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Jamaican singer Capleton is no pop star. Blessed by his conscience lyrics, potent rhythms, and rousing live shows, his fans refer to him simply as the prophet. At a time when so many Jamaican stars are chasing the U.S. dollar with songs that share the beats and bling-bling ethos of contemporary hip-hop, Capleton has had hits with his political commentary in "Jah Jah City," with his homage to the black woman in "Gimme the Woman" and "Good in Her Clothes," and his ode to Rastafarian roots, "Hail King Selassie."
"I'm an artist who has been blessed by Jah with a gift," Capleton says via telephone from his home in Kingston. "I'm going to use this gift to uplift and enlighten the people through my kind of music. I'm not a hip-hop artist and you won't find me rapping the way these rappers do, but I respect hip-hop and have collaborated with many artists like Wu-Tang Clan and others over the years."
Then what does Capleton think of Sean Paul? (His labelmate at the storied New York-based Jamaican label VP Records is currently enjoying major crossover success with his album Gimme the Light, which features collaborations with hip-hop artists like Busta Rhymes and DMX.) "If an artist is promoting reggae and bringing it to a wider audience, that's good," says Capleton. "But like I said, I'm not a hip-hop artist. I don't rap. So I do what I do through my music, which is reggae."
That was not always the case for the man born Clifton George Bailey in Islington, a small town in the Jamaican parish of St. Mary near Kingston, the country's capital, a hotbed of militance and politically motivated violence. The future prophet got his musical start in Kingston in the mid-1980s, where he became a popular local DJ. In 1989 he performed in Toronto with well-known reggae artist Ninjaman. That spawned a record deal with a small label that would release several hard-core dancehall singles. It was not until several years later, as his career soared, that Capleton discovered Rastafarianism and shifted his style both musically and lyrically, singing about his new religion and the many social ills that plague black people.
"There have been many wrongs committed against black people," Capleton says of his conversion. "In Africa, in England, in the United States, and all over the world. My music calls attention to the suffering that black people have endured through the centuries. That is what my music is about."
The Rastafarian Capleton struck a chord with fans worldwide with his single "Tour" -- and Jah rewarded him with a record deal with Def Jam. Now on VP, after a stint with Miami-based Finatic Records, Capleton continues to minister to the righteous with his latest release, Still Blazin'.
"I've been blessed to be able to do what I do," Capleton says. "My music is what touches people and I don't do it for the money or the fame -- I do it for the people, to uplift, empower, and unite people all over the world."