Young Boss: Setting New Rules
It was a huge turnout for Alkaline on March 25th at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. After all, it was his first performance in three years in Jamaica since he stepped onto the scene almost five years ago. Widely referred to as the ‘Young Boss’, the youngest dancehall DJ on the scene has boldly claimed to be setting ‘New Rules’ to the dancehall game. As one of the most talked about events of 2017 in Jamaica, Alkaline Live: New Rules was bound to be sold out, and it was by 11 pm.
Thousands of patrons flocked to East Kingston to represent the Alkaline fan base, more commonly referred to as the ‘Vendetta Babies.’ Adorning V-for-Vendetta masks, including flashy gold versions and of course your standard Halloween store white, droves of Kingstonians and internationals alike showed up ready for the ‘Champion Boy.’ But before we talk about why this event was fascinating for our small team of reggae insiders; let’s explain how Alkaline even got thousands of people from around the island to show up for his 3 am appearance.
Stepping onto the scene in 2013 with a slew of hit singles for Jamaican radio & faux ‘tattooed eyes’, Alkaline played into dancehall’s need for a hero/villain. With shock value working in his favor and the catchy melodies of ‘1,2,3…’, ‘Ready When Yuh Ready’ & ‘Live Mi Life’ playing in every taxi, every lane & ever corner shop; it was only a matter of time before Alkaline hit the international charts. By no means is Alkaline’s music clean and pure, but it’s raw, and it’s real which makes it incredibly ‘identifiable with Jamaicans’ — a requirement for success in music in Jamaica. One can also argue local success is critical for dancehall artists before they step out internationally.
Think about Vybz Kartel, world renowned – never world-touring, has yet to perform internationally like Alkaline, but due to his local ‘national hero’ status he is a force to be reckoned with worldwide.
In any case, watch the international success that followed shortly after what we call in Jamaica “a buss’. In March 2016, Alkaline’s debut album, New Level Unlocked, was released by DJ Frass Records, going on to top the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart in April, making him the first dancehall deejay to have a number one album on the chart for five years. This same year Alkaline also charted on Billboard at Number 1 over Sizzla & Agent Sasco while claiming the number three spot in Billboard’s 10 Best Reggae Albums of 2016. While this raises questions of the definition of the genre of reggae and what defines a reggae artist, it’s eminently clear Alkaline is a public figure representing Jamaican music and reggae worldwide. Yep…him buss yah now!
This same year, Alkaline joined the ranks of the “biggest celebration of urban talent” when he was nominated alongside Popcaan, Protoje, Kranium & Spice for the Best Reggae Act at the Mobo Awards in the UK. Although the award went to a much deserving Unruly Popcaan (also a Dancehall artist), Alkaline’s quick climb is a win for dancehall locally. I won’t entertain the Unruly/Vendetta feud, as these ‘musical wars’ are a part of the legacy left by sound system clashes, and there is way too much to be said about this concept in Jamaican music. Remember, no musical gang battle has rivaled that of the Gully vs. Gaza from 2005 to 2012 – and yeah this feud barely holds a torch to it, but clashing is a necessary ingredient to the dancehall ‘special’ (reference to the best-selling cocktail you can order anywhere in town).
Continuing Alkaline’s immersion into the “mainstream,” in October 2016 he secured a corporate endorsement from Red Stripe for his hit song ‘Champion Boy’ to be used as the advertising campaign theme song for the Premier League. Oh, and Alkaline’s songs were no stranger to the Jamaican political campaign parties on both sides in 2016 – Champion Boy’s could be found in the sporting arenas and the political ministries. Alkaline’s music pervaded the uptown/downtown divide in Jamaica – another ‘Key To The City” in Jamaica music. Sorry for all the song puns, I can’t help it.
Popular opinion has is that Dancehall speaks to an unruly audience, one that is ever ready for a show and ‘deh a yaad’ (in Jamaica) we know this. But a few Alkaline shows abroad were canceled due to “foreseen possible public disturbances.” Which, if anyone has ever been to a stage show in Jamaica, the crowd controls the show. If they like the vibe great – if not… watch out for a bottle or two.
Ok so back to ‘New Rules’, where there were no bottles thrown whatsoever; only fire torches and fans who “bus a shot” (not real ones) to show their approval. If anything, I’d describe New Rules as incredibly refreshing, encouraging, and generation claiming. Let me explain…
It was refreshing to see such a diverse crowd assemble for a not so diverse artist. What I mean by that is, Alkaline fits the Dancehall genre perfectly, he doesn’t stray from what we expect from a successful dancehall icon. But he has also created an air of “pop-culture” around himself which can be seen in his fan base. Big men, women with children, tween, teen, insider, outsider, reggae fanatic, dancehall diehard, & everyone in between was in attendance. At first, one could speculate it was from the carefully crafted lineup boasting Jahmiel, I-Octance, Shaggy, Tarrus Riley, & Movado. But look a little deeper, behind the Vendetta masks, and you’ll see every age, gender, nationality, creed & color represented.
New Rules was also a big show by all standards. From promotion to the stage, lighting, sound engineering, security, staff and more, the overall event execution was professional & efficient minus a few flagship cultural components of every stage show. Most encouraging was the focus on live music; all too often ‘tracks’ shows supersede live bands especially for dancehall performances. Courtesy of Tarrus Riley’s world touring Black Soil band and the legendary Dean Fraser on saxophone any real Jamaican music fan could recognize the perfect sound echoing during each performance. Even though it became increasingly more difficult for the artists to keep visual contact with the bandsmen, as the stage slowly filled up with more and more entourage, almost everyone performed well. The encouragement got hilariously heavy enough to where the show’s hosts threatened to shut down the show unless the stage is cleared for the main performer.
Lastly, ‘New Rules’ was a proclamation by the upcoming generation regarding their stake in the industry. Although the house was full of gully side fans, industry veteran Movado’s performance was the least impressive.
Depending on the crowd to sing ‘one-liner’ after ‘one-liner’ for him the entire time barely stood up to how the younger generation artists commanded the mic and interacted with their audience. While the crowd paid their respects to the ‘gully gawd’; the next generation was the main attraction.
Not without a few ‘pop-culture’ mishaps like overturned VIP section barriers, overprotective vendetta bodyguards, screaming teenagers and proper fan-fence hoppers, the event overall was a great success and a pleasure to see in Jamaica. Accolades to the Brownstone Marketing Team and the Vendetta Squad – we’re looking forward to the next staging.