Over the past five years, British blogger and journalist Marvin Sparks has earned a reputation interviewing hip-hop and r&b stars, but describes himself as a writer with ‘a passion for music and Jamaican culture’.
His blog and Twitter feed (@MarvinSparks) are great sources for news, opinion and new music so we decided to check out his views on reggae’s latest trends.
Who have been your top three dancehall interviewees so far?
Sean Paul was good because he’s the biggest commercial artist for my generation. He made a huge impact and jumped on tracks with Busta Rhymes and Blu Cantrell, which went to number one, and his collaboration with Beyoncé (Baby Boy) is her second-longest running number one at nine weeks.
Shaggy, Super Cat and Shabba helped kicked down the door, but they did it with fusion music whereas Sean went there with riddims that were kicking in our clubs.
On a personal level, Mavado is my don. When everyone was saying Gaza I was still saying Gully. But the biggest response I got was for the interview I did with Vybz Kartel (below).
We talked about his beefs with Aidonia and Busy Signal. Someone downloaded it, loads of people put it on Youtube and then it went wild.
Aidonia responded with an interview and Kartel made a song, Lyricist, which addressed the interview. That’s probably my biggest highlight.
Is the dancehall scene in a healthy state?
It’s going through a transitional period, but the music is great and the scene is healthy. Every year you’re still getting new artists, gimmicks, songs and sounds that are different from the year before.
There are a lot of young producers and artists coming through. Older heads like Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Elephant Man are still about, but not making as many hits.
Kartel, Aidonia and Mavado are older heads to a certain level because now there are a lot of junior artists like Popcaan, Tommy Lee, Chan Dizzy, Konshens and I Octane.
The main thing lacking is the industry side. Kartel has a song, Party Me Say, which came out in February and has 1.6 million Youtube views; and Straight Jeans and Fitted has over 10 million.
Popcaan has only been around for a little while, but the Party Shot video has over four million views on his Youtube account; and Clarks received mainstream airplay and media coverage, and helped Clarks’ sales to spike.
Not a penny was spent on any of these tunes in terms of promotion. These guys are from a place with a population of three million and yet their videos are getting millions of organic views globally.
Britain has a population of 60 million, but some of our major label acts struggle to get a million views.
It makes you think: ‘Imagine if Kartel had a Visa and management?’ If labels were paying attention they’d think: ‘Hey, these guys must be doing something right, let’s invest in them.’ But it doesn’t happen.
What do you think of Britain’s dancehall scene?
I don’t really know that much about it; it’s a grey area [laughs]. To a certain extent that’s because of the closed environment that exists here. A lot of British dancehall DJs won’t play UK stuff until it gets to the point where they have to, but they won’t bus’ it.
For example, Stylo G’s Call Mi a Yardie is a massive track, but that didn’t bus’ on radio, that was bus’ by the people because it’s a good song.
Are there any British artists you rate?
Fresharda, Stylo G and Gappy Ranks are doing their thing. Ard Adz, Sho Shallow, Sneakbo and Mr Williams; he’s sick.
Which Jamaican artists should we look out for in 2013?
Chronixx has good clarity and kinda sounds like I Wayne. Protoje is sick and there’s a guy called Kabaka Pyramid who has good lyrics, great delivery and a rebellious Rasta side.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career in media or music?
Be prepared for knockbacks and people telling you ‘no’ or giving you air [laughs]. Study your craft and be responsible. Blogging is easy to get into, but you have do a lot of self-editing to ensure what you’re saying is true and accurate.
Love it. Don’t come into the business to get into industry parties or because you fancy someone and want to have your picture taken with them so you can get likes on Facebook and Instagram.
Be passionate and try to bring something to the table. If you can’t do that, find something else to do.