The night I chat to Popcaan there's a big album launch party in New York in his honour, but he's roadside in Jamaica (he doesn't have a visa to the States), on his way to the weekly clash night he puts on. "We pon di main road now if you hear vehicles driving fast, y'kna?" he tells me, before greeting passers-by with, "Why pree? Auntie, wha gwan?" Despite being hailed as Jamaica's biggest new dancehall star, he's clearly still a low-key local boy. The new album shows off his sense of humour, his wicked way with words and his ability to put out a sex-laden party track (singing "Ya pussy pretty like the building dem a Canada" in Love Yuh Bad), but there's a core of socially conscious anthems here that also establish him as a sensitive and smart singjay for the ghetto, most especially its youth.
Once known as Vybz Kartel's protégé, Popcaan is now a boss in his own right. And with his powerful debut album, he's out to prove that he's more than just a raving king.
This past Easter the diminutive dancehall star Popcaan turned up at an outdoor stage show in Ocho Rios and drove the crowd wild singing hits like "Unruly Rave," “Party Shot,” and “Only Man She Want.” Then his DJ dropped "Everything Nice," the first single from his debut album Where We Come From, due to be released June 10th on Brooklyn-based Mixpak Records.
The slow-burner, produced by New York DJ and beatmaker Dubbel Dutch, was a marked contrast to the more uptempo tracks that have made Popcaan a huge star in Jamaica since his former mentor Vybz Kartel was jailed for murder charges in 2011. Kartel made Popcaan (born Andre Sutherland in 1988) a household name by making him part of his Portmore Empire crew and including him on the 2009 worldwide smash "Clarks." But much has changed since then.
Back in Ochi, Popcaan sings only the first line of his introspective new song and then dashes off the stage, leaving the crowd to finish singing each and every word of the tune. "That's one of the biggest songs in Jamaica," he says later, decked out (of course) in some custom Clarks Desert Boots. "And it's not even on the chart. When people see them thing there them just say, 'Yo, why them fight Popcaan so much?'"
William Shakespeare knew what he was talking about when he wrote "Uneasy is the head that wears the crown." Stepping out from under Kartel's wing hasn't been easy. Although he bigs up the "World Boss" every time he steps on stage, some have accused Papi of disloyalty for linking with former Kartel rival Mavado, collaborating with Snoop and Pusha T, or politicking with Drake and the OVO crew—as if a youth from a place called Gangster City should not make a better life for himself and his family.
Like many Jamaican artists before him, Popcaan's experiencing some tension between his local fans and a newfound international audience. But his debut album is a powerful piece of work that might just bridge that gap, even as it presents a whole different side of the artist formerly known as "The Raving King." In his first major interview for the record, Popcaan talks about Where We Come From, and where he's going. Here comes the Unruly Boss, straight up—or as he would put it, "traight."