The best dancehall album of the year so far is also, interestingly, one of the best pop albums of the year. Popcaan, aka Andre Jay Sutherland, is the current leader in the neverending battle for supremacy among Jamaican deejays, but unlike previous kings of the hill (most recently, Mavado and Vybz Kartel, the latter who also has functioned as Sutherland’s mentor) he’s not overly concerned with projecting the image of a badman. He’s a lover, not a gangster, and it’s an impressively broad kind of love that he’s putting out.
With a sound as charming and as accessible as his name, dancehall singer Popcaan went from being the man behind the sweet and massive Jamaican hit "Only One She Want" to the unlikely head of Vybz Kartel's Gaza Empire, a position that landed in his lap after Kartel got life in prison on murder charges. That's quite a journey up to this, his debut album, but if Where We Come From comes off a bit aloof and electro for such a Gaza past, know that the singles-driven dancehall scene is less concerned with albums than other genres, and this isn't 100 percent Gaza anyway. Popcaan's debut lands on Dre Skull's Mixpak label and is produced in total by the Brooklyn-based Skull, so consider it a simple slice of the Popcaan picture or some exciting stepping out for the dancehall singer, because it is both.
A protégé of the notorious Vybz Kartel, Popcaan is one of Jamaica's highest regarded new-generation deejays. His promise as a versatile talent in the lineage of Sean Paul and Beenie Man is more than realized by his debut album, Where We Come From. This record is better than it needs to be; it's a consistent set of songs that successfully addresses the sonic aesthetics of post-Weeknd PBR'n'B.
Popcaan — Where We Come From (Mixpack)Albums are a side concern in the dancehall world — there’s more action when multiple artists take to a riddim track, the vocalists contorting their delivery to fit the style of the moment. In the ’90s, grotesquely homophobic lyrics dried up the overseas deals that favored albums, and the hostility of Jamaican street life hasn’t done much to encourage extended statements of consciousness since then. With Vybz Kartel sentenced for murder, the biggest contemporary figure in dancehall seems destined to fade, even if he continues to eke out tracks behind bars.Popcaan’s debut album arrives in this vacuum.
In hip-hop and dancehall, where singles and mixtapes build audiences, the official debut album is less an introduction than a graduation. So it is with “Where We Come From” (Mixpak), the debut album by Popcaan, born Andre Jay Sutherland, who’s already one of Jamaica’s top dancehall performers. A “singjay” who can both sling rhymes and croon melodies, Popcaan has recorded prolifically since 2010, and he has turned up in songs by Kanye West and by Pusha T (who shows up with a guest rap on “The Hustle”).