Words by Richard “Treats” Dryden
Last year, we noted a wave of TV commercials featuring the sounds of dancehall and reggae, including a Spike Jonze-directed Kenzo perfume ad with the attacking vocals of Assassin/Agent Sasco, an LG commercial with Jason Statham featuring Busy Signal’s “Everybody Move”, and even a Nike ad with a dash of Bounty Killer.
It seems that the trend of Caribbean-inspired TV spots (or, as we’ve dubbed them, “Bashmentisements”) is continuing into this summer, too. If you tuned into Game 2 of this month’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, you would have have caught the primetime debut of Bacardi’s new “Break Free” commercial. The ad features the song “Front of the Line,” taken from Major Lazer’s Know No Better EP, featuring the voices of Machel Montano and Konshens in a 30-second spot. The same night (and throughout the NBA playoffs) you also could have heard the classic sounds of “You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff and “Cool Runnings” by Bunny Wailer, which appear in a pair of Corona spots, respectively dubbed “Beach In A Can” and “We Make Summer.”
It’s yet another instance of Caribbean music crossing over in a non-traditional way. This year, we’ve also heard the voice of Jamaica’s “Singy Singy” Tarrus Riley dueting with Elle Goulding on Major Lazer’s “Powerful” in a Hulu promo, while Popcaan turned up in a Coca Cola commercial using Jamie XX’s “(I Know There’s Gonna Be) Good Times”). And an honorebel mention goes to U.K. reggae producer Prince Fatty (Hollie Cook, Protoje), whose dub flip of Ol Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” landed in a Samuel Adams Summer Ale ad (after previously appearing in Breaking Bad). Jus Now and Bunji Garlin also earned a spot in the international TV trailer for The Fate of the Furious.
The era when Jamaican artists like Sean Paul, Elephant Man, and Beenie Man topped the pop charts with authentic dancehall sounds is long gone, but Caribbean sounds have returned to the mainstream through rappers (Drake, Tory Lanez, Ty Dolla $ign) and pop singers (Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande) adopting classic dancehall choruses and rhythms into their music. While this phenomenon has definitely surged over the last year and a half, nostalgia for classic dancehall is an evergreen trend. In 2013 and 2015, “Freaks” by Lil Vicious and Doug E. Fresh inspired collabs between French Montana and Nicki Minaj, followed by Krept & Konan’s freaky record with Jeremih. The Original Mumma Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” has been inspiring revivals by rappers and hip-hop producers since the 1990s, and it was also used by Reebok in a 2014 commercial.
There is something special about hearing reggae and dancehall that makes it resonate more than your average TV jingle. The organic creation of music in the Caribbean is built off of improvisation—freestyling if you will—where greatness has been historically created by the simple elements of a unique voice and an addictive rhythm. Advertising is the antithesis of this in many ways, not just because they have bigger budgets behind their product, but also because there are more cooks in the kitchen from the brand to the ad agencies invested in creating something as short as a 30-second TV ad.
Subverting that notion is Bacardi, one of the largest international brands of Caribbean origin, which did more than simply license music for their “Break Free” ad. Every time the featured track, Major Lazer’s “Front of the Line,” is streamed on Spotify, it generates studio time for a select group of Caribbean artists in the Music Liberates Music program, including Bajan soca singer Shanta Prince and Jamaican dancehall artists Mystic and Shokryme. “The Bacardi and Major Lazer partnership provides deeper impact than your average pop music partnership,” says Zara Mirza, who has the interesting job title of global head of creative excellence for Bacardi.
In the summertime, it’s a no brainer to air commercials that reflect the season, just as radio stations have often added Caribbean sounds into their rotations as the weather gets warmer. Hearing Hopeton Lewis sing “Take it easy, take your time” from his 1966 rocksteady classic in Corona’s “Home” commercial encourages people to immerse themselves in all that the good weather has to offer. In a similar sense, Bacardi’s decision to feature Caribbean sounds in its summer promotions clearly is not random. The rum brand is staying ahead of the curve by working with Major Lazer to develop a new wave of talent, rather than capitalizing off nostalgia—and that’s definitely not a bad thing.