Originally hailing from Jamaica, Mr. Ice has been performing his own blend of reggae and dancehall music since 1997. So that’s why, when the new video for the title track of his latest album found him navigating the streets of Cambridge, we felt compelled to find out the story behind the artist’s Boston relocation.
Meeting in a crowded Somerville bar during a meet-and-greet event, we realized pretty early on that the “fish-out-of-water” label did not apply to Mr. Ice. Making his way across the crowds of people that had gathered, Mr. Ice displayed much of the positive attitude we noticed as present in his music. Said attitude continued throughout the lengthy conversation we had about the artist’s inspirations and overall message:
AC: First off, where does the name “Mr. Ice” come from?
Mr. Ice: It’s a funny story, they used to call me Hot Ice when I was young, you know? Going to school, one or two friends used to call me that. I never got it, I just stick with whatever I’m called, you know? [laughs] As time passed, I asked them why and they said “you’re just cool and relaxed when you’re offstage, and when you go onstage it’s like you’re a different, fiery kind of person.” And as time passes it changes, at one point I was a radio DJ and I changed it to “Iceberg.” It’s what people do, you know? You have to change your name when you evolve.
For a time I was “Daddy Ice,” during the 90’s when I was part of a group called “CNC” (Creating Nuff Consciousness). It was me, my older brother Don-Tippa, and a cousin of mine, they called him “X,” although he isn’t doing music anymore. Over time as I began my solo career it became “Mr. Ice” permanently.
So you’re from Jamaica originally, right? When did you end up moving to Boston?
Yeah, well, born in Jamaica. Every man is from Africa, but I was born in Jamaica originally [laughs]. I came to Boston maybe mid-2014, about a year and a half ago.
Ok, so you’re pretty new to the area?
Yeah! Lots of people keep asking me about [possible connections], and I keep saying I know it might look strange that I am here and don’t know these people; but the truth is, I’ve just come here and I haven’t had the time to be formally introduced to the people yet, you know what I mean? So I just go on being humble and walking my road and being thankful to the people I meet along the way.
I had a friend here, I did the album actually, a few of the tracks were done in his studio. I used to produce him when he came to visit Jamaica, so when I came to Boston he returned the favor. He goes by Castafari, he’s been in Boston for years. One thing lead to another, caterpillar to a butterfly, you know?
So with Jamaica, what’s the scene like compared to Boston/The US?
It’s more relaxing here, and I find it that you can be more focused in a place like this (when you’re looking from where I’m coming from). But Jamaica is exciting, you know what I mean? There’s something happening on every street corner, it’s like going to the market. Everyone is out and having fun and being themselves, no one is trying to choke another person and take what belongs to them. Sure, you have those elements everywhere, but from where I’m from in Jamaica it’s all good vibes when it comes to the music and talent and youthful upliftment (especially from the elders).
What’s your radio history like? Did you start in Jamaica and end up here because of it?
That’s a funny story, check this: I have a friend called Patrick Williams; he is an engineer for broadcasting, he used to run a little pirate [radio] station in the neighborhood. He works for a major radio station, but in the neighborhood he had set up his own transmitting station. He reached out to me and my brother and asked us to sing something for him, he wrote “PLUSH” on a piece of paper and said “sing something about this and bring it to me before I go to work tonight.”
Those days, the studio was not like what you”d see now. We recorded the song while the guy played the riddim on the turntable and put a cassette into a recorder. It was one take because you’d have to buy another cassette if you made a mistake, you know? It was so simple and easy that we honestly didn’t think anything of it. We brought that tape to Patrick who had been into radio since he was 16, he liked the song and played it on his radio station, which generated quite a lick of vibe in England, Jamaica and here in the US. So we become friends, and wherever he would go work at different radio stations he would carry me along, which over time gave me exposure into what life is really about.
“It was one take because you’d have to buy another cassette if you made a mistake”
Eventually we started building radio stations, until I got my first program in 2012 on More 91.7 FM called “Our Views on Rastafari.” In Christmas 2013 I migrated to the US and met with Linkage Radio in New York who I used to produce. He offered me a position and asked me to generate a program for young and upcoming artists from all around the globe.
I gotta ask, are you fine with me publishing that you started in pirate radio? I’m not sure of the legalities of that sort of thing.
Well, I mean, it is true, and it is history. One man said “history belongs to the victors.” If you did it and it was successful, you can tell the story and that is what the world will remember. How you do it is another thing [laughs]
Are you more natural with the radio, or music? Do you find that some aspect of the radio is easier than music, or vice versa?
Oh, with music, definitely. I respect the radio and everyone who is on it, especially if they are alone in the studio. It’s a rough job, you have to make it so exciting that the people outside want to listen, you know? Being on a topic in such a way that it grasps other people to come listen to you. It’s an art by itself, and sorry to say I don’t possess that [laughs]. It was fun for me, but not something I was in love with. I could do it, and I probably would do good at it, but it’s not something I’d want to do.
What’s the story of Moving On? How did you get hooked up with Greezzly Productions? Is there a story to the album?
I met Greezzly through a bigger brother of mine, but I never physically met him. We did a couple of songs together and I decided “I like the way you sound as a producer, you sound good and you make me sound good, so I want to do an album.”
Most of the songs on the album are inspired by the same woman. It was a good time in my life, physically things were down and rough but mentally and spiritually it was a really good place to be, you know? I was just singing some songs, but in reality we were making the album. When I did “Moving On,” that track was the test track and it was my first time hearing the riddim. I was just saying what I was feeling and recorded it as a test track. I sent it to Greezzly and he sent the finished product back to me, and I said “this is not the song.” He told me to give it a week, but after that time I still felt the same way.
But, an artist must understand that a producer also has art, and also has a vision. So, as a producer myself, I started viewing the situation from where he might be coming from. I said “you know, it’s understandable” and it is something real that I was feeling and saying at the time. He said “I think this should be the song” and I said OK, let’s make it the title of the album.
What would you say is the message behind the song? Is the title track about the girl you mentioned earlier?
Oh no, not that song [laughs]. Most of the tracks, like “Kissing At The Stoplight,” “In Love With You,” “Love You Still,” those tracks. Everything else is basically a good positive message I think the world needs. I can’t be telling myself these things everyday, I should share these things with the world. I motivate myself, why not try to motivate others?
Would you say that’s an inspiration for you? The motivating of others and spreading a positive message?
I mean, I like good vibes. If somebody comes in my surroundings and the vibe is off, I’ll stick around and do my best to create good vibes. But if those vibes aren’t coming, I have to leave, I have to keep it moving. There’s a thing I always say, looking in the mirror: “If you stare too long into the darkness, by the time you decide to move forward, you turn around and the light is too far ahead of you.” You get swallowed up by the darkness, which is negativity, all these things. That is what I am moving on from. Its not a physical person or a place, it is an energy. This negative energy that sometimes it can take a hold of you and never let go.
So I’m moving on from the place I was at that time. This is just one way of telling myself everyday “yesterday was bad but tomorrow can be better, because you have today as an opportunity to make what tomorrow turns out to be”.
“Yesterday was bad but tomorrow can be better”
What artists inspire you? What did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to almost everybody. In Jamaica, as a youngster, I listened to Stanley and The Turbines, who were mento. Obviously Bob Marley, but I liked Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs more, you know? They could talk to me. Very few Marley songs talk to me, where he’s really cool and really talking about something. Most are just him saying what needs to be said, but it’s really a party song, something that once you hear it you have to start dancing. But there are some songs that once you hear it, you have to sit, roll a joint, and listen. I’m influenced by those, all the Gregory Isaacs are like that, the Dennis Brown, Freddie Mcgregor, Junior Reid, all these people have created the spectrum in my head upon which I dance and sing. I used to listen to The Isley Brothers, The Heptones, The Four Tops, the American Top 40. I didn’t really get a liking to Michael Jackson until I got older, because as a kid I never understood what he was saying. The dancing is all cool, but I’m more about what you are saying underneath.
What about local artists? What are you listening to right now?
I’ve spent very little time listening to music now, since September of last year I’ve started to relax and decide what needs to be done for this year. I haven’t listened to anyone or anything, I’ve been just inside myself spiritually deciding what physically needs to be displayed.
The album’s been out for a year, what’s next for Mr. Ice?
Well, let’s see what you guys have to offer [laughs] whatever you the people have to offer, I can decide from that what to take. I want to just keep being positive with it, keep giving positive messages. I want people to live and be happy, experience love and joy and happiness. That’s my thing. I might do it from a living room, or from the middle of a stadium, who knows, I just want to spread good vibes and a positive message, yes I. I might do an EP for 2016, who knows. Try to get it out right at the end of spring, 5 songs. I’m still promoting Moving On for this year all the way through, and probably next year too, because I like it. It’s good work, it’s my work, and I want to share it.
I’m someone who’s never heard of you before, never seen you before, how would you describe yourself to me?
As a man!
[laughs] What sort of man?
I appreciate life very much, all aspects of it. I don’t wish to tell a person what is negative and what is positive. There needs to be a balance.
“There needs to be a balance.”
What about from a performance aspect? Like if they had never heard of reggae before/had limited understanding of the genre?
Well, there’s a process to getting to know something, and whatever draws your attention is what it is. To a person walking down the street? Just go to Reverbnation or Google, type “Moving On by Mr. Ice” and see if you like it! Although I’m not a person who would say “go play my stuff,” I can’t do it. I’d give you a CD and not even tell you it was me. Maybe that’s where I am today. I don’t go around pumping my chest, I don’t carve my name on every track. It’s not about me, it’s a bigger picture. If you like me, you like me, I like you too, you know? That’s good vibes.
Anything else you’d like to say?
There’s a man from Jamaica called Shy-B. I owe a lot of whatever “this” is, and whatever my life is to become to that man. He’s like a father to me, I met him on the street one day and I said “I want to make an album.” He removed the keys to his studio from his pocket, handed them to me and said “anytime you’re ready.” We’ve been working together for years. We’ve done a lot of songs, some of them I shall revisit. Massive respect to Shy-B. He’s not anywhere to be found on social media or anything, he just owns a real nice studio in Jamaica, if I had a picture I’d share it with you. Real nice, old vintage settings, but trust me, you can get anything you want out of there in terms of sound and dynamics. Shy-B Music lab in Catherine Hall, Montego Bay is a magical place.
Are we talking like a Lee Perry type of place?
Something like that, without the magic of craziness [laughs]. His magic is something different, you know what I mean? He’d take a lost soul, find it, nurture it, and bring it back.