Popcaan used to spit about Vybz Kartel bringing him into the scene, doing him favours:
"Instantly mi rise start swell from mi go link up Vybz Kartel; him carry mi ah Sting last year and him carry mi Sumfest as well"
- Popcaan ‘Dream’ (2010)
Now he has 3 singles on Dre Skull’s Brooklyn label Mixpak Records, he’s really doing his own thing. Since Skull’s release of Mi Fi Gi Yuh Love in 2009 (and if you want to go even further back that year, ‘Gone Too Far’ by Sizzla) the team have been growing and growing. You only have to look at the vibrant, fresh artwork to realise this is where it’s at – and if we’re splitting hairs, you might even want to call this self-sufficient bubble of activity ‘nu-dancehall’, but I’m not one for labelling sub-genres.
Conscious lyrics on this one:
"Ghetto youth don’t make silly plans, believe in yourself be a man - dem want mi fi dead pan di road, dem no want wi fi mek millions"
Popcaan’s decision to join this mini-movement is both a smart marketing move and, musically speaking, an intelligent acceptance of the more underground direction/capabilities of modern dancehall.
It’s not all about getting signed to NotNice Adidjahiem Productions, Big Ship, Daseca or Di Genius (I was about to say Don Corleon, but last year’s ‘Dub In HD’ seemed to beautifully bridge the gap between current day digitally produced reggae and that of the traditional version and true analogue sound) times are a-changing, and lesser commercially known outfits such as Mixpak and Mad Decent are making considerable waves, while maintaining the necessary distance* from top dogs Greensleeves and Chimney Records (below).
Kartel has offered a piece of his swagger – the most impressive being upon the LP Kingston Story which has been voted best album by numerous sources.
The above point undoubtedly applies to London-based Necessary Mayhem, whose head honcho and top producer Da Grynch just keeps releasing absolute bangers such as the rework of John Holt’s classic ‘Police In Helicopter’ and most recently the Possessed Riddim with nose-tickling bass treatment. This, again, is a mini army…
*Music seems like a constant battle between the mainstream and the underground
I already mentioned a while back the dulcet tones of I-Octane and how he constantly shares the truth and tugs on heartstrings in so many of his releases. The same goes for upcoming Brit dancehall singer Fresharda (possibly with a little more auto-tune, but it works a treat, so who cares).
Since the promo of Romain Virgo’s ‘I Know Better’ on VP Records in advance of his forthcoming LP ‘System’ (May 7th apparently) and Lutan Fyah’s two bangers ‘I’m Leaving’ (7” on Red Earth Records, 2011) and ‘Food’ (the latter produced by Shiah Coore, of Mad Ants Riddim fame, who promises me the official release is this month), I feel like my ipod really is cram full of real reggae, conscious material. A full spectrum of colour, and a breath of fresh air from the likes of Kartel and Mr Vegas (both of whom I dig, but in limited doses).
The maturity of Romain’s sound is astonishing considering his age; according to Wikipedia, he was born c. 1990. In ‘I Know Better’, the Jamaican singer explicitly makes the point of separating himself from beef, the possibility of being caught up in G culture;
“Me coulda have gun pon waist, boy dis and me kick off him face - me coulda, run de place, done de place…But me choose to keep it clean”
Coming from a yoot, this is so admirable, especially since Kartel is set to appear in the dock on charges of murdering Clive “Lizard” Williams. He’s a positive role model if there ever was one (whereas Assassin declaring that he has “a gangster attitude” pon the Rude Boy Remix, really isn’t). And you know when mans openly singing about his mother..
"Every time me think about me mother and the promise where me make to her, me know we can’t break that"
..he’s either a soppy bastard or a good man with family values. It’s the latter for sure. This isn’t a case of being holier than thee, just outright honesty. Goosebumps biznis through and through.
Above: Romain Virgo performing live
“No Money”, for me, shaped Virgo’s trademark candour - it’s the absolute antithesis of tunes like Merital’s “My Money (Ha Ha)” or Stylo G “My Style” (again, I do rate these releases, but it’s a tad egotistical for extensive listening). Divulging personal dilemmas, weakness and being broke isn’t fashionable, bragging is, but that’s where the division between apperceptive post-70s reggae and modern dancehall becomes quite blatant; catharsis vs. hype.
Above: Flippa Mafia spraying up Sting festival with Cristal (Photo: Giovanni Powell)
If we’re talking about genuine tings, Lutan’s beautifully gritty voice matches his expression of personal struggle to a tee. The production is so intelligent, catching every bit of breathing he makes (he’s had that going ever since spitting on the Addiction Riddim).
"I may not be able to meet my material needs, but Jah give I food to eat"
I love reggae, it’s what all this is about. Sometimes though, tunes can be a little over indulgent. Most of the time, I look for something a bit deeper, not so blatant and predictable…obscure could be the word.
However, there are some songs that I initially shy away from, but for some reason that I cannot put my finger on, I keep going back to them. It could be because I strongly associate a memory with the melody, the vibe..even the beat..the unique nature of the bass. I may not have particularly liked it the first few times I heard it played, but if it reminds me of someone really close to my heart, it begins to give me goosebumps after a few listens.
Take, for example, Chris Brown Ft. Benny Benassi “Beautiful People”. I’ll say it now - I love this tune. BUT, I didn’t when my friend drew it to my attention on MTV. In fact, I thought it was shit. Then, one day, I suddenly really wanted to hear it, loud. I even bought it on itunes (yes, I honestly did).
This is dedicated to her. Those trashy, ravy synths will remind me of the times we spent together. Always and forever. Enjoy [I am aware that this is not reggae!]
Stephen Marley is doing some great things for reggae. Consider “Break Us Apart" featuring badman Capleton: it’s being played EVERYWHERE. Highly conscious reggae, soulful. Capleton kills it, dutty flow. The first chorus and verse kinda reminds me of Bob’s "Burnin and Lootin”. Both share those classic wah guitar sounds and slightly funky bassline. Oh, but “Break Us Apart" is not cheesy in the slightest… "No Cigarette Smoke (in my room)" however IS.
I realised for the first time today that I love it, but when I heard it on 1xtra pon the dancehall show I didn’t. I now find it incredibly soothing, sensual…I’ve learnt to overlook those Bitty McLean-style g-funk smooth shifting keys and wanky guitar licks (the Spragga Benz B-side is shocking, I have to agree). Melanie Fiona’s vocals are calming and sexy too (she’s a Canadian RnB/soul/reggae Grammy winning recording artist).
Out on Street Beat, the UK label’s debut single, it’s a fine start. Mans gona get his next portion real soon!
Stephen Marley Ft. Melanie Fiona - No Cigarette Smoke (In My Room)
Enough waxing lyrical about shit, the following Greensleeves release has an element of tastefulness and commercial production values (is there no way they could have dropped that initial melodramatic voiceover ‘one blood/one destiny’ and perhaps not gone so full on with the autotune?), but hey, its rocks, plus Alborosie AND Junior Reid on one cut..this was destined to work. Nice version incidentally. Taken from the new LP ‘2 Times Revolution’.