JAMAICA: Where We Come From - Popcaan
Updated: Apr 23
Redefining the genre with a unique tenderness, Popcaan's debut album deservedly launched him into the global public conciousness
For most people, one's teenage years are instrumental in forming and developing one’s own music taste, as it is an opportunity to gain exposure to sounds and styles that you may not have grown up with in the family home. In my early adolescence, reggae music, particularly an unending love and fascination with Bob Marley, was pivotal in guiding me towards my other major musical revelation of my youth. Having befriended fans of music from across the spectrum, with lovers of grime, R&B, and indie rock in my immediate circle, none of their recommendations tickled my fancy so much. However, through a friend of mine with a great interest in dancehall music named Max, I was fortunate to be shown numerous artists who I inexplicably clicked with.
“I felt able to enjoy the album in a different way to other dancehall music which was purely based on rhythmic satisfaction.”
Around the age of 16, I remember listening to dancehall music on an almost daily basis and yet feeling embarrassed to share my taste with other friends. Why this fear, you might wonder. Well, as a chubby, glasses-wearing, middle-class white boy with sufficient amounts of teenage angst, I was of course scared of being ridiculed for my love of the rather aggressive beat and lyrics of the likes of Collie Budz, Stylo G, Busy Signal, and Elephant Man. I had enough self-awareness to realise that being caught ‘wining’ would not be a good look for me, and felt that it would be best to keep my enjoyment of genre under wraps amongst a select few who also bizarrely felt an affinity to the music even though it largely spoke to issues facing the ghetto youth in Jamaica rather than teens like me.
Nevertheless, there were two artists on my radar who I felt were softer in their style and made me feel less ridiculous when dancing and singing along to their music in my bedroom as a teen. An old school name, familiar to anyone with an interest in the genre, that I always loved was Beenie Man, but it felt like so few other artists were making music like his, with Popcaan being the marked exception to the rule. Although I massively enjoyed the hit Clarks in which he featured, his association with the East Coast vs West Coast style feud amongst the Gaza and Gully crews initially meant that I failed to recognise the difference between Popcaan and others of his generation. Nevertheless, I continued to gain interest in his music before the release of his debut album, popping up on Snoop Dogg’s Lighters Up in 2012, releasing a series of singles that sounded distinct from other dancehall music. Songs like Only Man She Want and Mi Unruly were slower and almost romantic in a way that I had rarely heard in the genre before.
Then came Where We Come From, an album which felt like a statement distancing himself from the nonsense of Gaza leader Vybz Kartel who had just been sentenced to life imprisonment on a second murder charge. Instead, this album felt like he was talking to the ghetto youth of Jamaica by reaching across the world making music that might appeal to people like myself. In creating a softer, globally-accessible album, some might argue he was abandoning his ghetto roots, but instead I feel he was creating a message of self-empowerment. By being unashamedly connected to emotions, rather than male posturing and bravado, which of course has its place in dancehall music, I felt able to enjoy the album in a different way to other dancehall music which was purely based on rhythmic satisfaction.
The album itself has eight tunes in particular that I love. Setting the slower pace on Hold On, he carries this forward throughout. There is a romantic vulnerability that is brilliant on Waiting So Long, Number One Freak and Love Yuh Bad. Popcaan addresses important themes in a manner that I love on tracks like Ghetto (Tired of Trying) and on the summer anthem The System. The title-track Where We Come From and Everything Nice are however my favourite songs on the album and it is no surprise they both gained Popcaan such popularity across the world. I remember seeing a video around the time of the release of a Canadian teenager named Lucas DiPasquale covering some of the songs in an acoustic melody and the fact that it worked so beautifully indicates how Popcaan’s album was almost transformative within the genre, reaching audiences it struggled to before.
This is not to say, however, that this is Popcaan’s best album. Simply that I have a great affinity with it. After Where We Come From he released a series of singles in a completely different style that I arguably prefer. Popcaan evolved into producing numerous feel-good hedonistic hits such Weed Is My Best Friend, Never Sober, High All Day, Stay Up and Still Feel Good before the release of Forever in 2018 which is arguably a more complete and accomplished album musically. Nevertheless, for the time in my life in which it was released, Where We Come From was instrumental in me relinquishing shame about my music tastes and therefore will always hold a special place in my heart.