Murda She Wrote: This Month's Best Dancehall

The best dancehall you won't hear on radio.

murda she wrote dancehall
P&P Original

Image via P&P Original

murda she wrote dancehall

From London’s Notting Hill Carnival to Brooklyn’s Labor Day Parade, the whole world seems to be in a dancehall mood this time of year. Once again here are the best cuts released this month, from party tunes to battle tunes to songs for getting your grind on.

Mavado - "Dem Run Een"

mavado popcaan

Dancehall has seen some epic rivalries over the years, but few as fierce as the Gully vs Gaza war. For much of the 2000s, Mavado and Vybz Kartel were locked in a lyrical battle that sometimes spilled over into the streets, causing much division on the small island.

Things cooled down before Kartel was incarcerated on an unrelated murder charge. Mavado even prayed for Kartel during his trial. “Over the years we’ve been rivals but we’ve taken the music so far,” Mavado reflected after the beef. “After a storm there is always a calm but yuh dun know sometimes it’s a storm again...”

Recently, rumors of a new beef have begun to simmer, this time between Mavado and Kartel’s former apprentice Popcaan. Although Mavado and Popcaan have recorded together in the past, something seemed to change this summer. Earlier this month both artists released diss tracks, and while no names are mentioned, they do seem to be aimed at one another. Mavado’s tune “Dem Run Een” on Troyton’s Dancehall Bully riddim, is definitely a war song. This is a Gully Gad classic—Mavado sounding annoyed but unfazed, making it crystal clear that he is not about to flinch.

“Portmore say fi step past di father go murder the son,” he sings, in an apparent reference to Kartel and Popcaan. Mavado knows all too well what it’s like to be in the middle of a street war and as he warns, it’s no joke. "You start a war and you give your life up.” The struggle for both artists to make it from nothing to something has been real, so you can bet that the consequences of any threats will be too. Let’s hope this rivalry plays out peacefully.

Popcaan - "Nah Idle"

popcaaan live 2016 sumfest

August has been a full month for Popcaan, from diss tracks to the Olympic gold medals—Usain Bolt celebrated his latest Olympic gold medal with some Popcaan lyrics on his IG. It’s all just another chapter in the Unruly story.

On his latest release, “Nah Idle,” Poppy sends a message that his rise to the top didn’t come easily. “You can’t achieve nuttin’ if you don’t work hard,” Popcaan sings, shaming all those who don’t carry out their responsibilities. “Nah make no money if you don’t work hard.” Poppy doesn’t forget to motivate the guys by reminding them what else can be achieved with all the hard work: "fuck some real star girl like Gwen Stefani."

But as “Nah Idle” illustrates, there are lots of other reasons to work hard: Popcaan sings with passion about taking care of his family, including his "daughter" Rihanna. Even if you are not necessarily a Popcaan fan, he wants you pay attention to this tune, because the consequences of laziness are deadly serious: "idlers, the devil will find you.”

“She say she wanna ride pon me Kawasaki,” says Tommy Lee on “Hot like Summa,” a feel-good flossing tune to remind you that even in the islands summer is a special time of year—and when the weather gets hotter, so does the music.

We haven’t heard from Tommy Lee for a while, but the Sparta Boss is back in full effect. Discovered by Vybz Kartel in his early teens, the MoBay-born artist studied Kartel’s moves carefully. One lesson Tommy learned from his mentor is that being controversial can never be bad for your career. In a country filled with God-fearing people, Tommy aka “Uncle Demon” has carved out a niche for himself as the Satan-worshipping father of Goth dancehall, from his look to the sound of his voice. There may be some differences in opinion when it comes to the subject of the Almighty, but there’s one thing everyone can agree upon: summer time is party time.

Vershon - "Di Truth"

vershon truth

There’s nothing more exciting in any genre of music than the rise of a fresh young talent, Last year, dancehall’s breakout artist was Vershon. Although he’s from the West Kingston ghetto of Cockburn Pen, the same streets that raised a young Super Cat, people tell Vershon he doesn’t look like a ghetto youth. “Maybe they try look for some scars, or some tough face or something like that,” he explained to me. “I grow up decent, even though we from the ghetto we always clean, we always look presentable.”

Since that time, Vershon has learned a few lessons about stardom: First, not everybody else will be as happy about your success as you are. Second, dancehall stars have to keep their fans supplied with new material week in and week out. Linking with ace producer DJ Frass, Vershon has created a powerful song about the downside of fame: envy and jealousy, or as they say in Jamaica, “badmind.”

Based on the lyrics to the song, it appears that one hater or another may have threatened Vershon’s life somewhere along the line. But the artist is not bothered. “Them can’t kill me,” he declares on the chorus. “The truth ah the truth, you kill an innocent youth, where ah go run go?” He briefly considers a pre-emptive strike, but decides against it. “It no take nothing to get them street warm, but remember me have me son to live for.”

On the strength of Justus Arison’s sparkling beats and Patrick “Roach” Samuels’ gritty connections, JA Productions rose to the top of the dancehall game near the start of this decade. The bright, twinkly keyboard melodies and all-star lineups on projects such as the “Overproof” riddim made JA Productions a household name.

Then, just as the label was celebrating Nicki Minaj's 2013 remix of Mavado’s “Give It All To Me,” Roach was murdered at a gas station in Kingston. But the recent success of their “Life Support” riddim shows that JA Productions have soldiered on past the tragedy. On the new “Krisco” riddim, the light-hearted vibe of earlier productions is gone, replaced by an atmosphere of tension on harder-edged tracks like Black Diamon’s “Nuh Tek Dis” and I Shawna’s “Tek Ova.” This is a riddim to get the pulse racing.