BY: Marc Parc
The diagnosis is in from the self-professed ‘Doctor’ of Dancehall in relation to his genre and it is correct and damning, yet incomplete; leaving any hope of a full recovery in doubt.
Recently, Dancehall superstar, Beenie Man did his now infamous interview with American radio station, HOT 97 in which he gave his take on one of the never-ending topic among Jamaicans: The state of Dancehall music. The genre, which at its best is on life support, was given a very honest assessment by one of its greats, rightly chastising the young acts who have forgotten their roots and chosen hype over lyrical content, something this humble writer has spoken about at length in a previous column.
“A lot of them take the music to a level where it’s not supposed to be at,” he said. “They losing the respect for the music. The younger generation, they’re great, don’t get me twisted…but they’re not coming from the 24-track days, and they’re not coming from the 48-track days.”
There is definite validity to his statement, as many young artists were not exposed to the knowledge and resources of generations past, thus their education of the music is limited, leaving many of them to resort to shock value gimmicks in order to cover up sub-par lyrics.
Beenie then gave his two cents on more established artists when show hosts, Ebro and Cipha Sounds mentioned the likes of Cham and Mr. Vegas, saying neither are active or consistent enough, while saying that Sean Paul ‘went pop’ and isn’t ‘coming home enough.’” His most blunt assessment, however, was of Elephant Man, intimating that he hasn’t ‘seen Elephant Man for two years now,’ implying his career was in steep decline.
As much as Elephant Man and Ninja Man were displeased with the way Beenie called out his colleagues, he was right in this sense. Cham and Mr. Vegas are not as active because they are not flooding the airwaves with hit content on a daily basis like they used to, Sean Paul has become increasingly pop-centric since The Trinity came out and Elephant Man’s last big hit was indeed two years ago; Sidung Pon It, featuring Lady Saw.
On the contrary, Cham and Vegas are both very astute musicians and businessmen. Neither is going to put out a song just for the heck of it and are known perfectionist, thus why chart-topping hits such Bruk It Dung, Wine and Tun Up have long shelf lives. Their so-called lack of activity after putting out such hits is due to shrewd selectiveness; leaving music lovers to want more for stretches before putting out more material. Quality over quantity is the key to success in this very competitive industry, something both artists pride themselves on.
The Sean Paul criticism is something that has been shared by many Jamaicans, including myself, for many years. The counter-argument, however, is that even since he went multi-platinum with his first two albums, Dutty Rock and the aforementioned, The Trinity, he can’t be blamed for milking the crossover market for all it’s worth and putting Jamaica on the map while doing it. And, in fairness, he has put out more Dancehall material in the last two years, including the chart-topping single, Greatest Gallis with, you guessed it, Beenie Man.
But here’s where the aforementioned diagnosis from the ‘Doctor’ gets really murky. Aside from an appearance alongside Beenie at the 2013 BET Awards, Elephant Man has been a peripheral figure in the music scene in the last two years. The irony in his statement is that while he calls artists like Ele ‘broken’ Beenie has not exactly broken new ground in his genre over that span. Aside from Summer Is Here and Greatest Gallis, his material has taken a great dip in quality since 2012, as with many artists in the genre he claims to be ‘the balance of.’
His proverbial beating of the chest in the interview, essentially proclaiming himself to be Dancehall music, and his dismissiveness of certain artists was over-the-top and showed evident hypocrisy given his own inevitable dip in form in recent times. It’s reminiscent of when Vybz Kartel was going around calling himself the Dancehall Hero when he wasn’t exactly saving the music from its current rut by oversaturating the airwaves with below-average content that was far from his best and preventing other big names from getting deserved recognition. Such self-serving reflect one thing, but actual content and impact on the genre depict another and while both are undoubtedly two of the greatest names in Jamaican music history, they continue to rest on their laurels, putting out music now that slightly diminishes the name more than enhancing it.
Now in his 40s, the ‘King of the Dancehall’ should be building up the current generation into princes and leading by example instead of making other artists feel like lowly peasants. At this stage in his career, the ‘Doctor’ needs to be offering cures for what ails the music, not giving it more symptoms to continue its deteriorating health.