Many Dancehall fans are making a big deal of the fact that with Vybz Kartel behind bars, his most recent protege, Popcaan, is stepping out of the "featuring" slot to take over as the interim Gaza king. But the truth is that even before his incarceration on suspicion of mulitple homicides Di Teacha had been getting outshined by Popcaan on tracks like the Summertime riddim, where his tune "Raving" became the biggest crowd pleaser over Kartel's titular voicing. While it may be true that Mavado is unabashedly taking advantage of Kartel's absence to release a slew of new tracks aimed at winning back the top slot in Dancehall, Popcaan occupies a different role: that of the party prince. Previously this position has been held down by younger incarnations of Beenie Man and Mr. Vegas. Popcaan's brand is based around "raving": partying and drinking while rocking oversized fitted hats, Clarks and "cut off foot pants" (which in the U.S. might be referred to as "capri pants", but hey). The sound, perfectly matched to the carefree image, is sunny Island Pop dominated by his high-pitched, froggy, slightly autotuned voice and trademark "Yaawwww!". Lets take a look at a few recent tracks:
American audiences who didn't catch "Raving" last Summer are probably going to get their first taste of Popcaan through "Only Man She Want" over the next few months. The single, with it's earwormy vocal hook and tinny synths, has achieved both of the biggest early indicators of a potential U.S. crossover Dancehall hit: airplay on New York's Hot 97 hip hop station and a remix featuring Busta Rhymes. The video distinguishes itself mainly as the first time a Dancehall star has appeared in their video wearing a leopard-print cardigan (!).
Meanwhile judging from recent Dancehall mixes, the biggest tune in Jamaica for Popcaan so far in 2012 is the raving anthem "Party Shot" (which was originally titled "Party Shat", a bit of patois spelling which was wisely changed for the single release). The song is basically a remake of "Raving", and it is pure pop crack. Producer TJ cribs the almost-Celtic sounding synth line from rival producer Stephen "Di Genius" McGregor's recent hits, and Popcaan sounds like he's having a blast over-pronouncing the fuck out of words like "M-16" (though it boggles the mind why he would want to advertise himself as being "like one STD" beside it completing the rhyme). Again, not to come at his personal style too hard, but, in this video Popcaan wears more white capri pants and drinks more apple vodka than a bunch of Connecticut cougars out for a night on the town.
Lastly there is "Get Gal Easy", a straight up mid-tempo banger produced by Dre Skull, a young Brooklynite who has made the surprising leap from being a hipster "tropical" DJ to a certified dancehall hitmaker with this and the riddim for Vybz Kartel's "Go Go Wine". Here holds back from trying anything too fancy, letting minimal snares and a slinky, dubstep-inspired bassline do most of the work until the last minute where the track expands a bit. Popcaan shows us that not only does he get gal easy but he also easily eats beats like this.