Is social consciousness overlooked in dancehall? - Audience craves levity, lifestyle lyrics, say insiders
The deeply rooted social consciousness that was integral to dancehall music and that subsequently piloted its rise in the 1990s is said to be unappreciated within the modern-day Jamaican entertainment landscape. One music insider is of the view that the industry remains a diverse school of thought guided by not only the work of artistes and producers but the audience. Clyde McKenzie believes that the appeal has changed, resulting in a sort of shift.
“There are artistes who will record conscious music, but people will say it is ‘pop music’ so the lyrics should not be too cerebral or deep. While the historical link with music and social consciousness still exists, there are some people who want to hear a particular type of messaging,” McKenzie told The Gleaner.
The messaging McKenzie referred to are lyrics that are mostly centred around levity and lifestyle rather than social commentary. He noted that the present nature of popular music, whatever the genre, has forced artistes to experiment with new lyrical styles.
“It is no different for Jamaica’s popular genres. Furthermore, artistes have their own imperatives … , the majority of which is to make money, and what will give the fastest buck are the topics that are trending,” he said.
With respect to the music that trends on digital platforms, typically owed to the number of views or streams received within the period of its release, a lot of the lyrical content is not particularly related to social issues, which, according to Pop Style Music’s CEO, Julian Jones-Griffith, is because artistes do not get the desired support when they do that type of music.
“Dancehall’s detractors are quick to say the music has a negative impact on society and [contributes to] the increase in crime, yet when the industry does something positive, most times, it does not get the credit it deserves,” Jones-Griffith said.
“Reggae as well as dancehall music in their purest form are social commentary – reflecting what’s going on around us – so despite the feedback, it is crucial that artistes release content that speaks to current social issues,” he added.
His artiste Jada Kingdom explained that she is trying to be one of the artistes who speak on social issues. She hopes to spread a message, and anticipates audience support in doing that.
About her latest track, Execution (also titled Protection for the clean version), Jada Kingdom shared, “We are going to produce a video to help get the message out there, and I will make it part of my live set, but it is also up to the players of the music to help take it further. This is not about hype or clout; this is an important message that needs a wide platform.”
She added: “I have had the song written for a long time, but as the topic of rape is such a trigger for me, I just needed to be in the right space to release it. With so many deplorable acts being committed against women every day, it couldn’t hold back any longer. I just felt the urge to have my voice heard and empower others to speak out and to not be afraid to speak up.”
Former radio disc jockey Nicholas Rasinski, known as DJ Nicco, said there were determining factors other than artistes not wanting to touch on the radical topics or there being no audience for it.
“Dancehall no longer seems to have many champions which use their status to shine a light on what is really happening in Jamaica. I feel they are afraid it won’t sell, so they stick to the regular everyday topics that they know work,” DJ Nicco told The Gleaner.
“So what we hear is repetitive – it’s all about who ‘bad mind’, which friend fi watch or turn against you, and how much money and women dem have – and if it works for the artiste, they don’t branch out in the commentary as hard as, say, a Bounty Killer did with Poor People Fed Up or Kartel with Emergency,” he continued.
The disc jockey said that while on radio, he mostly played socially conscious dancehall music, but for a party where persons are more focused on building a vibe, there was a void of those playlists.
“The listenership is more tuned in than inside a party; this generation seems more to vibe to music than actually listen to it. Although some artistes have always and will always have a real message and use their platform or voice to express a strong positive message, many are just searching for a hit song by following trends than focusing on setting their own,” he said.
“With respect to a track like Jada Kingdom’s Execution, which addresses a strong social issue, there are people who will listen, but her diss track, Shen Heng] pulls more hype because drama has always had a greater influence or role in the dancehall space – the same goes for many other socially conscious artistes or music.”