Update 2020: Rodney “Bounty Killer” Price is a man with many names; fans call him General, Warlord, and Governor. From the height of the 90s Dancehall DJ era, Bounty has continued recording, performing, and doing some general ‘bad boy bizness.’ He also inspired such DJs as Mavado & Elephant Man and teamed up with young artists, such as Konshens.
Through the Bounty Killer Foundation and his “Give Back to…” program, Bounty assists single mothers and other people in need in his community and throughout Kingston.♥
Bounty Killer: The Poor People’s Governor
Interviewed by Shelah Moody & Rachel Campbell
Written by Shelah Moody V15#3 1997
Since the September 1996 release of his fourth album, My Xperience, which features hard-hitting and brilliant collaborations with Barrington Levy, Fugees, Busta Rhymes, Junior Reid, and others, Bounty Killer has blown up in the Reggae and Hip-Hop communities. Between U.S. and international concert and club dates, video shoots, interviews, and publicity tours, it is no wonder the 25-year-old DJ has gained a reputation as one of the industry’s most elusive personalities. After months of endless calls to his record label, Blunt Recordings, his manager, Johnny Wonder, and Killer’s personal cellular number in Jamaica, I had almost given up hope on our long-awaited interview until it was announced that Bounty would headline Dancehall Day at the 16th annual Ragamuffins Festival (Feb. 14-16) in Long Beach, Calif. As I discovered that weekend, getting the things you really want in life requires patience, persistence, and good timing. On a calm Sunday afternoon, we found Bounty cooling out in his room at the Long Beach Hyatt after his climactic performance at the Long Beach Arena the previous night. From the stories I’ve heard, I was hardly surprised when a low-key, polite and well-focused (in contrast to his hard-core, larger than life stage persona) young man greeted two eager reporters at the door. As we turned on our tape recorders, and Bounty eased his lean, 6-foot frame into a chair, one million questions about My Xperience and other aspects of his life raced through my mind.
According to Blunt Recordings publicist Wanda Snell, My Xperience has spent 10 consecutive weeks in the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Reggae chart. So far, the album has produced five successful singles and videos: “Suicide or Murder” (featuring Jeru Da Damaja), “Living Dangerously” (with Barrington Levy), “Change Like the Weather” (with Busta Rhymes and Junior Reid). “Benz and Bimma,” and “Hip Hopera” (featuring the Fugees). On the “Hip Hopera” video, the DJ portrays a mystical African king who channels divine forces to slay his opposition. The video is getting regular rotation on MTV, The Box, and Black Entertainment Television (BET). In February, Bounty was featured in a one-hour special for BET’s popular Caribbean Rhythms program.
Bounty has also been doing well on the touring circuit. He had an incredible reception in Europe in February, where he said audiences were 95 percent white. “We went to Germany, Sweden, Amsterdam, and Switzerland,” reported Bounty. “People there were so crazy about the music. They kept banging the stage even though I’d been out of the venue for two hours.”
“People [in Europe] were so crazy about the music. They kept banging the stage even though I’d been out of the venue for two hours.”
Asked how he feels to be in a No. 1 position, Bounty observed that the overwhelming response from his fans has given him increased motivation: “It just makes me feel grateful for the music; grateful to know that Reggae music could give me such fame. It’s like you’ve got a great expectation, and you’re gonna flop if you can’t fulfill it. People are expecting you to deliver, and you come on stage and sing one little song when they’re expecting you to sing 10. You realize that you have to go home and work on that and give them 20 songs now, which is even more than they expected. The more people support you, the more it demands you to cultivate more things. If an artist is trying and he gets no response, he gets downhearted. But if he sees people going crazy, he knows he is the man. So, he has to do what the man has to do – keep working. If people aren’t responding, he figures ‘What should I be working for?’ The people are supporting me and responding to me, so I’ve got to keep [the energy] up there. I am the one who took them there, so I have to stay with them.”
Known for his charismatic performances, precise delivery, and vocal flexibility, Bounty is one of the few performers who has managed to bridge the gap between Dancehall, hard-core Rap, and Roots Reggae. In addition, songs like “Cellular Phone,” “Benz and Bimma,” and “Living Dangerously” have established Bounty as a sex symbol (the front of the stage belongs to the ladies, he says) while his notorious performances at Sting and Sunsplash, and political tracks like “Fed Up” and “Mama” have made him a national hero amongst the Dancehall massive in his birthplace, earning him the title of “Poor People’s Governor.”
Going Out On His Own
Through King Jammy’s studio in Waterhouse (an area of Kingston), Jamaica, Bounty recorded three albums: Roots, Reality and Culture (1992), Down in the Ghetto (1994), and Face to Face (1994). An unauthorized album, No Argument, was released in 1995. During this time, Bounty handled his own management, served as his own producer and booking agent, as well as CEO of his record label, Priceless. With his current label, Scare Dem/Wonder Dog Productions, Bounty feels that he is finally in a position of control. Scare Dem was involved in every aspect of production of My Xperience, from gaining distribution deals to selecting and approaching artists. It was Bounty who insisted on the cover photo, a black-and-white face shot reminiscent of the cover of Miles Davis’ 1986 album Tutu. Behind the dark glasses, Bounty gives you an intense, unapologetic stare, and you instantly focus on the red “X” (which has become a renewed symbol of black militancy and black pride since Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X was released in 1992.)
“No man, we don’t want more money; we want more response”
“Most artists can’t manage it,” said Bounty. “There are a few who are fortunate like we, who have a little knowledge and know that we can hold up our thing, and keep it in one corner. We are the ones who own My Xperience; we produced it; it’s our album. The record companies can make connections, but what about the artists? The artists are the most essential people in the business.”
Bounty also had a say in his marketing strategy. With 20 songs on My Xperience, his record label could have released a double album. Bounty decided to release them all on one CD in order to keep the price low for the average music buyer.
“No man, we don’t want more money; we want more response,” explained Bounty. “If you sell the album for more money, you’ll make more money, but the people with the small budget lives won’t be able to afford it. If you sell it cheaper, all the people with a whole heap of money can purchase it and even the unfortunate can purchase it.”
Bounty Killer, a.k.a. Rodney Basil Price, began committing musical and lyrical ”murda” on the mic at an early age. Born on June 12, 1972, in Riverton City, Jamaica, Bounty hails from a struggling family of six sisters and two brothers (one now deceased). Young Rodney had two things in his favor: a strong work ethic and a spiritual foundation. His father owned and operated a small sound system in Riverton City, so Bounty was exposed to the music as a youth.
“It took some time before my career was launched,” recalled Bounty. “I wasn’t intentionally planning to reach the place where I am now. Growing up in the ghetto, I was exposed to the music early. My father would put on an album; he had no DJ or selector. I used to take the mic and say, ‘Mi name Rodney’… It amused me to hear my voice coming through the speaker like some kind of robot. That was my style from a little child. I didn’t really have any lyrics or intention to DJ, I just liked to do that.”
Bounty’s professional influences include DJs Chaka Demus, the late Nicodemus, Michigan & Smiley, Super Cat, Charlie Chaplin, U-Roy, producer Tappa Zukie, and fellow Waterhouse mate, vocalist Junior Reid. As he matured, Bounty began to get an idea of what DJing was all about: “Mi and mi friends started going to little dances – going out early before big people come out to dance – and got our little piece of the music. One night, I went to a dance in Riverton City in 1980. Everyone was testing them talent; it was a little talent show. My friend was saying, ‘You have a whole heap of argument,’ ‘cause I’m man with ‘nuff words. He told me, ‘Go hold the mic now because you love to hold the mic, and now is the time to prove your talent.’ Mi just hold the mic, but I never had any intention; it was just at the encouragement of my friends. I didn’t have any original lyrics, so I sang a Junior Reid song called “Woman Make Your Waistline Roll.” The place tore up, but I just let it go because I didn’t have anymore songs.”
On growing up: “We made wall plaques and figurines. My mother used to make pillows, and she used to sew…a dressmaker ,too.”
The success of his first performance motivated Bounty to write his first song, “Down in the Gully” which, to date, is unrecorded. He began to make appearances at local community talent shows. Along with cultivating his musical career (with his peers Nitti Kutchie and Boom Dandimite), the enterprising Bounty operated an arts and crafts business with his family on the side.
“We made wall plaques and figurines. My mother used to make pillows, and she used to sew. She’s a dressmaker, too. That’s what we used to do for our earnings. In the 1980s, we started to go to country—way out into other communities to DJ. People in other communities became aware of us.”
Bounty’s life began to change after his friends introduced him to Uncle T, a producer with King Jammys. Bounty joined a superstar DJ roster that included Shabba Ranks, Admiral Bailey, and Chaka Demus. Through Jammys, Bounty released his breakthrough hit, “Coppershot” (1992). The lyrics were autobiographical as Bounty was shot and nearly killed at age 12 in a crossfire, which occurred during a spur of political violence plaguing his community. The song gained popularity throughout Jamaica, the U.S. the U.K., and Canada.
“On the path to stardom, I burst out with some gangster songs, and people started to say a whole lot of things,” Bounty reflected. “But the first song I did was a tune called the ‘The Gun Mus’ Done,’ but no one ever responded to the song, and people never tried to give it much of a boost so that the message could get out to the people. So we did the next song, ‘Coppershot.’ That’s the one they pushed. So we thought that was the message people were searching for.”
“…the first song I did was a tune called the ‘The Gun Mus’ Done,’ but no one ever responded to the song…”
By popular demand, Bounty went on to record more “gun” tunes, and disturbingly, people began to associate his lyrics and his moniker with violence. He explained that his lyrics came out of the concrete conditions of his community.
“People began to say that Bounty Killer incites violence. People have been shooting people before songs were made about shooting people. It only sounds like you are inciting, but of course, you are not the one who indulges in that. So I came out with a song called “Roots, Reality, and Culture.” Fans responded to that topic. So we went on to the ghetto concept, poor people lyrics, and from there we said, OK, talk about guns, well guns shoot people, poor people. Poor people suffer. I held on to that topic and never let it go. On the song “Fed Up” I defend the poor. I did songs called ‘Man a Suffer,’ ‘Babylon System,’ ‘Mama,’ and ‘The Lord is My Salvation.’ I guess I’m putting it all on record—what I see, what I saw, what I come across. I’m not holding back anything. The song ‘My Xperience’ is a big poor people’s song. ‘My Xperience’ is the ghetto experience. The ghetto experience is unemployment, violence, political issues, and all types of things. It’s a ghetto argument—people getting shot, your mother not being in a good mood, and the basket running out of food.
“The people them branded me the Poor People’s Governor ‘cause them know seh ‘nuff man come and talk a ghetto tune and [then] them stray,” Bounty continued. “Mi never stray; mi always have a ghetto concept.”At this point, it seems that Bounty has enough business sense, original material, and innovative beats to carry him into the next decade. Bounty feels that after eight months in the stores, My Xperience has a lot more mileage because of its crossover appeal. Songs like “Ask fi War” (featuring Raekwon), “Maniac” (featuring Richie Stephens), “Revolution III” (featuring Dennis Brown and Beenie Man), and “Guns & Roses” (featuring Malvo and Anthony Red Rose) have the potential to reach diverse audiences. Because of his hectic schedule, Bounty admits that hobbies are luxuries. On his days off, Bounty (who has two young children) spends time at home in Jamaica listening to music. He still enjoys his mother’s home cooking.
In closing, the DJ is asked which aspect of his life he takes most pride in: “All over the world, people are telling me that My Xperience is the best Dancehall record. I don’t know if they are just saying that to make me feel good, but that is what I’ve been seeing in the papers, on TV, and all over the media.” Bounty pointed out that the album wasn’t nominated for a Grammy; however, that doesn’t seem to bother him as he said: “I don’t take stock in awards. We take the most pride in all of the success because everything generates and comes right back. Every little thing makes up success. I give thanks to the Almighty because He’s the one who made it happen. People do change, and He’s the only one who never changes.”