Friday, 8 April 2016

The Mis-Appreciation of Jamaican Culture

Now I know I'm using mis-appreciation in the wrong context but you're just gonna have to see with me and basically deal with it. I like the title and the sense it makes in my head more than I care about my colonial tongue. This is why I love speaking slang. They stole my language so I'm misusing theirs. Seems like a fair trade to me which is more than can be said for the slave trade...

There have been more than a few examples of non-Jamaicans practicing the fruits of Jamaican culture over the past few decades. Something that seems to have risen in popularity over the past 12 months. I don't beat this appropriation drum. I believe the difference between appropriation and appreciation is in the intention of the person using it, in my opinion. I believe most victims of "Appropriation" hounding committed their "crime" from a place of appreciation more often than not. Maybe I don't understand it well enough, maybe I'm naive but I don't see most of them thinking "I'm white, so I'm gonna do this stuff I don't like from another culture to make money". Business people who boost it are a different story. And the media's way of reporting is a different thing too.

First up I wanna start with this whole "Islands" thing. It needs to stop. That and "Tropical vibes" are so reductive. Contrary to (reasonable) popular belief, Jamaica is not the Caribbean. Its just the only English speaking one you'll never say "I'm going to the Caribbean" because you don't wanna hear "Oh niiiice. Where's that?" Actually, maybe Barbados falls into that category too, but Jamaica is definitely the most known English-speaking Caribbean island all over the globe.


And this idea that dancehall and reggae is only for clubs and the summer is another one we need to get rid of. Dancehall and reggae both carry themes beyond the Western view of palm trees, beaches, sunshine and laid-back Rastafarians. Jamaican music is very much a reflection of the culture and its people. It's the voice of communities. They talk about good and sad times. Spiritual and evil sides. Badman, badmind and gallis perspectives are often on the same riddim. They aren't music to smile or smoke to all the time. I think it's important to note this so more voices are allowed to be heard and respected in context on wider spectrums.

For instance, when people talk about "punk rock" attitude being dead or lack of real rebellious music nowadays, they don't even realise the same "islands" music dancehall and reggae with its "tropical vibes" carries that same sentiment. Look no further than Kabaka Pyramid, Chronixx, Jesse Royal, Protoje, Jah9 and them people there.

So anyway, onto today. We'll start with our first honorary Jamaican - Drake. Now Drake is a man who hasn't hidden his love for Jamaica and its culture; from posting stuff on social media (quotes and pics) to working with Jamaican artists (Popcaan and Mavado). I think he really took it to another level last year to the point where it never came back. On "Blessings" with Big Sean, he used the popular Jamaican slang "I'm way up". Even "I feel blessed" is a Jamaican thing in the same way "brethren" is spiritual but Jamaicans brought it into everyday language.



"Way up" became one of the most used phrases of last year but how many know its origins? You had Travis Scott say "I'm way up... Stay up" on Justin Bieber's album which is another step in the direction of Jamaica. I can't even say he doesn't think he created that because it isn't the most creative rhyme, however he's still behind what Jamaicans were doing before him. So in a sense, that could be where ones appreciation results in appropriation.



And yes, I do believe cultural appropriation exists within "black culture". Mainly because I don't believe a "black culture" exists. I don't think everything a black person does contributes to black culture. There are something's that crossover but most starts in one place based on that place not the race. Black Americans don't consider anyone else "black" anyway.

Americans are often credited for things Jamaicans do or things they don't acknowledge Jamaica's influence and Jamaican culture remains marginalised by the places black Americans can take it meaning the original context is lost more time. And black Americans are the most visible black people so borrowing from other cultures with lesser visibility can lead to erasure of its creators.

A photo posted by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on


Which takes me on to hip hop's king of Snapchat, DJ Khaled. Another guy who has been an appreciator from day. Been to Jamaica, DJ'd at Jamaican stage show Fully Loaded back in the early 2000s, made a cameo in Jamaican cult classic Shotta's, has a solid collection of specials, signed Mavado, and bigs up Jamaican artists and music via that same Snapchat.

But his use of Jamaican/Rasta talk "Give thanks to the most high", "Lion order" and "Bless up" aren't given their due credit. He casually says "Bless up. That's just my everyday greeting" on this interview with ABC News. Even sells "Bless Up" t-shirts and slides. Makes no mention of where he got it from though. Others will use it  thinking DJ Khaled came up with it, not its Rastafari origins.

Speaking of Rastafari, Jahstin, sorry Justin Bieber has been catching flack for styling his hair in "dreads" or "dreadlocks". Naturally, there's been backlash in the comments, on other social media platforms and obviously think pieces.

A photo posted by Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) on

This comes about a week after a black American was filmed antagonising a white chap for having locs (can watch it here). If the kid wants to wear his hair like that, who are we to say he can't? If you don't like the look, that's fair enough. Is his decision from a bad or exploitative place? Doubt it. That's all that matters to me.

Yeah, there's an issue with media praising Justin Bieber (I haven't seen it but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist) and criticising Zendaya, but is that Bieber's fault? But how about we talk about black people who cuss The Weeknd's hair but fought back against a white person talking about Zendaya's hair. Was it 'cos a white person said it?

And anyway, "dreadlocks" and "dreads" are both Jamaican terms. "Dread" (short for dreadful), "dutty (dirty) dreads" and "natty (knotty) dread" were derogatory names for Rastafarians. "Natty" and "dread" have both been spun on their heads into the normal terms we know today to where "Dreadlocks" has become the common name for locs. They weren't the first to wear locs, but Jamaicans were the ones that turned it into a political and fashion statement. black America's equivalent was the afro. And that nah wear like one time.

Then we go on to one of Justin Bieber's recent number 1's, "Sorry". Obviously a dancehall riddim with other influences. Skrillex produced it, I think he likes the music. He's been to Jamaica a couple times with Major Lazer, Diplo's his mate, he worked with Damian Marley and Ragga Twins (and another dancehall artist who shall remain nameless for the moment) so an educated guess says he's an appreciator. I believe Bieber has a thing for Jamaican music. I know his manager, Scooter Braun does.



But anyway, the dancehall choreography for the billion times viewed video is a natural nod to the song's inspiration. However, certain sections of the media decided to label it Tropical House. Tropical House exists, Omi's 'Cheerleader' is an example of it, so is its imitation Justin Bieber's 'What Do You Mean?' 'Sorry' is not the same sound. This, again, is the "erasure" people talk about.

Going back to our brother Drake, his new song One Dance is blatantly dancehall yet some people are calling it afrobeats because Wizkid is featured mumbling something (while sounding like a Jamaican). And "Pop Style" is the other new single. Pop style is a Jamaican term.

Lastly, arguably the song for summer sixteen, "Work" by honorary Jamaicans Rihanna and Drake (again). It doesn't matter how many vocal haters this song has, no song has girls rushing to the dance floor, Snapchat in hand like this right now. Rolling Stone tried to put this one under the trendy Tropical House banner too, causing many pieces hitting back at the claim (for example and another one).



Once again, even if you didn't know before, you know that's why all purpose journalists shouldn't cover non-pop music. They're inept. I still dunno why editors don't have a better phone book of journalists that can do the job for certain types of music.

Another thing that annoyed me when this song dropped is the amount of non-Jamaicans trying to call it Caribbean/Islands vibes. It isn't. It's Jamaican. Rihanna is Bajan and loves dancehall but don't get it twisted in a "They are all one in the Caribbean". There has been a lot of  criticism of Jamaica by fellow Caribbean islands. A lot of people the other islanders fought against dancehall because it's unruly, and a bad influence and representation of the region to many. Like wise, many believe Jamaica brings shame to the region.

Let's get this straight; I'm cool with anyone using dancehall. Many dancehall songs sound like soca. There's no issue with that as far as I'm concerned. But dancehall is indigenous to Jamaica. Sound system culture too. Don't try co-opt Jamaica's positives then leave the island to dry when its something negative. That's fassy behaviour.

And the people who take the mick cos they don't understand what Rihanna's saying (granted the chorus is a bit muffled but the rest is perfectly clear to me), practice a little bit of patience and respect instead of ignorance and Western privilege calling it gibberish.

So basically, what I'm saying is big up everyone who loves the culture. Big up everyone who helps to spread it. But to the middle people who misreport and misrepresent the culture, they are "they". Stay away from "they". "They" are the ones to blame. Give credit where credit is due.

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