Last weekend young Jamaican reggae roots revivalist Chronixx appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It marked a huge chapter in his young career that has seen the singer sky-rocket to notoriety in the past two-three years and emerge as the spearhead of a Rastafarian-driven reggae revival in Jamaica (more on that here).

I’ve had some debates over the significance of this appearance outside of Jamaican/reggae circles. Clearly, the performance and appearance establishes him as one of the biggest (if not the biggest) name in reggae right now. But Chronixx is definitely not the first reggae singer to make an appearance on a major U.S. television show and just how much it will raise his star-status outside the circle of reggae fans who probably have already heard of him is still to be seen.

The Mick Jagger bump certainly won’t hurt though.

Just when the young singer was breaking out in Jamaica, I made it a point to cover not only his growing rise to fame but also the roots-reggae revival he was heading up. In the wake of a major U.S. television performance and a successful free concert in Central Park, it seems a good as any to drop some links from some of my work to revisit how Chronixx and this new breed of reggae got here.

Knowledge:

Positive Vibration: Chronixx’s Rasta Reggae Crusade - MTV Iggy

Scene Report: Jamaica’s Roots Reggae Revival - MTV Iggy

 

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For the last year, all of my work has almost exclusively focused on Jamaican music and culture (oh and a bit of soca).  So it was nice to work on a rather extensive piece for the past month about something completely different for a change.

It’s been a running joke amongst me and some friends that everyone in New York City knows at least one Australian, with many of us knowing more than one. In my neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, there are even a handful of local coffee shops and restaurants owned by Australians with many Aussies working there.

Was it just a coincidence that me and so many of my friends knew heaps of Australians in New York City or was there something to it? As it turns out, there is a reason…or many reasons. I did some investigation and from my research I saw a potential article.

Fast forward a month later and my piece has been published via The Gothamist. Read it here.

 

 

 

aidonia-80s-dancehall-style-music-video

As I hinted at recently in my MTV Iggy article What Happens to Dancehall Without Vybz Kartel,‘ there has been questions about the future of dancehall without it’s biggest superstar. Stop right there, though. Dancehall is nuh dead.

Dancehall suddenly disappearing as a popular, global music force is not going to happen. At least, not anytime soon. Nevertheless, there seems to be a push to (re)establish dancehall’s significance and influence. Here are a few articles on this topic including some recent work of mine covering the latest in dancehall:

Six Artists Who Could Be Jamaica’s Next Dancehall SuperstarMTV Iggy

I singled out six dancehall candidates that seem primed for “superstardom.”

Ten Dancehall Acts That Matter Right Now - Large Up

Large Up recently posted a sort of “state of the union” in regards to Jamaican dancehall by pooling the industry and naming important acts that are still making waves in dancehall.

Fashion, Forward: Aidonia’s 80’s Dancehall Style - Large Up

There’s been a bit of a trend going on in dancehall to channel the golden era of early digital dancehall in both style and sound. This is just one example I recently wrote about. Aidonia is an artists to watch. Too bad his US visa has been revoked.

I-Octane: Balancing Between Reggae and a Hard Place - MTV Iggy 

In my recent interview with Jamaican artists I-Octane, i chat with him about his global aspirations along with his new album. I-Octane is this interesting type of Jamaican artists who has set his sights internationally and in doing so has openly decided to tread lightly in regards to politics and social issues in Jamaica as well as alliances between various dancehall groups on the island.

 

 

vybzMy article on Jamaican music after Vybz Kartel is up via MTV Iggy. I tried to address what the future of dancehall and Jamaican music will be without it’s biggest superstar, Vybz Kartel. I also tried to suss out that there is more to Vybz Kartel than his music and that it’s not just about his music waning as a presence on Jamaican radio but also his presence and persona in Jamaican society.

For the article I spoke to Max Glazer of Federation Sound as well as Dre Skull of Mixpak Records. Both DJs/producers have worked with Vybz Kartel. In addition I spoke with Tad Edwards of Tad Record who released Kartel’s latest 3-disc LP, Kartel Forever. I also spoke with Neil Edwards, the  A&R Director at VP Records.

You can read the full article here via MTV Iggy.

One person I communicated with via email who is not quoted in the article is The Locked Wonder. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of TLW (he declined to give his name) but I do know he is a lawyer in Jamaica and has a great Twitter feed if you are interested in a fascinating day-day look at the Jamaican legal system (find his Twitter @thelockedwonder here).

TLW’s brief email with me was really interesting in that it offered an alternative viewpoint of many of those I quoted in the MTV Iggy article. While those who I quoted were skeptical that dancehall lyrics, themes and the public persona of these artists would change in the wake of the Kartel verdict, TLW thinks otherwise.

From our email correspondence:

security minister and commissioner of police have long held the view that violent lyrics contribute to crime and the moral breakdown of society. They will see conviction as a victory for the new anti gang legislation which seeks to restrict violent lyrics in music etc. I don’t think he was targeted but I think they were watching him and his Gaza empire based in reports of violence that they received over the years. 

[...]

The lyrics will certainly change. The conviction will serve as a message to others that there are no gods of music.  That if kartel who was the best and most fearless amongst them and the most revered can go to prison then so can they. The new anti gang legislation also gives the police new powers by criminalizing violent music which promotes crime …so it beloved them all to “clean up their act”, which is the view of the minister and commissioner 
I believe art imitates life and life imitates art. You can’t single out the music without addressing poverty, lack of education, tribal politics, poor social structures, weak economy, unemployment etc

 

Guilty or not, the general consensus in Jamaica from who I’ve talked to and what I’ve read, is that there are other motives, beyond solving and convicting a crime, in the Adidja Palmer (aka Vybz Karte)l case. It seems that a message is trying to be sent that no “don” or artist is more powerful than the government and security forces in Jamaica.

If you follow Jamaican music in any sense, you likely know by now that dancehall superstar Vybz Kartel was convicted of murder last week.

I am not sure what exactly could be said about Vybz at this point that hasn’t already been shouted time and time again. But I do have a few thoughts.

1. The Music

I think wondering what dancehall and the Jamaican music scene will be like without Kartel’s presence and persona is an interesting question which I pose in a forthcoming article via MTV Iggy. There’s somewhat of a consensus that dancehall has sort of been floundering in popularity and direction, particularly since Kartel was incarcerated in 2011. In addition, a roots reggae revival (which I’ve covered quite a bit) has grown in popularity on the island. Furthermore, soca has started to grow in popularity outside of Trinidad, perhaps pose to overtake dancehall in some sense. Finally, 2 Chainz, an American hip-hop artist, headlined Sting this year. Point being that, indirect or not, Jamaican music has been changing since Kartel was jailed. Assuming his appeal fails to set him free, Kartel’s presence (not his influence) will wane and it will be interesting to see the direction Jamaican music, and in particular dancehall, goes from here on out.

However, it’s also important to remember that dancehall isn’t this wholly connected body even if it is written about it this way. Artists work independently and many of them are likely unaffected by the Vybz verdict. 

2. “Badman Lyrics”

There’s been a running idea in tweets, op-eds and articles that the police force in Kingston was trying to make a statement with this trial. Apparently, this is something of a landmark case in Jamaica where new methods of obtaining and examining evidence was being used, the same kind of technology they use in the UK and US, etc. With this being made public, many believe that there was extra pressure to obtain a guilty verdict in an effort to sort of prove its capability.

In addition, Jamaican musicians who often challenge the status quo of Jamaica’s conservative tendencies with x-rated lyrics and “badman” lyrics are singled out (scapegoated if you will) for the “ills” of Jamaican society. Kartel, to many, was seen as public enemy number one in this regard (See Jamaican Security Minister Peter Bunting’s comments on Kartel). Clearly, Kartel’s conviction will be seen as a real victory to this sect of Jamaica. And in many ways, could send a message to musicians. After all, Jamaica has never been shy to try and restrict its artists (see most recently: Broadcasting Commissions ban violent and vulgar lyrics from the radio).

The one-two punch of statements being made against “badman” lifestyle and the desire to prove its new “crime-fighting” technology sends a message and one wonders if the badman lyrical content might wane a bit in dancehall a bit out of fear of “pressure from Babylon.”

3. The Power of Music in Jamaica

I personally feel I know too little about Vybz outside of his music to make any type of judgement on the man. I think the Jamaican music scene is complex and I think music matters more socially and politically on the island that it does in the U.S. In the United States, it has been a long time since music resonated really resonated on a level where it produced real reflection and debate about the society we live in (sorry, Miley’s “twerk-gate” doesn’t count). In Jamaica, from what I can tell it still very much does and regularly.

It’s also important to remember how small Jamaica is. There are 2.8 million people on the island which is roughly the population of Chicago. To make a crude comparison, the gang violence in south Chicago has carried over in its music with the likes of rapper Chief Keef and company being rather upfront and outspoken about the violence to a point where Keef got into some “hot water” mocking the death of a fellow rapper from an opposing gang on Twitter a few years ago. The violence in Chicago amongst these gangs and young rappers is a big deal in the United States but it’s particularly a big deal and a problem IN these communities in Chicago. It’s magnified there. For those of us outside of Jamaica, we should approach this trial and all its opinions and aftermath similarly, the island is small in size and population. We have to remember how small it is and how the actions of its music stars resonates so much more that it does in a country like the U.S. (where I live) with 330 million people.  To connect the dots, when I was last in Jamaica, a traveling friend was chatting with street vendor about the Gaza-Gully conflict and at one point the vendor turned the whole conversation around and asked, “Why wouldn’t you fight over music?” Perhaps, spotlighting at least one popular viewpoint of music’s importance in Jamaica.

Whatever your opinion of Vybz, the trial, his music or dancehall, you have to take into consideration the context of the place where these things take place. This isn’t just some DJ arrested and convicted for a serious crime. This is a major figure in Jamaican society whose actions, music and words have real social significance that is way too complex to suss out in a blog post, an article, tweet or op-ed. Be weary of quick opinions. It’s more about whether or not he really is guilty of this heinous crime. It runs much deeper.

4. Further reading!

I’m hard pressed to find anything worth reading about Vybz and the impact of this trial right now. Maybe it just needs some time. But Carolyn Cooper’s op-ed in the Jamaican Gleaner poses some interesting questions. Read it here. And while you’re at it, you might as well read Vybz’s published letter to Carolyn Cooper and her response.

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