What Do You Call It? Islands-flavoured? R&B/Hip-Hop fusion? Carib-pop?


Hi, I’m Marvin Sparks and I appreciate all types of music (generic mucho?). You can follow me on Twitter to see the madness I listen to. Some may criticise, but I’m genre-blind; it’s all about chord progressions, drums and (in my case) HEAVY bass.

While I say I’m genre-blind, this whole post is about genres. Seems a bit contradictory until I explain why…

The genre that takes my body into the next dimension is, to put it simply, reggae. Now, reggae is a broad term because in reggae circles, artists such as Sean Paul, Shaggy, Beenie Man and Shabba Ranks are all known as dancehall artists. However when it comes to the big stages and corporate descriptions, they are known as reggae — the aforementioned are all Best Reggae Grammy Award winners.

So, following much thought and talks to people, I figured that maybe it’s time for a description for Jamaican music.

If that is the case, this is where the problem I’m going to address arises: When a non-Jamaican does a reggae song, why do music journalists, commentators and, in the end, fans use every word but “reggae” to describe a reggae song?

A description of singer Stacy Barthe‘s song titled “Keep It Like It Is” that I read recently said, “Produced by Supa Dups, the fusion of R&B on an instrumental that echoes a bassline highly influenced by Reggae…

Firstly, Supa Dups is a Chinese-Jamaican, Grammy-winning reggae producer from the legendary Miami-based Black Chiney sound system. It doesn’t get more reggae than that. You know Estelle’s “Come Over“, Bruno Mars and Damian Marley‘s “Liquor Store Blues” or Melanie Fiona’s “Somebody Come Get Me“? He produced those.

Secondly, what does “highly influenced by reggae” mean? Also, where does the R&B bit enter the description? Because she’s a black, non-Jamaican woman singing that automatically means R&B? (Sidenote: Don’t get it twisted, I’m not attacking the writer personally; he/she isn’t the first to do this, nor will he be the last. It’s only the most recent example and I’ve asked permission to use it.)

Same goes for “Hip-Hop fusion” — does anyone who chats on the microphone automatically become a HipHop artist? ‘Cos we know the story of Jamaican-born HipHop pioneer DJ Kool Herc and sound system culture in Jamaica, right?

Sneakbo is classed as a hip-hop artist, but a lot of his songs, flow/timing and delivery are actually more in line with that of a bashment artist. For example, the song most initially know him for is a re-working of Vybz Kartel‘s “Touch A Button.” He was recently in the studio with famed dancehall producer Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor who is known for creating hits like Mavado‘s “Weh Dem A Do” or Vybz Kartel’s “Dumper Truck.” His latest street single, “Fire,” is another example of bashment…

…Which is a lot less “hip-hop fusion” in sound than, say, Shabba Ranks‘ “Mr. Loverman” (which approximately 9 out of 10 will call a straight reggae song)…

…Which is approximately as “fusion” as Bruno Mars‘ “The Lazy Song” (which people will probably call R&B/Pop).

Confusing, right? Is it because Shabba Ranks is Jamaican that we call it reggae?

Then you have a pop group like Cover Drive who describe their music as “carib-pop”. I’m guessing it’s the PR people behind them ensuring they mention “carib-pop” (as much as they do “we’re a Bajan band”), but their UK singles chart-topping song “Twilight” — and every single one of their covers — has a unique dancehall influence.

So yeah, in conclusion, writers/bloggers and DJs: Let’s not lose sight of where the music comes from. Certain radio/TV programmers and urban bloggers say “Oh, we don’t play reggae,” when what they actually mean is, “We only cover reggae when it’s known as pop/R&B or urban“. Don’t let these PR/marketing departments blind you. Use your ears.

Cyaa mek dem urb*n out we t’ing! (Translation: We cannot let them dilute the strength and influence of father reggae with different names, thus taking the credit away from our forefathers Coxsonne Dodd, Duke Reid, King Tubby, Sly & Robbie, Steely & Clevie, Bob Marley, etc., while placing it into the hands of money-grabbing corporates intent on rinsing it dry for commercial purposes.)

Many reggae fans feel like artists making great, authentic reggae are being left in the wilderness whilst artists such as Justin Bieber a.k.a. #Bieberlake (“Mistletoe“), Bruno Mars, Travie McCoy (“Stereo Hearts“, “Billionaire“) and many more capitalise off of its heritage under the guise of R&B/hip-hop fusion. Pretty similar to what we’ve seen (to a certain degree) with mainstream outlets neglecting authentic soul and R&B acts in favour of those who embrace Euro-pop or, as The-Dream controversially noted, those of a different race.

Many nations/races/creeds can make reggae-sounding music, just like anyone can do HipHop and R&B (well, apart from the mere fact of being a black singer or chatter on the microphone). It may not be as good or from the same place in the soul, but we don’t need to dance around the club finding the best why to describe it.

Call it reggae fusion if you like (even though fusion is something Jamaicans have done in reggae since the beginning of time), that way people will know it comes from reggae but isn’t quite reggae from Jamaica — and play authentic reggae music!

‘Cos at the end of the day: “It’s all about chord progressions, drums and (in my case) HEAVY bass.”

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