In the mid-to-late 2000s, the pendulum of power in Dancehall music invariably swung between two forces – the Gully and the Gaza. In retrospect, that reality makes it all the more impressive that at the peak of their powers, both Vybz Kartel and Mavado were temporarily unseated by an unlikely duo – RDX.
ReniGAD, whose real name is Carlton Williams, represents one-half of the now-defunct group, and in a recent interview with DancehallMag, he discussed, among other things, the failed publicity stunt that ultimately signaled the end of the group, the ‘dark side’ of the music industry, and lessons learned on their first tour to Japan.
That story, Williams tells us, quite literally begins with excitement.
“RDX started from another group. That one had a lot of members and it was called Xsytement (pronounced excitement), but we broke off from them. It was a different vibe, a totally different direction. We wanted to do other things, so we parted ways,” the Waterhouse native shared.
From The Ashes…
RDX, which initially meant Renigade and Delomar from Xsytement, ultimately became Reggae and Dancehall and something Xtra. The duo rose from the ashes of their former group with one defining objective: to take music seriously.
“Xsytement was more of a gimmicky group, to be honest,” ReniGAD explained. “We [himself and Delomar – the other half of RDX] knew exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to get ourselves out there. There are things about that decision that are hard to explain, but there were elements that we were looking at that we wanted to add, and we had to break off to do that.”
Although Xsytement had been a persistent collective, what little notoriety they had garnered over the years proved insufficient leverage for the newly-formed RDX. As Williams revealed, getting into Dancehall was an invite-only endeavor, and initially, no invites came.
“[Dancehall] music then was an invitation-only ting. You had to have someone in the game invite you in,” he explained.
As would become a recurring theme in their story, they made a way. If the door wasn’t being opened for them, they were audacious – and smart enough – to kick it down.
Williams was an excellent beat-maker, and that formed part of the group’s strategy to get in. He revealed that he had been behind the riddim of Beenie Man’s Swing Eh Weh and Macka Diamond’s Hula Hoop – two notable tunes from their time, which flipped the switch on the group’s exposure. People started to notice them.
“I used beat-making to break into the industry. It got us more exposure in the game,” Williams shared.
It also helped that someone who had briefly been a member of RDX, who had become part of the industry, eventually extended that coveted invite to them. This, Williams further noted, kickstarted a wave of people who would ultimately help them along their journey. Even then, after most things had aligned, there was something missing, and RDX knew exactly where to find it.
Going Back To ‘School’ And The Dark Side Of Music
Although the door to the industry had swung open to them, the group didn’t immediately walkthrough. At the time, the ongoing Gully versus Gaza feud had such a stranglehold on local music, that most aspiring artists either had to settle for short-lived stints under the spotlight, or pursue their careers knowing they would likely never see the top of the charts. RDX, however, had lofty ambitions, and the best way to reach them was to be tactical. So, they went to America to study.
According to Williams: “We went to America and spent a couple of months there. We learnt songwriting, how to present ourselves, and other tools. Technically, it was like going back to school. That was the aim – we went to America to learn about the music industry.”
For the entire time they were there, RDX refrained from doing performances of any sort.
“We realized we had a lot of things to learn, so we decided not to perform or do any shows. We educated ourselves about the music, we strategized, and knew exactly what we would do,” Williams told DancehallMag, additionally revealing that some of the lessons proved to be absolute shockers.
“We also learnt about the dark side of music. I wasn’t aware that that side existed, but when I saw it in America, it really opened my eyes. There’s a side of music people don’t talk about or are afraid to. There are lot of things you have to give up in order to gain other things. Trust me, it’s a different level of darkness,” he said.
Williams’ ominous admission that “It’s a different level of darkness” to the industry most people turn to in an effort to feel good was at first difficult to reconcile. “I didn’t know it existed to that degree, if I’m being honest,” he reasoned.
He continued: “Three things push music forward. Most people know ‘bout di money and contacts, but most people don’t know ‘bout the other one – da dark side deh. Listen, there are many things intentionally hidden from the public. There a number of things you have to keep private, and most importantly, you have to understand the rules of the game overall. It’s a game of perception and deception, and it’s all used to the benefit of people in the industry. You can either create a perception or people will form one of you.”
That lesson is one that stuck with RDX, even after they returned to Jamaica following their unofficial study break. Everything – from their looks, to their sound and overall personas – became a calculated move to a plan that was now in motion.
Confident Redirection And Success
“We did some analysis. We looked at the places we were going, we looked at our flaws, and we looked at who was dominant and what they were doing. We knew it was up to us to use our lyrical potency, melodies and other skills. We knew we had to use our strengths and what we had learnt. We had a very clear game plan,” Williams explained.
He further shared: “We were very confident in the direction we were going. When we came back from America, we were armed with all that knowledge, so we stepped into this with a very clear focus on what we wanted to accomplish. There was more room for us to grow.”
Reaching those objectives, RDX learned, would take a team, and luckily, they found one. “We had some people who believed in us,” Williams shared. “They helped a lot, and that’s part of why we had a clear path and knew exactly what we were going at. With our first song, it all came together. All that we had learnt worked, and that gave us a jump start. We found it, and we knew we had found a formula.”
In March of 2012, RDX released Dance on Apt. 19’s label. The track, which was produced by R&R Records, became the group’s first number-one song, Williams revealed.
According to the singer, that momentum kept going. “We knew we would have been successful, but the success we got was unprecedented. Can you imagine yuh first three song dem a go number one? Well, a dat happen wid RDX. Dance, Everybody Dance and Dancers Anthem all went number one on the local charts at the time.”
“Memba innuh,” he noted, “only one person can occupy number one, so, when RDX did deh a number one, Vybz Kartel and Movado dem was actually down on the charts. We buss inna di middle a controversy. We were unknown. We came outa nowhere.”
Williams, whose stage name ReniGAD had suddenly spread across Dancehall, along with Delomar’s, moved to contextualize the extent of their success even further.
He explained: “When we did a buss as RDX, we buss in a time when there was the Gaza vs. Gully war. It was extremely hard for yutes to come in wid dancing music and happy music because of that. But we did. We actually started touring on just our second song.”
The wild success of Dance, which was followed up by the equally successful Everybody Dance, earned them their first trip to Japan – which would also become an important point in their growth as professionals.
RDX On Tour, Growth
Touring on the success of just your second song was as exciting as it was intimidating, but RDX was up to the challenge. The group barely had a catalogue, so when the opportunity came to go to Japan on tour, they got to the studio, put their heads down, and fleshed out a catalogue. By the time their tour dates came around, they were ready.
“Touring in Japan was an experience that was overwhelmingly good. They were really feeling our music, and they like groups over there, so it was a great experience for us We honestly came back from Japan as better artists. We got to test out our new songs, we learned how to arrange our sets, and we honed our stage performance. Doing a tour is different from doing shows sporadically. It’s back to back to back. We had to adjust on the fly and it sharpened our professionalism.”
Further dishing on the lessons learnt while on that first tour, ReniGAD added: “We also learnt the importance of being on time. The Japanese are prompt. If dem tell yuh seh fi meet dem inna di lobby 10:03 a.m., they are going to be there at 10:03 a.m. You know she inna Jamaica, di culture different. Japan taught us to be smarter with our time. It taught us precision and discipline.”
Japan wouldn’t be the only touring highlight for the then scorching hot group, as their experience visiting Africa, further along in their career, ultimately topped the list for ReniGAD.
He shared: “My God, man. Going to Africa, for me, was the biggest and best highlight of our career. It was surreal. I am not an emotional person, but I almost came to tears when I saw the reception. It happened around 2012 or 2013, but people were standing in the sea just so they could see us perform. I will never forget that.”
When RDX returned to Jamaica after their Japan tour, a few things had changed. The group had become a household name on the backs of their top-charting singles, and there was a need, both men felt, to evolve. That’s when RDX transitioned fully into ‘girls music’.
‘We Were Scapegoated’
“We realized di girl dem like wi,” ReniGAD began in his explanation of their new direction. “One of my favorite artist is Beenie Man, so we were looking at it like – how about we take the best from Beenie, his energy, and the best from Bounty Killer, his command of the stage, and combine them? That’s what we attempted, but the first ‘girl song’ didn’t go anywhere. It was called Inna Di Mornin’… Then we did Daggerin’ and that blew up.”
‘Girls music’ is an unofficial reference to songs that are geared towards a female audience. Though that decision, in the end, largely contributed to RDX’s enviable legacy, it was one that almost derailed them. To better understand how that almost came to be, the year 2009 bears great significance.
RDX’s pivot to doing ‘girls’ music’ after the success of Daggerin’ was, to put it mildly, incredibly successful. The perceived effects of that song – which triggered a tsunami of similar tunes from other Dancehall artists at the time – moved the Jamaican government to take notice. When Bend Ova came out, they took action.
“Wibble, wabble, wibble…” may sound like gibberish now. In fact, it probably is, but in 2009, those ‘words’ were the frenzy-inducing opening to RDX’s super popular hit, Bend Ova. The track’s influence significantly aided the popularization a whole sub-genre – Daggerin’ music.
Vybz Kartel’s Bruck It Off, Aidonia’s Hundred Stab and Grab Har Nuh, and Busy Signal’s Up In Her Belly are just a few of the songs that spread like wildfire under the ‘Daggerin’ movement. Once it began to reach the schools, the Jamaican government decided enough was enough.
That year, 2009, Jamaica’s Broadcasting Commission imposed a national ban on ‘daggering’ songs. Though RDX didn’t start the movement, ReniGAD believes they were scapegoated for it.
“People did seh we a bruck out dem pitney. The whole country came down on us. I had to do a lot of interviews, so I know we were being scapegoated. We were aware of that. Unfortunately, I felt like I was alone in defending us from that. I didn’t get much support from Delomars, but that’s kinda how our personalities are. I’m more bullish, and he was the opposite, and that dynamic is what made RDX work,” he reasoned.
He continued: “When the Bend Ova video came out, they said it was the worst video of the year, even though it was number one. But we welcomed the fight. Opposition and resistance build strength. The fight determines what kinda artist you are. We were not gonna back down.”
Despite ReniGAD’s optimism at the time, the pressure, among other factors, slowly began to affect the group. Even then, they persisted, pushing themselves to adapt and evolve.
Stalled Evolution And The Failed Publicity Stunt
According to ReniGAD: “We kept on evolving. There was, of course, Daggerin’ and Bend Ova, but then we moved on to Jump. And then there was Shake Yuh Bam Bam. That was a huge one, but then the question came: Where do we go from here? DJ Jazzy Jeff (Fresh Prince) was playing Shake Yuh Bam Bam, and we even did a song with Major Lazer (Lose Yourself ft. Moska), but we still needed to add other things to our arsenal.”
ReniGAD’s concern was that they needed to diversify their brand. “We didn’t have songs that could be played on Mother’s Day, or even a wedding. We didn’t have songs that you could meditate to. I wasn’t saying we should leave our core,” he pointed out, “but we should evolve and diversify.”
And so, the duo hatched a plan – a daring publicity stunt they were advised against by trusted associates.
“We came up with a plan – a publicity stunt – but people around us warned us not to do it. It would’ve worked if we both did our part, but that didn’t happen. I did my part, but then it blew up and backfired. It didn’t work out.”
Despite adding Reggae music and EDM to their offerings, it wasn’t enough to save the group.
ReniGAD highlighted: “We wanted to add other stuff and it didn’t work out, so we both went our separate ways.”
ReniGAD is now a solo artist, and while he has managed to reap some success, he is still working towards that “RDX-level song”, as he calls it.
“The first song I did as a solo artist was Block Party and it happened just around the time of the pandemic in 2020. It was the perfect storm for that song because everyone wanted a Block Party dub. I’ve done more dubs for that song than I’ve ever done for RDX. I was blessed because that song became an underground success.”
ReniGAD revealed that the song made an appearance on a few UK-based charts under his GAD People label, and he is already eyeing the next phase of his success.
“What I can say is I have done three collabs with some notable people in different music forms. I’m still active. Last year, I did a song called Survivor and it also featured among the top five of the UK charts. Valiant was number four on that chart. I also did an EP last year called Solo. It marked the official start of my solo career, even though I released solo music before that point. That EP landed on my birthday, February 25. It was a vibe.”
The Dancehall veteran disclosed that though songs of his like Twerk and Siddung have gotten significant support, he is still working on that RDX hit-level song. While he awaits that, he moved to share one message with his supporters.
“I’d like to say thank you. The journey has been a great one so far. I’ve gotten a lot of support… They believe in me and they encourage me. They stream my songs, they watch my videos, dem inna mi DM’s. As a solo artist, it isn’t easy, but they are here with me. I’ll make the wait worth it. There will be a ReniGAD for everything.”
As for his run with RDX, ReniGAD had one last perspective to share on how the group should remembered in Dancehall.
He closed: “We were the kings of girls songs in our era and we are very underrated. I think what we accomplished in our era and our tenure, the impact we made, our style, the places we’ve been – I think we are the kings. We dominated that space. When it comes to that specific place in Dancehall music, we are at legendary status. We deh right up deh suh.”