dancehall star newbaan is top of the clash
It's around midnight in the grounds of Shocking Vibes studio, in the heart of Kingston, and Boy Better Know are flagging. They landed in the Jamaican capital about six hours ago and the jetlag is kicking in. They sip Rum-N-Red Bull and smoke the finest cannabis sativa that Kingston has to offer, but still they struggle to stay awake despite the extremely exuberant event taking place before their tired eyes. As winners of 2012's Red Bull Culture Clash, the seven-strong crew are here to soak up the sounds and pick up tips for this year's Clash, where they face stiff competition from A$AP Mob. Where better to start then, than Unruly Clash Wednesdays, the brainchild of Popcaan, dancehall's fastest rising star. He might have the co-sign of Kanye, but the Everything Nice singer hasn't forgotten his roots. "I have a lot of young artists around me, so I say 'Father and student, clash, and we see'," says Popcaan of the biweekly battle.
Around 1am, talk turns to calling it a night, until a new contender steps up the mic. He's slight, about 5'6 and wearing a brown Nike beanie. In a blur of thick patois the young man deftly decimates his opponent as the 300-odd strong crowd, and BBK, erupt; foghorns blare, a plume of fire rockets from a contraption involving a gas canister and a lighter. The crowd approves. BBK approves. "We've gotta get that kid in the studio," Jammer murmurs. "He's sick."
It takes two days for them to track down Jason Fowlin, who goes by the name of Newbaan. Once located, they invite the 19 year-old to the legendary Big Yard studio, where they lay down a brand new track, Shaky. If Newbaan is nervous about rhyming in front of the Grime veterans, he doesn't show it. "It's awesome, mad vibes," he says of the Rude Kid produced single. Despite stiff competition from Skepta et al, it's agreed that Newbaan's bars are the best. "I have a unique voice; and the lyric I'm spitting is different," he grins of the praise. "I'm singing about what's really happening in the ghetto, the grimy life." For a kid like Newbaan, an opportunity like this is rare. He took an hour bus ride to Unruly, and walked the rest of the way. When BBK invited him to the studio, he stayed up all night to perfect his rhymes. When he steps up to record his bars, you can feel the energy emanate around the booth. "I started early, 8, 9 years-old," he recalls. "I grew up in a house with bare singing, cooking, food, so it came natural for me. From the age of 15, I started taking it serious."
Two days after the studio session, BBK decide to film a video; Newbaan invites them to his home in Portmore, the home of dancehall don Vybz Kartel. "It's vibes every night here but [elsewhere] you have guns, gangs fighting against gangs and the poorer set of people and so forth," he sighs.
As dusk settles, the director calls a wrap. But the friendship between Newbaan and BBK is far from over. Later that night, they roll together to Bounty Sunday's, Bounty Killa's night. "I'm feeling good, it's a dream come true," reflects Newbaan as dawn breaks. "Every day in Jamaica is nice, every day, but this is the best fun I've had in a long while. One love."
Boy Better Know take on A$AP Mob, Stone Love and Rebel Sound at Earls Court on Oct 30 2014. Redbullcultureclash.com
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Ekua King