYPTIAN I mean, I got people saying, Gyptian, I came to your show and I met my wife. Gyptian, I came to your show and I met my girlfriend, my baby mama, etc., etc. Even their family meet up, and sisters and brothers meet up at my show.
MARTIN: One of the things - one of the reasons we were excited to speak with you is that, if people don't know any other reggae artist right now, they know Gyptian. And I'm wondering why you think that is. I mean, obviously, when people go to Jamaica on vacation or whatever, they're going to hear Bob Marley until it's coming out of their ears. I mean, they're going to hear it all day long, as if all music stopped with Bob Marley. And it's interesting that a lot of other pop artists sample the rhythms, right? But as an artist, you're the one that all the people know who seems to have kind of broken out. I wonder why you think that might be. Do you agree, first of all?
GYPTIAN: I mean, it is what it is. You know, if I'm the one that people are seeing mostly, it is going to be like that.
MARTIN: But why do you think that is?
GYPTIAN: Because a lot of us - I mean, a lot of my friends' visas are being revoked. You know, so pretty much, that's the real main reason. It's not like people don't want to see them. People just can't see them because, you know, it's like that.
MARTIN: Really, is that so? Artists are having a hard time coming here?
GYPTIAN: Pretty much so - a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot.
MARTIN: Is that something that people are talking about?
GYPTIAN: Well, yes. But it's not - nobody's doing anything about it, you know? So talk is cheap, you know? Action is more worth it, you know?
MARTIN: So what's your inspiration coming from these days?
GYPTIAN: Life itself.
MARTIN: Besides, you know, working out.
GYPTIAN: I mean, life itself - you know, because there just so much things happening around. So much things that I want to do. So much things that you're not doing, you know? So pretty much just life itself - just looking to life at this time and what is right. You can't see so many things, you know? The economy's at stake, right - and worldwide. I mean, America, the land of opportunity, right now it seems like it's the land of disaster. You know, but at the same time, life goes on. And people still trying to make it no matter what comes. People have to survive, you know?
MARTIN: Gyptian is a reggae and dance hall artist. He's from Jamaica. You probably figured that out. His latest album, "Sex, Love & Reggae" is in stores now. And he was kind enough to drop by our Washington, D.C. studios on his U.S. tour. Gyptian, thank you so much for joining us.
GYPTIAN: Yes, thank you for having me here to.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINE SLOW")
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.