A few weeks ago, we finally branched out and rolled out what we had been languidly prepping for a while, a new, in-depth and detailed approach to the content we presented on this platform. As such, we introduced (or rather activated) a new segment – A Week in the A (Africa) – a section aimed at extensively shading a spotlight on one artist for a period of one week. This, we hoped would grant you not just a closer, but a slightly more intimate interaction with the artists featured, with a purpose of letting you in on their art, craft, journey in life and the cultures they believe and operate in. Being largely a blog about Hip Hop, we kicked this off by going to where it all begun for the world renowned genre, Kingston, Jamaica. We linked up with one of the countries veteran pioneer, Five Steez for a lengthy discussion, touching on a number of subjects and acts in the Hip Hop scene and Jamaican music industry as a whole.
The talk resulted in a week-long spotlight on The Council’s member where we looked back at what has made his over year career something to write and talk about. Going into the interview, we had envisioned something unique and reverend. But not at any moment did we imagine it turning into what it did: The longest, detailed and casually random chat on music, culture, character, honesty and diversity that you have ever encountered in writing. The most insightful conversation about a region and it’s culture, the people and what they hold dearest. Jamaica, is country blessed with legends and greats from different fronts. It is also a country crying for nothing but the rightful credits for her creations and contributions to the world’s music scene. A credit almost certainly robbed intentionally by people feigning to have the country’s interests at heart. This cultural robbery apparently started long ago and has just now attracted the voices of the community who can no longer keep mum. A generation fed up with bluffs and shams, lies and deceits. A generation so well informed to know when a King is being turned into a slave.
But it is also the same generation that is willingly disintegrated. The same generation that would rather push a select few to the self-inflicted oblivion of world glory at the cost of their peers. A country where others are accorded a chance to hit their pinnacles, while some are openly denied the opportunity to prosper. A country whose people are crying for the unfairness exhibited in the acceptance of their talent and contributions to the culture and society. Above all, it is a country whose talented youths just want to live, appreciate their diversity and do good for the community. A youth that just wants equal treatment irrespective of their preferred musical choice. As seen through the words of Five Steez.
In the course of our conversations, Steez made a revelation to us about the progress of the Hip Hop scene in Kingston and Jamaica at large. A revelation of how certain forces, among them some very established reggae musicians, were deliberately dwarfing the growth of Hip Hop. A revelations of how artists are seemingly what they portray to the public limelight and by extension even the inspirations behind the music they make. Some, if not most, of which we enjoy ardently. This eye-openers, in hook line and sinker were as a result of purely sober conversations, based on reliance and certitude, regard and tribute. In our preface, we initiated the badinage by asking Five Steez about the relationship between Hip Hop enthusiasts and their peers who veered to the reggae side. We explored if there was any sort of bad blood between the two camps and what led to any of such.
You will find information you probably never had, insights you never heard and most importantly, you will discover Jamaican culture like never before – from the insiders themselves. [Long Read]
Are you still close with Kabaka?
Well, he travels a lot and can be busy. So we don’t talk or hang out as much as some years ago. But we def stay in touch. Was on one of his video sets just few weeks ago before he left for tour.
Any music coming out with him?
All being well, we should have him on The Council album. Need to send him the track for him to record on the road lol.
Part One: The Council and their position in the Jamaican Hip Hop scene.
Let’s talk about The Council for a minute. How did the group come about?
You can check out more of TSD and Nomad Carlos. His track Black and White will interest you, also Inztinkz. The 4 of us are The Council and our album will be done soon. Been collaborating for years, Me and Nomad going back since BP, and Inztinkz and TS knowing each other over a decade. We also been doing PA together. So we decided to finally do an album.
Quite a history y’all have. So it’s more of a collective of solo artists?
But with a group chemistry from many years of collaboration and friendship
What was the objective of this union?
High level art, putting JA hip hop on the map.
Groups can be challenging at times, especially if individuals’ acquire an aura of self importance, has ego ever tempted to slow down The Council’s progress?
Don’t think so. We’re pretty focused on what we want to do. Its a challenge balancing schedules though, and Nomad now resides in NY. So those are our hurdles if any.
Okay, how about financial constraints, do you guys ever face that?
Most definitely. PA was impactful but wasn’t really profitable, we did it out of pocket each time. And we’re just independent artists so we don’t have the most resources.
For most artists, the financial solutions seems to be getting signed by a major label, would any of you consider that?
It would have to make sense
What’s the position of The Council in Jamaican hip hop?
Pay Attention is the hub and we control that. The scene never had its own community owned platform before. That could garner media attention and build a name in the streets. We also operate out of Gambling House which is like the Mecca for the scene over the years. A studio has been there for over a decade and hundreds of local rappers have worked and hung out there.
Are y’all currently pulling any media attention, and if so, how big?
We had regular ads on a local cable station Hype TV before every show after a while. Radio and blog interviews lined up for the artists, different media features here and there. The community supported the event and many rappers reached out wanting to be a part of it. We weren’t on the biggest stations or getting the most notoriety but it was the most we’ve seen for local hip hop ever. Given the circumstances it has faced with having zero to limited outlets and chances to be heard and develop. Check my blog post. 3 years of #PayAttention
Did this attract any attention outside of Jamaica?
Yeah. Somewhat. Some international acts were interested in coming at times, some still would do a show.
Part Two: The rage;- music, events and artists.
We really had to ask, what does getting interviewed by an African blog mean for you and the whole Jamaican hip hop scene?
I’m loving the African connection since I Am. That def introduced me to a bunch of new people. And I see that Africa has some thriving hip hop scenes. We can learn from them and collaborate.
Who is the hip hop success story of Jamaica by the way?
Coming from JA and doing it out here… No one really lol. Guys may have left and done something overseas. And you have tonnes of hip hop legends born here or of Jamaican parentage. But the truth is, we don’t have much of a scene here. We just have to do for self. So its been limited success for some of us and we still pushing.
Is Steez really the best MC in Kingston at the moment?
I think I’m the most rounded and consistent lol
Ever been interested in reggae, like really? You seem to be surrounded by it.
I love it. I listen to it. Especially more than dancehall nowadays. But I’ve never had an interest in making it. Hip Hop just spoke to me on a different level and I felt more comfortable expressing myself in that genre
There’s the new wave, the one Chronixx, Protoje and team are reintroducing. How do you like it?
It’s good for them. More reggae is getting love now. Its a good look. I don’t think it means much for the wider industry though. And definitely means nothing for the local Hip Hop scene which has always faced a fight
Ooh, I see. So what was the situation like prior to this ‘reggae revival’ ?
The live scene wasn’t as vibrant as it became then, Industry people were bemoaning the lack or decline of real reggae and expressing their disappointment with where dancehall was going.
Does that mean the reggae revival was justified or simply a case of finding an alternative to what was trending then?
There’s good reason to not like what was happening, still I believe you have to create the world you want though so less complaining and more action. Things have shifted though, Reggae now holds some sway more than few years ago. The live scene has subsided again as those acts from then are well established now. The new crop trying to follow in their footsteps just don’t have as many show opportunities here now.
These new crops are the ones following in the steps of Chronixx and co or the likes of Alkaline?
No lol I mean younger reggae acts, Dancehall isn’t really part of the ‘live scene’. In the live scene, its mostly reggae, and there’s a rock section. I was at a rock event on Thursday night. But the demographic can be very different, Rock events have a more uptown audience. And obviously different philosophies, lifestyles and orientations that won’t fit well in the reggae scene. Rappers are on the fringes. You can get some love in these two sections of the scene but I felt we needed our event with the real hip hop vibe so rappers can be received the way they should be and don’t end up sticking out in a bad way.
And which faction would you rather work with; the conscious artists, or the dancehall ones?
With anyone where there is a mutual respect. I’m open to collabing with either genre and have done so in the past. I more look to really gel with an artist instead of just seeking collabs like that. A lot of industry people are not what they present or are hard to deal with. As talented as they may be.
Tell me about it. You mean to say some artists have picked up personas that necessarily doesn’t represent their true self?
They can be. It’s a business. And we do have a lot of successful artists. They have their own agendas and their teams guiding them. And the business is very disorganized out here. Not everyone is professional. I just focus on the music and work with who works with me.
Other than reggae and all its subgenres, is there any other type of music getting heavy listener-ship in JA?
Hmm, you have people listening to rock. Not heavily. But there is a small rock scene. Tessanne Chin was a part of it in a band named Mile High. People are into EDM and there have been some big EDM events including couple with Major Lazer. And soca is popular, especially around carnival time.
Can rock therefore be taken as the alternative to those who can’t comply with the ‘righteousness’ of reggae then?
Hmm.. Maybe for some, there’s less pretense in the rock scene I find people are being themselves as weird as they are. In the reggae scene, it feels like people trying to fit a mould. From musicians to patrons. Not everybody obviously, but there is that. Its trendier than ever to be or look like a rasta since the so-called revival, especially for young uptowners. Cause that’s who the music is really impacting.
So, is the legitimacy of the whole revival questionable?
In a way, maybe. Something real has happened but it became a trend, how real and meaningful it is, time will tell.
We can only wait and see. How about hip hop, do we have festivals/events for it in Jamaica?
Almost nonexistent. Me and my partners used to put on the only event dedicated completely to Hip Hop. We been on a hiatus for a year. Its called Pay Attention and we held 18 of them from 2012 to 2015.
Were the attendance great?
The hip hop community always supported. Most the shows were in a small club so it would get packed.We would have a few hundred on a good night. When we started as a free event in 2012, we got as many as 500 or so one time.
Does international hip hop artists come to perform there?
Not often. Mostly for Reggae Sumfest. But as of this year, they have decided not to feature Intl acts because they cost so much. Last year they had Common and TI.
You mentioned that Jamaicans love pop culture, how big is trap music and are there any mainstream artists doing the same?
Trap is the popular sound in music but it hasn’t infiltrated dancehall much. Local hip hop artists definitely have that flare as well but none are mainstream.
Talking about local artists, who are the most popular hip hop group in Jamaica?
Groups aren’t as popular any more. Some break up or stop functioning as a group. There is NRG which is Iyah Gift, Makonnen and Rseenal. And there’s The Council.
How about solo artists?
Guys like Gully Ca$h and Kash Kapri have respect. There’s not many making noise at this moment. Sly Rankin has a name over the years.
Do you feel like music with great content is seldom given the attention and respect it deserves?
Definitely. The labels and media don’t want to support it
Is it a better chance now for a hip hop MC to be great in Kingston?
Now is the best time. Better than ever with the technology available and the progress we’ve seen recently
Part Three: The Relationship between Hip Hop, Dancehall and Reggae and Rastafarianism.
Are reggae artists supportive of their hip hop counterparts?
Not really. Mostly if they are friends or something. There is somewhat of a divide between the communities even though there is an intersection. Some artists dabble in both genres and move among both communities. But generally, the hip hop community is marginalized by a majority that usually comprises people that fall in the reggae community
Has this always been the situation or it somehow increased after certain events?
I think it’s always been this way. Just more apparent to certain ‘generations’ of our community at different times.
I just sampled Protoje’s Royalty Free, Side B and it sounds more like a blend of rap than reggae to me.
Lol maybe so. But Proto is not part of our community. He’s into Hip Hop for sure. But he doesn’t acknowledge the local community really and we don’t identify with his brand or style. A lot of people are scared to make Hip Hop out here. People changed their sounds and their stories, Proto especially. And now want to bring that flavour when we were the ones on the ground bearing the cross and building the community. Unlike a KP for example who has been a part of the community from years ago and still shows support in meaningful ways.
Interesting tales, you see, from an outsider, we rarely get to know the reality on the ground.
Yep. Some people would like to keep it that way lol, but we ensuring our story gets told. Lots of history in this community. We make real contributions, including to reggae and dancehall, but the background of various acts and producers isn’t always highlighted and put into context. Even before Pay Attention, I was organizing events with Manifesto Jamaica, which contributed greatly to the so-called reggae revival. I was organizing and promoting events with those acts around 2010-11 when they were just developing a buzz. I saw the biases and the lines being drawn in the sand from then, I thought one musical movement including all genres could be created. It became clear others didn’t feel that way and wanted just a reggae movement.
With these clear biases against Hip Hop music and it’s artists, how many are active in Jamaica?
Many, Not enough making enough noise though. Very limited opportunities though and there is a bias against anyone not doing reggae and dancehall. And as much as I don’t speak on it publicly, there are industry folks, including established artists, who go out of their way to fight our movement.
Why would they do that?
I’m still trying to figure it out lol. I guess people have different motivations. Some elders just want to preserve reggae so they see what we doing as a threat I guess. I think we’re bringing diversity to local music and art but not everyone sees it that way and wants to embrace it.
Might it be the perception that Hip Hop is always explicit?
That could be one factor. Perception. They think Hip Hop is all nigga, bitch, hoe, motherfucker. We’ve had respected elders who don’t know us or our music attack us for lewd content. But when we ask them to quote one line or name a song, they get quiet. They don’t know anything and their biases have nothing to do with us.
But I find this a bit pretentious, judging by the crop of dancehall currently coming out of Jamaica. Don’t you think so?
It is, Jamaica is a land of hypocrisy lol. The reggae elders are fighting the dancehall too.
Ooh, so it’s an all out war on anything “unrighteous” and is it safe to say that they have in any way backed the rise of Chronixx and team?
For some, it maybe. Hmm, in some way, the elders, yeah, because prior to this “reggae revival” there was a lot of talk from some of dem that they don’t like the direction that the music is going in and they want to hear, you know, real reggae and all of that. And so, at the time Chronixx and others started rising up a lot of people welcomed it because it was what they were talking about and what they wanted to hear, you know? So, they definitely are in support of that, more than anything else, they’re happy to see dat.
Makes so much sense now.
Yeah, to them I guess we represent a threat, which is funny because Chronixx is a hip hop head, Protoje is a hip hop head, his style kinda used to be hip hop, say seven years ago. Uhm, Kabaka Pyramid was a rapper, before he ever became a reggae artist, and it was from in those days that I was hanging out with him and making music with him, and you know, our friendship has lasted we still stay in touch. You know?. But, otherwise there’s a lot of hypocrisy and it’s because of this energy where they expect you to make reggae where even Kabaka ended up going that direction, you know? And on the latest video he has Kabaka vs Pyramid. This is something interesting where he’s battling himself. Where you have his new self and there’s old self.
Interesting indeed, kind of like people doing what their hearts are really not into, just for the sake of appeal.
There are lines drawn between the genres and communities and a lot of people play into it.
Was Konshens and Roman Virgos “me no worry about them ” composed as a response to the criticism hip hop and dancehall been getting from the elders?
I don’t think so. I’m listening to it again now
But if the elders really contribute to all these, then how are they taking the whole international acts jumping on the dancehall wave as we have recently witnessed from Justin Beiber, Drake and Tyga?
Yeah there is. There’re a lot of people including in the dancehall that are not happy about, you know, what Drake is doing, what Rihanna is doing. And it’s not just because dem a using dancehall sound but the feel that crediting local artists without really giving props to the dancehall movement itself. You know, Popcaan was featured on a version of Controlla and that’s not the version that made the album so people are kinda upset about dat. Uuhm, there’s also a lot that people don’t like about it but at the end of the day its the big music business, a multi billion dollar thing. In the first world they’ve all kinds of opportunities, all kinds of resources that we don’t have so they can take what’s our own and market it better. I think if we play our cards right, then dancehall artists can get some proper appearances and collaborations and all of that. But I don’t expect much to happen just because of a certain dancehall wave. Many people believe the world owes us for our creations and we should only make reggae and dancehall, ignoring the fact that reggae and rock steady came out of imitation of American R&B
So what’s happening now regarding Hip Hop, we kinda look at it as things coming full cycle right now because Hip Hop started from a Jamaican Deejay Kool Herc and all the celebrities acted anniversary. His first back to school jam that he had with the sister. You know so, Hip Hop sprung from the seeds of Jamaican culture, from a yard man going to New York, doing what he learnt out here which was setting up the sound system and playing music. And looping up dis records and talkin over dem. And dat developed into Hip Hop music. So Jamaica and Caribbean on a whole has had a major influence on the genre and the culture. So now for, we got “foreign influence” to influence us here in Jamaica to make us rap and make Hip Hop music.
To me it’s the same thing that was happening wid de early rocksteady and reggae artists. They were taking their inspiration from another genre, from outside of de country, and over time they created something that was theirs, uniquely theirs. And I think that’s what we are in the process of doing but not everyone sees it like that, but because we have a sense of history, and we have a wisdom, we understand where it’s coming from and where it can go. And because of Dj Kool Herc and the contribution of not just him but others who played that role earlier on, we called Jamaica the First Coast. We have East Coast, we have West Coast, we’ve Down South and Mid West in the states, but without Kool Herc leaving Jamaica, there maybe no Hip Hop, so we kinda call our community First Coast. You know, and the music that we make, First Coast. Because everyone that comes from Jamaica and raps, get a similar experience; people are biased against you, they overlook you, they might diss you or not give you opportunity so whatever, but they’re still listening to the American Hip hop. So us saying First Coast is that we’re kinda acknowledging the history and all connections to Hip Hop and our place in it.We have a rightfully place in this. And we want to let that known and let the word be spread that yo, this is the First Coast and we’re coming to claim what’s ours.
If that is so, then how do Jamaicans view reggae coming from other parts of the world?
I think it differs, depending on you who you talk to, you know? Most of the reggae that get’s played out here is local reggae. But we have artists like Gentleman, you know, he’s from Germany and he had a few songs out here some years ago that were getting a lot of play and the funny thing is people didn’t even know he was German, they thought he was Jamaican playing songs like that, you know? Uhm, there’s Pressure from uuhm, the USA, Virgin Island actually and after a huge record with Don Coleon,there was so much of his music being played, I don’t know if people still don’t know that hes not from Jamaica, you know? Hehee. So I think as long as your songs are authentic, people can listen to it, even Cully Buddz, people didn’t know Collie Buddz was from Bermuda, you know? So, as long your songs are authentic I think people can listen to it. There are some people that do believe that all authentic reggae can only be made by Jamaicans and in Jamaica that’s not necessarily true, you know? There’s some people that look at people outside Jamaica making reggae as inferior, and sometimes some people may not want to accept it or listen to it,but I think we have to realize that reggae huge, globally. And there are people, especially in Carlifornia for example, or Europe, bands that are making a living, making good music and they have don’t eve have to visit Jamaica, or work with Jamaicans. So it’s we, we as a people need to recognize that, make the best music possible and do our best to market it, you know?
Talking about authenticity, some artists, especially the young Africans, believe that to be considered a serious reggae/dancehall musician, then one must master and sing in patois, thereby adapting to away of speaking that was not originally yours. Does this make y’all feel the music is fake, in such cases?
It depends. You can make reggae that’s in English. I’ve heard some white Rasta reggae artistes. That feels fake to me. Africans doing reggae isn’t as bad cause patois is derived from African tongues as well. The music just has to feel authentic. For us doing Hip Hop here, the people that like us can tell we not trying to be American. We’re being ourselves. We just don’t speak like the stereo type.
Do you believe anyone can embrace Rastafarianism? Like really just revere the culture and dot on reggae music, even if they are white?
I know lots of white people that love Jamaican and reggae culture. It can be weird at times when they seem so wrapped up in our culture and don’t exhibit much from their own. But the way I view Rasta, it’s a philosophy for black people: It is a response to colonialism and whitewashed Christianity. I cant say someone is not a Rasta or not true to it. But the denial of one’s culture that I see among some white Rastas is just strange to me. Maybe white guilt has something to do with it some times.
And can a Jew be rasta?
Well, Rasta stems from Judeo-Christian tradition. But I assume you mean Jewish, as in the race and not the religion. Pardon my ignorance. But modern Jews are white though. Matisyahu does reggae but he’s Jewish. He’s not trying to be a Rasta. So that for example I think is cool.
Most Jamaicans reggae acts look at Africa as home, is that the case with their hip hop counterparts?
That’s because of Rasta really. I wouldn’t say its really the same for our community because our music doesn’t go hand in hand with the Rasta community and culture like that. If someone has that consciousness then they would view Africa as home but not everyone does. So I can’t say the First Coast is preeing Africa. And Africa is the real First Coast.
Are there any Rastas who are into Hip Hop or hip hop artists who are Rasta?
Yeah. NRG who I mentioned the other day, Illicit King who has a project with Inztinkz: Those are acts who rep it and put it in the music. Kabaka could also count. Him and Koro Fyah. Jr Gong has real connections with our community. He’s very Hip Hop influenced lol. His former road manager was a member of Keystone. The first local group to have a CD in stores – that would have been 99/2000.
What kind of Jamaica would you live to see both as a society and also the music scene?
Jamaica with less crime and poverty. More prosperity and a more inclusive music scene with quality work and professionalism.