Earlier this year, Afropop spent a week in Kingston Jamaica, getting a feel for the current state of the island’s constantly changing music scene. During that trip, we spent time talking to a number of musicians. One of those was Chedda, an up and coming DJ who had recently signed with dancehall superstar Bounty Killer’s Next Generation crew. He told us about his take on the current state of the Jamaican music industry, describing the challenges and issues that faced a young artist working in Jamaica today.
Sam Backer: Dancehall seems to be in a really interesting spot right now. We’ve been talking to people all over, and no one seems to have clear sense for where its going. How would you define the current state of the music?
C :It’s….anything right now. A dude can come and sing about how “nobody can cross it,” and he’s not even an artist but because it’s on a beat and it’s catchy and people can relate to it, it works… You can sing a gangsta song and it works, you can sing a girl song and it works…Anything, like even with Gangnam style. That works down here. Meaning right now, music is just what is entertaining the people, whatever is moving the people is in at the moment. You get me? Music doesn’t have one track, like if it’s a girl thing alone, or a gangster thing alone. It’s anything right now, anything goes right now.
S: Is that very different than what was happening before, you think?
C: Yeah, it’s very different. Because remember like in the ‘90s you had to have a producer, Sly and Robbie, Jammy and dem…Dave Kelley, Tony Kelly, right? Those producers in that time, the type of quality music that was being released, I mean, when them man advise an artist, you get play time on the radio! Everyone know about you.
It’s not like that anymore. Now the music is saturated, the quality is not what it used to be, The effect it had on the people. Really and truly, there was a unity in the music that’s not there anymore.
It’s not about the music now to me, it’s more about what you can get- the scraping, the hustling, what they can hustle off of it. It’s not about making good music or inspiration music to some producers or artists now. It’s just that them can sing the song and them can make money and that’s it. But they’re not looking at the longevity.
If you notice, songs in the ‘90s and ‘80s still play nowadays, but songs even five years ago you’ll not hear some of them now. And that’s bad. Because my father is an artist. His name is Daddy Saw…you probably don’t know, but he was in the times of Terror Fabulous and Buju Banton.
S: So the early ‘90s?
C: Mid ‘90s. Like ’93, ’97. In between that time period.When them man them do songs, it have a longevity. Meaning them songs, they still can play today, but most of the songs now, you have a one month time-span, a two month time-span, you hardly find songs or riddims that last the whole year. Last of them last long was the Overproof riddim. I think the music quality, the standards of music has dropped, it’s not what it used to be.
S: One thing I’ve been really struck by is that I’ve been listening to the radio, and a lot of what I hear is not different than what I hear on the radio in New York. There’s a lot of hip-hop, a lot of pop.
C: Because that’s quality, that’s the quality. Dancehall, only thing them after, they wan party, you get me? But the quality of the music and the message, it just don’t have that impact anymore. But hip-hop and pop it have that, you can hear the quality, hear that them sit down and spend time on what they’re doing. And I think that’s what’s beating our music nowadays, they not really spending enough time in it, they’re not really putting their all in it, you know?
S: Do you think it’s because it’s easier to make music now?
C: Yeah. Because it’s easy, you don’t really put out any effort. You just a get up and say “Wan me get a girl down the road, you don’t know overload, box and board…” You don’t sit down and say, “People need to come together, work together, hustle for the chedda,” you know, time’s hard, music’s supposed to be inspirational and relate to it…Even hip-hop, in a sense, you don’t really have any inspirational songs any more, just singing about their cars and their chains, but like the vibes they get, how them do them thing, it’s well put together. But even Drake; Drake is a big artist down here. To me he’s even bigger than Rick Ross and most of the hip-hop stars, because he sings real music. People can relate to what he’s saying, it’s not about fast cars and big chains, him sing, him be himself. And that’s what people need, people can really listen to a song… That’s music, it’s inspirational.
S: But a lot of the dancehall in the ‘90s- not all of it, but a lot of it- was not exactly inspirational.
C: Yeah, but they can relate to it, they can see themselves in that person’s song. And plus the person is singing from their heart, you know? They’re putting them all into it. To me, music too, is you in the realness, being real. So Bounty Killer would come and sing gangsta thing, and people relate to it, and the next artist would come and them don’t relate, because this is why him live, this is who he is, it’s believable, people can relate to it. The music him portray is what you see, you know what I’m saying? But still, music is watered down. I’m an artist, and I can say it, music’s watered down, it’s not what it used to be. And everybody’s not working together.
S: What do you mean?
C: I shouldn’t even be saying this! The truth hurts… You have producers, but them nah link, it’s more cliques and stuff. It’s like politics, like democrats and…what’s the next one dem…Republicans. You have different parties, and it’s like everybody for themselves.
S: There’s always been some rivalries in dancehall, but the last ten or so years was worse, right?
C: Yeah, because it change from entertainment to personal. And with music, there’s nothing personal, you can’t take music personal. One time you see Supercat and Lt. Stitchie up on stage a DJ at a clash and say who better, and when the stage show done, they shake and go them way. You see, Mavado and Vybz Cartel on stage, you have 50 men up on the stage and me trying to hold back em boys and gunshot which part…It’s not fun anymore. Them times there was more unity, unity and strength. Dancehall don’t have a structure.
Alright, imagine this. In America, I find a song, one song, that everybody likes, I’m rich with royalties. If it plays in a club, I get paid, if it plays on the radio, I get paid, if it goes on a movie, I get paid, commercial, I get paid. There’s a structure. Jamaica don’t really have that, you know. There’s no structure for music.
S: You mean in copyright?
C: In that sense. How stupid is this: we have our own publishing, called Jacap. Most of the artists down there don’t sign to Jacap, they sign to BMI or ASCAP, which is still American companies. So how come we have to leave our side to sign up with other publishing houses to get our rights? And where we live, we don’t have any! There’s no structure. There’s nothing, and it’s every man for themselves. There’s no artist development, there’s no places you can go like… I see Red Bull have this school going on, in Japan. and they took like one or two people from like each major city, if you won and you were into music, and them carry to Japan and them train em and them teach em engineering, all of that, singing if you sing.
We don’t have that in Jamaica. We have Edna Manley [an arts academy in Kingston] But it’s not really dedicated to music, it’s more theater. We don’t have really a structure for music.
S: How did people used to learn? I mean, it wasn’t an official structure, but clearly there were a lot of crazy talented musicians coming out.
C: There was unity. In the times before there was unity. If I know something, I’ll let you know. You get what me saying. Like this right now, I have certain knowledge, I’m letting you know. Nowadays, a lot of people know about the music, ‘cause money still can be made from music, but a lot of artists don’t know how, and who knows is not letting them know, you know what I’m saying? So it still come back to the unity thing, because another time, them help teach man fi DJing, nowadays, it’s more like you have to look and learn yourself, you gotta figure it out yourself, it’s every man for themselves now.
S: Which is hard.
C: It is, and it’s stupid, because mankind seem like the ants dem are more intelligent than them, because the ants actually work together. But we… You can’t imagine how far dancehall would be and and reggae would be if everyone was working together, but they don’t see it like that. Every man is for himself. That’s why everything is fucked, excuse my language. But it’s the truth, you know what I mean. Just because you may be more successful… some man, when them become the star, them want everyone around them to stay under them. You hard to find people willing to help other people. You have more people pushing down people.
S: It makes everyone weaker when you don’t help.
C: And then the power is just in this small circle. It don’t make no sense. And the funny thing is that everyone can get a slice, because I mean it’s music. If it was for one person you wouldn’t have so many artists breaking out from them times until now. The body of music became kinda decayed down here. It’s being decayed.
S: And you think that really started happening recently? Or it’s been a long time coming?
C: No, it’s been…I don’t know. Maybe when the Mavado and Cartel thing kicked off, or Killer and Beenie man and… It’s been happening. You got people paying people to not play your songs, you have artists telling producers to not voice artists. Down in Jamaica, it’s a power struggle, it’s a fight down here, especially music. Other businesses are good-ish, but music right now, dancehall, music in Jamaica, it’s fucked up, it’s fucked. There’s no structure here, you gotta be real lucky, or you have a lot of money and you spend money as an artist, because payola is taking over. Some people don’t really want to talk about it, but I speak the truth. And you can’t hide these things.
S: It’s not just a Jamaican problem.
C: I know, it’s overseas as well. But at least it’s kind of easy out there, I mean, it’s not easy…I would rather to do music in a next country than do it in Jamaica, to be honest. At least you have development, you have a lot of different opportunities. You don’t really have a lot of opportunities down here. You have a lot of talented artists here, but because of poor structure you know, no unity, them get overshadowed. Some of them, nobody ever hear of them. And then you have some artists where they have no talent at all, and them a get this big highlight. And then people hear that and they say, “This is from Jamaica?” You get what I’m saying? “This is what they’re really listening to?” Like people have no sense. It can be fixed though.
S: You think so?
C: Yeah, anything can be fixed. People saying that the recession making the world get worse or whatever, but everything can change. I was watching a movie today in which, in the 1940s and 1950s, when blacks wasn’t allowed in public high schools. So a school them gonna bring in 9 black students, and it was like chaos…
S: In Arkansas.
C: You know which one I’m talking about? With this old lady… And I’m looking at that, and I’m thinking them pickney there [children], if they’re still alive now, they must feel good. Them not totally win, but them must feel good. Cause they see now we’ve got a black president, now like 2013, 60 years later? They must have felt good. So everything can change. It’s just the way that people look at things and how they think, it’s just a mindset. Some people’s minds just on a power track and it’s not really like that.
A lot of people just a one-track mind, in order to change you need a change of perspective, so even music you need a change of perspective. But we would be making more money and making more opportunities for our country if we were working together, musicwise, politicswise. But music? The main thing is that there’s no unity, no structure. As long as you don’t have unity, you will never have structure. You’re like a house without a foundation, and one hurricane come…