Perfect Sound Forever

NICODEMUS


by Eric Doumerc
(October 2015)


Nicodemus (born Cecil Wellington, 1957-1996) was a Jamaican deejay who began his career in the 1970’s when he joined the Socialist Roots sound system. In 1978, he began to work for Prince Jammy's sound system and in 1980, he toasted in combination with Ranking Trevor on "Jamaican Rockers Hop.” He had big hits in 1981 with "Gunman Connection" and "Boneman Connection.”

Nicodemus deejayed for a variety of sounds like Virgo Hi Fi and Stereomars, and in the early 1980’s, he emigrated to the USA where he continued to work for Virgo Hi Fi. In 1982 the LP Dancehall Style was released, featuring songs like "Father Jungle Rock,” "Good Better Best" and "Church on Sunday.” This was followed by Gunman Connection in the same year, named after his big hit. 1982 also saw the release of She Love it in the Morning, which featured the humorous "Mother in Law" and "Keep it in the Family.” In 1983, the LP entitled A Nice Up the Dance came out , followed by Nuff Respect, produced by Kenneth "Skengdon" Black in 1984, which has remained one of his most popular albums with tunes like "Coke Seller,”"Mr Fabulous" and "Suzie Wong.”

In the early 1980’s, Nicodemus was also involved in a project which consisted in recording a number of Jamaican artists associated with Jack Ruby's Hi Power (Brimstone and Fire, Bobby Culture, and Louie Ranking). The resulting LP (Tidal Wave) was released in 1983 and included an outstanding combination with Bobby Culture (the title-track) and "PT 109.”

An album entitled Mr Fabulous came out in 1986, and two years later, he recorded "Cabin Stabbin'" with Supercat, which led to a hit in America. By then, Nicodemus had been residing in the USA since the early 1980s and was well-known for his appearances at sound-system dances organised by Virgo Hi Fi in Brooklyn.


As Howard Campbell said, Nicodemus was "the deejays' deejay" (The Jamaica Observer, October 26, 2012) and he is considered today as one of the originators of the modern dancehall style. His lyrics dealt with a variety of topics and always included a healthy dose of social commentary and humour.

Social commentary seemed to come easy to Nicodemus. For instance, in "Church on Sunday" (on the Dance Hall Style LP), he seems to take to task some preachers who took advantage of people's gullibility to rob them of their hard-earned money: "The people-dem go to church on a Sunday; clap your hands, shut your eyes, go down on your knees, you never see him count di money, pastor keep the money, him a-go walk with him plate inna him hand, him a-go collect every cent from everyone, him a-go buy a minivan.”

In "Gunman Connection" (the title track of his 1982 album), a version of his big hit "Boneman Connection,” Nicodemus lamented the proliferation of guns in Jamaica in the early 1980’s, which led to a high number of deaths in the 1980 general election: "The M1 connected to the M2, the M2 connected to the M3, the M3 connected to the specie, the specie connected to the buckie, the buckie connected to the Bush Master, the Bush Master connected to the Enforcer, if you can't chant tune, mi seh you can't prosper in a gunman connection, cause let me tell you about the Operation Radication, cause dem a-get outta hand, dem a-buy a 16 and a-fire a M1.”

Nicodemus was also well-known for his ability at the mike and could deliver traditional boast songs in a seemingly endless flow of lyric. The tune entiled "Good Better Best" is a good example of that style: "Say yes, say yes, dis-ya one it-a di best, good better best. Mi advert a east and mi advert a west, mi advert a south and mi advert a north, but no young gal can break mi likkle heart, cause mi sharp, mi smart, mi know how fi talk.”

Although he started recording at the tail end of the "roots" era and was used to working with musicians in a studio, Nicodemus did not find it difficult to adapt to the changes that swept through Jamaican music after 1985, with the arrival of computerised "riddims" and new production techniques. Indeed in 1985, Prince Jammy released a track by Wayne Smith entitled "Under Mi Sleng Teng" which was entirely based on an electronic keyboard pre-programmed rhythm and which featured no traditional instruments. This tune spawned countless versions and completely revolutionised reggae music. Many deejays failed to adapt to the new sound, but Nicodemus's fast delivery and mumbling tone seemed ideally suited for the new digital music.

Two tracks illustrate this point: "Eagles Feather" and "Di Plane Land.” The former was released in the mid-1980s by King Jammy on the "Sleng Teng" riddim and is basically a tall tale in which Nicodemus claims that he is better than many "supas" and even had a career as an actor in California. The lyrics are quite inventive and Nicodemu uses punning to boast about his talent as a DJ: "Nuff a-dem a talk 'bout how dem a supa, but when me check it out, me find dem a supa-market/ Dem people carry food baskets!” Nicodemus then claims that he is a well-kwown actor in Hollywood and that when he got there, he was met by no other than Simon Templar (of ‘The Saint’ TV series) at the airport. Then the actor Richard Pryor carried his bags for him and a famous actress smooched him ("Who kiss me? Elizabeth Taylor!"). Nicodemus naturally concludes "Me big, me broad, me massive and me large!” which was a bit like his signature at the time and which recurs in other tunes.

These lyrics can be seen as part of a tradition of continuous rhyming which is also visible in rap, but that Nicodemus helped to establish in Jamaican music. The computerised rhythms he worked with at the time complemented the lyrics very well and made him very popular with sound-system patrons both in Jamaica and in America.

"Di Plane Land" (on the "Tempo" riddim) is an autobiographical story about Nicodemus's frequent trips to America: we learn how he had to catch a plane full of black and white people, some rich and some poor, how he had to clear immigration before he was met by Kenneth "Skengdon" Black, his producer. The song also features references to poor Jamaicans migrating to America to escape the political violence in Jamaica ("di Radication Squad").

Nicodemus could deliver his lyrics with gusto and a certain relish, and humour was always a basic ingredient in his art. For example, the tune entitled "Mother in Law" (on the 1982 She Love it in the Morning LP) deals with a universal theme: relationships with one's mother-in-law. Poor Nicodemus complains about his mother-in-law's culinary skills. Apparently, she fed him an unappetizing dish: "Me can't take me mother-in-law! She give me dumplings and the inside raw!” This song was recorded on a well-known "riddim" used by the producer Harry Mudie ("Heart Don't Leap"). Nicodemus's flowing style is also well illustrated by another tune recorded in 1992 on a foundation riddim by Harry Mudie: "Old Veteran.” This an autobiographical song about Nicodemus the deejay and his start in the business: "Old veteran, me a the old veteran/ Old veteran, me a the old veteran/Me come ina the business in 1971/deejay Papa Roots/the first me do was "Boneman Connection"/the next one me do was called "Suzie Wong"/We kill them off, we come back alone/ A king without a throne is like a man without a home/And a man without a home is like a dog without a bone/ David slew Goliath with a donkey's jawbone!”


Nicodemus had a very big influence on deejays like Super Cat, Junior Demus, and Chaka Demus, and his style is often said to be at the origin of the "fast style" developed in England in the 1980’s by deejays like Papa Levi, Asher Senator, and Smiley Culture. In the early 1980’s, sound tapes made him popular both in England and in the USA with a new generation of deejays. The deejay Junior Demus released a song entitled "Talking Chick" in the late 1980s which bears Nicodemus's influence, and the Black British deejay Asher Senator, whose hits included "Abbreviation Qualification" and "Fast Style Origination,” said in an interview published in The Beat in 1989 that Nicodemus had been a major influence on his art: "Demus has always fascinated me by the way he puts over his lyrics. He was doing what we are doing but not as continuous.” The Jamaican deejay and comedian Professor Nuts was also inspired by Nicodemus, and of course the well-known dancehall artist Chaka Demus used to be known as Nicodemus Junior when he first started out. And rest assured, many more will be influenced by him in years to come.


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