Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jessica Lipsky, a freelance music journalist, and originally published in Brooklyn Magazine on September 25, 2023. Rootfire has republished a portion of the article with permission from Brooklyn Magazine and readers can click through to read the rest of the article, which includes Victor Axelrod’s song-by-song breakdown of the album.
In music, as in life, records are made in a sort of domino effect. One project often leads to another.
Such is the case for Victor Axelrod, a keyboardist, producer, arranger and mixing engineer who has been involved with New York’s reggae, soul and Afrobeat scenes for decades. A selection of his reggae productions made for Daptone Records, titled If You Ask Me To: Victor Axelrod Productions for Daptone Records has just come out, providing a nice summation of his career to date.
“[The title] seemed to connect a bit to how this all came about, which was [that] one request leads to the next request,” Axelrod says from his home in Gowanus. “Eventually, we’ll have enough of these [songs] and we’ll have a nice album.”
Axelrod has been producing reggae and rocksteady interpretations of soul songs for Daptone for over a decade, though his work behind the board goes back much further. Often under the moniker Ticklah, Axelrod has produced records for Easy Star Records, Queens-based reggae group the Frightnrs, and his own releases including the dubby Ticklah vs. Axelrod.
An equally accomplished musician, Axelrod is a founding member of Antibalas and Daptone’s house band, The Dap-Kings. Among his many credits, Axelrod’s keys appear on Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” (which was recorded at Daptone’s Bushwick studio) and multiple Mark Ronson productions.
Although he had been associated with the label since its beginnings, it would be years before Axelrod produced tunes for Daptone. Yet once the faucet was turned on, it never went off again. Much of If You Ask Me To was recorded with the same crew of local musicians — often credited as the Inversions — all of whom were “showing up and really being down to explore my ideas and wait for other good ideas to arise,” Axelrod says.
For his first LP on the label, Axelrod decided to use his given name, rather than Ticklah. The choice was partially to align with Daptone’s aesthetic, and partially the desire to step away from what felt like a 1990s alias.
“I’ve been on this classic rocksteady journey with the label, and thought it would be good to keep that effort all contained within one record,” he notes.
In honor of the release of “If You Ask Me To,” the Brooklyn native shares the stories behind each of the album’s 10 tracks.