Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Why Hasn't Jamaica Had A One Dance?

For anyone who doesn't know, Drake - One Dance was number 1 in UK for 14 weeks and 10 week in US. It topped the charts in 16 countries. Drake is known as a hip hop artist but he dabbles in other styles of music such as dancehall, r&b and afrobeats. One Dance is a dancehall song which samples a UK funky classic and features afrobeats superstar, Wizkid.

Truth is, if a Jamaican dancehall artist made One Dance in 2016 it probably would've been popular in dances but struggled to break through from the dancehall's to the charts. And that's if it wasn't deemed to pop sounding by core Jamaican dancehall DJ's. It could've been one of those rest of the Caribbean hits that does well in New York and the rest of the tri-state, Africa then hits Jamaica on the rebound.

Most of those types of songs aren't worth the risk because many of them float in no man's land; not hardcore enough to fit dancehall DJ's sets, and despite its accessibility to the mainstream, usually ignored by those with resources to push it into the places it needs to be like radio and tv.

There are numerous dancehall songs with millions of views on YouTube - some with tens of millions - which never got the chance to be heard on a wider scale. I often ask myself why Serani "No Games" gets a unanimous singalong across the country yet never cracked the UK top 40 when songs with lesser impact have reached number 1. Gyptian "Hold You" has sold almost 500k copies in the UK yet only managed #13 spot in a year where it was arguably the biggest black song not called Pass Out.

Or let's talk about how Vybz Kartel gave Clarks shoes a new lease of life, featured in mainstream newspapers but never signed or entered the charts. "Summertime" still plays everywhere. Vybz Kartel song, "Gon' Get Better" was recently covered by Fifth Harmony but the original didn't reach anywhere near charts or radio despite 3m views. Popcaan is everyone's favourite name-check yet the labels and blogs weren't interested when he ran dancehall with songs like "Party Shot" and "Only Man She Want".

On an extremely rare occasion you get a song like Omi "Cheerleader" which was a known to be a future hit within circles three years before it became a global smash. However, it had to be reshaped into a tropical house song to get there. The original light reggae version is still an unknown quantity in comparison.

Drake, like his Canadian compatriots Justin Bieber and Magic! who've all scored massive worldwide chart toppers, still has an element of novelty. A half Jewish, middle class Canadian is the complete opposite what a rap star is supposed to be let alone to do a dancehall song like that. And as I said, he's the leading black male artist. He has the ears of millions at the touch of a tweet button, so he can bypass the label meeting about what is a hit. So can Bieber. Other artists wouldn't be able to drop that as a first single without extensive research of what's working. And he did that from what was the most anticipated album of the time.

So what's happened with Jamaican dancehall? Why aren't they up there? They weren't promoted or rewarded properly outside of the core for their commercially-viable efforts. Therefore they weren't celebrated at home, because there wasn't any crossover success. And success breeds success. What a genre like Jamaican dancehall has is people following the tangible success because money isn't easy to come by. Its usually the success or hype they see afforded to the likes of Vybz Kartel and Alkaline. Not even what Busy Signal and Konshens have achieved because that isn't directly impacting Jamaica and if it didn't happen on the timeline or in America, did it happen?

Therein lies another problem; the American obsession but I've covered that multiple times on here. Jamaica has been awash with American sounds and influence since the Rihanna and Stargate link up. The sound moved to the pop-dancehall sound (known as island pop in Jamaica) America deemed successful, ignoring what was working elsewhere hence not getting Konshens and Busy Signal like the rest of the world. I like good songs with the island pop sound, not so much a fan of the reliance on it. There's a time, place and threshold for those things.

The world still wants a familiar dancehall sound. They want that beat they can dance to, songs they can sing along to and understand the perspective. Not too corny but not too crass either. I personally don't want direct remakes of the familiar because that was then. I like the elements such as the drums and the depth of bass in addition to the newer, fresher sounds. Lyrics making the women around the world feel loved and appreciated in addition to the songs that make girls bruck out and bend over. Just offer a bit of what worked in addition to what's working.

Most of all, be smart. Focus on the craft, establish your identity and build connections. Learn to say no and build a team you know are capable of helping you with your vision. Study the greats and take elements.

All in my opinion but yeah, pree what's worked before to add the right elements.

But you know what, the biggest commercial dancehall exports haven't really been the guys running the core and that's good. We need the core to be the core. But we also need the ones who aren't going to be the top guy at Sting to eat food from the mass market too.

But anyway, Sean Paul's allegedly signed a deal with a new label. Hopefully that pops off the right way and like 2003, the scramble for Jamaica talent is on again. In the mean time, I hope the artists, DJ and producers see what works in the core and the universal club-goers.

p.s. Clevie created the dem bow drum pattern used on Justin Bieber - Sorry, Drake - One Dance and Sia ft Sean Paul - Cheap Thrills. They have spent a combined total of 19 weeks atop the US chart this year. Hear him talk about his impact, influence and unspoken legacy below.