The Emergence of Jamaican Hip Hop - Part 2 Image

by Biko Kennedy

"I think there is a fear that if local hip-hop gets too popular it may take hold and the youth may choose to express themselves in this genre as opposed to the traditional reggae or dancehall." – Inztinkz, Jamaican Hip Hop producer.

"Music is about expression of one's self and as such being Jamaican should not be the sole reason for expressing one's self through reggae or dancehall," quipped Inztinkz when asked why he's chasing an international dream as a local aritste/producer when he could be better recognized/acknowledged as a Dancehall/Reggae act/producer. "There are respected and revered Jazz musicians from Jamaica such as pianist Monty Alexander and guitarist Earnest Ranglin who did not believe that just because they are Jamaican they should express themselves through reggae or dancehall, instead they chose Jazz," he added.

"The idea that I'm somehow not a part of the Jamaican tradition because we have decided to segregate black music and forget that it's all different branches of the same tree is a backward notion that I will relentlessly fight against," explains local rapper The Sickest Drama (TSD). "That's like saying the slaves picking cotton are not of the same bloodline as the slaves who cut sugarcane - totally ridiculous," he continued.

"It's about being true to one's self as ironic as it may sound. As much as I am Jamaican born and raised in Jamaica and a fan of reggae and dancehall music I was given the gift to express myself via hip-hop," intimated Inztinkz. "I went through a phase of uncertainty and I questioned my decision to make this kind of music, I asked myself how could I refer to myself as a proud Jamaican when I have chosen to express myself through an art form that is seen by many as non-Jamaican. This phase of uncertainty caused me to experiment briefly with local forms such as Dancehall and Reggae, this experimentation was a failure and it was at this point that I realized that being born and raised in Jamaica did not automatically mean that I could become a Reggae singer or Dancehall deejay or singjay."

The lack of opportunity and support

The question then raised is if you as a producer or MC don't want to neglect the Hip Hop culture but not wholeheartedly embrace the Jamaican musical soundscape, why not simple fuse the two? One such MC who made that fusion is Kabaka Pyramid, combining Roots Reggae and 'conscious' Hip Hop as seamlessly as Nas and Damian Marley did on their duet album Distant Relatives.

"For an artiste like myself the fusion was a natural evolutionary step," shared Kabaka. "There was an unsustainable duality in my musical presentation that afforded me the opportunity to develop the Reggae and Hip Hop sides separately. The inspiration towards the fusion was around the end of 2010 symbolized and crystallized by the song "Better Muss Come" featuring Koro-fyah who has had a similar trod musically. The lack of recognition for local rappers was definitely a factor but not the only one," he continued.

"Skill does not equal success in this game. Music is a business. You can't forget that. There is no path to mass-appeal," adds Washington-based producer, Theory.

"All that's missing is support and recognition of what we do as legitimate from the traditional media houses, but that will come eventually," expressed TSD.

"I'm not as convinced that we should spend our time trying to curry their favour if they have an inherent bias against us. Our respect will be earned off of grind, and keeping shows like "Pay Attention" and "The Takeover" to prove our movement has undeniable traction and then things will fall into place from there. As the youth gravitates towards our styles their backitive will turn the tides, it's something I'm already starting to see occur as we are converting non-believers on a daily basis. It's gonna be a grassroots movement and a very promising foundation is being laid," he continued.

"I think Jamaicans are a proud people, especially as it concerns music, of which Reggae and Dancehall are primary concerns. Pride has a negative side that can become I think to identify the underlying cause would take a wide scale psychological evaluation," explained Kabaka.

Crossover successes

For any and almost every artiste their main intention should be to acquire a massive fanbase that transcend all races and genders. For some, having Jamaica as their base to push their image globally is of vital important; prime example Snoop Dogg/Lion.

"It is not necessarily true but I do want Kingston, Jamaica to be my base and for that to be recognized by everyone locally and globally. I'm repping Kingston Hip Hop," explains rapper Five Steez. "Well seeing that the reggae revival is as the name states, a revival, it's a different situation in that it has happened before. Hip Hop is more of a birth. It will probably take one person establishing themselves abroad and then coming back to Jamaica to establish the movement, but that's a major sacrifice seeing there's no market here currently. It will take a selfless soul to do something like that," added Kabaka.

"I think all anyone, Jamaican rappers included, can do is keep working to be heard. Make as much noise as you can with whatever means available to you at all times. If you get a shot, be ready to KILL IT!" Theory added animatedly as rapper Nomad Carlos quipped "People in the US and Europe are more receptive to hip hop. As far as locally, I have to do what I can to help build a local buzz while focusing on my career globally."

"One of the few Jamaican artistes to have a gold-certified single in recent times is a friend of mine that goes by the name of Mike Beatz, who had a successful run in the UK as part of a duo called Wizard Sleeve. Aside from a few write-ups that he has gotten in local newspapers, Jamaica doesn't even know about this. To me, that's a perfect example of crossover success by a Jamaican without Jamaica as the base," intimated Steez.

"In reality, being Jamaican or being in Jamaica doesn't really lend credibility to anyone doing Hip Hop since the global community doesn't know this is happening here and when they hear about a Jamaican artiste, they naturally assume Dancehall or Reggae since that is all that has marketed from us. What I've found, however, is that when they hear the music first, they're sold… and when they fully realize that you're Jamaican, you get even more respect because not only do they respect Jamaica as a nation for various reasons, but they respect the fact that they hear me or us upholding the essence of an art form and culture that they would assume we know nothing about and have no idea how to do as well as they do," he continued.

As the voice of the voiceless continues to ooze through these rappers/producers Five Steez, Nomad Carlos, The Sickest Drama (TSD), Kabaka Pyramid, Inztinkz and Theory are without a doubt mastering the art of patience as they prepare for their global takeover with a salute to Jamaica where it all started.

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