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  • Writer's pictureJust Geo

From Jamrock to di Worl’: More J’can Artistes ‘Drift’-ing to the int'l Stage

With the latest Teejay signing for Warner Music and with many other local artistes such as Popcaan, Masicka, Shenseea, Koffee, Skillibeng gaining major international deals, should the argument more lead to Dancehall’s evolution as opposed to it declining?

L-R: Popcaan, Skillibeng, Koffee, Teejay (Jamar Cleary, Haruki Design, E Allen, Rickayla Mcneil)

Recently, ‘Up Top Boss’ deejay, Teejay, signed with the major American label Warner Music. This comes after his latest hit, ‘Drift’ began topping streaming charts, most notably hitting 3.2 million views on YouTube in a matter of weeks. The artiste joins a number of local acts that have gained international management, such as Koffee, Masicka, Popcaan, Jada Kingdom, Skillibeng, Shenseea and Ishawna. Many expect great things from these new ventures, but it leaves the question to linger on our minds, ‘what does that mean for Reggae and Dancehall?’

There have been talks of Dancehall music fading from the international scene as the more popular genres dominate streaming platforms worldwide. Music has evolved in such a way that traditional consumption is fast becoming obsolete, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’S (IFPI) 2023 Global Music Report, 67% of revenue was gained from streaming services versus 17.5% from physical copies. With the advent (and subsequent takeover) of streaming services, Jamaican artists are placed at a significant disadvantage in gaining popularity with an international audience, at least when compared to mid-level and superstar acts in the global arena. But, as of late, our small island has seen a fair crop of our talents being recognized and endorsed by international record labels all over.

Skillibeng, gained his int'l management in 2021 (Haruki Design)

Breaking the Border, Not Breaking the Bank

Music is a fragile ecosystem, for artists to survive, they have to be the fittest of the fit. In simpler terms, they have to stand out to make it, the ‘it’ being popularity and money. Good vibes aren’t enough to put food on the table, and local artistes have a difficult time reaping the rewards from their work because the industry is set up in a way that is disadvantageous to them. The truth is, even with 3.2 million YouTube views, if Teejay doesn’t have a proper intellectual property retention plan in place, he’ll lose out on the bag that comes with that fame. This is how it works: the artiste makes music, the music goes out, people like music, music gets played everywhere, artistes get paid through royalties, bookings and tours… Sounds simple, right? Well, consider the fact that amongst the tens of agencies and authorities, an artiste has to go through just to say their work is their own, there also has to be systems set in place to collect said payments, and we haven’t gotten to the part about accumulating enough clout for that song to be popular enough to even make money. For all this to be achievable, it makes sense to partner with an international label that not only has the money but the links or connexions to make all that easier. Record labels love our unique sound so they scoop up the artistes they believe deserve a shot at the international stage.

Dancehall isn’t Dead; It’s Evolving

The most notable deals we’ve seen to date are Koffee, Popcaan, Skillibeng, and Shenseea. Koffee stole the hearts of Jamaicans when she came onto the scene in 2017 with her single ‘Burning.’ Since then, the Spanish Town native shot to fame and currently has over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. She signed with RCA Records in the US in 2020 after winning Grammy for ‘Best Reggae Album’ for her “Rapture” album. Koffee’s sound is a peculiar one- conscious and heady, with a secular twist to the traditional reggae-dancehall method, lending her talent to infusions with other genres like Pop and R&B. John Fleckenstein, Co-President of RCA Records expressed at the time of her signing that Jamaican music has a huge impact on a global level.

The sentiment proves true, as record labels like Interscope Records add their first-ever Dancehall Artiste, Shenseea, in 2019. Executive Vice President Joie Manda lamented that the record "strives to work with artistes that can move culture on a global scale." Reggae and Dancehall are no longer tethered to the coasts of the island but are instead taking root in other countries.

Koffee, made her global impression (E Allen)

Dancehall star, Skillibeng joined RCA Records with a signed deal back in 2021. another major stamp for the dancehall after the 'Whap Whap' deejay was added to a massive bunch of artistes under their roster such as A$AP Rocky, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Chris Brown, Doja Cat, H.E.R., SZA and many others.

The major record labels continue to sign our local talents and earlier this year, Masicka joined the already long and elite group of artistes on the roster of New-York based, world-renowned label - Def Jam Records which his current roster bolsters international acts such as Justin Bieber & 2 Chainz just to name a few.

Masicka, earned a major deal for himself

The latest addition to the list of dancehall artistes that signed for a major label is the Kittian sensation Byron Messia. The Jamaican-born fast-rising deejay earned a multi-album deal with the Californian label, Interscope as well.

As with every living, breathing art form, they are evolving as time changes- artistically, deliberately (and for the artistes) financially. Therefore, as the evolution of the genres continues, those who practice the craft must also evolve to meet the international standard of music, marketing and management- such as record labels who can prepare and sustain the international presence of the artiste.

It’s Not All Irie

There are some that are hesitant to the prospect of Jamaican talents committing to an international record label such as singer, songwriter and producer, Demarco. In an article published by The Jamaica Star in 2022, the mix maestro intimated that it's more of a risk to the artistes than the labels. Truth is, as Demarco rightfully stated, "it’s a numbers game,” from the popularity to the album sales, the sold-out tours and the monthly streams. As mentioned earlier, our artists are already disproportionately compared to those already established. Music is still a business, a worldwide one at that, and it takes a lot of research, heart, and the right management team to capitalize on every opportunity for an artiste to make it.


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