As an American and a white man, my authority only goes so far when we’re talking about the current state of dancehall music. I am a dedicated follower in a foreign country and get news and observe trends from a very skewed position. However, I think it is important that there are voices in this country that speak on issues in Dancehall and Reggae, even if I or we are not the ultimate authorities on the subject. In that spirit I am going to address what I see and hear from my point of view. My station and organization is dedicated to furthering and supporting dancehall and reggae artists and culture in the United States. More on this movement later, but right now I want to talk about the current state of dancehall here in the United States and JA.
There is no question that Jamaican music has gone through and will go through change at a rapid pace. Some changes are major and some minor but the changes that dancehall in particular have been through in the past years, have sounded an alarm for some. I am talking mainly about what I will call “Caribbean trap” music. Maybe I should call it “Jamaican Trap” but I’m trying to be a little inclusive here. Jamaica has gone through periods where the influence of US music has been greater than others, but it remains a constant both in the music’s popularity and in how it influences Jamaican music.
The fundamental beats or riddims (backing tracks) to this music seems to rely more on trap and drill styles that popularized in the US and elsewhere. One characteristic is the intricate hi-hat patterns these beats contain. A lot of dancehall music follows formulas (or devolves into them) and the trap style music has a distinctive formula and style that does not seem to evolve from traditional dancehall core rhythms. Most of these core rhythms are based on the clave rhythm but that is not the only source. What I am trying to say is that the core element of dancehall does not seem to be present but rather you have patois being spoken over a different style of beat. This is what has created a lot of controversy.
Many people use the term “trap dancehall” and this term has pissed a lot of people off who don’t see the trap music and dancehall as a compatible combination. They don’t want to associate dancehall with this newer style music at all and I would mostly be part of that camp. I respect and support the youth in taking styles and mashing them up a bit to create this new Caribbean Trap style, but it does not seem to me to be the next stage of development of dancehall. However, this begs the question, is dancehall over or on its way out? Is it going to become like mento or rocksteady...a style from the past that is lovingly kept alive in certain places for tourists and the like? I say no... the heart of dancehall is strong and beats on, and we are seeing its spirit rise in new forms, informed by the past. That is one of the biggest criticisms of trap, it has little connection to the past.
A lot of Jamaican music has looked to the past for inspiration and relicking of riddims, and I believe that is how dancehall will continue to reinvent itself. Perhaps it will become like golden era hiphop in the US and become a “classic” style that is practiced and refined in the underground while these newer and younger musics take the forefront and spotlight. If that is the case dancehall could continue to develop while the core remains and continues to inspire new generations of producers and artists.
Whatever the case, I believe Jamaican music deserves more support in this country and I wish to rally support from the US to consolidate ourselves into a strong centralized group to ensure that support and pave the way for more artists to find success in the US. I specifically am talking about Jamaican artists and not those who practice a caricature of reggae styles here in this country and call it reggae. I am not putting all non-Jamaicans into that category, but rather condemning a style that twists reggae into something else, and usually something distinctly white. Reggae has a core as well, and this type of music seems to me devoid of that core. Without that core I think it borders on parody.
Stay tuned for more on this movement to support dancehall and reggae. This is obviously just my opinion, so let me know what you think of the direction the music will and should go in.