REGGAE SUMFEST marks changing times in dancehall, hip-hop, and the leveling of the pop playing field
Whenever the third week of July rolls around, reggae lovers know it’s that time again—the time when Reggae Sumfest takes over Mobay for 3 solid days of entertainment. Though it’s dubbed “the greatest reggae show on earth,” Sumfest has never been limited in terms of genre. Every year the organisers go all out to pull together a blend of the best homegrown and international talent. Acts such as Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj have all graced the Sumfest stage over the past 22 years, often sharing that stage with Jamaica’s biggest stars to create once-in-a-lifetime moments that don’t happen anywhere else. Full Text After The Jump…
(Story via Revolt.TV)
After this past weekend’s staging of the festival, none of that has changed. But behind the attention-grabbing I-Octane/Mr. Vegas and Bounty Killer/Mavado beefs, an important new theme emerged. As independent producers become more important to the music business, the old barriers between “local” dancehall artists an “international” rap and pop stars have broken down. Watching American acts like Wiz Khalifa, Jason DeRulo, Future and Kat Dahlia performing at Reggae Sumfest 2014, it became clear that the music biz playing field has been leveled. The rules that once governed who was “big” and who was “small” and who gets to decide are out the window.
Each year the festival kicks off with “dancehall night,” an entire Thursday evening (plus most of Friday morning) devoted to the hottest reggae and dancehall acts on the streets of Jamaica. Whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer in the biz, getting booked for Sumfest is a prestige gig that says your music mattered this year. The dancehall night lineup reads like a roll call. After performances from the likes of Popcaan, Assassin, Spice, Bugle, and Tifa, on came the ‘Warlord’ Bounty Killer, an elder of the dancehall culture who delivered a storming set that reminded some youths why he is a legend. Dancehall’s 5-star general dropped classics like “Fed Up” an “Down In The Ghetto,” then lived up to his name backstage when asked to address his beef with Mavado (who was not part of this year’s lineup despite Sumfest promoters’ efforts to book him.)
After tensions between the singer and his former mentor bubbled over in a series of diss tracks, Mavado’s label boss DJ Khaled proposed to heal the rift by recording a track featuring both artists. No such record will be made but that doesnt matter – what matters is that both artists have clout and they’re not afraid to use it.
“Khaled is my brother and I will continue to work with him,” said Bounty, politely but firmly dismissing the offer. “As for Mavado I’m really fed up with him.” The other conflict of the evening was the long-simmering tension between Mr Vegas, who questioned whether I-Octane deserved the honor of closing dancehall night last year—a question that flared into a full-blown media hypefest (complete with dis tracks and interviews to “answer” other interviews). Sumfest promoter did their best to downplay the drama, pointing out they had never considered any other artist but Octane. Both artists channeled this energy at the festival, performing powerful sets that made both of them winners. Vegas, the perennial dancehall hitmaker responsible for tracks like “Heads High,” “Hot Wuk,” and more recently “Bruk it Down” remains one of Jamaica’s most successful crossover stars and though he would have easily made sense on one of Sumfest’s two “International Nights,” his dancehall-night friction with Octane gave the veteran artist some welcome street cred. At the same time Octane’s second annual closing set erased any lingering questions about whether he was capable of keeping a big crowd entertained after a long show with the hot morning sun blazing down. “Don’t hold down young youths,” he advised.
In the end Octane vs. Vegas was a win for both artists, whose sets were the talk of the night. Fittingly enough Aidonia spent much of his set talkin about the creative potential if more reggae artists would just stick together.
Friday’s International Night 1 was all about the acts making the splash across the globe. Appropriately enough Chronixx was on the bill, just days before his big performance on NBC’s The Tonight Show. Chronixx shared the stage with Protoje, performing “Who Knows” together live for the first time. Jesse Royal performed a few cuts from his new Major-Lazer-produced Royally Speaking mixtape. Next up was Wiz Khalifa, making his first-ever visit to Jamaica. Wiz, who had just tweeted a vine of him smoking a joint before reaching the island, was in great mood soon after landing in Jamrock. Before his performance he chatted poolside about his love of old school reggae stars like Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer and gave nuff respect to his homie Snoop Dogg for the Reincarnated album. When he finally hit the stage—in the same black and yellow shorts he sported poolside—Wiz was in full rockstar mode, lifting himself and the crowd to the highest heights.
Pop sensation Jason DeRulo followed Wiz, despite a recent rib fracture this megastar with Caribbean roots was not about to miss Sumfest. He was joined by Mr. Vegas on the “Talk Dirty to Me” remix, pulling girls up from the crowd to compete and see who could “Bruk it Down” the best. After Vegas and the champion bubblers cleared out, DeRulo performed the duet “Vertigo” with his boo Jordin Sparks, further establishing them as the new pop #powercouple.
Who better to close such an eclectic night than Beenie Man? It’s usually his job to wrap up dancehall night—a job he performed for 19 years. Better late then never was how everyone felt when the King of the Dancehall finally strolled on to the stage on night two. Backstage Beenie mentioned that he had watched most of the previous night but didn’t hang around for Octane’s show-closing performance. ”I don’t have anything nice to say about him so i wont say anything,” he added with a smile—so it seems Octane has more than one veteran to deal with. On the upside there was not a girl in sight who wasn’t awake for Beenie Man’s early-monning set as the “girl’s dem sugar” did his thing until sunrise—and beyond.
The final night was an extension of Day 2, which continued to show us how intertwined both hip hop and dancehall are—now more than ever. The Wizard came out to DJ a set of her riddims with a guest appearance from Epic Records signee Kat Dahlia who performed “Mash It Up” the song she did with rising dancehall act Chedda, but the peak of her set had to be when her father Beres Hammond joined her on stage. There’s nothing quite like family. Just ask Freddie McGregor, whose musical family gave him a strength during his festival-closing set. Earlier that night, The Voice champ Tessanne Chin came home to Jamaica in full superstar mode while Sean Paul returned to the Sumfest stage after a ten-year absence with an over-the-top stage presentation complete with elaborate choreography and pyrotechnics. Meanwhile Grammy-winning multimillionaire Future performed a stripped-down set with just him and a DJ that would not be out of place at any street dance in Kingston and got the entire crowd singing ‘I Won.” Looks like he did.
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