Three ages of reggae: Popcaan

Our timeline of reggae concludes with an interview with the man behind 2014’s finest dancehall LP.
Popcaan celebrates making 2014's sweetest dancehall record
Popcaan is making dancehall nice in 2014 © Ekua King
By Hattie Collins

Throughout August, in the build-up to Notting Hill Carnival, we’ve been exploring the evolution of reggae in three distinct phases. First, we heard from Vincent ‘Vin King’ Edwards on the Jamaican scene’s emergence in the 1950s with the introduction of the King Edwards sound system. Then, King Jammy took us through the 70s and 80s, up to the birth of dancehall.

Which brings us to the present day, and the face of dancehall in 2014: Popcaan.

Where We Come From, Popcaan’s debut album, came out on Mixpak earlier this year, and showcases an artist who draws on the genre’s roots while also spinning it into something totally fresh. Ahead of Mixpak’s appearance on the RBMA Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival, read on to hear about his problematic but patriotic relationship with Jamaica and how he’s stretching dancehall beyond the confines of party music.

Popcaan: The future

’Nuff people say Jamaica is the worst place. We have a saying where I grew up, ‘The best come from the worst’. It’s a small place, very small, people say all kind of bad things about it. But I feel it’s how people try to paint a bad picture about Jamaica – why? So much positive things come out of Jamaica. They say Jamaica is a violent place. People come and party and they say ‘If you go to the garrison people will come shoot you’. It’s people trying to say bad things – why, when we have good vibes?

It always best for people to fly into Jamaica and get their own experience and not be fooled by other people’s words. Some places are bad, some places are good. But you go round the world and travel, it opens your mind. It made my mind wonder, music taking me all these places you would never expect to see. I see that regular. When I was shooting the System video, I was in Waterhouse and people who are arch enemies, I had the whole of them in one yard. Everybody was like, ‘How you do that’. It’s because I’m music. Nothing else.

In the early stage of my music, I used to do them clash lyrics the same way because that was the way to reach out. Within that time there were big wars and gully wars, so we always had to defend our camp, so we been through them things and them things bring ’nuff exposure. The street clash draws people from all over.

But my album, now, it’s a mixture, you know. It’s a different side right now; it’s not really a party album. It’s a different side of Popcaan. About when I was growing up and my musical journey and things a ‘Gwaaning inna di ghetto’, the sufferation worldwide. I’m talking about real life things; sufferation, the worldwide struggle that people face. By being so much places in the world, me realise nuff tings. You see the system; black people, white people, Chinese people, Indian people – it’s a worldwide struggle and with my voice I can reach out to ’nuff people. And then we have a few tracks for the gyal dem ’cause we can’t do nothing without them; you can’t forget the women, they’re everything!

Right now I don’t have no limits. Im just trying to reach the ultimate mark right now of being one of a household name to where, years to come, people always remember Popcaan and Popcaan music for bringing some classic music and for helping the youths to communicate and help their family. My music is more inspirational, definitely. It’s motivation for the youth.

The Red Bull Music Academy Sound System hits Notting Hill Carnival on Monday, August 25.

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© Ekua King
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