Growing Up In Portmore

Born Andrae Sutherland in the mountainous Jamaican parish of St. Thomas, Popcaan and his family relocated to the city of Portmore when he was 7. Papi was raised in a housing scheme [what Americans would call housing projects] called Three West, also known as “Gangsta City.”

Located to the west of Kingston, Portmore was built on reclaimed swamp land during the 1960s in an effort to alleviate overcrowding in Jamaica’s capital. It grew rapidly to become a major city like MoBay and Kingston. “Everybody in Jamaica have family who live in Portmore,” says Popcaan. “Me nuh know ’bout no other place inna Jamaica, but me sure ’bout Portmore.”

 

There’s always temptation to do all kind of things, but it’s all about what you choose. You know I mean? The things you choose pay off. If you choose to do wrong, you get paid fe wrong.

 

“Well ya dun know me grow up inna the garrison,” says Popcaan, using a Jamaican term for a ghetto community with its own power structure—something like a gangster government. “Nuff interference ah come in. It did turn ugly—you know I mean? In school days, we haffi stop going to school full time and all that. But we always do music and we always write songs and write lyrics.”

Papi describes Portmore as an uptown garrison with its own unique style. “Yeah, Portmore is an uptown gangsta city,” he says. “Them youth deh dress different and have some different style ah Portmore. My scheme is called Gangsta City, and because of everything weh happen around we inna the community, me do that song ‘Gangsta City.’

The lyrics to the tune say it all: “I’m from a place where dog eat dog / Mi know ’bout living weh hard / From me born me see people ah starve... I’m from a place where blood spill / Nuff innocent youth get kill.”

“Ya dun know growing up wasn’t so easy. For most youths in Jamaica, and for most of the artists same way inna the business, them life rough growing up. There’s always temptation to do all kind of things, but it’s all about what you choose. You know I mean? The things you choose pay off. If you choose to do wrong, you get paid fe wrong. If you choose to go be a doctor, you get paid fe be a doctor."

As he struggled to steer clear of the negativity that surrounded him, Popcaan considered joining the Jamaica Defense Force. “Me did like soldier life yunno,” he recalls. “Yeah, me love the way how them suit look and the whole militancy ’bout them. Yeah. So me say me woulda be a soldier.” He took the entrance exam, but ultimately opted for music over the military life.

Popcaan's affinity for music manifested from an early age. He was a stand-out at high school concerts but he had to stop attending school because of the street drama that took the lives of many friends—including his bredren Scumpy, who gave him the name Popcaan.

“A man has to know what kind of decision to make in life,” Popcaan explains. “Me choose music, but nuff of my friends lose their life living other lives. We just use those things as an example. Can’t make the same mistake as my friends made.”