His new album Hope River is a collection of uplifting and reflective songs, a melodic manifestation of his positive outlook.
Songs So Blessed, Grateful and Winning Right Now are just a few where the theme of appreciation is explicit, but it’s one that is threaded through Hope River and Agent Sasco’s life.
“The album is pretty much sharing bits of my story and at the same time sharing some of the principles that I live by,” he says.
“Gratitude is certainly one of my core values and I really do live by it and I’ve just found it to be quite important and just useful in terms of dealing with the things that we all have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
“On the album there’s an overarching theme of gratitude and just appreciation, you know, giving thanks.”
This attitude was instilled in Sasco, whose real name is Jeffrey Campbell, from his mother.
“Growing up, my mother would always say ‘count your blessings’ and ‘you must always be thankful no matter what the situation’, and it has served to be something that I’ve found to be very useful in my own experience and even more so now... it’s something that I actively challenge myself to live by.”
Producing work with this focus is where he says he finds fulfilment and he hopes it will have the same impact on his listeners. You’d be hard-pressed not to complete a listen through of Hope River and not feel ready to take on the world, reflect on life’s meaning and find yourself humming a melody from one or more of the songs on the 14-strong tracklist.
For a reggae star with 15 years on the scene, he’s still very much in touch with what’s best about it. He’s collaborated with some of the most exciting musicians in the genre right now on this latest body of work – Sevana, Stephen Marley, Spragga Benz, Kabaka Pyramid and Dre Island, to name a few – ones who have no doubt been inspired in one way or another by his contributions.
All of the artists recorded their parts at Sasco’s Diamond Studios based at his home, apart from Marley and Kardinal, who were in Miami and Toronto, respectively.
“What I found to be a consistent vibe to the album and working on it is that nobody came to the table with anything but music as the focus, so there was no ego and posturing involved, it was just a matter of ‘yo, you know, let’s do this’. For example, Spragga recorded his part overseas and then he was in Jamaica at one point and he called me and said, ‘you know what, I feel like I wan come tru and do over this verse, you know because I feel like I can be better than the cut that we have’.”
Despite previous high-profile collaborations with the likes of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, and an impressive roster on this latest body of work, there are still more artists that Sasco wants to work with – one in particular.
“There’s one absolute dream collab that I have, and that’s Stevie Wonder. Outside of that, it’s pretty much anyone who cares about the music enough to give a certain kind of effort and if the vibe is right, you know, that’s pretty much the only prerequisites.”
In addition to those mentioned, Buju Banton also features on the album, but not in the way you might think. There is an interlude of him talking about Sasco, then Assassin, in a 2004 interview. Buju is commenting on Sasco’s potential. Has he lived up to it? For Sasco, it’s still a work in process.
“I really want to focus on maximising my potential, that’s what my mission in life is. I really want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to squeeze every ounce out of whatever my capabilities are. And let the chips fall where they may. I understand that, what I do now is all I have.
“History has taught me that more often than not when you do the work while you’re here, your legacy is secure.”
Changing his name from Assassin to Sasco has undoubtedly altered his trajectory.
There were multiple reasons behind the change, including increasingly negative connotations after 9/11 and the termination of his involvement in a government campaign solely due to his moniker.
The old name also fared badly on search engines – look up “assassin” online and the Jamaican singer is unlikely to feature on the first page of results. There are roughly two months until Buju Banton is released from prison after being sentenced to 10 years in 2011 over a drug deal and Agent Sasco is one of those eagerly awaiting his release.
He’s not just a fan of the legendary reggae star, but a friend. He recently recorded a message to Buju, which was posted on his Instagram page and describes him as a mentor.
“Buju is, outside of being one of my influences and mentor, you know, I consider Buju a friend of mine. Right now I’m just absolutely rooting for him as a person – Mark Myrie rather than Buju Banton – to be free and to be back with his family. Outside of that I haven’t given any thought to [work].”
Sasco’s spoken previously about the infiltration of dancehall and reggae into pop. But he’d like to see it supported more in its purest form. Artists producing some of the best songs around, let alone the best dancehall and reggae tracks still struggle to break on a big scale.
“It’s great to see that it’s a major feature in mainstream and pop music and that’s welcome. In other words if dancehall and reggae, the more mainstream it gets, the more opportunity we have in terms of anybody doing reggae and dancehall music.
“As lovers of music ourselves we have a definite part to play in supporting the music ourselves and being our own mainstream.
“We have enough people in the Jamaican and Caribbean diaspora to do better numbers in terms of our music sales.
“We’re in the diaspora numbering in the millions, it shouldn’t be that we can’t have singles and albums selling in the hundreds of thousands.”
Sasco has thoughts on why that hasn’t been the norm so far, and something of a solution.
“I think there is a disconnect between the people who love music and understanding you know exactly how they can or should contribute.
“A single costs 99 cents, or between that and $1.29. “I’ve been challenging people... if you love the music and you think you have a part to play and you want to see the best for our music, then do it every three months. It’s certainly not a lot to ask to spend 99 cents or $1.29 to buy one song every three months.
“And that one song is supposed to be, in my view, the song that you’re playing the most. “It’s the least you can [do] to show your love and support for the music and that would translate to doing better numbers and also for leverage and just... better presence.”
If you’re going to take Sasco up on his challenge to support black music, then you’d be missing a trick if you don’t start with Hope River or any of its tracks. Hope River is out now