Words by LargeUp Crew
Illustration by Spliffington
Caribbean sounds have been all over the radio recently. Only, it’s not Caribbean artists who are getting their music played, it’s pop artists borrowing from dancehall, etc. that are getting the spins. Now, we’re all for a good homage, as many of these tracks have been, but not without credit being given where credit is due. And judging by the glaring omissions we’ve seen in the media’s coverage of these songs, a lot of people are missing the picture. So we thought we’d provide a little cheat sheet.
For our latest Apple Music playlist, Original Thief Ting, we’re spotlighting some of these recent hits, alongside their original sources. No judgment — just history, and context. It’s the least we can do.
NEW SONG: Tory Lanez – “Luv”
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Tanto Metro and Devonte – “Everyone Falls In Love”
Tory Lanez would have been five years old when deejay Tanto Metro and singer Devonte made “Everyone Falls In Love” in 1997, and seven when it “crossed over” in 1999, reaching No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100 — just old enough to be nostalgic for it. Lanez went all of the way to No. 20 with “Luv,” which doubles down on the dancehall influence with a beat loosely based on 1998’s Bookshelf riddim. But it’s the revival of Tanto Metro and Devonte’s hook that’s made the song a hit across North America, Europe and even in Jamaica.
NEW SONG: Fifth Harmony and Fetty Wap – “All In My Head”
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Mad Cobra – “Flex”
Fifth Harmony, the girl group from The X Factor, have a new album, 7/27, rife with dancehall influences. Their “All In My Head” featuring Fetty Wap is a bubble-gum homage to the beachy, slackful vibes of Mad Cobra’s 1992 hit “Flex.” Cobra’s “Flex, time to have sex!” chant has been referenced by everyone from Phife Dawg to R. Kelly, but perhaps never so extensively as on this Summer 2016 smash.
NEW SONG(s): French Montana and Nicki Minaj – “Freaks” + Krept and Konan feat. Jeremih – “Freak of the Week”
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Doug E. Fresh feat. Lil Vicious – “Freaks”
’90s dancehall nostalgia has been a thing for a minute now. Predating the pop world’s fixation by a few years, French Montana and Nicki Minaj plundered Doug E. Fresh and Lil’ Vicious 1994 hip-hop x dancehall classic for a similarly-named collaboration in 2013. And Vicious’ “Some gal ah freak, some gal ah freak of di week” chorus was co-opted once more last year by Jeremih and English rappers Krept and Konan, on “Freak of the Week.” The DJ Mustard production juxtaposes one dancehall classic with another, specifically the Blackboard riddim produced by Jeremy Harding for the likes of Beenie Man, Sean Paul, et. al. You know the one.
NEW SONG: Pitbull (feat. Sensato) – “El Taxi”
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Chaka Demus & Pliers – “Murder She Wrote”
“Murder She Wrote” will never die. Sly and Robbie’s riddim lives on in reggaeton and dembow, and Chaka Demus & Pliers’ lyrics keep landing in songs like Omarion, Jhene Aiko and Chris Brown’s “Posed to Be.” Pitbull, no stranger to jacking dancehall or jacking classic songs for new hits, bridges the gap with his Spanish translation, “El Taxi,” featuring Sensato and Osmani Garcia.
NEW SONG: Cheat Codes & Dante Klein – Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On)
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Kevin Lyttle – Turn Me On
St. Vincent’s Kevin Lyttle took soca all of the way pop with “Turn Me On,” a major crossover hit that circulated for nearly three years in the mid 2000s. Over a decade later, LA’s Cheat Codes have updated the song for the tastes of white millenials. We guess this is what they mean by tropical house?
NEW SONG: Selena Gomez – Like a Champion
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Buju Banton- Champion
“Champion” is one of Buju Banton’s most iconic tracks, a song that helped bring him wide attention after its release in 1994. But who would ever guess that this yardman anthem would wind up in the hands of a bubble-gum pop queen like Selena Gomez?
NEW SONG: Fifth Harmony – “Gonna Get Better”
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Vybz Kartel – “Gon’ Get Better”
It’s about time that the broader music industry recognized Vybz Kartel for the great pop songwriter that he is. 2015’s super slept-on “Gon’ Get Better” is a song so radio-ready that this fairly faithful cover hardly sounds out of place on an album by a Simon Cowell creation like Fifth Harmony.