Dancehall, Ah Wah Gwaan?

Today I could not hold back the Twitter rant about some “fresh” Dancehall to which I exposed my ears. »»

I was heated. HEATED.

Wait did I say I was done? Nope.

Make GOOD music.

My poor ears.  Where did I hear the offending “music”? On Federation Sound‘s weekly podcast, specifically the May 6, 2011 edition (#199). No disrespect at all to Federation Sound — you’re an excellent group of selectors & yuh fly the Dancehall & Reggae flag high — but I was pushed over the edge by whatever trash you mixed in around the 7:30 minute mark. I gave it until 8:30 mark before I had to turn it off.  Wait I just listened to it again before posting.  Is that Busy Signal? What a waste.  I would encourage him and others to check out Here, Fishy Fishy.

Lemme ask the current crop of Dancehall producers about some things: Do y’all listen to other genres of music?  Do you listen to oldies (not Dancehall or Reggae as well as Dancehall & Reggae…and I don’t mean do you listen to see how you can “fix up a riddim for the 21st century” *side eye*)?  Do you listen to what other countries are doing with their indigenous music? Or *gasp* with OUR indigenous music? No? I’m not surprised. Why? Because most of your shit sounds like shit.  Within the last 12 months or so,  Tony “CD” Kelly & Jeremy Harding “stepped back into the game.”  Kelly produced “For Your Eyes Only” by Shaggy & Alaine while Harding produced the City Life riddim.  To be honest neither was earth shattering but I’ll tell you this: the absolute joy I felt because of the quality of these releases is unmatched by anything else I’ve heard from Dancehall folk recently.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Kelly when he released the Katana riddim and I recall how fun it was to hear him talk about the bare bones technical aspects of Dancehall riddim production.  If I tried to talk to today’s hot producer I wouldn’t be surprised if I could tell him/her more about producing than s/he could tell me.  And I’m NO musician or ethnomusicologist, just a Jamaican Dancehall & Reggae lover.

I listened to the “fresh” Category 5 riddim (and this is an example on the better side of things) and I felt like something was missing…what a misleading name.  True to form, all the Twitter hype was empty. DASECA mek I ask unnuh sumtin’: unnuh memba Anger Management??!!  (Y’all see “Black Kartel”? Damn).  Not only was Category 5 apparently produced only for the tra-la-la-la stylings of Serani, Movado, and Bugle but where in Heaven’s sweet name is the bassline?! BASSLINE!  Unnuh producer dem memba dat?  Feel it in my bones, down to my soul, in mi toe pyint want to whine out mine & smaddy else waistline BASSLINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I’m having a @DawnieJae moment, pardon me.)  And this is not DASECA bashing at all either because ALL of you who I pray take the BUSINESS seriously: unnuh need fi dress up the output because it doan stay good!

You may have seen from my Twitter rant but let me reitterate: leave off with the nonsense about music not being made for my age group because GOOD music can and should reach ANYONE.  I’m not a teenager or college kid any more but I ain’t ancient either.  I don’t mind going out & having FUN, and while there may be one & two recent tunes that I can work wid (e.g. Spice’s “Jim Screechie” or even Kartel’s “Dumpa Truck” & Movado’s “Stulla“) they aren’t great and probably only stand out because of the mediocrity that surrounds them.  Same way my mother & uncle and even some teachers could appreciate some Buju, Beenie, Shabba and Bounty when I was growing up, I should and would like to be able to appreciate what my little sister and cousins listen to now.  Heck, Grandma even cracked a smile once at General Degree’s “Granny.”  When my little sister was just barely born I held her against my chest as we listened to Dancehall and I’d whisper, “You’re going to grow to love this music & know how dance to it.”  Now that little girl can catch a Dancehall move so quickly and sometimes TOO well that my mother usually looks at me and says, “That’s your doing.” But me? Now I feel like I have to save her.

O & by the way, I’ve seen it tweeted and agree: the military and artiliary-themed riddims are old now.  Done.  Played out.  Move on. So too are those lightweight, weak skippity-skip things.  Which brings me back to my original question: what other types of music are producers listening to for inspiration or as teaching tools? What are you feeding your ears? Most importantly, are you LISTENING to what you record before unleashing it on the public?  Because right now I feel assaulted & downright bruised and battered from the steaming piles of shit I keep hearing.

So this is just a post of desperation and deep frustration from a Dancehall & Reggae lover; I’m not merely waxing nostalgic.  One who defended Dancehall & Reggae whenever need be & however she could: from the after-work German class when a fellow student declared her hate for our genres (yes she is entitled to her taste but best believe I strongly encouraged her to give it another listen) to being president of WISA in college and hosting many a party that was strictly Dancehall and Reggae (and then soca and even a kompa party) were played; Hip Hop & Rap got a SEGMENT not the whole show. So, imagine we had parties where “Heads High” was all we got and then parties where “Big Pimpin‘ ” was all ‘they’ got.  And it was good. Now? I don’t think those parties could be or are being held.

I truly don’t think y’all understand the power & value that lies in our music specifically and culture more broadly.  It’s fine to hold a party and have some fun, but the music is a gateway to our country and culture..and, yes, sometimes to the rest of the Caribbean.  Don’t get all big-headed now but recognize that Dancehall and Reggae are not just side hustle.  People listen and get curious about “us” and how we live, eat, talk, think, and dream.  Dancehall has its issues, among them, how women are portrayed and the unhealthy & dishonest way it talks about oral sex, but it is still ours and it is valuable and good.   I love it with all its complexities, contradictions, and foibles.  Is it too much to ask that y’all treat it wid likkle respect and put out QUALITY over QUANTITY?  Each song doesn’t have to be a deep social message but good God man, at least mix it properly and display creativity instead of laziness.

p.s. …and now as I listen to Anger Management as I edit + add & check the links and have banged on my desk and yelled “My Gaaawd” I want to hold my head and bawl…Jeezam.

11 Responses to “Dancehall, Ah Wah Gwaan?”
  1. NickMack says:

    LOL, once again, it’s like you were in my head all along. Newer dancehall is almost like mass-produced drivel. Can’t stand too much of it in the copious quantities I used to enjoy dancehall in as a teenager. Nowadays there’s no creativity – nothing to make one cut stand out from another. And, as a disclaimer – lest someone take me on – I’m not a producer or anything like that…Current dancehall music (as a whole) is not aurally pleasing. I’m happier listening to Rock, Heavy Metal, or Rap. Hell, I’d rather listen to Wacka Flocka Flame – at least Lex Luger makes AMAZING beats. -___-

  2. Shumpy says:

    Well you know I don’t listen to dancehall but Raf always complains they releasing songs so quickly you cant even get used to or listen and enjoy anything anymore…what can I say? Everything getting mass produced now. I will admit tho even I appreciated Jim Screechie (even tho it wasnt very original, it was a different thing from what I usually hear fr Ja dancehall)

    • Ahh yes, the quantity over quality. I’ve never understood the drive to dilute your own market and tarnish your own product. Makes no sense. And I agree with you re: Jim Screechie…Spice’s voice on the chorus did it for me.

  3. Yep girl, you hit the nail on the head! My dancehall daze are feeling numbered if the next innovation isn’t seriously on the horizon and I just wrote a book on dancehall…see my blog through which I have posted this comment! Tell me what you think. I have to take lessons from you.

    • Thanks for reading and for commenting. I’ll check our your blog. My frustration with dancehall is so intense that I avoid it altogether now, especially since writing this post. If it wasn’t done before 2004, I don’t want to hear it really.

  4. Ms. Nikks says:

    I stopped loving dancehall years ago. You are so right about the fact that these artists and producers aren’t listening to other music genres and what EVERYONE else is doing with our music! Pure rass madness! Mi dun wid it!

  5. Yasmine says:

    Even though I am kinda Dancehall outdated actually (I can’t keep up, I’m too busy + like y’all said, so many songs being released in a short period of times) I do love Dancehall and I just wished to say Cucumberjuice’s last paragraph is so on point. I am an example of a foreigner that fell in love with JA (people, culture, etc.) thanks to Dancehall. AC really said it all! It’s quite confusing most of the time but I’m not losing faith in this music I love!

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