Lucky Blow

In 1998 Mr. Vegas busted upon the dancehall community in a huge way with his unstoppable hit "Heads High" and his new sing-jay style. Creativity and unique delivery almost always ensure success -- provided the outcome is good. However, oftentimes these occurrences result from a fluke. Vegas (Clifford Smith) had been attempting to voice as a serious singer for years and had just had a promising recording opportunity with fellow artist Don Yute's production company, Golden Child.

Just when his future was starting to look bright, things were brought to a sudden halt: He was injured by a piece of iron in a heated argument. His jaw was wired shut, restricting his ability to sing. Still when the inventive new producer Jeremy Harding recorded the Playground riddim (best known as the backdrop for Beenie Man's "Who Am I?" [Zim Zimma]), Vegas was determined to voice! He removed the wiring and proceeded to sing. But his jaw movements were somewhat limited, as his healing wasn't complete. This in effect was the start of the sing-jay style set forth by Vegas and repeated several times by others since.

That accident assisted Vegas in his next recording and his largest hit to date: "Heads High" voiced with Main Street producer Danny Brownie. The surprising success of that anti-oral-sex anthem continues with the song still scoring airplay on Power 96. Since that initial break, Vegas has gone on to drop two full albums with U.K.-based Greensleeves Records. His first album, Heads High, driven off the success of the title track, did very well and a video was recorded for the song with Fatima, budding director and accomplished dance choreographer. (You've seen her featured in many Gap commercials.)

His second album was also centered on the success of a huge single, "Girls Time," produced by Danny's nephew, Richard "Shams" Brownie. Although Vegas has had vast success in Europe, the overall performance of Damn Right was less than expected. According to Vegas, "The album did a thing. Maybe we expected a bigger success, but we have to be grateful what we had still. It did what a lot of people would call successful, but to us, we expected like bigger things from that album still. The second album is always the hardest album, because it's like competing with the first album. But this new album we're doing now, I think it's gonna be better, because it's like more hard-core, more underground still."

Before the release of his first album, Vegas and his manager actually started their own label and distribution company, In Da Streetz. For Vegas it was a chance to help out artists the same way Don Yute first aided him. He says, "There was nothing really going on for me before voicing with Don Yute. He was encouraging, telling me I can really achieve what I want, and helped me get into the studio. I just want to help put something back, to help other young artists."

As a label, In Da Streetz hasn't released any original riddims in the past two years, since Vegas's popular "She's A Ho." The company, however, has become a successful vehicle for the distribution of singles for other Jamaica-based labels. Vegas offers, "It's actually my manager that runs the distribution, I'm not even a part of the distribution. He's doing very well. He's doing the [compilation] Famine. He did the Martial Arts [compilations]. He's done all the [compilations for production house] Kings of Kings. He's just doing very well."

With a determination for success, he is gearing up for a new album. It's been a long process this time around as Vegas has been on the road touring. But whenever he's in Jamaica he's been hitting all of the top recording studios to voice new material, particularly in the past several months. He's always felt that it's important to have songs on the top riddims that hit the streets, something he learned by example from Beenie Man. As for his new material, he says, "I've recorded twenty or like twenty-five-odd new songs in the last three months. I have a song call 'Tall Up' -- right now like a new dance they have in Jamaica called 'The Tall Up, Tall Up.' It's like a soldier with a gun. It's a new dance. It's like a 'Rude Bowy' kind of thing still. That's like maximum rotation in Jamaica. It's on a new riddim that [legendary track-maker] Steelie built for [the studio] Mixing Lab. I'm just voicing nonstop. I'm actually on every beat that's hot in Jamaica right now, so the fans can't complain."

Even though there are always critics who will feel an artist is putting out too much material, Vegas is not one to let that affect him. "The critics are just human beings the same -- you can't let that get you down, you just have to keep on working." With a solid history of popular songs and an amazing voice, as showcased with his last album and album track "Rise," Vegas is moving forward to bring forth the next album, another chapter of music for Mr. Vegas.

Meanwhile there is still longevity and life in Damn Right. It has a very resilient international appeal and like many successful albums in reggae (by Shaggy, Diana King, and so forth), it contains songs that cross into hip-hop and Latin genres while still maintaining its root sounds. One of the singles from the album, "Kokane," is just now starting to pick up steam. Vegas explains, "We did the song over with a rapper from New York called Intense. A video was just released. The same kid that produced the song, from Topez Records, produced [the video]. It was video of the week in Jamaica." (If you haven't seen the "Kokane" video, you might want to call one of the local video shows like Da Boomshack and request it.) This could possibly breath new life in the album yet? One thing's for certain, Vegas is far from over and we've just begun to see the full range of his abilities.