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Hip hop music makers

Talented musicians embrace popular genre

Hip hop music makers
Talented musicians embrace popular genre

By Harry Cutting

Hip hop music is performed the world over, and The Bahamas is no exception. This young music style, with its characteristic rhyming chanted speech, has its roots in urban America, but Bahamian musicians have made the genre their own. By sometimes adding a reggae flavour, other times slowing down the beat, they have given hip hop a distinctive vibe.

As hip hop music travels the globe it absorbs local musical customs into its DNA. Because reggae music has always been popular throughout The Bahamas, it’s only natural that it would blend with hip hop here.

Local musician, M DEEZ is a good example of how hip hop can be performed with a reggae infusion, although he could just as well be described as a reggae artist who infuses hip hop into his mix.

M DEEZ was born Davon Knight in Nassau in 1977 to a Bahamian mother and a Jamaican father. After high school and a few years of construction jobs, he is now able to devote his full attention to music. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. “Straight through my adult life it’s been pretty much just music.”

Not that it has been easy going. Early on there was resistance here to local musicians performing hip hop, says M DEEZ. “Our music isn’t traditional Bahamian, and we paid a pricefor that.”

That period is over and local audiences are embracing the new music. “We’re way beyond that period where we were rejected,” he says.

Nowadays, his life is busy with live performances and writing music. He makes his living by creating popular singles and performing them. “We don’t operate like the big US acts,” he says. “They make an album, then tour to promote it. Our markets are smaller. We perform locally, more often, and to smaller crowds. We need hit singles to help push along our shows and keep them fresh.”

M DEEZ has a simple musical goal of making “music that lasts,” much like his musical heroes, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. “I work hard at making tunes that everyone can relate to,” he says. Fans can check out his recent and popular single, Times Hard on iTunes or YouTube.

Looking for exposure
Another up-and-coming Bahamian musician is Sosa Man, a hip hop artist who drops into a rhythm and blues groove on occasion. Sosa Man gets plenty of recognition in Nassau and Freeport and looks to be on-track for success outside of his native Bahamas.

Born Brandon Major in Nassau in 1982, Sosa Man began his work life with a leaning toward finance and marketing, quickly earning a business degree and working briefly for Proctor and Gamble (Bahamas) as a brand manager. In the early 2000s he quit his day job to focus more on music. “I had put my dreams on hold. That was the opposite of how I was raised. So I just closed my eyes and jumped,” he says of his decision.

During the intense period of songwriting and performing that followed, he also found time to indulge his business interests by working a short stint with a music promotional outfit based in Atlanta, GA. This was a transforming experience and Sosa Man quickly fell in love with the business of music– the “leg work,” as he calls it. “This was what I call my crisis moment. It was when I knew my life’s direction had changed. And it wasn’t the direction I had planned. I was a musician and I had given up the business life, or so I’d thought.”

It is here, in the world of marketing and promotion–in the trenches as an entrepreneur–that Sosa Man sees his musical future.
“I see myself filling that gap between those who have the story and the people who can sell the story.” His musical heroes reflect this passion– mega-music-mogul P Diddy and legendary Rap-A-Lot Records founder, J Prince.

Shortly after this revelation, he earned a masters degree in Global Entertainment and Music Business from the Berklee College of Music.

Today Sosa Man is tending to his music while also planting the seeds for his future as an executive. He’s given over 60 live performances in the past three years, explaining that “You should never neglect your core audience.” His single, I Dream, charted number one regionally for more than four months, and he’s had five other singles ranked in the top 10 since 2007. As busy as he is, Sosa Man has managed to buy a music recording studio in downtown Nassau that he leases out to local talent.

He has already broken out into bigger markets. He was the first Bahamian hip hop artist to get airplay on Tempo Networks, the influential Caribbean media and entertainment company. He has recently opened for some large acts in the US and Canada, too, including renowned reggae artist Buju Banton and international hip hop sensation Lil Wayne. Sosa Man has broken the digital barrier, as iTunes is now offering his April 2011 released album, Dreamland.

Gospel and hip hop
Unlikely as it may seem, Monty Sweat, another popular Bahamian musician, has found a way to blend hip hop with traditional gospel music.

Born in Nassau in 1979 to Haitian parents, Sweat spent several years in Haiti during his younger childhood. Returning to Nassau, he attended school and worked odd jobs as he developed his musical style.

As a Caribbean islander he found reggae a natural musical language. “It’s the music that was all around me as a kid,” he explains, “so it was my music.”

Sweat’s hybrid reggae seems religious at first blush, but the message is secular. “My songs encourage good behaviour … righteousness,” he says, echoing a popular reggae theme. “It’s positive music.”

He formed his own record label, Monty’s Uprising Entertainment, in 2006 and released his first CD, the five-track Love and Unity, that same year. His album is sold in some regional stores, as well as some Florida outlets, but Sweat sells the bulk of the CDs at his many live performances. “I’m working hard on my second album right now,” he says.

Like other Bahamian musicians Sweat relies on live shows for his income, and for creative feedback. “My fans are like my blood. I could not live without them,” he says. “They keep me on the right road.”

Monty Sweat is typical of most Bahamian musicians: hardworking, positive, talented and earnest.

Looking abroad
As Bahamian hip hop artists build their local fan base, they are, of course, seeking bigger and better things. As hungry for music as Bahamians are, their numbers are small compared to the US music market. And that’s where many local musicians aspire to be popular.

Some, like Sosa Man, have made inroads and are building up their credentials there, opening for bigger names and playing to bigger crowds.

Not all Bahamian hip hop and reggae musicians, however, see the US as the ultimate market. “The American market is big, and we are glad to go there,” says M DEEZ, “but the world is bigger than that. We’re getting play in Portugal, the UK … We’re using stepping stones.”

Even though most Bahamian hip hop and reggae artists have not yet achieved a lot of success in the competitive markets abroad, that’s likely to change.

Advancements in digital music delivery is making the world smaller for all artists. Musicians can find an audience more easily than ever using online resources like iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 store, as well as their own websites.

It might be tempting to put a label on Bahamian-style hip hop, but the musicians here feel they don’t need a label. Quite the opposite says Jamal Rodgers, musical director of local radio station 100 JAMZ. “There’s no need for a brand. Local artists don’t want their music branded. Instead, they feel they are Bahamians playing hip hop or reggae, and so on.”

This makes sense. They are musicians playing what they play and their nationality is secondary. What’s important is the music.


Dub reggae and hip hop

Bahamian hip hop artists, and hip hop musicians everywhere, owe a debt to the Jamaican reggae variant called “dub reggae.” Dub reggae was developed in Jamaica during the early 1970s by pioneering studio producers such as Lee “Scratch” Perry and King Tubby. Stretching reggae’s boundaries–and stretching budgets–these innovators began stripping out vocals from reggae tracks and pumping up the baseline to create dub “versions” of the original, unaltered tunes.

Soon, local DJs began rhyming lyrics over the dub tracks in what became known as “toasting,” later called deejaying. This revolutionary deejay rapping that had evolved from dub reggae found its way to the US and, combined with other musical influences, quickly morphed into hip hop and spread around the world.



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