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Popcaan - Where We Come From

Popcaan - Where We Come From

Popcaan - Where We Come From

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The sound of dancehall reconsidering itself.


In the wake of Vybz Kartel’s confinement, the diminutive, slight-voiced Popcaan is something of an heir apparent to dancehall’s crown. He was once Kartel’s protégé - invited on to his 2010 hit Clarks. Within the ironically thin-skinned, adversarial dancehall scene, recent rumblings have suggested disrespect from student to Teacher - but it's best not to get involved in all that and stick to the music.

PopcanPopcaan’s debut album is masterminded by Brooklyn’s Dre Skull of Mixpak Records – plus individual rhythm contributions via New York’s Dubbel Dutch, Jamaica’s Anju Blaxx and Jamie YVP and Sweden’s Adde Instrumentals. And it's a definite change of pace from the straight jump up fare with which Poppy made his name. Though Popcaan doesn’t have a deep, commanding voice it has poignancy and a delicate grain. There is no violence in his lyrics here – just a pleasing flow of sex and social commentary.

The production is washed out, ghostly and skeletal. These sparse, spooky mid-tempo hip-hop and rave infused beats sound unfinished compared to the messianic auto-tune heavy dancehall of the 2000s. They favour textures over hooks, creating spectral, pensive moods - more suitable for a lonely late bus home from a dance than its euphoric heights. The people who love to coin new sub-genres might call it “ghost-hall” - where dancehall is refracted through dubby dissonance in the same way as alternative “hipster” R&B.

The track-list begins softly with Hold On – a conscious plea for freedom from suffering (even if that freedom could be death). Single Everything Nice is celebratory, although again, the haunting, limbo-state backdrop is like the hazy memory of a great night, not the experiencing of it in real time.

popcaanAs the record progresses, the rhythms get harder yet the idiosyncrasies continue: Number One Freak’s clattering, messy toolbox of drums; Ghetto’s off key, insistent steel pan; the System’s creepy howling wind effect. Even the rap guest spot Hustle featuring Pusha T carries a primordial dubstep bassline and a cashtill-cum-snare.

With Kartel locked up, Jamaican reggae more exportable, and dancehall losing some traction to soca and Afrobeats - while acquiring an increasingly affluent international audience - there has been hasty, agenda-driven talk of the music being dead. Of course, dancehall is not dead. It's just re-gathering and reconfiguring for its next move. And this unusually subtle and indie-friendly collection is part of that. 

If you only know Popcaan’s party tunes Where We Come From may be one of those albums you listen to twice and then put away. But if you like the idea of dancehall going all, dare we say it, introspective, you'll find it very interesting and rewarding listening. The sound of dancehall reconsidering itself.

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