The Lethal Dancehall Track Tearing Up Jamaica This Year
April 21, 2016, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


This February I finally made it Jamaica. For some music fans, to visit Jamaica is like pilgrimage to Mecca.

This little island changed everything, to the point where it’s frightening to think what the last forty years of London culture would look like had the 60s emigration never happened. More so than any other world city that received the diaspora, West Indian culture changed London.

You can imagine an alternate reality where we’re still listening to Status Quo albums and hammering peak-era eurotrance. There’d be no jungle, dubstep, grime or garage, while post-punk would have been half the future-shocking art-form it was. Even British house music in the present day would be unrecognisable. And even though we could really have done without UB40, and even though my holiday was less Trenchtown and more Thompsons all-inclusive, to be sat on the beach in Montego Bay surrounded by the ever-resonating juju that made modern-day Britain was nothing short of dreamy.

On the second day we hit it off with one of the bar men, Shane, a big grime fan as a result of his cousins in Hackney who had turned him on to Lethal and Dizzy. I asked him about the local music scene, and the first thing he tells me to look out is Alkaline and the “biggest track of the year” – ‘Champion Boy’.

Listen To ‘Champion Boy’ here

Alkaline, stage name of 21-year-old Kingston MC Earlan Bartley, has been on the radar for a couple of years now (check out the ‘Noisey: Jamaica’ feature from last year), but the runaway success of ‘Champion Boy’ has left Bartley on the cusp of becoming Jamaican dancehall’s next global export. Using the very fierce ‘Fire Starta Riddum’ written by Jamaican riddim queen, DJ Sunshine, whose ‘Wul Dem’ riddum swept through dancehall in 2014, ‘Champion Boy’ is all over the island, blasting from out of crowded city streets, from car stereos, from Jamaica’s homespun music channels and adverts for Premiership football matches, energy drinks and used cars. It’s nothing less than a phenomenon.

February is black history month in Jamaica, as well as both official ‘reggae month’ and anniversary, on the 6th, of Bob Marley’s birthday. So it was a great time to be in Jamaica if you wanted to get a sense of island culture. In addition, the third week of February is the unofficial start to the holiday season, just in time for incoming tourists to meet headlong with the ‘Champion Boy’ craze, and perhaps spread the word internationally.

But this February also sees Jamaica’s national elections, to be held on the 25th.  Everywhere we drove were crowds of supporters klaxon-beating on the roadside or dancing and singing at rallies. On reggae island, of course, politics and music are almost interchangeable, and even politicians are jumping on the Alkaline bandwagon. For example, former prime minister and leader of the Jamaican Labour Party, Andrew Holness, takes to the stage at rallies to the strains of ‘Champion Boy’s chorus. It’s of course not the first time Jamaican politicians have co-opted the local charts. In the mid 70s, the JLP and the opposing PNP (People’s National Party) fought for the public endorsement of Jamaica’s first global superstar, Marley. After agreeing to headline the ‘Smile Jamaica’ concert – organised by JLP leader and then prime minister Michael Manley – Marley, his wife and manager were injured in an assassination attempt at Marley’s home.

Alkaline is part of a new generation of ‘post-Vybz’ MCs, who came of age subsequent to Jamaica’s infamous late-noughties ‘reggae wars’ – accompanied by a drastic increase in levels of gang violence across the island as locals chose sides. Staged between Vybz Kartel’s ‘Gaza’ crew from the Jamaican town of Portmore and Kingston’s ‘Gully’ crew – led by dancehall star Mavado – the feud came to an end in 2011 with the arrest and eventual sentencing of Kartel, for the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams. Kartel’s sentencing in 2014, meanwhile, came shortly after an American-backed operation to arrest and extradite drug lord (and ‘Gaza’-benefactor) Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke in 2013 went awry, resulting in the massacre of 73 civilians in Kingston’s notorious ‘garrison-hood’ Tivoli Gardens, effectively breaking the back of the city’s organised crime culture.

You wonder what Jamaica’s reggae forefathers have to say about the likes of Alkaline. With the MC’s famed ‘demon’ lenses and (allegedly) ‘whitened’ face, his iced auto-tune settings and snarled, triumphalist delivery – speaking of the very coldest states of advanced materialism – ‘Champion Boy’ feels about as far as dancehall has ever travelled from roots reggae’s Christian beginnings. Glamorous toy-town gangsters like Alkaline lined the walls of every club I visited, dripping in bling, walking the room like a train of reflective surfaces and sexual intent. On the other side of the club were their preening female counterparts, cold and imperious and dressed like sci-fi royalty. It’s owing to Jamaican revellers like these that some locals I spoke with predict a coming backlash against club culture and a resurgence in the popularity of street-level sound system parties, where posing and conspicuous consumption isn’t tolerated. In one of Montego Bay’s big local haunts, Margaritaville, I spoke to one teenager, Avion, who wasn’t so keen on the this new strain of dancehall: “I am a Christian. I like Toshe, Congos, Ken Boothe…but I can’t hear no heart to this music.

But while Jamaican dancehall is currently in peacetime, the actions of one unlikely provocateur perhaps threatens to de-stabilize the scene, in this incidence fuelling tensions between diehard Gaza disciples and Alkaline’s own Kingston crew, the Vendetta clan.

Back in 2010, returning Olympic hero Usain Bolt took to the DJ Booth during his victory party and declared that only ‘Gaza’ tunes were to be spun. “And anybody nuh like dat” Bolt added, according to The Village Voice “can jump inna gully”. In October of last year, during Kingston’s premier track showcase night ‘Uptown Mondays’, the Gold medallist again took to the stage, to diss Alkaline directly. “One likkle youth a try imitate the Gaza youth, mi nah call nuh name … three blind mice, three blind mice [a reference to Alkaline’s lenses]” Bolt hollered, “All when him incarcerate and a easy himself. When the boss come a road, hear mi a seh? I will be downtown for the Gaza Boss, hear mi seh,”

Bolt’s comments caused a furore in Kingston. In response, a month later Alkaline released ‘Champion Boy’, taking not-so-subtle aim at Bolt and by extension Vybz, who Alkaline and co. perhaps feel cannot sustain his dominance from behind prison walls for much longer:

“Champion mi a di Champion Boy

One bagga gold medal pan mi eno

Champion Boy yuh kno di damn thing guh

Pan a podium a sing di anthem tuh

Dem yah story yah cyaa guh pan ER

it affi guh pan profile”

According to Jamaica TakeOut, Alkaline has teamed up with ‘Gully’ kingpin Mavado to record a medley of their ‘Fire Starta’ tracks.

Sources close to the recently MC had this to say: Alkaline been working overtime in studios, recording several tracks per day and lowkey shooting multiple music videos. The plan is to outrank Worl Boss [Kartel] during the year 2016.”

Though seminal-feeling for its sheer anthem-ness, if you factor in as well the single’s success you can easily imagine ‘Champion Boy’ coming to represent a changing of the guard moment for Jamaican dancehall – the new wave declaring that the King is dead, long live the Champion Boy.


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