Popcaan is a former protégé of dancehall’s most popular and vilified artist, Vybz Kartel, who recently received a life sentence for murder. In 2010, Vybz and Popcaan (and boss chick Gaza Slim) released “Clarks,” fete-ing the popular line of British footwear. It was the cherub-faced, sweet-voiced emcee’s official coming out, legitimizing the success of the candy-coated club hits he’d go on to release.
There were rumours the Toronto rapper would feature on Poppy’s long-awaited debut, Where We Come From, but there’s really no place for him. Instead of a singles-stacked album of unruly, rave-ready anthems, Popcaan (with the help of Mixpak visionary Dre Skull) delivers a slick, minimal cri de coeur of the Jamaican ghetto — tempered by a few cheeky love songs.
Some of these we’ve already heard, like 2012′s rise-up anthem, “The System,” which finds Popcaan waxing conscious over the aerated synths of the Loudspeaker Riddim, and “Everything Nice,” a somber ode to sipping your drink and getting by – and one of the best songs of the year. But there is also “Hustle,” and the clear-eyed and chipper “Evil.” On the former, sweet-voiced Poppy calls up a gruff, badman flow to match sneering compadre, Pusha T; on the latter, he implores listeners to cast out jealousy and “bun bad mind” over Dubbel Dutch’s collision of airhorns, Moog squelches and undulating drum programming.
Popcaan is one of the more interesting figures to emerge from dancehall, not just because of his ability to transcend genres and borders (like Sean Paul) or his loyalty to the plight of “the ghetto youth dem,” (Beenie Man and Baby Cham explored “conscious” themes at a similar point in their respective careers), but because his music doesn’t sound like it was made in a vacuum. Where We Come From chooses its own pace, takes a softer approach to dembow and borrows strategically from the boudoir synths of current rap&b. It’s street-minded but lacks menace, conscious but not moralistic and libidinous in all the right ways — and it gets the point across without resorting to dancehall’s often-troubling homophobia. Dancehall fans, unite.