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World Music Features

King Django

By Matt Scheiner
Published June 5, 2008

Since 1986, King Django (born Jeff Baker) has been an influential figure on New York City’s reggae and ska scenes, having worked with artists like Skinnerbox, The Stubborn All-Stars and Venezuelan ska phenom Don Khumalo in various capacities as a singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer.

King Django runs the independent Stubborn Records label, and holds court in Version City—his recording studio based in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Django has been committed to keeping up the flow with his monthly Version City parties at New York City’s Knitting Factory, and has just put the fi nishing touches on a new reggae project that explores his Jewish roots.

What’s the encapsulated history of Stubborn Records?

I started the label in 1992 after becoming disillusioned with the industry. I was pretty young and naïve, and a lot of people were promising me all kinds of things that always seemed to cancel each other out and leave me with nothing. I had always been inspired by people like Prince Buster, Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid and Lee Perry, so I took it as a great opportunity to start my own label. The first release was my band Skinnerbox’s first full-length CD Tales Of The Red, and after that I just kept releasing vinyl and CDs, with the emphasis on traditional ska and reggae, and particularly on recordings by my friends and associates.

You recently started releasing 45s with your new label and the Jamaica-based Freedom Sounds. How did that come about?

I started the Version City label last year in partnership with Bertram Brown, who has been running Freedom Sounds since the 1970s. I’ve always been a big fan of “version” and riddim-based music and deejay styles. I had a great track that I produced with Johnny Osbourne over one of my Version City Rockers riddims called “Fortitude.” It’s very roots reggae, and I was looking for someone to co-release it with me who could get it into more of the roots reggae circles. I brought the tune down to Kingston and played it for Mr. Brown, and we pretty much started the label that day. Since then we’ve both been voicing artists on that riddim as well as a few other Version City and Freedoms Sounds riddims. They’re all new recordings featuring old-school artists as well as up-and-comers from Jamaica, New York, New Jersey and other distant locales.

How important has it been for you guys to keep the scene alive? It seemed like it was thriving in the ’90s and then it took a nosedive—but Stubborn has seen it through.

Ska and reggae is what inspired me to become a musician and producer, so it will always be very important to me. I think the music that got popular in the ’90s as “ska” had very little to do with the music that we release