Dancehall’s Influence on Pop Music

April 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

There has been a distinct sound sneaking into the trendy tunes of Pop music today. It is fun, loud, and makes you feel good enough to dance your ass off. This musical trend is: Dancehall. Once the gritty and unforgiving brother to Reggae, Dancehall is now influencing many Pop artists of today. Interestingly enough, Jamaican Dancehall has now gripped the ropes of techno-pop music, ultimately switching roles of these two genres.

Dancehall first originated in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1970s, and grew into Jamaica’s primary genre. Once non-Jamaican musicians got a hold of it, Dancehall became a crossover genre, dumbed down to please consumerist ears that were used to bubbly sounds. Pop artists have always showed their interest with Dancehall/Ragga music and its language ever since the Jamaican genre was formed (note No Doubt, The Notorious B.I.G, Ace of Base, The Police, Sublime, The Rolling Stones, etc.) but I believe it began to seep heavily into the radio stream around 2002 thanks to Elephant Man & Sean Paul.

There are a handful of songs from the past two years that have been on rotation simply for their use of Dancehall aesthetic techiques. Some of my favorites are discussed further. Budding “It” girl of Pop music Robyn’s “None of Dem” from 2010’s Body Talk uses the Jamaican dialect of Patois (highlighted in the title & chorus) to give the song an arrogant vibe. “Dancehall Queen”, also off of Body Talk, has more of a ragga/dub sound. Its electricized synths introduces 1980’s Dancehall into the modern era, thanks to super-producer (and a Dancehall fan) Diplo. 

Newcomer Jessie J stomped unto American scene in 2011 with “Do It Like A Dude”, a heavy-hitting track with a possibly unintentional female empowerment undertone similar to Ciara’s “Like A Boy” & Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy.” Despite the track being laced with electric guitar licks, the Dancehall influence comes from the British singer’s enunciation. Jessie J stated that she pictured herself as Barbados-bred Rihanna while singing the song, which shows in the booming chorus: “Wi cyan do it like di man dem, man dem (HEY!)” “Do It Like A Dude” is definitely a must-have for the ipod!

Bruno Mars’ “Liquor Store Blues” off the underrated Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010) has been on repeat for the past three months. I love the song because it actually sounds authentic; the instrumentals, old-school usage of the bass drop, relatable lyrics, and Mars’ pain-inflicted voice provide the perfect recipe for a Dancehall smash. Having Dancehall giant Damian Marley on the track spitting a few bars isn’t so bad either. M.I.A., known for her respect for and musical influence from Dancehall, didn’t disappoint with her 2007  smash “Boyz”.

The song takes direct influence from Dancehall, as well as Soca (the more brighter, fun sister to the genre) with its blaring horns and rhythmic drums. The British entertainer shouts out numerous Jamaican dances in the song (Dutty Wine, Wacky Dip, Swing it Weh, etc.) all while mastering the overall West Indian accent. The video takes the influence even further: it was shot in Jamaica, directed by a Jamaican director, and featured popular Jamaican dancers displaying the aforementioned dances. Lastly, “Brown Skinned Girl” by R&B crooner Chris Brown & Sean Paul, off 2008’s Graffitidoes come off as a bit cheesy with Brown’s Jamaican Yankee accent and bland lyrics. But the song is infectious, mostly due to the Scott Storch-produced rhythm that covers the track with a believable breezy Jamaican-beach vibe (no pun intended).

These Pop songs, and many more, are perfect examples of the influence that Dancehall is having on mainstream artists. But the musical influence doesn’t stop with Pop music. What many people don’t know is that Dancehall has given birth to the highly popular Dubstep genre, which took influence from Jamaican Dub & added heavier bass, unique vocal samples, & distorted synths. Electronic/Sample/Dubstep/Whateveryouwannacallthem Super-DJ’s like Diplo, Rusko, Skream, Chase & Status, and many others have taken this sound and ran with it, showcasing a new sound to the international massive.

Being of Jamaican descent, having Dancehall on constant rotation in my household, & also being an avid fan of dance-pop music, I appreciate these Pop music producers taking an underrated local genre and sharing it with a huge international (particularly American) crowd. Many countries (including Japan, Italy, England, Germany, Sweden, Brazil, Ghana, etc.) have loved the original form of Dancehall for decades; as usual the Americans are just now catching up. The naive white girl from Michigan may hear Sean Kingston’s “Letting Go (Dutty Love)” and believe that’s what Dancehall sounds like, but the truth is that actual Dancehall from Jamaica is undeniably raw and not ready from mainstream radio. At the end of the day, I don’t mind that there is a watered-down Pop version being played around the world. Leave it to the DJ’s to bring Dancehall to the underground culture, and the true beauty of Dancehall will stem when it is ready.

Note: In this blog post, and all my past/future music-based posts I use the word “Pop” to describe all Popular artists. Pop is not confined to a genre, instead it umbrellas over all musical sounds, and brings them together through consumerism and international popularity.

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