Category Archives: dancehall

Image is Everything

Yes, I jacked the title from the old Sprite commercials. I don’t quite agree with that characterization of life. I’m much more concerned with my perception of myself than yours. But, the older I get, the more I realize that your level of success strongly correlates to how much people like/love/believe in/accept/understand you. This is even more important when you’re in the entertainment industry. Musicians and actors collectively spend millions of dollars on image consultants, PR associates and stylists to craft the perfect image to enhance their appeal to us, the masses. And for the most part, if I’m gonna buy what you’re selling, I need to understand what you’re saying!

Which leads me into a discussion about last week’s Soul Train Awards. (Yes I’m a week late with this but it’s finals time. Sue me.) I didn’t watch the show because I was studying. (Well, I was trying…) But I did log on to twitter during the telecast. My most recent tweet was from an American friend basically saying I needed to assist Mr. Vegas because he was inarticulate during his red carpet interview *hangs head in shame*

I laughed it off and didn’t take it very seriously because I’ve watched enough interviews with Jamaican deejays in my lifetime not to expect better. I have vague memories of watching Anthony Miller’s Entertainment Report and counting how many times the interviewee would say ‘u nah mean’ or use some other space filler in their sentences. I definitely didn’t have high expectations. But, then I saw this tweet from @Bevysmith

If you can’t see the text it’s :

When I was interviewing the Jamaican gentlemen (sic) I could barely understand him & I simply cut the interview short

She was referring to Gyptian who she interviewed on the red carpet. Later in the night, she mentioned that she was pretty sure Gyptian was under the influence. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case, but no judgements here lol

Watch his acceptance speech:

Bevy Smith shouldn’t be passed off as just a random commentator. She hosted the BET red carpet for the Soul Train Awards and has an enviable resume filled with decades of experience that include being a fashion editor at Vibe to hosting the ultra exclusive Dinner With Bevy series. Her comment made me wonder how many opportunities have been missed simply because we were unable to communicate clearly.

After I saw and retweeted her comment, I got involved in conversations with Jamaicans at home and abroad regarding our artists’ presentation of themselves on the world stage. Some expressed dismay that reggae is our most famous export and our musicians do not always represent us well. I love my reggae as much as the next person, but I too cringe at some of the interviews I’ve seen our entertainers give. As much as I want them to spend time in the studio crafting hits for my listening pleasure, I would really love if they would spend some more time doing some media training. Have some soundbites prepared for international audiences. Get familiar with how to use twitter and facebook effectively. Develop a strategy for their brand and stick to it.

Given that every Jamaican artist seems to be clamoring for ‘crossover’ hits and Billboard recognition, one would think they would start focusing more on presentation.This is not to say that I expect them to twang and put on an accent for the foreigners. But as many have noted, music is now a business as much as it is an art. Artists have a product to sell. If they can’t communicate it effectively, who is gonna buy? I definitely understand that depending on their backgrounds they may not have had access to media training and similar tools that their international counterparts do. But that’s where their management should step in and provide the necessary guidance.

I don’t know any Jamaicans who still buy music legally. I don’t even know any who used to buy Jamaican music back when we still paid for cds. So a Jamaican artist’s dollars are coming first from limited local endorsements and stageshows. The big bucks are to be made by touring and selling overseas. (Though CD sales are down everywhere but it’s still better than what they’d get at home). If they’re gonna make money selling reggae music, they’d better figure out a way to ensure that people understand what they’re saying, not just in their lyrics but also in promotional appearances.

I’m sure many of our artistes would love to get international endorsement deals. Well in that case, many of them are gonna need their image revamped and most companies will not want to align their dollars with someone who they doubt can effectively communicate about their product. When we talk about image, we normally think about wardrobe and lifestyle choices. Let’s not forget to consider whether people can understand us and realize that we are in fact capable of stringing sentences together.

p.s. I don’t want to knock Gyptian. I *still* listen to ‘These are some serious times’ after all these years. Seeing him on stage at the Awards with the Jamaican flags all over the stage and the crowd on its feet made me all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

****UPDATED**** I found out Gyptian was hospitalized for dehydration shortly after posting this. Wishing him a speedy recovery!

Separating the Artist(e) from his Art

Just a few hours after I wondered out loud (via twitter) what had happened to @cucumberjuice, she sent up a smoke signal via her latest blog post. In her heartfelt, sincere letter to Jamaican dancehall luminary Bounty Killer, she struggled to reconcile his badman persona with his self-proclaimed role as the poor people’s governor and his inexplicable addiction to battering females :-/

I don’t fancy myself a Bounty Killer fan, never have been. I remember the early 90’s when everybody in Jamaica was taking sides between Bounty and Beenie Man. At that time, I was busy listening to Whitney Houston & Celine Dion (don’t act like you don’t know all the words to It’s All Coming Back to Me Now !) But if pressed, I would have picked Beenie. Why? In retrospect, it was probably because Bounty always seemed like a very angry man. So when he announced his ‘Cross, Angry, Miserable‘ catchphrase in the mid-00’s, it was very fitting. (Pause: Are we about to start a new decade? Wasn’t the Y2K scare just yesterday?!) But I have no problem admitting that he is unmatched in his ability to deliver socially conscious messages over dancehall beats, so there are several songs in his arsenal that I consider classic and do in fact, love. (See: Look, Anytime, Fed Up).

Now despite the well-known juxtaposition between Rodney – the son who loves his mother, and Killer – the artiste well known for his domestic violence; I was still surprised to hear that he [allegedly] attacked one of his concubines girlfriends with a hammer and mosquito zapper 0_o . I was shocked for two reasons:

1. A mosquito zapper!!! Who the heck attacks someone with a mosquito zapper?
2. Just months ago he was facing charges for attacking his then partner, and one would think he would wait a while before resuming his usual ways.

That being said, unlike my twitren @cucumberjuice, I felt largely unaffected by this. I keep up with entertainment news as much as the rest of my generation but I’m one of the few that was unmoved when Michael Jackson died and never saw the need to engage in extended discourse over the Chris Brown and Rihanna debacle. While music is universally acknowledged as a way to express and evaluate our emotions, if we don’t separate our feelings for the art from those we have for the artist, we’ll never be able to listen to anything. I don’t mean to exonerate artists from all culpability for their actions, but with all the craziness going on in Hollyweird, I’ve given up on holding artists to anything more than the most base moral standard.

I came to that conclusion once R. Kelly’s golden showers w/ the kiddies came to light. R. Kelly remains one of the most prolific songwriter/producers of my generation (MJ’s You Are Not Alone, Whitney’s I Look to You, Toni Braxton’s I Don’t Want To, Ruben Studdard’s I Need an Angel, not to mention his own catalogue of hits). When that story broke, I had friends who vowed never to listen to R. Kelly again. My thought process was quite different: Why should I lose the pleasure of listening to good music because the musician is crazy (or corrupt … or criminal?)

I also pondered the double standard when the clarion calls were sounded to boycott Chris Brown. You mean to tell me all y’all really believed MJ was innocent? O_0 Or did people not care because he was the King of Pop? Hmmm…

Anyway, the only way for me to enjoy music (and by the same standard: films, books, plays, art etc.) is to separate the artist from the art. Until next time, I’mma Run it and Beat It cuz I Believe I Can Fly, even though I’m a Sufferer! 🙂