Sun | Feb 16, 2020

Story of the Song | 'Flex' a glorious musical trial

Published:Sunday | July 2, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke

Mad Cobra's Flex was an aberration in dancehall when it came out in 1992. The ultra-smooth R&B track was an exception for not only Cobra, who had made his name with hard-core tracks like Gundelero and the 'mix up' of Mate a Rebel, but also the genre itself.

The serpentine one was part of the new charge of deejays, including Capleton and Buju Banton, who were taking dancehall from the steady, rolling basslines of the 1980s into the broken-up patterns on more uptempo rhythms that captured a new generation of dancehall fans. Flex, issued the invitation "time to have sex, look how long yu have the rude bway a sweat ..."

It hit the top of the Billboard charts for two weeks and remained a favourite long after it took the inevitable dip from the charts, selling a few thousand units short of the platinum mark.

Cobra points out that he was the first deejay to hit the top of the Billboards as a solo performer, Shabba making it to the top with Maxi Priest before. And it all came about because of a spit bag on a plane, an in-flight exercise video, and an accident in the studio.


Trial song


"Flex was like a trial song. It was not like a planned song," Cobra told The Sunday Gleaner. The lyrics were written on a spit bag on a plane because I was on a flight coming back from New York. I was watching the television on the plane, and there was this woman doing this Soloflex exercise. She was on this Soloflex machine. So me say, 'How this lady flex like she want to have sex?' And me just jot it down. Me guh so, bam bam, have the idea on the bag, write 'I rather wait ...' and rey. So me have the lyrics on the spit bag."

"When we went to the studio that was at Penthouse (The Sunday Gleaner asks if the spit bag made that trip, too and a laughing Cobra says it did), me go so, boom bom, write out the song on paper, put in reality now. I was trying to do it on a quick rhythm - one of the 'Gigi' sound rhythm. And the tape slow down. You know, sometimes the tape too tight or something and it start give this rrrrrrrr. So I was there (he starts to deejay slowly) 'Fleeeeeexxx, tiimmmee tooo haaaveee seeeex". Slow. And Sly (Dunbar) sey, 'Hol' on, hol' on'. And Sly start to play Just My Imagination backwards," Cobra said.

And it was the beginning of a mega dancehall hit, although it did not get prime billing on Cobra's Colombia album. Sly and Robbie played the music, Dave Kelly was the engineer, Chevelle Franklyn, Brian and Tony Gold delivered the harmonies. Chevelle did the "crying, moaning ..." introduction.

"The album that it came out on was, Hard To Wet, Easy To Dry. Flex, was a late entry. When Colombia heard the track, they were blown away. It was too late to be the title track anyway because the artwork was already completed," Cobra said. Otherwise, the set would have been named Flex, but, as it was, Flex, the single, hit the streets.

"Right away, Flex release," Cobra said. It's a runaway success hit that caught Cobra literally by surprise.

"Flex became number one when I was in Japan. So coming back to Jamaica now, I connected in New York. Some people deh pon Flex, 'Mr Flex'! So me sey, 'Eh-heh?' Bam now, me reach Norman Manley and everybody a sey Flex dis an dat. When me reach now, me know the song hit, hit, really hit, and start the regular rotation on the mainstream stations."

The first time he performed it was at Reggae Sunsplash 1992, where Flex got three encores. The response was, "Wha! Crazy! It was like pandemonium! When I did shows at like Walter Fletcher Beach (Aquasol now) and them sey 'Cobra!' me get me forward. But after Flex, when dem say 'who is in the place?' is a different response. Japan worse."