“I’ve never thought of myself as an MC,” reveals John Lashley reluctantly over the phone from his home in New York. Lashley, who performs as Juakali, wasn’t billed as “MC” until 2006, after his residency at NYC dubstep party Dub War started picking up steam. “The only way people associate a reggae artist toasting over electronic music is through drum & bass,” he says ruefully. “I’m not even a drum & bass head anyway!”
Nonetheless, Lashley is using his ragga vocal talents to break the typical MC mold. In addition to mic duties at Big Apple monthlies Dub War and Sub Swara, he performs with the Dub Liberation Front band, and recently opened for Meat Beat Manifesto at their NYC show. But it’s overseas travels that have yielded the Trinidadian-born artist the most opportunities, including his first vinyl single, which was recently issued on Czech label Gunjah. “I wanted people to understand that even though I’m involved in electronic music, this is where I’m coming from,” says Lashley of the track, a straight roots reggae number entitled “Run Babylon.”
Reggae influences have remained at the forefront of his collaborations with Bristol dubstep producer Pinch, U.K. digital dub artists Alpha and Omega, and American electronic music fusionists Moldy and Kush Arora. “Juakali is taking a traditional style and blending it in new ways,” says Arora. “He’s showing that Caribbean culture won’t be left behind in the ashes of the digital revolution.”
Lately, Lashley’s revolution has been realized at Dub War. “[At dubstep events], I can switch a flow three times in one song, where in dancehall or reggae you can’t really do that,” he says. Dub War has become a forum for him to try new verses or songs that eventually end up on record.
Lashley, who has a new album in the works, believes that, in the age of iPod mixes and file-sharing, listeners are more hyped on live shows than ever. “Going to a concert is a bigger deal than getting the DVD of the concert,” he says. And if you expect to catch Juakali any time soon, you’ll have to leave the house. “I’m trying to pay rent, so I have to get out on the road and play live!”