Bob Marley aside, the American public's appreciation of reggae music has been largely limited to party-boat cruises and pap hits that pop up every few years, like "Pass the Dutchie" and "Tomorrow People"—not much for a genre that helped spawn ska and hip-hop.
For modern Jamaica-based reggae artists, popularity outside their home country depends less on their actual music than it does on who likes them. And after reading the very short list of Half Pint's admirers, you can't help wondering why so many still don't know about him or why only three of his 14 albums are available in the U.S. Half Pint shrugs it off—says record companies just don't know how to market reggae to Americans. And he should know: he was the first reggae artist signed to behemoth BMG Music Publishing but saw his debut album, Legal We Legal, slip quietly into the nowhere night of popular music.
But if you want musician endorsements instead of sales figures, well, then Half Pint has earned some from the best. Many of his earlier albums saw him backed and co-produced by pioneering drum & bass duo Sly and Robbie. His voice and riddims on those recordings make for some beautifully rounded songs that stand up well and still invigorate—enough to be regularly sampled after 15 years. Keith Richards so loved Half Pint's song "Winsome" that he retitled it "Too Rude" (and made it Too Bland) on the version he cut for the Rolling Stones' Dirty Work album. The Stones "were [like] family in Jamaica to some artists, like Peter Tosh," Half Pint says. He never got to meet them himself, though. Probably couldn't afford a ticket to one of their shows, either.
And that catchy, lovely, million-album-moving chorus of Sublime's biggest hit, "What I Got"? It's the same one that's featured on Half Pint's "Loving." Brad Nowell once said that he could never get it out of his head, and he often imitated Half Pint's wailing, fast-then-slow-and-dramatic vocal delivery. But it's Nowell's old rhythm-section players (and current Long Beach Dub Allstars) Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh who seem to have gotten the most from Half Pint's music, and vice-versa: on Pint's newest album, Recollection, you can hear some unmistakably Sublime/Long Beach Dub Allstars bass lines and grooves, bubbly and brisk, evidence of influence that almost has you wondering who'll stumble onto Half Pint's flavors next.
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HALF PINT PLAYS WITH THE SKELETONES AT THE GREEN ON THE HILL, 27TH ST. & WALNUT AVE., SIGNAL HILL, (562) 495-5959. SAT., NOON. $20.