Photo: Destinee Condison
Popcaan Talks 'FIXTAPE,' Working With Drake And The Globalization Of Dancehall And Reggae
Popcaan is on a mission to spread the good vibrations of dancehall around the world. He might do exactly that via his latest release, FIXTAPE.
Released last month (Aug. 7), FIXTAPE sees the Jamaica-born star taking dancehall into rap and R&B territory with the assist of some key collaborators: French Montana, PARTYNEXTDOOR and, most notably, Drake, whose OVO Sound label released the project.
For Popcaan, who sees the worlds of dancehall, reggae, rap and R&B as part of the same extended family, the Drake link has been instrumental for the rapid growth of his own career as well as the international expansion of dancehall itself.
"By being around Drake and the whole connection, it gave me a lot of exposure," Popcaan tells GRAMMY.com via Zoom from East Jamaica. "We have a chemistry where music is concerned and whatever we do, it's always [about] just [doing] something great … It's a very great link, and it's very good for my culture as well."
The cross-genre approach has helped Popcaan climb the U.S. charts—FIXTAPE peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Reggae Albums chart—and reach new global audiences.
"It definitely speaks across the world," the deejay/singer says of FIXTAPE, which is his second mixtape, adding that the dancehall genre as a whole is also expanding with "more and more people getting to listen" to the Jamaican-made style of music.
As global genres like Afrobeats and K-pop, boosted by the ubiquity of streaming services and YouTube's universal reach, continue to rise around the world, the industry is looking to Jamaica as the next pop cultural breeding ground. Can it happen?
Popcaan says yes.
"I want dancehall and reggae music to be out there just as much as hip-hop and R&B," he reflects. "I want it straight across the world, and not just me. I want a lot of stars just popping up, and I know that they're coming from my culture. That's my dream right now."
GRAMMY.com spoke with the dancehall star about the global reach of FIXTAPE, his personal relationship with "big bro" Drake and the Black Lives Matter protests in Jamaica.
Last month, you released FIXTAPE, which dropped on Unruly and Drake's OVO Sound label. Pitchfork described the project as "dancehall that is aware of global trends." Do you think FIXTAPE speaks to global audiences beyond the dancehall fan base?
Yeah, it definitely did, because it's a mixture of different genres. So it definitely speaks across the world.
What I took away from what the writer was saying is that a lot of audiences are turning to dancehall and reggae, maybe for the first time ever, with both genres becoming globally mainstream lately. Have you seen your genre grow beyond your audiences in Jamaica and audiences in that region?
Yeah, definitely ... even with myself, as an example, [and the] things that I've accomplished ... Even my London concert—there's no dancehall artist that ever pulled so much people in London. Every day, I think it's getting better. More and more people getting to listen.
In terms of genre crossovers, FIXTAPE features a lot of cool rap and R&B collaborations, including songs with Drake, French Montana and PARTYNEXTDOOR. What is the relationship between dancehall/reggae and rap/R&B? Do you see a lot of crossover within these sounds and the fan communities that follow these genres?
Yeah, I think it's the same thing. It's like a family. Like you're a family with five brothers, and different people branch off and do different things. But at the end of the day, it's family. This is why I was thinking [to] connect and make music with a rapper, an Afrobeats artist, and a R&B artist. Because at the end of the day, the music is supposed to be a uniting thing.
I love that. Speaking of family, you joined Drake's OVO Sound family in 2018. Tell me about your personal and working relationship with Drake. What does he add or bring to your music?
By being around Drake and the whole connection, it gave me a lot of exposure. We have a chemistry where music is concerned and whatever we do, it's always [about] just [doing] something great.
Separate and apart from that, Drake is like my brother, like my big bro. When we're not working, we can have a bite like a family, same way. We chill, we party. We share experiences with each other about when we was growing up and our musical journey. It's a very great link, and it's very good for my culture as well.
Does Drake come out to party in Jamaica with you and your crew?
Let's talk about Jamaica a little bit. It's been a big year for reggae and the wider Jamaican music community. This year, the reggae community is celebrating the 75th birthday of Bob Marley, who is a giant icon in the genre.
Yeah, and we also lost an icon, too.
You did. So this year, you have a beautiful celebration of Bob Marley and a big, tragic loss with the recent death of Toots Hibbert this month.
Yeah, that's the way the universe works.
Indeed. Can you tell me about your relationship with those two artists? Did they have an influence on you growing up or on your music?
You know, everybody listen to Bob Marley and Toots' music. I just have to say I appreciate what they did for the culture and for the music, and I hope their souls rest in peace and they're just always [keeping] their memories active. Because a lot of those songs is even older than some of my friends and some of my kids, and they're still playing today. Both Toots and Bob Marley played a major role within our music. I salute both of them.
Absolutely. I think Bob Marley and Toots Hibbert have both left behind a big legacy in music. Have you thought about what kind of legacy you want to leave with your own music?
Well, I don't think about dying, so ...
Too soon to think about that?
I don't think about those things. I think positive things, fam.
Good. I like that.
I'm already creating a legacy, so I know that it will be a large one.
Let's take it back to Unruly Fest, the festival you launched in 2018. What was your original vision for the festival?
First of all, St. Thomas Parish [where Unruly Fest takes place] is the poorest parish in Jamaica. I'm from St. Thomas, and we don't have certain things like other parishes. So I was planning this show for a while because I wanted to shed some light on [St. Thomas]. Give people reasons to go [to] St. Thomas.
When we did [the concert], it was very successful, and the second year was even bigger. It even do greater than what I expected because at the time when I was planning that show, I didn't even meet Drake. So everything just fall into place really well.
That concert is like one of the biggest concerts in Jamaica right now, and it's just the second year. People always looking forward to it. Even though it's a pandemic, people asking, "Will there be Unruly Fest?"
I saw that Jamaica opened its borders to visitors and travelers in June. Given that we're in a pandemic, does it look like Unruly Fest is going to come back for 2020?
No, we're not keeping it this year.
You've got to keep it safe, huh?
Yeah, I'm trying to stay on the safe side.
That's smart. Who is your dream guest or guests for Unruly Fest? Who are some of the artists you would want to bring out to the festival when it returns?
Honestly, I don't have a dream guest. Unruly Fest is a place that anyone can pull up; it's that kind of festival. I would love [for] every big artist in the world to be there—to share the experience and feel the vibe.
I was watching videos from Unruly Fest 2019, and I saw that you came to the stage flying on a crane like a Jamaican Superman. How are you planning to top that entrance for the next Unruly Fest?
[Laughs.] Well, I've been thinking about it, but I can't say what I will do. But I know I will top it when the time comes.
In a recent interview with the New York City radio station Hot 97, you talked about the protests against racism and police brutality happening in Jamaica. You said something that really stood out to me: "Jamaicans share the same pain as Americans … a lot of Jamaicans feel it when those things happens." What did you mean by that?
Because in Jamaica, we're so strong on the American culture and we have so much friends and family in America. Our people listen to a lot of hip-hop music, so they're in tune to what's going on in America. When things happen in America, it have an effect in Jamaica as well, especially things like those [events]. Because in Jamaica, we share the same struggles as well. Police shoot innocent youths here all the time, so it's the same thing.
Absolutely. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are only two of the many Black citizens who were killed at the hands of police recently, two events that have sparked protests across the U.S. And even though they happened in America, it sounds like those events impacted Jamaica.
Yeah, man, definitely. It's a madness all around. Everyone was upset about it as well in Jamaica. As I told everyone in previous interviews I did, we have to just protect ourselves and our families. Black people need to support each other, and as a new generation, we need to stick together to help shape the mindsets of generations to come.
You have a lot in the works in the visual front. You have a few music videos coming up as well as a documentary you're shooting in Jamaica. Can you tell me about the music videos you're currently working on?
I'm in Jamaica right now, and there, they're shooting a music video for a song on this album that is called Unruly. We out there just doing that music video right now; we're almost finished … I'm also working on some videos from off my FIXTAPE, but I won't say which ones yet.
Tell me about your upcoming documentary. What's the story you're trying to capture in the film?
There's a documentary that I'm going to do on my own life story. But this documentary that I'm doing now is just like a prayer documentary—something that gives people motivation. They can listen to it when they wake up, they can listen before they go to sleep. So it's just like a reference documentary, just meeting fans and praying.
Obviously, you're a big music star in your homeland. Do you feel like the Jamaican community looks up to you as an artist and as a role model?
Yeah, of course. Definitely. A lot of people look up to me, but not everybody. And that's the way the world is. Not everyone is going to look up to you or appreciate what you do. So you have to just appreciate yourself and appreciate the love that you get.
Reggae, dancehall, Afrobeats are all really blowing up right now across the world. Where do you want to see your genres, specifically dancehall and reggae, go next?
I want dancehall and reggae music to be out there just as much as hip-hop and R&B. I want it straight across the world, and not just me. I want a lot of stars just popping up, and I know that they're coming from my culture. That's my dream right now.