Jamaican music insiders hit back after exec claims Afrobeats has ‘better’ artistes than dancehall-reggae
Jamaican entertainment industry insiders have rubbished claims by veteran music executive Murray Elias that dancehall and reggae acts cannot compete with Afrobeats due to inferior talent, production values, access to marketing resources and overall creativity.
Commenting on an Instagram post by World Music View on Saturday regarding producer Rvssian‘s statement that Afrobeats is in trouble if dancehall acts should unite, Elias lambasted the industry, saying: “First, dancehall and unity are oxymorons. It will never happen. Secondly, even if it were to happen, the Afrobeats artists are better songwriters, better singers, better artists than anything coming out of Jamaica. And by better, I mean more commercial on an international crossover level. Also, the Afrobeats Music Industry is well-funded and well-run, and the major labels see where it makes money.”
Elias is known for his work with Super Cat, Cutty Ranks, Sean Paul and his association with Mill Rock Music Publishing, which he started a few years ago with Christoffer Schlarb, CEO of Dubshot Distribution.
During his rant, Elias negatively critiqued the selling power of several dancehall artistes who signed deals recently. He observed that they have produced projects which have underwhelmed commercially, and are yet to turn a profit for record labels or realise any major chart successes. He brazenly called all of them flops, name-dropping high profile names like Shenseea, Protoje and Lila Ike.
“All the (recent) dancehall signings have been flops or the jury is still out…Protoje and Lila Ike flopped,” he said.
Music executive Maxine Stowe acknowledges that while some of Elias’ comments ring true, his savage take-down of dancehall-reggae is an unfair assessment.
“It’s the volume of sales that is the substance of the issue. We have a creative geographical advantage in the American/British creative and business global domination, based on our history being an English colony and being the largest English speaking island with an active influential diaspora in both markets.
“We don’t have a population advantage and, with our innovation so tightly linked to American music trends and technology, we will always be creatively infusing their trends and technologies – (for example) Trap Dancehall,” Stowe told Observer Online.
Stowe pointed to the huge populations of the countries who produce Afrobeats music which was itself inspired by dancehall and reggae music.
“The leading countries in Afrobeats/African Beats are Nigeria with 230+ million, South Africa 43+ million, Ghana 34+ million. That’s a 300+ million people producing base. So with Jamaica having 2.8 + million, one could reasonably say that Afrobeats has a deeper well to reproduce from and also create a larger selling momentum from their domestic base after being fertilised by Jamaica. That they have displaced Jamaica in the US/European markets are witnessed facts, they have also made substantive inroads into the urban markets, how different has their effect been than Cali Reggae?” she asked.
Stowe is well-known in Jamaican music through her working relationships with Studio One, Black Roots/Youth Promotion, Skengdon, VP Records, Columbia Records/SONY, Island/Motown/Universal, Ghetto Youths International/Tuff Gong and Solomonic Records. She was an integral part of the international success of artistes such as Shabba Ranks, Diana King, Lady Patra, Super Cat, and Mad Cobra.
Meanwhile, Clyde McKenzie, founding general manager for Irie FM and media consultant, says “being more successful doesn’t necessarily mean being better.”
He told Observer Online, “Murray is a seasoned hand in the business but I try to avoid comparisons between genres. Africa definitely is in the ascendancy at this point but artistes from Jamaica still serve as the inspiration for those on the continent. Sure we have to acknowledge the success of (South African singer) Tyla but Jamaican acts such as Teejay are collaborating with African acts. I think though there is a distinction between quality and viability.”
Music producer and well-known publicist Ralston Barrett rubbished Elias’ points and accused the music exec of trying to sow the seeds of division between Afrobeats and dancehall-reggae artistes.
“This man is obviously trying to create division between us and our African brothers. He needs to stop talking rubbish. Who’s more creative than Jamaican artistes? Jamaica is one of the most influential countries in the world when it comes to music and culture. Almost every other popular genre of music in the world today borrowed something from dancehall and reggae,” Barrett shot back.
Free People Entertainment chief executive officer Cabel Stephenson said that Jamaicans are creators of original content so he is not worried about Elias’ comments.
“We don’t fear Afrobeats, we are happy for their success. It is well known that Afrobeats has copied dancehall and reggae, and infused a lot of Jamaican riddims to make their own Afrobeats music. They use our phrases, they create around our drum patterns and basslines. I will concede they have better investment, more resources and they are a larger community…when you put their diaspora together in the UK, Canada, Asia and US, their numbers are huge so it is impossible to compete with that diaspora. But even their success can only make our music itself get bigger because we are the originals,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson, who has worked closely with acts such as The Gladiators, Max Romeo, and Toots Hibbert, said that Jamaican music creators need not hang their heads in shame and disappointment at their anaemic sales figures.
“We have developed music that has rocked the world and influenced different genres like reggaeton and Afrobeats, and even hip hop are derivatives of our culture. Jamaica has punched way above our weight class and we have gained international attention, our creativity and influence must not be overlooked,” he said.
Stowe said the displacement of music genres is a global phenomenon and the fact that dancehall artistes are still being signed augurs well for the local genre.
“I read somewhere recently that non-English music is displacing English music as well in the English markets however all this is still controlled by the same companies!!! Dancehall artistes are still being signed and I’m looking forward to the upcoming Island SPACE Genealogy event to explore all and sundry,” Stowe said.
She also warned that outsiders and outside influences cannot be allowed to create their own narratives regarding the value and relevance of black creative music.
“The trap influence in dancehall has had a profound effect on its lyrics. It’s not melodic and even these US trap artistes are vilified in their own spaces. The problem is that we can’t even put together a national museum to express ourselves so people can and do make up their own narratives,” Stowe said.
A number of Jamaican artistes such as Masicka (Def Jam), Popcaan (OVO), Skillibeng (RCA), Shenseea (Interscope), Koffee (Columbia UK then RCA), Protoje (RCA), Jada Kingdom (Republic Records), Teejay (Warner Music Group), Chronixx (publishing with Island Records, then own label, Soul Circle Music), Sean Paul (Island Records), and Lil Ike (RCA) have all been signed to major labels in the past five years with varying degrees of success.
Elias singled out Shenseea for a bit of vitriol, saying she is yet to have a bonafide hit record.
“And despite all the hype and all the money spent (and a sh**tload of money has been spent), Shensea (sic) has yet to have a bonafide hit record on her own. She has had a lot of high-profile features on other people’s records, but her records have all been flops,” Elias observed.
Elias has a decorated career. He got his start in music as a club DJ. He worked with Island Records subsidiary Mango Records, and with producer Joe Gibbs. Elias later did production, promotions and marketing for independent label Sleeping Bag Records, followed by a stint at Profile Records where he signed Cutty Ranks and Barrington Levy as well as the duo Frighty & Colonel Mite, who scored a Billboard R&B chart hit with Life is What You Make It in 1988 .
After doing production for Tommy Boy Records, he moved on to Priority Records, an American West Coast rap label, before a 10-year stint at VP Records.