It’s a numbers, hits game
Veteran music executive encourages dancehall acts to remain viable
On the heels of controversy concerning comments he made under a post by producer Rvssian, veteran music executive Murray Elias has started a larger conversation about the state of dancehall commercially on the world stage.
In this, the second instalment of a two-part interview with the Jamaica Observer, the founder and CEO of Mill Rock Music Publishing charged that dancehall acts need to do more to secure their place in the North American market.
“Afrobeats is just far more viable. And I thought I made that very clear in my comments when I said, even if unity in the dancehall were to happen, the Afrobeats artistes are better songwriters, better singers, better artistes, than what’s coming out of Jamaica. And being better, I mean more commercial on an international crossover level. I was specifically talking about the crossover music in America,” said Elias.
He continued: “Well with the exception of the two current records that are on the radio [Byron Messia’s Talibans and Teejay’s Drift] in America, none of these artistes are signed to major labels and none of these records/songs coming out of Jamaica have gotten on the radio. Talibans and Drift have crossed over to urban radio and not Top 40/Pop radio. Without that extra piece of Top 40/Pop radio, these records are not going to get bigger.”
Asked why, with all the social media platforms around, contemporary dancehall had not sold anywhere near their counterparts from the 1990s and early 2000s, Elias shared: “We live in an era where people are streaming and not buying music. You’re really more loyal to Spotify than to an artiste. It’s a different way that people are consuming music in 2024. Another reason, those records were club records, played in reggae, hip hop, pop, top 40 American clubs. Most of what’s happening out of Jamaica isn’t played in the clubs. Jamaican dancehall was very popular in the clubs back then.
He said that the music has evolved over the years, with dancehall losing its place in the entertainment crossover space.
“Reggaeton really came into its own in the early 2000s. Dancehall was crushing reggaeton particularly with radio, sales, and major label interest. Around 2010, reggae lost the vibe, it lost the dancing vibe, the beats became trap dancehall beats, club DJs stopped playing reggae music coming out of Jamaica and were only playing the classics. And there was reggaeton waiting in the wings. Every DJ started playing it. Dancehall lost its spot and gave it to reggaeton, and now Afrobeats is sharing that spot with reggaeton. But until the music changes for the better, and starts to make party records, danceable beats, and start making records that men and women can dance to, the reggaeton and Afrobeats will continue to dominate in the American crossover markets in terms of streaming numbers and radio play.”
Elias went on to discuss the availability of deals and the information that undergirds access the to grasping of economically beneficial opportunities.
Said he: “There has been a number of major label signings in recent years — Shenseea, Jada Kingdom, Byron Messia, Teejay, Protoje, Stefflon Don all have enjoyed label deals. And Protoje, Stefflon Don and Jada Kingdom have been dropped because they were not able to come with radio hits or change numbers. I think what’s happening right now in the major label/dancehall sphere is because, in the last few years, Jamaica has finally gotten on board with iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify and with YouTube, that there’s data coming from Jamaica, and A&R [artiste and repertoire] people don’t understand the Jamaican culture, nor the dancehall vibe. They’re looking at data coming from Jamaica, they don’t listen to the music. They are data-driven.”
He suggested that industry players better align themselves with the metrics of the music landscape.
“The teams behind the artistes are not qualified to deal with labels the way the team behind Sean Paul was able to navigate the major label system and keep the music happening and hot, and keep it to its dancehall roots. And, as a result of that, the artistes who got signed recently are being dropped. The jury is still out on artistes like Masicka, Shenseea, [and] Lila Ike. Let’s see if they can come through with any real radio hits. Teejay and Byron have had some breakthrough radio success and some halfway decent streaming numbers. But nothing compared to Afrobeats or reggaeton. Again, in the US, and I am not comparing reggaeton and dancehall to streaming numbers in Latin or South America and I’m not comparing dancehall and Afrobeats to streaming numbers in Africa. In America, Afrobeats outweighs streaming numbers to dancehall and the same reggaeton in America. The numbers are not even close,” the champion of Jamaican music forms said.
Still, Elias reasoned that music success remains a hits game: “We’ll see if Teejay and Byron can follow up their hits with other hits. I know how difficult it was working with Sean Paul to follow up a radio hit with other radio hits when you’re working with reggae and dancehall.”