Dancehall and Pop Culture’s complex relationship

Dancehall and Pop Culture’s Complex Relationship

The complaint coming from Dancehall artistes such as Mr. Vegas and Sean Paul in recent times is that Dancehall is not getting its just due on the international market scene. Other international acts are dabbling in the genre by using samples and features without giving credit to the people and the culture. Sean Paul said in an interview with the Guardian that “the use of Dancehall in pop music is not viewed by him as paying homage, but as exploitation”.
Mr. Vegas went more blatant when he said ‘Drake is a Fake’ for using Dancehall on his album without giving credit.

Is Pop Culture pimping Dancehall?

A Wall Street Journal article described how Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” was “pioneer- ing the Caribbean, ‘beach-party vibe’ of tropical house in the mainstream”. Note the use of the words “pioneer”, “beach party vibe” and “tropical house”. In saying Justin pioneered anything resembling the Dancehall genre in the mainstream pop industry is to disregard the barriers bro- ken by Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Sean Paul, Patra, Cecile and many others for over 20 years. Tropical house is the name many North America newspapers are using to describe Dancehall when it is done by mainstream North American performers.
The Dancehall genre is being treated like a “side chick” for the value added ecstasy, euphoric pleasure and dollars it brings, but no official acknowledgement or doors being opened for the artists or the people from which the music came, so the artistes can fairly compete and
survive. Dancehall and “dancehallers” being no strangers to ‘side-chick’ culture knows all too well when it is being sidelined. Many of the behind the scenes practitioners in pop culture are of Caribbean descent. There are influencers who’s parents are a Jamaican. Puff Daddy’s
biggest artiste, the late Biggie Smalls was the son of a Jamaican. Video Director Little X and Cultural Artige’ Karen civil are also of Caribbean descent. So why the complaints? I am sure everyone on Jamaica’s entertainment scene, particularly Dancehall practitioners would not be critical if the markets were fair game for islanders and not just those who exploit the genre in North America and Europe. People generally complain when they don’t feel as if they are treated fairly.

The North Americans have more resources and bigger budgets so they are able to reach further. It cost North Americans more than some Jamaican music producers or label heads are willing to pay to promote a record. Do they have an obligation to share their platforms, their artistic influence, and their money if they choose to fuse Dancehall with their music? Or do we, music producers, no matter where we are from, have an obligation to develop ourselves, with our art and culture and put it out on the platforms that are accessible to us.

Valuing Dancehall

American pop acts are obliged to keep the value wishing their culture. It took many years to build the music industry to the billion dollar industry that it is now. The gatekeepers understand that the granting of access to new players in Dancehall equals to economic empowerment for
the Dancehall culture and by extension Jamaica. Power concedes nothing, it must be taken. We, who have an interest in Dancehall and Jamaica’s Entertainment industry development must place ourselves where we can earn and grow instead of complain about northerners
who appropriate and pimp the culture. Bashing drake won’t stop him from singing what he wants. Music in general is being dumbed down to the hustle game and everyone is doing what they can to get attention, so whatever is hot and golden will be used by the top pop acts to fill their baskets.

For example an artist like Sean Paul and Shaggy who earned their way into international success probably have the power of experience and reach to run labels that will present other authentic dancehall artistes to the world straight from the islands. It is good that Sean Paul used his voice and platform to speak on the issue again more recently on the breakfast club, but it is not enough just to talk. I know Sean has done much and I challenge him and others with a similar reach to do some more. We need a few more Dancehall specialists who will be brave enough to do the ground work required to gain knowledge about how program managers break records, so more Jamaican artistes can get air- play on the mainstream stations. Jamaican independent artistes probably cannot compete with the big budgets and international label connections required to break a record, but Jamaicans have the energy, Jamaicans have the art, Jamaicans have the spirit of the people and we have the culture. That is Power. Whenever that power is organized the big labels with the budgets will come searching for the next Dancehall King. After all this is a business.


I was told by a musical specialist that the line is long to break a record in North America, especially for the artistes who are not living there. Currently in Jamaica and the Caribbean,
artistes are not able to take part in the purchase of their own records unless they have an American or European account on iTunes or Spotify, because the stores are not available in our geo- graphical location. This is where organization comes in, because to date neither the artistes, entrepreneurs in entertainment or the governing representatives have made steps to correct this exclusion. Enquiring minds would like to know why. Is it because of Jamaica’s exclusion from the international copywriter’s agreements such as the Madrid Protocol? What I know for sure is that it is in the interest of the world’s music industry to open up the market to fairness through a fair licensing environment, so that Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals can access the music they want anytime, anywhere on any device. The digital marketplace in Jamaica and the Caribbean drives the wider creative economy like no other art form, not just in Jamaica but the world. This value gap is in urgent need of closure to ensure fair play, fair trade and increase the capability of artist who wish to build and access massive global audiences. This valuing of the Dancehall music can and will drive the economic growth for the country. Music tourism currently generates over $2.2BN in the UK and there are states in America that brand themselves “Live music capitals” because of their well supported annual festivals. Jamaica, a country that has produced over 7 genres of music, should implement from a policy level through the national economic growth council and the ministry of culture, a new industry link between the music industry and the tourism industry so we can increase revenue from the current J$300 billion in tourism to a possible J$700 billion in Music tourism. Additionally, the value-added quality of Dancehall is evident on the billboard charts right now. The genre is selling millions through streaming, downloads and physical CD sales. It adds value to the business bottom-lines of major record companies regardless of the name they choose to give it upon distribution, so now is the time to get the major program directors, record company executives, bloggers, journalist, governing bodies and artistes to become more aware so that they get the language right when they speak about dancehall. If they get the language right, in the current musical atmosphere, dancehall will get its proverbial forty acres and a mule in its mother country- Jamaica. They will call the music dancehall and more importantly, Jamaican Dancehall.
Additionally, companies currently listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange stand to benefit with the introduction of better credit and licensing practices through streaming and downloads. Thus giving higher credit and credibility to Jamaica and Jamaicans as the pioneers of this genre – who are always more than happy to collaborate with neo-dancehall hitmakers like Justin Bieber and Drake over in Canada, so that the cultural value gained when a song tops the chart may be shared.

“Every Mickle mek a Mukkle” ( every small efforts adds up to the grand whole).

Getting access to the Jamaican stores to purchase music may be seen as a small step but the destiny of local artistes cannot be left squarely in the hands of the North American consumers when most of the artists live and work in Jamaica and are unable to acquire a US visa so they can tour or make relationships for one reason or another. The buzz gained in Jamaica has been fuel for others so why not get our house in order before complaining that someone else is benefiting when they use the same culture we naturally cultivate and have at our disposal. Our language, our cuisine, and our indigenous faiths are going for top dollar on the international markets. Is it not worth something at home too? Jamaica is a cultural factory. A factory is a place where products are manufactured by people but the people are not able to own or buy the products they make. Dancehall, like any other exportable product coming out of Jamaica must be researched, developed and packaged for sale as it is in other markets to the targeted audiences. Without this research, development, and targeted sales practices, credible dancehall players will continue to watch as clever minds extract, fuse, use and discard of the genre. When they are through having their pleasure they wont even ask if it is too late to say sorry. (See what i did there? All well thinking Jamaican Dancehall artists should know what the American pop acts already know, and that is you can go, record a song, mix it, master it, then ship it around the world within a day, (I said within a day). Big businesses are on the decline in the music industry but the appetite is fresh and ready for micro music houses. If you are an entrepreneur doing dancehall music, this is the time to get a great artist and put your music out. With apple music and Tidal, all the music of the world can be consumed for less than ten dollars per month. In 2014 the music industry’s digital revenue was US$6.85 billion with only 16 countries having integrated streaming into their singles charts. Streaming, according to Lyor Cohen, former music executive at Island DefJam now a music content executive at Youtube , is only at 2% market penetration rate and it will increase. It is the perfect time to get in the business in anticipation of when the penetration rate becomes 50 % and streaming becomes available in Jamaica, and the Caribbean. That being said, we, the music makers, the entrepreneurs, the producers, and the artistes in the Caribbean should continue to make the music we want to make that is culturally significant and value ourselves and our art enough to make our culture flourish in proportion to our abilities to tap into these developing eco systems that will allow us to reach the world.

Donovan “JR” Watkis is an Author, Producer, Artiste Manager and Cultural Artige’.

His latest releases are his book : “Jr’s Hope: Thoughts on Improving From Up The Street”, “Breadfruit Tree”, The Olympic track “Reggae RIO” by Slashe aka Iceman.

Follow him on instagram ant twitter @jrsbillion1

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