For decades, Jamaican music has produced rags to riches stories unlike anywhere else. From reggae icons like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to scores of dancehall contemporaries, Jamaican artists have escaped the grips of extreme poverty to find global influence and fame with tirelessly unique styles and sounds. The latest artist to storm the scene is Gully Bop, who was all over the radio on the island weeks after an amateur video of him freestyling went viral—think dancehall's answer to Bobby Shmurda's "Hot Nigga." But a few things set him apart: Gully Bop is 50 years old, and was rumored to be a drug addict, mentally ill, and homeless.
Bop's earliest looks were two jagged, cellphone videos uploaded to Facebook, featuring a disheveled man in rags freestyling a cappella, with a quick-lipped flow that recalled formative deejays like Ninja Man and Shabba Ranks. Soon, local DJs ripped the audio and laid Bop's a cappellas over clean riddims that mimicked the minimalist, lyric-driven '80s dancehall sound Gully Bop seemed to revive with two freestyles. Remixes like "Wuk Affa Mi" popped off, and Bop's raw, stripped-down flow snatched the genre's collective attention. Fans began to compare him to Vybz Kartel, jokingly speculating that he must be Vybz's father and dubbing him "Daddy Kartel."
Within a few weeks, Bop returned to YouTube with a cleaner fit and hi-res footage, kicking another improvised verse in the streets of his native Seaview Gardens hood and sending playful shots at buzzing stars like FADER cover star Popcaan and Alkaline and vets like Ninjaman. The bars were slick and slack: Call him mommy and him D-A-D, call dem posse dem G-A-N-G/ Come ah Seaview bout him is B-A-D? Punk, mind you get me M-A-D/ Send Cigar fi di S-L-U-G. His first official recordings, "My God Dem Nuh Bad Like Me" and "Pussy Specialist" have become hits in their own right, and even skeptics acknowledged his lyrics are as potent as the spectacle of his image and story. Soon, Bop was getting booked for shows and interviews, including a sit-down interview on the web series OnStage that furthered his infamy.
The buzz culminated in Gully Bop headlining Jamaica's annual Magnum Sting clash this past December, the biggest dancehall festival on the island, where stars like Bounty Killer, Busy Signal, Movado and Vybz Kartel battled for the throne and a year's worth of bragging rights. Crowds gathered to see if the internet sensation was the real deal or a novelty, and when rival Ninjaman didn't show, Gully Bop claimed near-unanimous victory. "The deejay only has three officially recorded songs to his credit," the Jamaica Gleaner observed, "however, his performance at 7 o'clock on Saturday morning hardly showed any weakness." The paper called Bop the fastest rising artist in the island's history.
What lies ahead for Gully Bop remains to be seen. In a little over a month, he's found fortune, fame and even love, and two American dentists have offered to perform full dental work on the artist's gummy grill, further prepping him for mainstream impact. However, darker details have emerged: namely Bop's dashed career in the '80s performing as Country Man, which gave way to years of drug use, and rumors that recent hangers-on don't have his best interest in mind. He's reportedly split from his label, Claims Records, amidst conflicts over money, but he doesn't seem to worried: Bop's latest cut, "Drop Mi," finds him asking How dem fi drop me, and a no dem pick me up? Despite the controversy, in the void left by Vybz Kartel's incarceration, Gully Bop has risen on the island not just as a viral star, but a symbol of dancehall's origins, before foreign influence and investment abounded. He's a conservationist that could've only exploded in a contemporary, digital world.