‘Make dancehall great again’
While discussing the local music industry’s current turmoil, in an Entertainment Forum hosted by The Gleaner, on Tuesday, some panellists came at the ready, with their own diagnoses for why contemporary dancehall music, produced locally, has yet to break internationally, like that from pop music chart-toppers who borrow the genre’s elements. Particularly, DJ Squeeze explained that Jamaican music producers embraced technology as their baby, but still managed to get stumped when downloads and streaming became the new normal.
Fellow panellist, performer and producer, Benzly Hype, attached his point to those foundation producers’ recoil from the industry, asserting that they left a void in the dancehall space that has since been filled by hybrid executions of the beloved genre. “I made this statement years ago. I told them the advent of Fruity Loops was going to be a big problem in Jamaica. Why? Access,” which granted aspiring producers with little training wiggle room to assert themselves.
“Another big problem is that the sounds in Fruity Loops were hollow. Dancehall music was solid,” he continued. The Innocent Kru alum observed contemporary hit songs like Burn (2013) by Ellie Goulding, while another panellist, young producer Gahlxi of AJusDiVibes Studio, recalled Unforgettable (2017) by French Montana and Swae Lee.
Benzly Hype reiterated: “If you listen to your radio – every hit that comes, they’re going to dancehall while [current] dancehall is going to R&B,” a genre in which tracks don’t beat, slam or pound as heavy as an authentic dancehall track.
Though Fruity Loops productions are deemed hollow, technological developments in music was not always lamentable. In the beginning, it was lauded. “One of the things about Jamaicans is that we embrace technology. Technology is Jamaicans’ music baby. With the rise of producer teams like Sly and Robbie, Mafia and Fluxy and all of those producers at the time – what you must understand is that technology drove that era. The 809 drum machines, before they went to the Akai – that’s what they used. Get Flat (Bloodfire Posse, 1984); Rub A Dub Soldier (Paul Blake, 1991); Sleng Teng Riddim (King Jammy, Wayne Smith, 1985) – that was the sound of that era,” DJ Squeeze told The Gleaner.
Still, technology came with its confounding attributes, that DJ Squeeze surmises left those same producers in a stupor. “They did not understand that now we’ve gone into downloads and all of that. They were mesmerised by that, and they will not admit it, because all of them – Jammys, Danny, Scorpio, Clevie – really just sat down and said ‘whoa, we really don’t have control in this industry any more’,” he said. As they became concerned with self-sufficiency in an exploding new marketplace, the producers in turn left a gap.
“[Now] what we’re lacking is some kind of leadership – from a producer’s standpoint. There was a gap in the schooling, and the music didn’t transcend the way it should have. That gap came, and no one recognised that it came when technology changed – when the producers who used to produce music had control of the material. So here are all these producers who controlled their destinies, who then did not understand what was taking place. A void was created in the industry, [filled by] all those young producers who weren’t trained to understand that ‘sound’ – that enables our identity,” DJ Squeeze continued.
Already in agreement with the idea of a gap, or ‘void’ that manifested in dancehall music production, Benzly Hype posited that a significant contributor to the emptiness is simply that local producers, those whose work have been continuously revisited and sampled or referenced, have stopped producing.
“Producers stop producing. If you stop putting out music, something is going to take the space,” he said.
DJ Squeeze recognised the moment the space started to fill. For him, it was in 2005, with the release of the (nostalgic for some) Seasons Riddim, produced by Don Corleone. “So here comes Don and that generation of producers. They started putting together their own groove and vibe. Really and truly, they filled the gap with their sound.”