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26: Skillibeng

Photo By RCA

“Me ah bring the new wave, me ah bring the new rebel…”

During the late 1970s, Jamaican popular music started a new genre called dancehall. A sparser version of reggae, dancehall began as an alternative to roots music. Digital instrumentation began to dominate dancehall in the mid-80s, resulting in faster rhythms and a more digitally influenced sound. There are a number of important elements that distinguish dancehall music from other musical genres, including its extensive use of Jamaican Patois rather than Jamaican English and the focus on instrumentals or as Jamaican brothers and sisters would say, "Riddims". The popularity of dancehall in Jamaica increased rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s, especially in the Jamaican diaspora. After dancehall gained worldwide mainstream success in the 2000s, it began to heavily influence the work of established Western artists and producers in the 2010s, giving dancehall a greater presence in Western music. A new generation of stars, like Shenseea, have followed the footsteps of legends including Popcaan and Vybz Kartel. But there is one that may take the genre to heights previously thought unprecedented.

Born December 23rd, 1996, in St. Thomas, Jamaica, real name Emwah Warmington, Skillibeng is the future, already set with a musical family. A brush with death, from a road accident caused his doubt about a music career to dissipate, and those with good ears are thankful. His one proverbial master was always Vybz Kartel, an entity with as big of a cult of personality I have ever witnessed. Skillibeng like Kartel's music in part because of the way he fuses rap with dancehall. He made his own music since, in high school, he frequently covered and replicated the songs of his idol. As his style evolved, Skilli experimented with fusing the vocal tics of US rappers like Young Thug into a hybrid trap-dancehall sound. His voice is velvety but high-pitched, as if he'd just inhaled helium.

Starting in 2015, he would later sign a deal with RCA under his own imprint “Eastsyde Records”. With tons of singles released, the breakthrough came about with “Brik Pon Brik”. This track features a syncopated dancehall rhythm, sharp trap drums, and dramatic strings. A memorable hook is delivered by Skilli who displays his distinctive cadence throughout his song

A worthy major debut but a controversial one, due to the perception that fraud cases and the influx of scammers were glorified, which led to significant issues both at home and abroad. He would follow this up with “Mr. Universe”, ending the typical skepticism of a new artist with a major hit, establishing himself as a new force to be reckoned with. “The Prodigy” mixtape was dropped in December 2020. The experimentation on the album was abundant, with instrumentals ranging from salsa to drill. On my first listening I thought this was an instant classic, which still  dominates my Spotify “On Repeat”. He viewed the project’s length as a generous offering despite criticism from some fans. His takeover of Dancehall was just beginning.

“You see? I gave them that advantage to choose, because the work, the material is there. There’s a lot of option…”

His unique blend of dancehall and rap has made him an instant hit. His music has, however, been criticized for being more controversial than "good". In response to these allegations, Skillibeng claims that he has been creating good music for years that people have ignored in favor of more controversial topics. Bayka is only one of many Jamaican artists that have recently released new music in the same vein; with others have called for Dancehall and Reggae music to have stronger lyrical substance.

Notwithstanding, the work ethic of the “prodigal son” hasn’t gone unnoticed, winning the “Best Caribbean Music Act” at the 2022 MOBO Awards, beating out the likes of Spice, Koffee, Shenseea, Sean Paul, and Popcaan. No small feat to beat out global stars like these contemporaries.

The mountain top is a short distance away. Paving his own way in the Dancehall/Reggae scene through an innovative style and imprint. The rapid release method of Skillibeng has accelerated his destiny, to his detriment some would say. He has been cautioned about pacing his career and finding his niche to focus on.

“Music gets us to where we want to be. It got me where I am now. It gets results. So, my main rule is to always have new music, new projects new works…my aim is to uplift dancehall and put it on the level of R&B and Hip Hop. As you can see, it’s working already…”

Jamaicans and the rest of the world continue to embrace his music despite the criticisms Out of all the new artists I’ve heard this year he stands above them  all. With a distinctive cadence and uncanny flow, the sky’s the limit. Quality control is the word of the day, but he carries himself like an artist that is determined to conquer the global music scene, and no one will get in the way of his future. No one.

Written by: @Arriv3r