Jamaica's reigning dancehall champ Popcaan has been in Drake's inner circle for quite some time. When the 6 God dropped his surprise mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, earlier this month, it was clear that he's more than just a casual fan of Popcaan's music. Almost all of the dancehall influence and a handful of his patois ad-libs that give IYRTITL its flavor can be chalked up to Popcaan's influence on Drake—well that, and the fact that Drake is sampling from Toronto's West Indian population.
The first nod comes through on "No Tellin," with an OVO Unruly shout out in Poppy's voice. Unruly is the name of Popcaan's crew and record label in Jamaica. Then you'll hit the minute-long interlude toward the end of "Know Yourself." It's Popcaan-riffing on an a capella version of his song "Ghetto (Tired of Crying)," one of the tracks that pushed us to rank his debut album, Where We Come From, one of the best of 2014.
In a handwritten note that accompanied the tape, Drake thanked the Unruly boss himself, Chromatic, Aidonia, and producer and studio-owner Jamie YVP who worked at length on Poppy's debut, among the list of "bad skoolys" who helped make the tape possible:
So how did Drake start repping Popcaan's signature catchphrases, like the not-so-humble-brag "Way Up" on singles and features alike? Let's take it back to 2012, when Drake got his hands on Popcaan's mixtape Yiy Change, released by Chromatic that January. A few weeks later Drizzy tweeted some lyrics from Popcaan's breakout club hit "Only Man She Wants."
It was a huge song for Popcaan, one that distinguished him as a solo artist after being known solely as Vybz Kartel's protege. "Only Man She Want" was also the first of Popcaan's releases that demonstrated his skill for infusing his genre with a mainstream pop allure that hadn't really been done in that way before. For the first time Popcaan broke onto Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
A few months later, Drake tweeted "Free Kartel," expressing solidarity with the Gaza camp Popcaan came up with. Dancehall visionary, Gaza frontman, and Popcaan's mentor Kartel was charged with murder in October 2011. He'd later be sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Clive "Lizzard" Williams. Either way, Drake had already tapped the man ready to breathe new life into Jamaica's music scene and take it to a brighter place than his mentor left it.
That summer, Popcaan hit up Toronto's Caribana weekend when Drizzy invited him to the third annual OVO Fest to chop it up and watch headliners like Snoop Dogg (a Popcaan collaborator) Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, and more. Popcaan's diehard fans took notice, wondering if a collaboration would follow, but Drake went on to push Take Care on the Club Paradise Tour and Poppy was hard at work on his debut album, Where We Come From.
Fast forward to June 2013 when Popcaan's video for "Unruly Rave" drew eyes from fans outside the core dancehall world again. The video, directed by OVO Niko, was shot in a Toronto club. Poppy's laced in an OVO T-shirt spouting his lines with a bottle of Henny in hand. A few months later, two T-shirts dropped on October's Very Own online shop, one repping "OVO Unruly," and "Y Pree." Niko heads up merchandise for the OVO brand, and seems to be the crew member most closely in touch with Popcaan and friends.
Last year Popcaan spoke on his friendship with Drake in an interview for Complex:
"Yeah T. Dot… and the whole Canada. I’ve been to a lot of spots in Canada so I get a lot of love. Yeah, and you know Drizzy Drake ah me linky. Big up Drizzy Drake anywhere him deh, ’ cause them man they say OVO unruly, so it’s a good feeling. Because there’s a lot of artists in Jamaica. And my label name Unruly Entertainment and him say "OVO unruly," so you dun know it’s a lot of people Drake even make zoom in pon Popcaan music too. So big up Drizzy."
This month, OVO Niko shared a 20-minute video documenting that trip called 6 in the 876. It's an inside view of Jamaica's vibrant music community led by Popcaan and producer Jamie YVP. The entire Unruly gang takes the visiting OVO crew from daytime sessions at the iconic Shocking Vibes studios to wild club nights. Everyone is decked out in OVO gear. Drake doesn't appear in the documentary, but it certainly raises some questions about how connected OVO and Unruly are.
With such blatant shout outs to him on the mixtape, and the whole squad rolling deep to his home country, we wonder what's to come from Popcaan's Drizzy connect. Right now he is still working on securing a U.S. Visa to visit, and to date he's only publicly spent time with Drake and co. outside U.S. borders. If Drake did fly down with OVO Niko and the rest of the gang, we could be seeing the much-anticipated collaboration soon. In an interview for Myspace last summer Dre Skull assured Boomshots' Rob Kenner there's one on the way. Until it comes, there's always time to make predictions about who will be performing at OVO Fest for Caribana 2015.