Jamaica’s leading reggae festival has always been about more than reggae. Over the years since Reggae Sumfest launched in 1993, the festival has been a showcase for many of the world’s biggest soul, hip hop, and R&B acts from Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Missy, and Snoop to Chris Brown, Usher, Mary J. Blige and Destiny’s Child.
But the truth is, some “farin” artists fare better with the yardcore audience than others. Just because you have big hits overseas doesn’t mean you simply can hop on a private jet, show up in MoBay, and collect a check. You better bring your A game to the Jamaican stage—including a criss outfit—or the crowd will not hesitate to voice its displeasure (and just hope no bockles reach you). Plus the Jamaica Constabulary Force don’t ramp when it comes to cursing onstage. Just ask your bredren Drizzy Drake, who nearly got locked up at for using some bumbaclaat profanity at a show in Portland earlier this year.
We can only hope that this year’s headliners are on their best behavior next Friday and Saturday July 22-23. Let’s take a look and what we can expect from three of the biggest stars to touch the Sumfest stage this year:
One of the world’s greatest soul singers, Beres Hammond is better known in the reggae core market, but he has collaborated with international stars like Wyclef Jean and Maxi Priest. The Jamaican-born singer songerwriter and producer’s earliest local hits were straight-up soul records. When he performed hits like “One Step Ahead” live, audiences were surprised to see that they were sung by a fellow Jamaican. Even after he began singing over reggae beats, Hammond’s sound owed as much to Otis Redding and Teddy Pendergrass as it did to Alton Ellis and Gregory Isaacs.
Beres always wins onstage because he keeps his focus firmly upon the music, and the ladies. Loyal female fans will never desert the velvet-voiced crooner responsible for smash hits like “Tempted To Touch” and “No Disturb Sign” (and they laugh right along with romantic confessionals like “Double Trouble”). Although he’s know for his love songs, Beres always has something for the strugglers, delivering anthems like “Putting Up Resistance” and “Black Beauty.” (And he’s sure to shout out his longtime sparring partner Buju Banton, who won’t be able to join Beres onstage this year) Expect nothing less than a world-class performance from this Grammy-nominated soul-reggae balladeer. Here’s one Beres selection we’re hoping to hear this year.
The Trinidad-born Queens-raised rhyme monster has had the music industry going nuts since she signed with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Militia in August 1999. Her 2010 debut album Pink Friday debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart and she later became the first artist to have seven singles on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time. Although her penchant for multiple personalities and rumors about her sexuality have stirred disapproval in some circles, Nicki’s music and the Barbie movement appear unstoppable. And she has always let her Caribbean roots show in that music, from her scene-stealing verse on Kanye West’s smash hit “Monster,” which Nicki shouts out Tony Matterhorn to her Lil Kim diss “Tragedy” where Nicki asks Lil Wayne if he prefers Gaza or Gully. But no song proclaimed Nicki’s Dancehall Queen DNA more proudly than her remix of Gyptian’s smash “Hold Yuh.” When she touches the line about which gal sitten tight, the whole place mash up. Run that…
“Hold Yuh” (Remix)
The first time R.Kelly came to Jamaica, he got caught up in the rapture and made the mistake of dropping his pants onstage. Nobody can front on the Pied Piper of R&B’s catalog of hits, but as a Mr. Vegas tune recently put it, “As a man you haffi know certain law.” Jamaican audiences don’t see nothing wrong with a lil’ bump n’ grind, but they prefer the men to remain fully clothed, at least from the waist down, at least on stage. This time around—despite the well-known controversies that R.Kelly has faced over the years—he can win the Jamaican crowd over (witness Chris Brown’s triumphant performance at last year’s Sumfest) if he gets down to business and delivers the hits, from “I Believe I Can Fly” (in this case, the original is even better than Sanchez’s version) to “Ignition” and “Your Body’s Callin’.” Kells would also do well to dip into his box of island-flavored treats like the dancehall-ready “Snake” and “Slow Wine” his collabo with Sean Paul and Akon. We always knew R. Kelly was feeling the island vibe since him and Hov dropped this one. Anytime he touches this song at Sumfest, get ready to see the “best of both worlds” for real. Leggo!
“Fiesta” (Remix) featuring Jay-Z