• Danny Wiser

ST VINCENT & THE GRENADINES: Kevin Lyttle - Kevin Lyttle

Updated: Feb 3

Proving himself to be more than just a one hit wonder, Soca star Lyttle proves collaborations might be the key to international stardom

Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, a country whose name already sounds like they could have been a successful doo-wop band in the 1950s, was put into the forefront of the global public consciousness in 2003 by two phenomena. The first Pirates of the Caribbean film, which came out that year, was shot on the archipelago. Its stunning landscapes were shown off to the world, but people were reminded once again of the West Indian nation throughout the year whenever they went shopping, went clubbing or inevitably when a taxi driver turned on the radio thanks to one of its citizen’s international hits. Whilst the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise continued to be a huge success in the box-office in the subsequent years, so too did Kevin Lyttle’s Turn Me On, and I think I know which I prefer.

“Whilst the genre is the lifeblood of the country as it is played at festivals and the epic sounding Vincy Mas, the country’s main carnival, the nation seemingly benefited from Lyttle’s infusion of other styles within his music and collaborations with artists from other nations.”

As a child growing up, unbeknownst to me this soca sound would be one that I would grow to love. Whilst it is certainly untrue to say that Lyttle’s sound is an overtly soca one, as he infuses other genres to perhaps make his music more palatable to markets that at the time were completely unfamiliar with the genre, it would be unfair to suggest that this was not the first time ever in which soca-infused rhythms deservedly gained international recognition and launched a song from the genre into superstardom. Turn Me On captured the attention of listeners from all over the world due to Lyttle's uniquely high-pitch voice and ability to flex across different octaves. One must remember that this was in a world before the mass use of autotune, that's to say before many artists would rely on technology to manufacture an inauthentic sound that was sold to the mass-markets.

Although like most of the music on his self-titled release, there includes some crooning R&B lyrics, Lyttle succeeds in making Turn Me On sensual and seductive enough that it is great for wining and grinding on the dancefloor. He hits the sweet spot of appearing keen and confident without being overly creepy like he does in some of his other songs as he tries to recapture the glory of the opening track. In the US and Europe this track acted as the precursor for dancehall artists with a similar, albeit perhaps more raunchy, message such as Sean Kingston and Fuse ODG to be played alongside popular pop and hip-hop tunes that swept across the younger generation in the following two decades.

One would assume that Lyttle falls into the category of ‘one-hit wonder’ and although commercially he pretty much does, despite the relative success of Drive Me Crazy (feat. Mr. Easy) on this album, I would argue that there is another song of as high-quality as Turn Me On. Whilst, I enjoyed tracks such as Dance with Me (feat. Trey Songz) and I appreciated the inclusion of the steel drums at the intro of My Love, it was his cover of Terrence Trent D'Arby's Sign Your Name that really blew me away. By increasing the tempo and adding a Caribbean base rhythm to the track, he massively improved the original in my opinion.

Yet, although he of course energised the American popstar’s hit with a new life force, Lyttle does things at his own pace which massively separates it from much modern-day soca. Although the genre doesn’t originate from Saint Vincent, in the 1980s producer Frankie McIntosh totally revolutionised the genre with the raga soca movement and its slower paced style. Although in the 2000s power soca took over, Lyttle did not follow the masses and thus his music fell firmly into the first camp. Whilst the genre is the lifeblood of the country as it is played at festivals and the epic sounding Vincy Mas, the country’s main carnival, the nation seemingly benefited from Lyttle’s infusion of other styles within his music and collaborations with artists from other nations.

Various Jamaican MCs feature on this album, including Assasin AKA Agent Sasco who has since featured in tracks by Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. His decision to invite the ever-growing in popularity Spragga Benz, who appears on my favourite Stephen Marley song Iron Bars, seems a wise one. This is because, as many artists from the smaller island nations acknowledge, the only way to get big is by using Jamaican and Trinidadian artists as a cultural conduit to be heard in the US. Like many small nations, despite having their own rich culture including being the birthplace of the Garifuna culture, Saint Vincentian musicians heavily rely on others outside the nation to help promote their work. They are trapped in a system in which each region of the world seems to have their key players on the music scene who help distribute music from other nearby nations, for example Mali for the francophone nations in West Africa. This over-reliance is a shame as there are inevitably artists as talented as Lyttle scattered across the Caribbean who just need that bit of luck that their music will break through in Jamaica and Trinidad before they can dream big. That said, I am of course not wishing to take anything away from Lyttle; I look forward to drinking some of Saint Vincent's famously strong rum and dancing the summer evening away on the islands hopefully in the not too distant future.