SPORTING a new hairdo and outlook on life at age 37, Harry Toddler has shed his Scare Dem Crew persona and lyrics for a more sober and mature image, a move which has surprised even some of his closest dancehall colleagues.
It’s not a ruse to sell records by reinventing himself nor is he eyeing the gospel market, Toddler, the hit-making brain behind Scare Dem, undoubtedly the hypest and hottest dancehall crew from the mid-1990s to around 2000, is simply seeing life from a more responsible perspective as he approaches midlife.
“I do have a new image, a new look. It’s a change of heart, how I feel. It’s not like I was forced or influenced. I followed my heart. I chose to do it based on how I feel and the type of music I want to get out to people,” said Toddler who, for years was part of the hot Scare Dem quartet comprising Elephant Man, Nitty Kutchie, and Boom Dandimite.
Gone is the bleached-out hair which earned him the moniker, ‘Blonde Ras’, along with lyrics he now deems not fitting the new man he has become.
“I don’t think the Scare Dem image will get the message across to do the type of work I want to do,” said Toddler, who stakes claim to have written some of Scare Dem’s biggest hits such as Bad Man Nuh DressLike Girl, Dance The Angel, Beer Gal Waan Wi, Watch Yu Friends Yu Keep and Certain Bwoy.
Instead, included in Toddler’s latest releases are a Dennis Brown remake, Loving You, and Give I Strength, a far cry from the loud, in-your-face style which dominated Scare Dem material and saw the group on the verge of international breakthrough.
“I am looking at where I am coming from and the kind of music that’s going on right now, I can’t see myself being a part of it,” he said.
“All of my friends are mature and they have kids. The kids they have are embracing the music. I see them liking a song and I know it’s not good for them,” Toddler explained with sincerity.
“I grew up loving songs that people like Beres does, the Dennis Browns, they live in my heart. I looked into myself and said I want to do some of the music they did, that people can say Toddler did some great songs. That’s what I am working for, winning the people’s hearts.”
In Give I Strength, Toddler’s Scare Dem style is unrecognisable as he singjays, ‘Mi hear a knock pon mi window, just rise an a puff mi indica, helicopter a shine light, police a look fi gun, like ducta a hunt fi passenger, if mi did live a Norbrook, dat wouldn’t gwaan, mi would a wake up to corn flakes and Lucky Charm, but a true inna the ghetto me born, every day mi get up mi hear man a beat corn.’
“It’s something some youth wake up to every day,” he said. “I just wanted to bring the message across that that is how some youths have to live every day.”
Toddler and his former Scare Dem crew members certainly understand the way of life he describes in Give I Strength.
broke down to four
Originally a group of friends originating from the Waltham Park and Seaview Gardens areas of St Andrew, Scare Dem, Toddler said, was formed at the famed King Jammys Studio in Waterhouse with “six or seven members which broke down to four”.
“Angel Doolas, Determine, Daily Bread, and Bramwell were there. It started like that but Toddler, Elephant Man, Boom Dandimite, and Nitty Kutchie put in more work so it broke down to four,” Toddler explained.
“Sly of Sly and Robbie saw the talent and made a rhythm. Bulbie and Anthony Red Rose also supported us. The first song was Rap Segment for Taxi label. Sly made a rhythm and from we did that song, the group took off.”
Hits such as Rap Segment, Different Gal Every Day, Many Many, Ready or Not (using The Fugees’ hook), Scare Dem Rock, Nah Run Back a Nuh Gal and Dun Di Place, made Scare Dem one of dancehall’s biggest act alongside the likes of rivals Beenie Man and Bounty Killer.
However, Scare Dem, which was managed at various stages by Bounty Killer, Louise Frazier-Bennett, and Sharon Burke, followed the trademark route of successful groups – explode then implode.
To make matters worse, the group crumbled just as phenomenal as its rise onstage at the first Fully Loaded concert series, which, Toddler said, should have been a celebration of Scare Dem’s arrival.
“Elephant Man left after an incident with Nitty Kutchie at Fully Loaded when Elephant Man was boxed. BET was there, Wycliffe, and The Fugees too.
“It should have been a celebration but it turned out to be a big embarrassment. After that, the fans who loved Scare Dem felt sorry for Elephant Man, and from that everyone went their ways,” Toddler reminisced.
“It’s a lot of stuff was going on in the fa … who is talking about taking money to do album on the side. It was things like that going on in the family. Everybody went to different managers after the split.”
Elephant Man went on to become a major success while Toddler continued recording, scoring a hit with Don’t Run In in 2008. However, the other Scare Dem members have basically been off the radar.
However, it’s his new releases that Toddler is most proud of.
“I am feeling confident,” he said . “I want the people to feel what I am feeling. I want the music to live longer. I want it to rest in people’s hearts and souls.
“For Loving You, a cover of Dennis Brown, I used the chorus and put some lyrics to the chorus.
Dennis Brown fan
It’s a way-out Dennis Brown, only the real Dennis Brown fan would know where I am coming from.
“I have the guidance of Joseph of Downsound Records and Shauny, an adviser, plus Scatta. Those three people coached me through the change, told me a change is not bad.
“It was shocking to my fans. People would pass me but the face can’t change. Everything has changed, my dressing too. People are saying they appreciate it, commenting on how they love it. It lifts me more and they want to listen to my new material.
“I had a ton load of new stuff and they weren’t paying attention to them until November 30, last year. I changed image and compiled a new set of songs.
“I started posting them out, giving them out. Jamaican selectors were not even convinced but changed because they were seeing things on the Internet.”
He said his change of image was so radical that while at Tifa’s Birthday Bash at Sugarman’s Beach earlier this year, some of his dancehall colleagues didn’t recognize him.
“When they saw me, nobody knew it was me. Cuddly from Ward 21, he was in front of me , looking at me for about 10 minutes before realizing it was me. Everybody was wondering if it was me. Lady Saw was walking past, she knows me forever, and gave me a normal hail.
“When me and the Downsound Crew went over to the Digicel booth, she heard Cuddly saying Toddler has a different look. She was shocked and came back to me, saying, ‘Toddler, you look so good’”.
As for his old material, Toddler said he hasn’t abandoned them altogether and has had to use them to introduce himself on stage shows.
“I don’t sing all of it,” he said. “I am not focusing on these songs. At certain appearances, you just give them a tease for people to recognise who is on stage, like at the GT Taylor show I opened with Don’t Run In.
What about his old friends – Bounty Killer, Nitty Kutchie, Boom Dandimite, and Elephant Man, is there any chance of a Scare Dem reunion?
“A Scare Dem Reunion? I don’t think it will happen because it has gone into hate now. Members don’t even like each other anymore,” he said.
However, Bounty Killer, he said, will always be his friend.
“We found Bounty and Bounty found us. Harry Toddler was at Jammy’s first. When I knew Bounty, he was Bounty Hunter. We were at a spot and somebody wanted to kill Bounty Hunter for the name ‘Bounty Hunter’ because a different deejay had the name.
“When it happened, I was there. Bounty built us and we built Bounty. The vibes we carried around Bounty, it made him Bounty. He looked and said these youth were a great help, so he formed the Scare Dem Crew, just like how he discovered Mavado, Addi, and ANG. Up to this day, he’s still doing that.
Bounty and I are friends, we curse we fight, but we’re still friends.”
Source: THE STARTweet