There have been splashes of successful Dancehall artists to gain mainstream success during the past few decades from Sean Paul to Beenie Man and Elephant Man. Most manage to find themselves gaining relevance through featured guest appearances with bigger artists. However, as the music industry shifts toward streaming and strict album sales fall, Dancehall is becoming a casualty as well. One prominent figure making a stand for the genre is Mr. Vegas.
Breaking into the scene in the late ’90s with his seminal classic “Heads High,” the Kingston native has dropped several projects since then and has found significant collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Beyonce and Major Lazer. He’s a celebrated artist within a suffering genre and understands his responsibilities ensuring its survival.
Hence, we have an eight-minute Facebook video of Mr. Vegas condemning Drake for not properly crediting Dancehall artists on his platinum selling Views album. This included sampling Beenie Man’s “Tear Off Mi Garment” for “Controlla” and removing Popcaan off the same track. Drizzy also took bits from Popcaan’s “Luh Yuh Bad” on “Too Good” featuring Rihanna. In an interview with Ebro later, he took a bolder stance and called October’s Very Own fake. Popcaan eventually sided with Drizzy saying, “OVO Unruly, we don’t need your help.” Considering Drake’s current issue with Joe Budden, the feud just boiled over.
Who’s right or wrong? It’s anyone’s guess. However, when Joss Stone is considered the number one Reggae artist in the world, Mr. Vegas doesn’t sound too crazy. But, that hasn’t stopped him from making one final push for Dancehall with his final album This Is Dancehall set for release September 23.
Mr. Vegas Explains His Motive For Releasing The Video Heard All Around Dancehall
HipHopDX: I remember hearing you for the first time in junior high at a house party. It was “She’s A Hoe” from your Damn Right album.
Mr. Vegas: Okay now I feel old. Thank you!
DX: You don’t hear too many Dancehall artists with such a storied career as yourself. Does that put a lot of pressure on you with This is Dancehall being your final album?
Mr. Vegas: I think when you have to make the type of albums that I make, the type of musicians that I want to use and the resources I have to use, it’s not feasible. Dancehall and Reggae albums hardly sell. In Jamaica, we don’t even have ways to download off of iTunes. We don’t even have access because of copyright laws and stuff like that. With that said, most people in the industry or marketplace don’t buy records. It’s not feasible to spend money on these records. That doesn’t make sense for me at this point to take money out of my kid’s college fund back into music. Then I have to think, what am I doing here? I would love to put out albums. I’ve reached the point where I accept the reality where people are more into singles. You might listen to someone’s playlist and it has two reggae songs on it. Everything is all mixed up now because it’s an opened world.
DX: Considering your catalog of music already, where’d you get the inspiration for the title?
Mr. Vegas: This album is inspired by what is going on with the surge in what people call Tropical House and stuff like that. If you listen to the Justin Bieber track with Major Lazer, that’s Dancehall influenced. But, do they give it credit as Dancehall? When I saw people having major success with using the sound of Dancehall and calling it something different, let me show the world where this sound is coming from. What is this sound you’re hearing on the radio that you don’t even know what it is? Why is it that these artists can get played on mainstream radio, but we can’t get played on mainstream radio?
DX: Since you brought it up, a lot of people saw the video you dropped condemning artists who use Dancehall influences without giving proper credit. I understood the frustration you had considering the scope of your career. Were you simply fed up?
Mr. Vegas: It’s not even fed up because I’m not the kind that’ll give up or throw my hand in. Of course, I call a spade a spade. I’m a straightforward person and not going to try to play hypocrite because I’m hoping Drake is going to put me on a record or Rihanna is going to put me on a record. I’m just going to be straight up if it’s bullshit. If it’s bullshit, it’s bullshit. First of all, I don’t have a problem with anyone who does Dancehall or Reggae music or artists who cover Dancehall or Reggae music as long as people are recognizing where it’s coming from and giving the artists their due.
For me, if Kanye West does a song with Mr. Vegas, I see the record come out and it doesn’t say featuring Mr. Vegas, I’ll be like fuck you Kanye. I don’t care because what am I doing on the record if I’m not qualified enough to say featuring Mr. Vegas. But, if you put another rapper on there, there’s no problem putting featuring so and so or whatever. When I see Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West do a record with Assassin who is one of our Dancehall artists and people don’t know who he is, if they just put ‘featuring Assassin’ maybe more people would be interested in searching for him. Maybe he’ll get more features and more shows. Maybe Assassin doesn’t want Mr. Vegas to say shit about that. What I can see is that this is going to be a pattern where people think they can just come into the Dancehall industry because they just like the sound. ‘I just want to use the sound but I don’t want to say where the sound is from.’ For me, that’s not cool. When I saw where other artists were giving credit or recognition to artists they sample and Jamaican artists don’t get the same, that’s what I spoke about.
DX: Even after the video, Popcaan sided with Drake and seemed to just appreciate the exposure. Must have been an awkward position for him, right?
Mr. Vegas: Sometimes, it’s better to say nothing and it goes back with me. Sometimes, if you have nothing good to say, then don’t say anything. Beenie Man didn’t say anything and I stood up for him as well. Beenie Man didn’t come out and diss Mr. Vegas and call it some stupid video or whatever. That to me was like a bitch move. It is what it is because people look out for their best interest. I’m looking out for Dancehall music and other artists coming up in this industry. I’m looking out for artists. Remember in the ’80s and early ’90s, we had a lot of records playing on radio. What happened?
Did American Radio Ignore “Pull Up” For Pitbull’s “Culo” & Nina Sky’s “Move Your Body?
DX: Do you feel as if American music takes Dancehall and Reggae for granted?
Mr. Vegas: I just think there are people who do take us for granted. They just like the sound and want a little flavor. Sometimes, if I’m supposed to sample an American record or something from a major artist, 90-99 percent chance that it’ll never be cleared. I can’t take one of their records, sample it, release it and try to get the clearance, that’s definitely a no. People can just walk into our industry, sample a record and reach out to us because they’re sure we’re going to want the break.
DX: Even going back to the later decade around the time you released “Pull Up.” I originally thought they were Pitbull (“Culo”) and Nina Sky (“Move Your Body”) tracks before finding out the beat was yours first.
Mr. Vegas: When I was working that record for radio, me and Ty C thought it was a good record. We were going to radio and one of the first people we reached out to was Cipha Sounds from Hot 97. He did not like the beat. He didn’t play the record and said he didn’t like the beat. Straight up. We started working the record and we were going around the country. We were driving in snowstorms trying to break this record. The record started reacting in certain markets. A radio station in Miami started playing the record as the Latino market thought I was saying “Culo.” Then, of course, it stopped right there. We were struggling to get the record out on other stations. Then Pitbull grabbed the record with the same beat and melody and went 25 on The Billboard charts. If you put those records side by side, it’s the same record. Why is it that Mr. Vegas could not get that break to chart high on Billboard. The same with Nina Sky. Just to show you that because it’s from a Jamaican artist they just take it for granted, but if they hear it from a mainstream artist they’re like, ‘This is great.’ Now, we can’t get records played on the radio. When we have someone like Drake who can stand up with us and feature us properly because he’s acting or saying that he’s with us and I don’t see it, I’m going to call it out.
DX: Is it possible to just forget America as a market and focus solely on Jamaica?
Mr. Vegas: That wouldn’t be a good situation for some artists. As I said before, we don’t sell records in Jamaica. We can’t even download from platforms like iTunes or Amazon because of copyright. There are artists like a Vybz Kartel who don’t have to worry about being played when he was out of jail. He didn’t have to worry about airplay in mainstream America or other foreign countries because he had an online following or movement. He was fortunate. He did stuff that people were attracted to maybe image-wise like bleaching his skin. People were interested in this person. If you’re one of those lucky people like Kim Kardashian who people are just interested in for no apparent reason, then it’s good for you. You can make some money and be a popular reality star. Some of us do depend on the music itself. I’m not going to put up porn on the internet or do a sex tape. The only thing I have is music. All I have is my voice.
DX: Are there artists out here that you feel really support Dancehall out here?
Mr. Vegas: I would say Major Lazer has done some good for Dancehall music in terms of featuring the artist and recognizing them. I think Major Lazer can do a lot more because Dancehall music is where they got their break from. That’s how it started. That beat “Run The World” beat that Beyonce got from Vybz Kartel started in Dancehall.
Mr. Vegas Discusses What It’ll Take For Dancehall To Make A Return To Prominence
DX: Even Major Lazer ended up working with Snoop Dogg heavily for his Reincarnated album under Snoop Lion which you were featured on as well.
Mr. Vegas: There were artists from Jamaica in the earlier days who did R&B sounding music. If Snoop got up one day and felt like he was Rastafari for a year, who am I to say it wasn’t genuine? If he woke up and said he wanted to be Snoop Lion, I can’t say he was faking it or whatever. With me, it’s just about the way you feel about music. He felt that vibe. But guess what? He said it was a Reggae album. He bigged up Jamaica and bigged up artists. He said featuring Mr. Vegas. He didn’t come, grab a few samples and not say anything because he could have done that. Snoop could’ve come to Jamaica and just sampled. He came and laid vocals down and booked studios in Jamaica. He worked with producers from Jamaica. Snoop felt the vibe. Maybe the vibe didn’t work out. If the album would have sold a million copies or more, we still would have Snoop Lion.
DX: What is it going to take to have a Jamaican Dancehall come back to prominence?
Mr. Vegas: First, they have to sell records. We need airplay. That’s one of the things needed. We need opportunities and we have to create opportunities for ourselves. We have to be presentable. We have to have a story. The game doesn’t change. If you don’t have a story, people aren’t going to interested in you. Why should I buy your records or see you in concert? Am I going to get my money’s worth?
DX: Is there a roll-out plan for This Is Dancehall?
Mr. Vegas: We have two singles that we believe are really, really something that people are going to dig. We think “Intoxicated” and “No Tomorrow” featuring an artist from the Bay Area named Jonn Hart. He actually has a track on his project with me and he returned the favor. Either or both of these records can really showcase what Mr. Vegas is looking for or where he’s trying to go.