Recently I saw that Tina Pinnock, known professionally as HoodCelebrityy, a Jamaican dancehall singer and songwriter from the Bronx, New York, signed to Epic Records. She released two mixtapes in 2017. After having only one hit song the record label found interest in her career. From all indications, she has been working hard to establish herself in the mainstream. She also has a song on the recent Superfly movie soundtrack.

That’s a commendable achievement and she should be congratulated.

However, it made me wonder why more youth from Jamaica who sing with the same accent and work as hard are not afforded the same opportunities. What is it about the information, education, and access given to most Jamaican youth that places them at the back of the line and renders them inferior to their competitors overseas.

More interesting is that the competitors overseas seem to know this to be true and use it to their advantage. Many times the Jamaican culture is appropriated by Americans and Canadians who use it to climb the world charts and claim huge prizes. It is no wonder Jamaican youths believe that they start life with an unfair competitive advantage, and seek to move overseas at the first chance they get.

While the Americans are progressing in huge numbers with their networks, the struggle to make it mainstream remains constant for the Jamaican artistes — paralleled by a sizeable number of Jamaicans who would like to migrate because they believe they cannot become great while living here.

According to an islandwide poll, commissioned by the Jamaica National Building Society and conducted by Bill Johnson Survey Limited some five years ago, 36 per cent of Jamaicans would leave Jamaica if possible. Another 32 per cent see the very culture and country they inherited as a hindrance to their well-being, 43 per cent of the respondents being college graduates.Many people in Jamaica work hard to become the best in their field in spite of these perceptions; their only hindrance is being the wrong countryman. When they work harder, and do get congratulated, the monetary rewards remain inferior to their North American competitors.

I have heard people argue that, had Usain Bolt been from a First-World country, or even lived outside the Caribbean, his brand would command more wealth, being an international superstar with world-class achievements. His place of residence reduced his value.

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Dancehall artiste Spice recently said on reality show Love and Hip Hop that she outgrew Jamaica and was in America to break new ground for her career. She didn’t say whether she migrated fully or was visiting to make this a reality.

If you are schooled in Jamaica as a doctor, for example, or achieved graduate level education at any local institution and would like to live in the US, you would need to do an updated aptitude test. In some cases, a ‘do over’ of the degree is necessary to get a job at the commensurate level in that country. If the degree in Jamaica was designed to be used for solving the world’s problems and advance its citizens in a competitive environment there would be no further need for a test.

With a United States college degree or a London school degree you can easily get a job on those qualifications in most countries, including Jamaica, without any further testing. That’s the reality.

Jamaica has great world-class performers who are on par with performances by Jay-Z and Beyoncé — maybe not Beyoncé, but definitely on par with Jay-Z — and they have big brands that can be further developed. Many of those acts are struggling to get established in the world of music, even though they are the best in their field.

Opportunities follow perception, so the labels stay clear of approaching these Jamaican acts with lucrative deals. They make excuses about their quality of music, or their troubling brand, although many artistes on their roster have done far worse than any Jamaican act.

To a child growing up in Jamaica with only Jamaican citizenship he/she will wonder about the bankable power of “Brand Jamaica” outside the shores of Jamaica. For conscious citizenry the Republic of Jamaica does not mean an alliance with the movers and shakers of the world so that the citizens can enjoy life, liberty and unblocked access in their pursuits then they will feel hopeless — regardless of what the political leaders narrate.

If local citizenship cannot grant access to the world’s resources when the Jamaican displays excellence at work, then he will seek different alliances. Many Jamaican superstars have never taken a vacation because they work tirelessly for the benefit of themselves and their country.

So who benefits from holding back the artistes who are at the top of their game and living in Jamaica? Why only let in one or two artistes from the Diaspora’s cultural affiliation (who historically has never sustained the hype) every two or three years?

Lastly, and more directly, congratulations are in order for the artistes who have been able to garner support for making and distributing their art. But why would a major record label skip over the top male and female acts in reggae and dancehall like Spice, Shenseea, Tifa, Konshens, Chronixx, Tarrus Riley, among others, to sign only one artiste who has only one hit song in her catalogue as a compliment to an entire genre of music and musicians?

It speaks loudly for the lack of research and respect record label executives have for the culture and people of Jamaica. What are we willing to do about it?

Donovan Watkis is the host of the JR Watkis Podcast. Send comments to the Observer or [email protected].


  1. sender the “take for granted” mentality of the jamaican people will forever be our progressive demise! we never know or appreciate the value of what we have until its hijaced by others and when we see them progress off our own things, then we criticize, gripe, bicker, and protest, if it wasn’t for international support and appreciation and if bob marley had lived to see later years, they would have bottled and stone him on stage just like they did to bunny wailer, for the likes of bleached and tattoo and pants halfway between backside and knee with boxers sticking out :thumbup I could care less who wants to dispute.

  2. and if we’re being perseived as sub-par, academically, scholastically, artistic or talent wise then its our demeanor, from government go straight down to people, we demean and depreciate our real value.

  3. Interesting perception but the author clearly does not understand that there is no real and sustainable market for jamaican music, the fact is it a novelty item.

    I am not against hood celebrity but I will predict that epic will not release an album for her getting signed is one thing having the label support your product is another, and I did listen to her mixtape on datpiff.

    I am in full agreement that if bolt had lived outside the Caribbean he would have generated more income for himself. You must understand that endorsements are given with an expectation of increase in sales. He lives in third world jamaica which for most companies affects his ability to connect with the target audience. To add to that the companies that do endorse him did not offer or pay what his achievements deserved and I juxtapose that with tiger Woods who generated more than US billion dollars for himself.

    I understand the authors frustration about a doctor going overseas or a person with a degree needing to do over their qualifications.
    The author needs to accept that a third world nation cannot set the tone for progress and how things are done. therein a doctor or an individual with a degree would find that there knowledge and skill set is not as current as it should be due to daily advances being made in a first World nation.

    Its very bold for the author to state that jamaica has superstars that are as big or good as Jay Z!! Name them. Jamaicans have an illusion that we are better than others in the world, when the reality is that we live on individuals achievements like bolt and marley and use that to have unrealistic expectations as a whole.

    Jamaican music in its infancy sampled American artiste, even Bob Marley covered American artiste songs. The point is the Americans whether you want to call their music crap are able to reach their American audience than a Jamaican would do.
    Is it not hypocrisy for the author to suggest Americans copying jamaicans when jamaican culture is influenced by Americans heavily? From the skinny jeans,pants at their ankle the many American restaurants, majority of American music being played on the TV and radio. You can’t compete with an industry worth billions when jamaica does not have a music industry, just individuals hustling.

    Finally jamaican music needs to sustain itself. Its laughable that the author is suggesting on whom a record company should spend money to sign. None of who he has mentioned are bankable.
    The afro beats artiste are all multi millionaire and most of them are sustained by country of origin. If the jamaican artiste does not get a show overseas he dies of hunger.

    1. Afro beats have different energy…dem nuh bad mine and they dont fight out each other..negativity killing out dancehall…Ive been talking about afrobeats 5 years straight…

  4. Our entertainers keep fighting among themselves instead of trying to untie the music fraternity. Europeans are making our exact reggae and dancehall music, they do not have to spend any money to fly in artiste and put them up in hotels, while dealing with their disruptive attitudes and huge entourages. Take French reggae for example. These are the things we need to keep in mind. We need to value our brand or we will be making less and less profit from it.

  5. The author has made some interesting points with respect to the perceived value-added or lack thereof that comes with being from Jamaica or that is associated with brand Jamaica. I wanted to clarify one point in particular however which fails to provide a more balanced view of the realities relating to professions and jobs. Firstly, Jamaican skills set when Jamaicans do possess them, at least at the professional and technical levels are very much in high demand overseas. They are generally well compensated for it largely due to the fact that jobs are governed by legal Labour Relations ( including the presence of unions, contractual terms and the application of natural justice, anti-discrimination etc., which may arise depending on the circumstances) and the standards emanating from such relations in which certain criteria with respect to salaries may be more or less ‘fixed’, that is for a period of time as they are periodically reviewed and reset, and salaries below which may be a breach of legal obligations. Thus companies, firms, organizations etc. are may be barred from setting salaries in an arbitrary manner albeit they have flexibility in setting these salaries but they usually remain within a particular scale usually determined by the market the evidence of which generally comes from a salary survey and sometimes based on the negotiations with unions among other scenarios and combinations of these. Furthermore, in some instances even without the operation of law, companies seeking to retain the best usually compensate very well for this and Jamaicans do come very high up the food chain here.
    This is not to say that everyone gets equal pay, but that period salary surveys are carried out and companies, firms etc. usually try to make their salaries competitive and they usually fall within a specific range, thus some a little higher and some a little lower based on the company etc., but within a range nonetheless. My advice, know your worth and find out what is the scale associated with your job level, negotiate and do well.

    The second point I want to make relates to professions such as law, medicine, accounting to name a few. It is not true that the situation requiring persons to retrain (used loosely here), is unique to Jamaicans or persons who studied in Jamaica for that matter, it goes for almost if not for everyone who has not studied in the particular jurisdiction. So for example, an American who studies Law in the UK will be subject to similar “retraining” requirements as a Jamaican who studied Law in Jamaica. Most professions are either fully or semi/quasi autonomous and are governed by a professional body which aims to keep certain standards within the profession. As such, good character requirements, educational requirements, among others are set by these professional bodies and must be adhered to not based on your country of birth or study but based on the country you in which you intend to practice. That is, one must be up to the standard set by the particular professional body within the jurisdiction and so it is not uncommon for example to persons who studied in Cuba, Jamaica, UK, countries in Europe all sitting in the same room doing conversion exams or some other examination required to fulfill the educational requirement necessary to be admitted to the country’s profession which the regulatory body has deemed is necessary for foreigners to be in line with the standards set in that country. Moreover, even where country of study is a consideration for what level of retraining should be undertaken, it is not based on the country in and of itself but the perceived quality of the education measured by among others how closely the core courses offered at the particular institutions within the country fit the ones offered in the relevant foreign jurisdiction. In this respect, Jamaica’s professional degrees are ranked very highly. A perusal of the requirements to sit the New York Bar exam as a example will see a law degree from Jamaica being one of the degrees that is accepted within the general standard while those from some other countries have to meet additional requirements in addition to the general standard. I know for a fact too that converting to other jurisdictions having studied in Jamaica, Jamaicans have faired very well with requirements falling in the general standard. As an example, in converting to a particular profession in a particular jurisdiction with my degree from Jamaica I was required to sit only the minimum number of required examinations (core courses within the jurisdiction) whilst I’ve met persons who have studied in Australia and the UK who were required to sit double or close to double the number of required examinations. This is indeed a testament to the quality of the Jamaican education system.

    With those points put forward, I want to note that in general, the problem is not being Jamaican educated, Jamaicans are known to excel once they go abroad to study, work etc. and the degrees from Jamaica are internationally recognized. This is why there are institutions that will always have a place for Jamaicans, believe it or not. In respect of jobs though, the issue is not with having studied in Jamaica, the issue is with what they have studied in Jamaica. The harsh reality is that the world is changing and some degrees will not get you very far unless you have managed to gain valuable work experience subsequent to attaining those degrees. Companies etc. are now looking for real life skills and the truth is that our courses at the Jamaican universities need to be restructured to be more practical in nature. As an example, one of the fastest growing fields now is Data Science, firms , companies etc. are looking for people with good programming skills but this is rarely offered at our Jamaican institutions whilst it is offered “at almost every corner shop” in India. The point I am making is that, where Jamaicans have the skills they are in high demand and are usually fairly compensated, however the extent to which our Jamaican universities are equipping its graduates with the necessary skills is a whole other matter and so a number of Jamaicans myself included have had to supplement our Jamaican degrees with courses from other institutions in order to gain marketable and competitive skills.

    I end with this, a number of Jamaicans who studied in Jamaica at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary including vocational are overseas and are doing very well in various different fields, commanding great jobs and great salaries, who are bosses running their own businesses but they remain low keyed or are not highlighted and so it appears they are the exception. The truth is they are the rule. Even those not formally school trained, or who did not obtain university degrees have managed to do and are continuing to do very well for themselves, running businesses, commanding on par salaries with their counterparts from their host countries and others abroad, they too are the rule, they just are not highlighted. Notwithstanding, it is true that there is work to be done to make us more competitive, to allow us to first transition into our respective fields and then beyond that to take us to the pinnacle of whatever it is that we do. We need more mangers, CEOs, CFO’s, we need Nobel prize winners and peace prize winners, we need advocates and trailblazers so the world will come to know us as such. It will not be handed to us on a platter, and it will not be easy but glass ceilings have been broken and Jamaica through Jamaicans has done it before, we can do it again. Globalization with all its ills has given us one thing that can be used to our advantage, an almost borderless world. You can be Jamaican and transcend international borders with the same appeal as someone from the US for example, forcing Jamaican onto the rest of the world. Case in point, Rihanna, she has transcended borders and never fails to force Barbados onto the rest of the world. I am not saying that it is easy, and quite frankly I do not have the formula but it can be done, we have to find a way to get it done.

  6. Well said J.O

    dem recording company will always be bias

    come on now…u wouldnt choose a foreigner over a local person

    really now???

    Mericans will always favor their own…even if to take a risk

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