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Young Jamaicans look to hip hop for success

Published:Thursday | April 6, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small

International acts from Snoop Dogg/Lion to Katy Perry have observed Jamaican culture and adapted recognisable patterns into their production. Recently, dancehall artiste Sean Paul topped the Billboard charts as a featured artiste of pop music singer-songwriter Sia's latest release. More recently, the deejay was featured on the single Rockabye by British band Clean Bandit and was photographed while shooting a music video with three-man rap stars Migos. Otherwise, artistes like Drake, Maroon 5, and Ed Sheeran's latest releases have been described as pop, but dancehall-inflected music.

"If I wasn't noticing it, I would be very out of date. I would not be on any new music because everything is dancehall and reggae and Jamaican pillaging - to the benefit of some of our entertainers but not so much," Phillip 'Lopo' Lopez, lead vocalist of Acmatic, told The Sunday Gleaner.

Acmatic is a Jamaican rap group approaching its 10th year making music, though inconsistently. In February, the group released the single Outta Bounce, and another called Ways Away last month. This year, the rap group intends to follow up its 2010 debut album, Sundial, with this year's EP called Crashed Files.

"I chose to do hip hop because I learnt about all music. We all have our iteration to how we accept sounds from different places. It just depends on what grabs you. Hip hop was like a music school to me, and that's what caused it more than globalisation. That's the art form that I observed and learnt and listened to - that I crafted," Lopez said.

Daniel Simpson, also known as BakerSteez, names Capleton, Beenie Man, and Vybz Kartel as top influences. Included in the mix is American rapper Future, who popularised the 'trap music' style. Though his music distinctly follows the newly popular trap style of rapping, BakerSteez refuses to confine himself to any particular definition.

"I hate labels. I don't wanna be labelled. Honestly, I'm just an artiste."

"Each of my influencers brings a different vibe, a vibe I draw inspiration from to create the fusion in my own music. I like to see the influence that Jamaican people have on all platforms," he told The Sunday Gleaner. Six months ago, the 26 year-old video director and editor began his trek to stardom, which has led to the recent release of his first EP called Topman.

BakerSteez, Blvk H3ro, and Leno Banton, are some aspiring Jamaican artistes who are independently producing music that is either hip hop or hip-hop influenced.

"I think it has a lot to do with the globalisation of the world. It's just easier to access music from all over the world now," Lopez continued. "It has a lot to do with people who are looking, who are seeing our culture. They want to capitalise on it with their machines that they can put behind marketing artistes," he said.

The 'pillaging', as described by Lopez, is the familiar music practice of borrowing.




"Hip hop has a strong stemming from Jamaica, and I think that's undeniable," Lopez told The Sunday Gleaner.

DJ Kool Herc, real name Clive Campbell, often referred to as the founding father of hip hop, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He developed the technique of mixing various records that became the blueprint for hip-hop music after migrating to the Bronx in the '70s.

"I think that's a positive outlook on how the music has grown (both Jamaican music and hip-hop music) and how it does intertwine as time has gone on," Lopez said.

Perhaps influenced by globalisation, or encouraged by the success international acts have found through 'borrowing', a number of young artistes have appeared on the scene. These artistes do not present the expected reggae or dancehall sound affiliated with Jamaica, but instead, perform their music as hip-hop, rap, or music inflected by those genres.

On April 21, 2012, young Jamaican hip-hop fans designed a party series called Pay Attention, dedicated to the genre. It lasted three years. The organisers have now partnered with Nanook Enterprises to present another hip-hop-centred series called Made You Look. The event will see its first staging on Saturday, April 29, at The Haven, 12 Hillcrest Avenue. The event will mark the fifth anniversary of Pay Attention's genesis.

Made You Look will feature hip-hop and R&B selections from Inztinkz, DJ Stamma, and DJ Zanj. The event will showcase live graffiti art and breakdancers from the Demolishun Crew and will be hosted by local rapper The Sickest Drama (TSD).

"A lot of parties in Jamaica feature a hip-hop segment that is lacking for any real hip-hop head. You hear the same past and current hits, sometimes in the same order at each event. As lovers of and practitioners in the culture, we can't settle for that, and we seek to fill the void for our community and other like-minded people," TSD said.

Joan Webley of Nanook says the development of a hip-hop space has been a long time coming.

"We're pleased to be working with the Pay Attention team, and I'm happy that Nanook is a part of this local hip-hop movement. This is also one of the first events that Nanook will be having outside of the space to which our supporters have grown accustomed," she said.