Today Assassin is swiftly ascending the ranks of dancehall dons, exhibiting a remarkable intelligence, maturity, and creativity that rivals his DJ peers. But when he first tried to enter Jamaica's competitive musical fraternity, he had no idea if he was capable of making it.
Like most Jamaicans, Jeffrey Campbell had grown up with the music pulsating through the streets and local sound systems. It spoke volumes to him, prompting him at an early age to write down lyrics inspired by what he heard. Then during his last year of high school, he gave a song to his boyhood friend Briggy, who was trying to jump-start his own DJ career by shuttling in and out of record studios with his famous uncle Spragga Benz. As though fate approved, Spragga Benz himself voiced the song "Big Up All The Shotta Dem" for esteemed producers Steely and Clive on their popular Street Sweeper riddim. The riddim's punchy drum kicks and Spragga's superior vocal delivery on the song made it a hit, giving young Campbell all the encouragement he needed. But Assassin was determined to take his time before jumping head-first into an industry that quickly forgets one-hit wonders as rapidly as new ones appear. He explains, "I figured I would initially peruse things during the holiday [break from school] and if it didn't work out or I didn't see the potential, I'd move forward with school [college] and continue along the regular-Joe life."
Armed with some experience, Assassin sought out one of the most talented producers on the island, Donovan Germain, the man behind countless hits by artists like Marcia Griffiths and Buju Banton and owner of Penthouse Studios. Hoping to get some advice and direction, Assassin was determined to talk with Germain and have him listen to his demo. "Spragga initially brought me to Donovan Germain, but he wasn't available," remembers Assassin. "We went back several times and kept missing him." He got lucky when Zumjay, another up-and-coming DJ and school friend then working as an engineer, helped get his demo to Germain. Assassin says, "When I went back to check Germain and see what he thought, he was honest. He told me things I needed to work on, like breathing control, and showed me where I was off-key. I really appreciated it because it was truly the first time I saw someone willing to be encouraging but still pointing out weaknesses for me to improve on."
Assassin performs during the Sting Miami 2003 Reggae Concert
Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd.
5:00 p.m. Sunday, March 23, Tickets cost $35 to $40. Call 954-447-5337.
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Knowing proper management can play a vital role in one's career, Assassin took small yet serious steps to secure himself a place under Donovan Germain. "After this initial talk, I started going over to Penthouse Studios on my own," he says. "This is really where the development part of my career really started taking form. Being at Penthouse made me realize this is not going to happen today, tomorrow, or the day after that; you really have to work on it."
With Spragga Benz as a mentor and Donovan Germain as a manager, Assassin has been fortunate enough to work with high-grade producers who normally balk at dealing with inexperienced talent. In the past two years he's recorded with producers like Bulby from Fat Eyes, Don Vendetta, Jeremy Harding, Kings of Kings, and others. On the breakaway riddim Diwali, Assassin recorded one of the top five picks of 2002 in "Ruffest and Tuffest" thanks to bold declarations like, "We are the roughest, our styles dem are the toughest." This year, Assassin also has songs on two of dancehall's newest club-favored riddims, Troyton Remi's Surprise (the track "Diet") and the South Rakkas Crew's Clappas riddim ("Have Dat Lock").
Two years ago, Assassin co-starred alongside Ky-Mani Marley, Wyclef Jean, and Tyson Beckford in Shottas, a dancehall-inspired gangster movie released last year and shot on location in Miami and Kingston, Jamaica. "It was a good experience to be in a production of that magnitude," he recalls. "The acting part was difficult at first, and makes you realize you're a DJ and you have actors that are out there doing this and they do it well. I really have more appreciation for what they do."
It's relatively easy for a budding artist to lose his head once he gets such a big break, but Assassin stays grounded. "I'm just focusing on working on singles to build myself in the market," he confidently responds when asked if he'll be putting out an album soon. "Right now, Assassin can't sell an album the way I would want to sell an album. When I put one together, I want there to be a certain demand for it already, rather than just having an album for the sake of having an album," he attests. Until then, Assassin's taking his career step by step, carefully following the road map he's created for himself.