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Dancehall Genre In 2020: What Has Changed And Stayed Constant?

Words by Nathan Tuft

If the last few months of 2020 have shown us anything, it has been that the music scene has not slowed down. With the decline of live events and press gatherings, artists have taken it upon themselves to showcase their music in new and inventive ways, all with a DIY attitude. The way we listen to music is also evolving, with platforms such as Radio Garden showcasing artists and sounds from across the globe, exposing audiences to new and exciting acts. One scene that has seen a resurgence, not only in the past few months, but across the last few years is the sound of dancehall. While the scene itself has never stopped growing and producing artists, its outward facing reception from the rest of the world has heavily relied on several key players; with Vybz Kartel and Beenie Man being the most recognisable. However, since Vybz incarceration in 2014 and Beenie’s output rapidly slowing down since 2017, several artists have emerged and taken it upon themselves to shine in this new golden era of Jamaican dancehall.

Controversy is a word thrown about a lot when talking about dancehall - whether centred on the brash and violent lyrics, it's treatment of women or its outlandish characters. Artists like Tommy Lee Sparta and Alkaline, both top tier artists in their own right, also had their fair share of controversy; with Tommy Lee’s self-described “Gothic Dancehall" style, which often features dark and Satanist-inspired subject matter, gaining him attention and Alkaline grabbing headlines for his tattooed corneas. In the years of 2012/13, the time which saw both these men flourish, it seemed like everyone had to have a “hook” to get people to buy into them, similar to how Vybz caused stirs with his face bleaching rituals. But in the past few years, the emphasis seems to have shifted back to the music and artists like Squash and Chronic Law are perfect examples of this new wave of street music.

Squash’s rise to one of the most recognisable names in dancehall was relatively quick one, or a long time coming, depending on who you ask. Although he had been releasing music since 2013, it was in early 2019 and following a stint in jail which saw his music spread throughout the country, and beyond. Tracks like “Mek it Shake” and “6ix Boss” established his presence and flanked by his 6ix collective (Bobby 6Six, Daddy 1 and the aforementioned Chronic Law), he took the scene by the neck and made the most of his fame. One negative regularly thrown Vybz’s way was his reluctance to let others shine in the Gaza-era but Squash has used his spotlight to elevate other artists, with Chronic Law stepping up to the plate when needed. Chronic Law, who himself has racked up over 90 million YouTube views with hits such as “Pain” and “Typical Life” has a humble reliability and positions himself as an artist for the people. The 6ix collective’s rise has also parrelled a shift in listening, with artists from more rural parts of Jamaica, including the likes of Teejay and Rygin King, being featured more predominantly alongside their capital’s brethren.

While the pursuit to become the next King of Dancehall is always hotly debated, the females have never been shy to step up in their own right and put out some of the most experimentive and well-known dancehall records. While artists such as Lady Saw and Sister Nancy elevated women in dancehall to a new level, it was mainly down to artists like Spice to show how creative and mainstream females in the genre could be. Her explicit and no nonsense approach to music still exists to this day with tracks such as “Genie” and “Tables Turn” making waves. However, what makes the scene unique over the past few years is its depth and variety when it comes to female talent. Artists like Ishawna and Shenseea have confronted female issues head on and looked to break down stereotypes with their tracks “Equal Rights” (calling for sex equality) and “The Sidechick Song” (with Shenseea putting herself in the role of the mistress in an open and honest way) respectively. Jada Kingdom is another unique artist, blending R&B and dancehall, leading to her being called the “Jamaican SZA”, and tackling issues such as relationship, insecurities and romantic obsessions. The sounds of a female-led dancehall sound has also been reflected in the UK scene, with artists such as Lisa Mercedez, Stefflon Don and Alicai Harley all stepping up to fly the flag.

One thing that can't be ignored about dancehall is the anthems it produces and the replayability factor they hold. Whether it be 2010’s “White Jeans & Fitted” from Vybz and Rvssian, Alkalines smash hit “Champion Boy” from 2015 or 2017’s “Yeah Yeah” from Aidonnia, these are the tracks that we will always hold onto. That focus on securing the biggest anthem of the summer is nothing new but is craved even more so in today’s scene. Last year saw the release of “Clarks Pon Foot” from Jahvillani, “Anthem” from Daddy 1 and “Drug Lawd” from Masicka - three tracks which clearly defined where dancehall has heading into the next decade with each of the men being positioned as bonafide stars of the future. Masicka himself has been nicknamed “The Future” by his peers and his blend of dancehall, reggae, rap and hip hop have shown his openness to creativity and sound. Hailing from Portmore, his rise throughout the past five years have seen him develop and grow to elevate the scene and the artists within it.

Following the past few years in dancehall, 2020 marks a new decade for the 30 year old genre and it is going into this decade looking strong. While artists from across Jamaica, of both genders, are showcasing some of their strongest material, the levels of consistency and production are at an all time high. Artists such as Squash, Alkaline, Jada Kingdom, Tommy Lee, Teejay, Daddy 1, Jahvillani, Ding Dong, Ishawna, Masicka, Govana, Chronic Law, Shenseea and Intence are representing and with no clear or defined king or queen of dancehall, the playing field has been leveled out and the whole scene has an opportunity to shine

Listen to our Island Vibes playlist below, curated by New Wave editor Rehana Harmony

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