He Has Set Such A High Standard, It Is Like Moving the World Record From 9.58s to 9.08s
Dancehall as a genre is like sport, in its dynamism and its need for a champion. Being a child from the 1990s, I heard stories of its former leaders affectionately referred to as ‘Kings’; which include veterans like Yellow Man, and Shabba Ranks, whose music was regarded as the best in their time.
Then came the teenage phenomenon called Buju Banton. Scaling the heights with such consummate ease like none of his predecessors, the early 1990s belonged to him. He was churning out hits much more frequently than any of his colleagues at the time. The frequency of his music made it easy for him to dominate, much to the characterizing thread of the ‘current great’.
Dancehall was changing and so was its champion, Buju Banton. Buju turned this artiste attention to Rastafarianism and reggae music. The shift in his music meant he had extended his fan base, and widened his range in musical depth, and lyrical consciousness, even in his delivery.
Then came the feuding heads of the Beenie–Bounty era. Their lyrical rivalry sparked excitement among fans; dancehall was interesting – often the subject of many domino and Ludi game discussions. They controlled the landscape for the rest of the 1990s fueled by each other’s pursuit of Dancehall’s pinnacle. Their contribution to the furtherance of the industry cannot be overstated, but their reign is embedded in the late 1990s, to the welcome of the fun, energetic, Higher Level DJ Elephant Man. His reign was classified by the light natural unification of the major players at the summit. His tenure and music personified the more friendly topics in dancehall with most of hits being dance related songs. The ‘Energy-god’ took his music to another level, turning every party into a dance-party and lesson. Dancehall was nice, and as it transitioned ‘a yaad’, it captivated the hearts of followers abroad.
Remember, like sport, dancehall thrives on rivalry, so another turn was always in the horizon.
Early to mid-2000s, dancehall introduced to us Vybz Kartel. What we didn’t know at the time is that this new introduction was purposed to single-handedly transition dancehall for generations. Kartel’s music enlightened us to a totally different flow, cadence and wit in a lyrical masterclass that puts all former ‘Kings” to bed.
Dancehall being dynamic, is ever changing with an exponential increase in volume output. Here, Kartel seems to be not only be leading, but driving the industry with non-stop output of superior ilk to those around him today. ‘Mr. Mention’ himself, Buju Banton, in a recent interview attested to the fact that he was a way for over ten years, left the ‘Adi A D King’ DJ at the helm and returned only to see him in the same position. What Buju didn’t say, but I am, is that, ‘Adi’ has grown, improved and doing more hits now (per output), whilst being in the restricted state that he’s in.
To begin finding the heir to the ‘Worl’ Boss’ we need to look at his catalogue – purely as a work of art from different perspectives, to form the basis on which we would evaluate the field. Let’s begin with his obvious level of artistry. To each unbiased listener he has to be up there with some of the most lyrically adroit composers of all time, across all genres. He is the dancehall lyricist that creates bold and daring forms and ways of producing limericks, that are not only catchy (as sing along) but highly potent in delivering the message.
As a reference, listen to any of his early works Buss Mi Gun Like Nothing, Pass Mi Gun, Bruck Yuh Back; with these he has taken the listening experience to extraordinarily new heights never traversed before. Many DJs in today’s dancehall have come close to that level of exquisite artistry, but not with a comparable level of frequency.
In today’s dancehall, the artistes must keep current. Current in former years meant voicing on every riddim; today, current means releasing a song up to once-a-week, each week. From behind bars the Bus Mi Tool DJ betters that frequency. The week is only half way through (March 31, to April 05, 2020) and Di Teacha has released two songs already for this week, Adianna and Quick Quick Quick. 14 weeks into year 2020, the ‘VIP’ DJ has already released over 20 songs. Contemporaries to the Thickiana artiste cannot boast of such a formidable output at any time in their careers. His appetite for work sets the man from Waterford Portmore above all others.
In recent times he lists his own catalogue as having 119 number one singles compared to current rival Aidonia’s 10 number ones. In his prime, the Lyricist, DJ was mooted to be composing three songs per day. He has only gotten better with time, addressing a wide range of topics to connect with his ever-growing fan base.
The Melody Michelangelo has taken his colors and brushes to paint many a topic in dancehall over the years. The Picture This DJ may be best known for his sexually metaphoric output addressing the female form, many a times craftly detailing his Charm Di Gyal Dem interactions, but he also balanced the spectrum with lyrical perpetuation of violent crimes. The Clarks DJ has gone far and wide from such topics, doing pieces for his mother, spouse, daughter, sons, addressing social issues, encouraging professionals to become successful at making money, among a long list of other relatable topics.
The distance between the Worl’ Boss, and his colleagues is that each style he uses and every topic he addresses seem to be his comfort zone. This in itself presents another exclusive level defined by di Teacha. This is where there is no liability, no compromise or diminishing to the quality of artistry he provides – it is no wonder fans and rivals alike would take his side in any clash situation. Masses will always gravitate to toward the explicit, raunchy and envelope-pushing lyrics and topics, but there is so much more on offer from the Compass artiste. Any true music lover will never miss this.
His level of artistry, frequency of output and range of topics addressed makes VYBZ KARTEL a true dancehall colossal! To inherit or dear say wrestle the crown from him seems a task too great for the current crop of dancehall contenders. He obviously can’t do this forever, so who will take over from Adi the ‘Teacha’?
We’ll explore that in a next part of this series – Part 2: The Contenders.