“people love the rage and the energy!” popcaan on clash culture
Ahead of tonight’s Red Bull Culture Clash in London, the newly crowned king of the dancehall discusses Drake, OG clash heroes and Jamaican youth.
Having never been to England or Europe before (due to visa problems), Popcaan is nonchalantly humming Hotline Bling to himself (in homage and playful dedication to Drake, whom he refers to as a brother) whilst sipping Hennessey and cutting dubs at Red Bull Studios in preparation for the annual Red Bull Culture Clash on Friday night. Where, along with his labelmates at Mixpak, he'll be up against UK grime heavyweights Eskimo Dance, UKG All stars (a supercrew made up of the cream of the UK garage scene) and Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang.
Despite his longstanding dancehall-celebrity status back home in Jamaica, it's only over the last couple of years after co-signs from Kanye, Snoop Dogg, Pusha T, Busta Rhymes and most famously Drake, that he's been catapulted cross-genre into the international charts.
Popcaan's sugar-sweet vocals and pulsating riddims have most recently reached the masses through his recent collaboration with Drake on the whine-an-grind summer anthem Controlla, indicating that dancehall is having a long overdue comeback.
How does it feel to be in London?
I got here yesterday. I've seen a lot already.. It's a very good feeling. I've been wanting to come to London for a long time and I've got a lot of friends and family outside of music here. It's very good to be here. God is good.
How did you end up linking with Drake?
Some of my friends from Canada who have Jamaican connects introduced Drake to my music. A couple of years ago I released my mixtape Yiy Change and around the same time I did the track Only Man She Want, he liked them a lot so he invited me to his OVO fest and me and my friends went there. From there we started living like family. He knows all my people, I know all his people so, we keep a closer link than other rappers mi work with before.
You're in town for the Culture Clash, when was your first clash?
My first experience in a clash was hearing a cassette tape of a soundclash, I was living at my grandma's, I was about 9 years old. I used to love that tape very much. I was playing it one day and it reeled out so mi fix it with nail polish, like what you wearing. So I made a clash. I can't really remember which song it was but it was high energy.
So it's in your blood, basically?
Yeah, I used to clash for other people on the stage in school and things. I used to keep doing concerts in class. It's an innate thing, I used to DJ in church and at school.
Who are some of your OG clash heroes?
Ninjaman, Super Cat, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Merciless… he's the undertaker. With sound clash I always like Killamanjaro, nowadays it's all about Fire Links but the undisputed clash champion is Vybz Kartel.
How did you start your weekly night in Jamaica, Unruly Clash Wednesdays?
I was at this studio and there was some youth there telling me that they want to DJ and want me to record them. My friend came along, he parked his car there, and Fire Links was asking for some dubs so we play their CD and make them clash on the street. And that's where it started, near this place called Shocking Vibes Studio, when you come to Jamaica and you wanna find clash, that's where you go.
Why do you think that clashing is still so important for the youth and the culture?
Because there's nothing really there. Nuff youth nuff sound clash, nuff money, DJ clash, nuff money. It's a very important thing. If you have two artists on the show, more people will go to that show than just a normal performance, because people love the rage and the energy a clash can have.
Your songs are sweet, they're either about girls or giving thanks, you're never really trying to front?
I realised from when I was young that I was a leader. When I'm making my music I choose not to say certain things, words are powerful. I won't sing about going to jail or dying young because it's fiction. I will never sing about certain things because I'm always trying to educate my audience in the best way I can.
Who are some up and coming Jamaican artists we should check out?
We have a youth called QuanDaDon and Jafrass, those are some youths that we're working with at the moment. Animosity as well, he just won the soundclash last week. You are going to be seeing a lot from Unruly Entertainment, this is our family.
Text Samira Larouci
Photography Rosie Harriet Ellis