The dancehall superstar’s latest mixtape is the best of every facet of his work, from slow-wine ballads to summery head-bangers. It’s a testament to his place at the forefront of the genre.
The version of Popcaan’s newest project Fixtape that’s on major streaming platforms is a star-studded, 19-track project that, in many ways, mirrors the music that the artist born Andrae Sutherland has released over the last six years. It’s dancehall that is aware of global trends, while still serving up tracks to the loyal core of listeners that have been around since he was a young protégé under the tutelage of Vybz Kartel’s Gaza. There are appearances from the rising Jamaican singer Jada Kingdom, Popcaan’s former Gaza teammate Tommy Lee Sparta, French Montana, and Drake, whose OVO imprint released Fixtape. There are peaks and valleys that see Poppy go from slow-wining to head-banging to a handful of uplifting ballads that detail his ascension to dancehall royalty. But to experience Fixtape in all of its glory, listen to the 90-minute, 30-plus track version that exists as a singular mix (handled by popular sound system Chromatic) on Popcaan’s SoundCloud. It is the best way to fully engage with and assess Popcaan’s stellar range, which encapsulates the dancehall of the past, present, and future.
In its mix form, Fixtape is framed as an epic tale in which Popcaan shares moments along his route to dancehall’s most prominent torchbearers. Instead of starting with the self-produced “Chill,” the SoundCloud version begins with melodramatic piano strokes, almost reminiscent of the theme song to The Young and the Restless. Those key hits grow into a symphonic instrumental adaptation of Popcaan’s 2011 hit “Only Man She Want,” and soon after, the first two non-Poppy voices you hear are a drop from incarcerated icon Vybz Kartel and audio of Drake’s praise at the first Unruly Fest in December 2018. Though even novice Popcaan listeners already know these affiliations, starting the project in this way is like flexing for the mirror, a moment of self-affirmation before proving it to the world. So it makes sense that the first song on this version of the tape, “Killy Dem Crazy,” is Popcaan trying his hand at Nas and Diddy’s Trackmasters-produced classic “Hate Me Now”—the perfect “fuck whoever don’t like it” gesture.
Unlike Popcaan’s earlier, more conventional releases, Fixtape is an all-access pass inside contemporary dancehall that explores how its reach spans across much of the global Black diaspora. His debut album, 2014’s Where We Come From, was guided by an autobiographical narrative and gained the favor of international listeners due to its incorporation of pop-leaning production. Four years later, his second album, 2018’s Forever, was mostly comprised of easily listenable stories about pursuing love interests and the spiritual favor he believes The Almighty has bestowed upon him. At the tail end of 2019, he released Vanquish, a low-stakes inaugural OVO release that, if dropped this year, could have followed the new in-quarantine trend of being a deluxe version of Forever.
Fixtape has elements of each of those releases. There are plenty of breezy, wine-inducing tracks like those that helped Popcaan break through to non-Jamaican markets. “Twist & Turn,” with production from dvsn’s Nineteen85 (responsible for “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling”), feels like it could be Popcaan’s breakout international hit. Were it not for this COVID-themed summer, the song likely would have enjoyed a “Work” or “One Dance” type of run at cookouts, bashments, and day parties. On “Suh Me Luv It,” he recruits singer Jada Kingdom for a seductive duet. By the time you get to the end of the project, Popcaan’s signature ballads serve as beautiful send-offs. On “Bank & God,” he’s distrustful of friends and family, but also reflective. “My Way” closes the project, where he sings, “Wi used to suffer, now ah everyday wi celebrate/Nuh money cyan ever mek wi segregate/Dawg man ah come from sardine, but nowadays, ah steak” while proclaiming that he is ready to accept all blessings. But in between these bookends are songs that demonstrate why Fixtape is arguably Popcaan’s strongest offering yet.
If you follow Popcaan on Instagram, then you’re well aware of how much his everyday life feels like a reality show: riverside excursions with friends, hilarious interactions with his mom Miss Rona, the clear indication that community (peers, collaborators, family, and beyond) is crucial to his well-being and that he never wants to be away from it. Before Fixtape, his ethos was never really displayed in the music. But at every turn of this project, you feel like you are either inside of the studio session or in the actual dancehall experiencing this firsthand. Contemporary Jamaican music stars like Protoje and Lila Ike check in throughout, while members of the Caribbean diaspora like Giggs, Kano, and Casanova show up to let Popcaan know just what a living legend he is. When whoever is on the mic hits their stride and wows everyone else in the room, you can hear the shouts of their peers in the background as Chromatic wheels the tracks back to their beginning. And when Popcaan goes over beats from stateside peers like Meek Mill’s “Uptown Vibes,” DaBaby’s “Rockstar,” or N.O.R.E.’s classic “Nothin’” you get a peek at his taste outside of the Jamaican music sphere.
Fixtape suggests a guide for contemporary dancehall artists (who, unlike Popcaan, rarely ever drop full-length projects) on how to cater to their base while simultaneously amplifying their voices internationally. It also challenges hip-hop artists in the States to get back to their underground roots for the sake of fun. Before this, Album Popcaan and Loose Track Popcaan acted separately. On the albums came the love songs, the songs that people who found Caribbean music through Drake could get down with. Loose Track Popcaan hops on popular riddims, gives you gunman tunes, and doesn’t care about who outside of the Jamaican diaspora gets it. But here, we get both, and it’s the best way to experience the full depth and grand scale of Popcaan.
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