Another night of Hip Hop music in this city of Kingston is almost upon us! Often, I wish there were more spaces with such an energy, but its absence from the local scene is what makes events like Made You Look truly unique. Two weeks ago, we had to, unfortunately, postpone the first staging of this new series. It was quite disappointing, especially because it was supposed to mark our return to hosting events after two years of no Pay Attention. My father always used to tell me every disappointment is God's appointment. I used to dislike hearing this after losing a football or basketball match, but the saying has a lot of meaning and relevance.
A tiny detail in the history of Pay Attention that has never been documented, and was even forgotten by myself, is that its very first staging was intended to be March 17, 2012. On the day before, we were notified of a health inspection at the venue, which would result in the place being closed. The first Pay Attention was then held on April 21. I remembered this only because I still have one of the very first flyers. It's interesting how none of us remembered this postponement. I believe, moving forward with Made You Look, we will forget about the recent postponement. And I will go as far as saying that it was meant to be. That parallel at the start of both these series shows me we are on the right track and we are about to start something else that will be epic.
Pay Attention got its name because we wanted people to simply pay attention to the local Hip Hop scene. Also, we didn't charge admission at first, so all you had to pay... was attention. After approximately three years, we felt like we got people to do just that. And that's why now we are saying Made You Look! We said Pay Attention and we Made You Look.
I'm sure the Hip Hop heads will notice the title of the event is the same as a popular Nas song. That is, indeed, where we got the name. In fact, it was one of the options for the name of our December 2012 stageshow, The Takeover. We liked the name since then even though we had not used it, and our new partner, Nanook Enterprises, also loved it.
Interestingly, Nas' song samples Apache by Incredible Bongo Band. This is one of the most sampled songs in the history of Hip Hop and was one of the first break beats that DJ Kool Herc looped up at his parties. Given our movement's recognition and embrace of DJ Kool Herc because of his contribution to Hip Hop as a Jamaican, it makes perfect sense that our event is named off a now-classic single that flipped Apache.
I'm anticipating a great night at Made You Look. I hope to see our regular patrons and supporters and I look forward to sharing the highlights after.
It has been two years since Kingston has seen a genuine Hip Hop event, the last being the party and showcase series Pay Attention, which went on hiatus after March 2015. Its organisers have now partnered with Nanook Enterprises to present another unique series, Made You Look, on Saturday, April 29 at The Haven, 12 Hillcrest Avenue.
Made You Look – set to mark the fifth anniversary of Pay Attention’s April 2012 genesis – will feature Hip Hop and R&B selections from Inztinkz, DJ Stamma and DJ Zanj. The event, to be hosted by The Sickest Drama (TSD), will also showcase live graffiti art and breakdancers from the Demolishun Crew. Admission is $500, and $300 with valid student ID. Gates open at 8PM.
TSD, the host and one of the organisers, says, "Everyone who has been following our movement knows we bring the essence of the Hip Hop culture.” He also adds, "A lot of parties in Jamaica feature a Hip Hop segment that is lacking for any real Hip Hop head. You hear the same past and current hits, sometimes in the same order at each event. As lovers of and practitioners in the culture, we can't settle for that and we seek to fill the void for our community and other like-minded people."
Joan Webley of Nanook says, "We're pleased to be working with the Pay Attention team, also known as The Council. This has been a long time coming and I'm happy that Nanook is a part of this local Hip Hop movement. This is also one of the first events that Nanook will be having outside of the space to which our supporters have grown accustomed."
Sponsors of Made You Look include local cable entertainment station, HYPE TV, the New-York-based ArkHouse Music Group and Gambling House Recording Studio.
"Be the change you want to see in the world."
This quote, often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, is excellent advice for all. As for artists or creatives, I believe it is important for each one to have a vision. One must know his or her direction and be guided by some philosophy. Many of us have ideas and emotions we want to share with others, however, sometimes, we are plagued by doubt, lack of resources and even basic infrastructure to execute some of our projects in the manner we envision them. Nevertheless, we must create. After all, it is what we do.
It can be frustrating as a lover of art – or in this case, more specifically, music – to experience monotony. In recent times, I have observed many who felt that way about the entertainment scene here in Kingston. Having grown tired of the typical party options, as well as some of today’s popular Dancehall, these people desired and flocked to alternative events and spaces.
This shift, I believe, is part of what gave rise to the ‘Reggae Revival’. And by this, I mean not so much the group of artistes we associate with the term, but the increase in live Reggae shows circa 2010 – 2013, followed by the spread of Dub events, which seem to have replaced the live shows. The Revival is a part, and is one of the first signs, of this shift, which is a deviation from the norm – Dancehall.
Another sign of this shift is the increased popularity of Soca among Kingston’s partygoers and the emergence of EDM events. I am neither predicting the demise of Dancehall nor do I want to see it, but there are clearly growing audiences of people attending events that may be new, unique or simply not the popular option. As an organiser of what has been Kingston’s most consistent Hip Hop event – Pay Attention, which ran from 2012-2015 – I know how hungry people are for a different experience and how satisfied they are when they discover it. I also saw it while playing my role in Manifesto Jamaica events during 2010-2011.
I never ever thought I would be a ‘promoter’. (That is why I always refer to myself as an ‘organiser’.) But it was Manifesto Jamaica that thrust me into that position and gave me the impetus to later start a Hip Hop event with my partners, since we wanted something like that to attend, as well as a platform to perform our music. The journey with Pay Attention has been incredibly fulfilling and it has taught me that if you build it, they will come. (Not saying you don’t have to ‘promote’ lol).
The Pay Attention team aka The Council (Photo by Yannick Reid)
In recent times, I have been pleased to attend other events that I would consider ‘different’, and most certainly, bold. In 2015, I had fun at Turn Up, a Trap and EDM party held by Innovo Entertaiment. I would love to see another. To me, it was very much a Hip Hop party, which is always welcome. Also, starting in that year was The Listening Party, a producer showcase series I am most excited about. The beatmakers featured on the three stagings so far have ranged from Hip Hop to EDM to Dancehall and I’ve enjoyed the event each time.
Another fresh series, New Wave, has a Making the Beat segment, which allowed the featured producers to not only play, but talk about their instrumentals. It also had an AUX cord segment in which anyone from the crowd could play a song they like. I found that interesting.
On Thursday nights, I like to pass through the live jam at Constant Spring Golf Club. It’s free, the bar has very reasonable prices (surprising for such an ‘uptown’ place), and sometimes, I want to hear some Rock, Blues etc. I wish the Poetry Society of Jamaica fellowship was every week, but whenever I am not in the studio on that last Tuesday of the month, I do my best to be there.
There are a quite a few alternative options for entertainment in Kingston once you keep your ears to the ground. Sometimes, I hear people – mostly those outside of my creative circles – complain that everything is the same. But they are the ones that think what radio plays is the only music out there and the events advertised are the only ones happening. I do not blame them for they know what they are exposed to. These are the people hungry for something different. So, build it, they will come.
I believe now is the time for any creative with a vision of something out of the ordinary to bring it to life. Let nothing stop you. You have something. And there are people out there that want it. You may have to go and find them. But at least build it, they will come.
Inztinkz of The Council / Pay Attention and Joan Webley at Nanook (Photo by Machel Witter)
Now into the month of May in 2015, Jamaica's premier Hip Hop event, Pay Attention, which started in April 2012, has officially passed the third anniversary mark. It has been an interesting journey, to say the least, and I have no regrets about how it has turned out. There has been a lot of progress, lessons learnt, ups and downs and even back-and-forth among my partners as we have worked on creating this one-of-a-kind experience for the local Hip Hop community. We have come a far way and I believe we have achieved much of what we set out to do.
For a movement that the average Jamaican did not know existed, our event alone has captured reasonable attention in the local media. From JamaicansMusic.com (Jamaican Hip Hop artistes leaving you with no option but to pay attention) to the Jamaica Gleaner (Jamaican Hip Hop commanding attention) to The Star to Hype TV (November 2013 Highlights) to CVM at Sunrise to KLAS ESPN 89 FM and Hot 102 FM, we've received exposure in every form of media - print, television, online and radio. It may not be everywhere or in the most popular outlets, but Hip Hop in Jamaica has never gotten so much of a spotlight, and much of it has centred around Pay Attention in recent times.
We have also succeeded in building a stronger local Hip Hop community over the past three years. Rappers and crews are not as isolated as they once were and they are learning that there is strength in unity. What is beautiful about the unity being developed is that the common thread among all is simply a love for Hip Hop and the shared experience of being a rapper in Jamaica. All sorts of styles, perspectives and personas are welcome; but we endorse microphone skills!
We have seen many amazing performances, a packed venue at times, as well as local celebrities and personalities in attendance. We have connected many people and helped to forge new friendships, collaborative relationships and business partnerships. We have even turned doubters into believers who now profess their love for the movement and their faith in its talent.
This is no time to pat ourselves on the backs, however. We have come a far way, but we still have farther to go - not just Pay Attention as an event, but the local Hip Hop scene as a movement. There is more ground to conquer, locally, and most definitely, internationally.
We need more events that cater to our audience and community for us to truly have a 'scene'. We need more bloggers, photographers, vidoeographers and other people who will play essential roles. And our local Hip Hop artistes also need to put in the work - hone their crafts, study the business and move professionally in branding, marketing and promoting their music. The world is at our fingertips with the internet and much progress can be made if it is used correctly.
Will Pay Attention continue for another three years? Does it need to? Time will tell. But what I do now today is that we have a bright future. And it will take much more work to get there. I'm prepared for it though. Are you?
Let's make the world Pay Attention!
This piece was originally published as Thoughts on Jamaican Hip Hop Pt.2, in April 2012. I have revised it slightly and re-posted it on FiveSteez.com as the first entry in the #FirstCoastChronicles as I believe it provides some historical background for the Hip Hop movement in Kingston, Jamaica. In no way is this supposed to be a summary of everything that occurred in the local scene... just my thoughts, particularly as it relates to local Hip Hop shows.
Just yesterday, I told a female friend of mine about Pay Attention, an upcoming Hip Hop party and showcase series that some friends and I are staging (#PayAttention! - The New Musical Experience, Pree Jamaica). The fact that there would be a Hip Hop party in Jamaica was obviously a surprise to her. She had never heard of such a thing and that is exactly why I am proud to be associated with this event and this movement, in general.
I grew up on Hip Hop. I have two older brothers who listened to a lot of Hip Hop so my introduction to the genre came very early. The older I got, the more I delved into the music. By age 14, I was studying the craft of MC'ing, jotting down punchlines during school hours and recording my verses at home on my family's computer. As much as I loved this art and culture, I fully understood how odd my musical tastes and choices were compared to the majority of my peers, who only listened to what was popular.
Throughout most of high school, I was the only rapper I knew. Fortunately, I connected with Simo-B and later, Nomad Carlos, Shermon Dadz and Sosa when we formed The Bulletproof Army (BP) in late 2002 while we were in 5th Form at St. George's College. Finally, I had friends who were as passionate about the music as I was and I was motivated more than ever to write rhymes and make music.
Beginning in January 2004, BP released frequent mixtapes. At the time, we knew of no other rappers or groups except for a handful with which we had little interaction. By 2005, we began frequenting Gambling House Recording Studio (GH), which has been a 'Mecca' for local Hip Hop, as most Jamaican MC's have worked, passed through or hung out there at some point. At GH, I met Wall$treet, who I learned, saw themselves as the '2nd Generation' of local Hip Hop, being that they were students of Keystone, the first local Hip Hop group I have known to have an album in stores. We, as BP, were the '3rd Generation' of local Hip Hop. I also met the super-producers Damien and Inztinkz (also our elders), who shared a lot of local Hip Hop history with us.
For the first, I felt like I belonged. We felt like we belonged! We found so many other rappers who influenced us and as a result, we formed a new view on Jamaican Hip Hop. No longer were we alone. We were a part of a community.
In 2007, Nomad Carlos and myself attended an event at Up on The Roof in New Kingston, to give out some of our CD's. There we saw a performance by two local rappers. Never before had we seen a performance by local Hip Hop artistes so we knew we had an opportunity at this series of events. We made contact with the promoter and BP was booked for the following month. This was our first performance as a group (Simo-B and myself had performed before) and in my own humble opinion, it was the ushering in of a new era for Jamaican Hip Hop.
Our first show at Up on The Roof went excellent. We brought a much larger crowd to the event than ever before and we closed the show with a bang. Still feeling excited and encouraged, I, and some other rappers, made contact with some organizers of the weekly Tuesday Nite Live, which was held at Village Cafe. The following month, they held a show that incorporated local Hip Hop, including BP. I guess it went better than expected because not too long after, there was a full Hip Hop show! I had never seen Village Cafe so packed in my life! For approximately four months, between Up on The Roof and Village Cafe, there were a total of 4 events that went well, one each month, with the venue alternating every other month.
One of the organizers of Tuesday Nite Live, Julia Vaz Campbell was overwhelmed by the amount of local Hip Hop talent and raw enthusiasm that she witnessed. It wasn't long before she teamed with DJ Boyd (if Jamaica has any true Hip Hop DJ, it is him) to begin a movement they called Da Underground. Julia and Boyd invited numerous rappers to be a part of something and institutionalized regular rehearsals at our designated meeting spot, GH, which was common to so many rappers. They both had a vision to propel our movement into notoriety but could not acquire the sponsorship they desired. One staging of Da Underground was held at Weekenz in 2008 but for various reasons, it never had the impact of previous Hip Hop shows and was never held again. This initiative dissolved not long after.
In 2009, The Sickest Drama (TSD), one of my peers from GH, began working with Two 9 Xclusive, a promotional company that held weekly events on Sundays at Moulin Rouge on Constant Spring Road. Being the MC that he is, he brought in numerous Hip Hop artistes to represent week after week. This weekly event lasted for months but eventually ceased.
In 2010, I began working with the non-profit youth organization, Manifesto|Jamaica, which staged ART'ical Exposure: Rhyme & Reason in September. Dozens of rappers represented on stage and it was surely the biggest local Hip Hop event since the last show at Village Cafe three years earlier (ART'ical Exposure turns to rap, Jamaica Gleaner). Manifesto also showcased Hip Hop artistes such as myself and Shaq the MC on its Festivals of ART'ical Empowerment in both 2010 and 2011 but it is Verse: The Art of Rhyming, of which I am most proud. As a special feature at the monthly Poetry Society of Jamaica fellowship, myself, Shaq the MC and Kabaka Pyramid had a cypher that lasted around an hour, if not more (See Pree Jamaica's highlights Pt1 | Pt2). Nothing like that had ever been done before locally and I can tell that the experience of witnessing that has stuck with some of the people who were there. It must also be noted that Shaq the MC was one of the organizers and the host of Jamaica Vibes, which was a regular live music show that went on for many years at Weekenz during the 2000s. While it was not a Hip Hop show, Shaq would often freestyle on stage and the event featured Hip Hop performers often.
Now in 2012, I am happy to see local Hip Hop artistes, producers and supporters coming together for Pay Attention. Too many times, the organizers of Hip Hop events, or events that include us, have been outsiders and I believe this is why they have not lasted. They were not sustainable in the beginning and first and foremost, there was no community ownership.
Pay Attention is owned and organized by members of the community for the entire local Hip Hop scene. I hope to see this event prosper and flourish to become the meeting point for all lovers of Hip Hop music and culture. In due time, I would love to see more events like it and many more opportunities for local Hip Hop artistes.
It's time... Peace!