Every artist needs a great team, whether in the form of producers and session musicians or simply friends offering support. In Footnotes, we ask an invaluable assister about their experiences with one of the issue’s featured artists. Here “Everything Nice” producer Dubbel Dutch tells us about his summer smash hit with The FADER cover star Popcaan and reflects on some of his favorite moments in dancehall history.
Bunny General, “Full Up a Class” Full Up a Class (Fashion Records 1992)
This is one of my favorite tunes off one of my favorite riddims, the Fever Pitch Riddim (also home to dancehall classics “Limb by Limb” and “Rich Girl”). There’s something irrefutably timeless about this instrumental. It’s currently enjoying a moment with Dominican dembow artists who sample it heavily, although I first heard this track via various different bubbling remixes that sampled it. The Dutch genre bubbling basically consists of sped up dancehall tunes with lots of chaotic, choppy editing and chipmunk vocals. As much as I love this tune at the intended tempo, I think Bunny General’s syncopated vocal flow sounds amazing, even if slightly ridiculous, at warp speed.
Ricky Blaze, “Cut Dem Off” (Self-release, 2008)
Ricky Blaze could be called somewhat of a godfather of the dancehall meets electronic-pop world. His tunes “Cut Dem Off” and “Love Dancing” combine saccharine trance melodies, uptempo rhythms and extremely catchy, auto-tuned dancehall vocals. That whole vibe is super influential for me, and Ricky Blaze’s work ethic is still insane (can’t believe he produced “Badman Forward, Badman Pull Up” when he was 16). His latest productions, “Stuck” by Gyptian and “Left Out” by Alexus Rose, are some of my favorite records right now.
Vybz Kartel (pictured above) easily claims the title of most undeniably influential figure of dancehall. This track basically consists of him bragging about how influential he is and nodding at his various hit songs. He claims to be the Pelé and Jordan of the dancehall world, and his monotonous delivery on this record just exudes confidence. The axiomatic line, Everything mi do dem follow if mi nuh shit some bwoy can’t swallow, constantly gets stuck in my head. Since his imprisonment, dancehall as a whole has undoubtedly suffered.
Lisa Hyper, “Money Don’t Sleep” (Platinum Camp, 2012)
Most of my favorite dancehall deejays are females. There’s just something about the powerful feminine perspective that can turn the unapologetic masculinity of dancehall right on its head. Shabba Ranks has this classic song “Gone Up”, where he’s talking about how the price of different living expenses keeps increasing and he doesn’t want the price of love to go up as well. Years later, Lisa Hype has created this monster of a response tune basically owning her gold-digging status and calling on all the girls to Tun up the price.
Nyanda, “Trouble” (Taylor Swift Cover) (Self-release, 2013)
There’s an interesting tradition of dancehall artists doing covers of popular non-Jamaican songs with varying degrees of success (see Tony Curtis’ cover of George Michaels’ “Faith” and Singing Sweet’s cover of Bad English’s “When I See You Smile”). Nyanda (a former member of all-female dancehall group Brick & Lace, responsible for the hit “Love Is Wicked”) has recently taken off on her solo career and absolutely destroys this Taylor Swift song. It would have been enough for her to pull off the chorus just as good as Taylor does while adding her own Jamaican flavor, but the additional double-time verses she drops are mind-blowing.
Palmistry, “Catch” (Mixpak, 2013)
I first came across “Catch” while slogging through a SoundCloud wormhole. Palmistry’s a young British producer and vocalist who’s clearly inspired by the mellow crooning styles of Jamaican artists like Vybz Kartel (see “Yuh Love”) but still manages to find his own unique voice. I think this tune might have been tagged as ‘outsider dancehall’, but I feel like it’s somewhere between the inside and outside. It works not only because it’s a well-written catchy song, but because it’s honest and you can hear that.
This isn’t exactly a typical Jamaican dancehall tune but it makes my list. Until the Afrobeats genre took off globally, I wasn’t really aware that Ghanaian artists were making much dancehall or dancehall-inspired music at all. But some of the most exciting records for me are coming from Ghana and Nigeria right now, and everyone’s taking notice. Shatta Wale has recently collaborated with Jah Vinci and appeared on stage alongside Popcaan. Pretty soon you might not be able to talk about dancehall without mentioning what’s happening over in Africa.
Popcaan, “Everything Nice” (Mixpak, 2014)
“Everything Nice,” the lead single off the debut Popcaan album, has been receiving more and more praise every day. This was my debut production for a vocalist of any kind and Popcaan gave me a lot of freedom with it. The final version is actually completely different from the original instrumental Popcaan wrote to, but he really loved the result. His consistency, unique tone of voice and command of melody definitely set him apart from the pack. For me, “Everything Nice” really works because it strikes the perfect balance between party song and somber tribute to those lost in the struggle. Even though we’re living it up, we haven’t forgot about human suffering. We’re coming to grips with the good and the bad all at once and looking at all things with a kind of mature equanimity.