Punky Reggae

If reggae/hardcore legends Bad Brains are an enigma wrapped in a mystery, then their 52-year-old lead singer, Paul "H.R." Hudson, is the Sphinx's riddle. In the late '70s and early '80s, H.R. grew famous for his ability able to croon like Dennis Brown yet also scream like Sid Vicious within the framework of a single song. In those days, he could work the stage like James Brown — he obviously had just as much rhythm, as critics often noted — but he chose to put his talents into thrilling punk and hardcore audiences instead of those who preferred funk and soul. His infectious presence as a lead singer and his band's Rasta appearance made them anomalies within the realm of hardcore. Despite all of that, H.R. would famously vanish every time the Brains were offered a label deal — once taking a two-week "bathroom break" when it was his turn to sign a record contract in the offices of Island Records.

During those times of exile from Bad Brains, H.R. would cut songs with his reggae band, Human Rights, often with mixed results. It frustrated the hell out of Bad Brains fans, who never seemed to understand why H.R. could keep it together mentally while touring with Human Rights but, with the band that truly made him famous, ran away from success at every turn.

These days, H.R. has made a truce with both sides of his musical brain, and he does short tours with both Human Rights and Bad Brains. Evidence of H.R.'s finally coming to grips with his dual talents is draped all over his latest album, Hey Wella, released earlier this year. It contains both reggae rockers and heavier tunes, but surprisingly, there's more of the latter on the disc. The majority of the rock tracks reflect the groovy metal Bad Brains songs offered on 1986's I Against I and 1994's God of Love rather than the screaming hardcore that broke the band out of D.C. in 1979. Clearly, Hey Wella is a fine record from one of the strangest men in show business. This week, he's in town with Human Rights, which typically means punk fans would opt to skip the show. But considering the new album, it's now apparent that in the future, hardcore kids who don't care for reggae needn't ignore H.R.'s solo work anymore.

Contact the authors: [email protected].

Hardcore kids who don't care for reggae needn't ignore H.R.'s solo work anymore.