EXCLUSIVE GENIUS EXCERPT: Please Don’t Call Drake “King of the Dancehall”
The particular turn of phrase in Drake’s announcement was a carefully selected signifier, one of many examples of how he’s strategically aligned himself with Jamaican sound-system culture, which remains a seemingly inexhaustible wellspring of ideas, creativity, and unimpeachable respect. Drake leads a wider wave of multi-million-selling acts recently incorporating reggae vibes in mainstream music—see: Kanye West’s classic Sister Nancy sample on “Famous,” or the wildly successful Major Lazer collective, or even the steel drums and air horn on Beyoncé’s spanking-new “HOLD UP.”
More than 40 years after Kool Herc first set up a yard-style sound system in the Bronx, birthing something called “hip-hop,” Jamaican musical practices have been integral to the creation of a street culture that begat a billion-dollar industry. From BDP and Queen Latifah to Biggie and the Fugees, countless rappers have borrowed sounds and slang from Jamaican artists, right up through the latest UK underground genre du jour, grime, including the much-vaunted “Afrobeat” movement. Peel back the layers and you’ll inevitably find yourself knee-deep in bashment riddims.
Drake’s recent release, “One Dance,” is straight “Dem Bow”—Steely & Clevie’s syncopated “Pocoman Jam” dancehall drum pattern that fueled an untold number of reggaeton cuts, and now gets filed under “Afrobeat,” an appellation that would surely confuse the late great Fela Kuti. And let’s not even utter the dreaded words “tropical house,” as Justin “Natty Dread” Bieber’s Skrillex-produced radio killer “Sorry” has been described.
When “Controlla,” Drake’s long-awaited Popcaan collab, leaked late last month—coming hard on the heels of Drizzy’s feature on Rihanna’s dancehall chart-topper, “Work,” now spending its ninth straight week at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100—garden-variety music pundits got the memo that Drizzy had a serious jones for Jamaica. Even the name of his OVO Sound imprint is a hat tip to sound system culture, another early indicator that the self-proclaimed 6 God was positioning himself to ride pon di river all the way to the bank on this resurgence of raggamuffin style in the mainstream.
(HEAD OVER TO GENIUS TO READ THE HALF THAT’S NEVER BEEN TOLD)
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