In his cover feature with The Fader earlier this year, Popcaan discussed the importance of the word “we” in the title of this LP. “If it was Where Mi Come From, it would be just about me… So Where We Come From is based off of everybody life, not just Popcaan alone”. This feeling of communal ascension runs through every hi-hat and auto-tuned warble on Where We Come From. The album garnered support from circles far removed from just dancehall. A lot of this praise was for the genre-busting qualities of the record, some of it was for the syrupy sun-kissed production but most of it was for Popcaan’s brand new viewpoint. A deejay still firmly in the battle for dancehall superstardom but with a brand new arsenal. Where We Come From preaches love, partying and self-made hope.
The LP was executive produced by Brooklyn’s Dre Skull. The employment of someone slightly detached from the dancehall movement gave the LP a shot at the big time without stripping it from the coastal towns in Jamaica where Popcaan’s sound was born. The System is a perfect example of this overarching bigger vision- a tightly screwed dancehall beat and sugary synths create a playground for Popcaan’s twinkle-toed flow. Similarly, Hustle tells the story of sidewalk tyranny and moneymaking with a perfectly placed guest-spot from Pusha T to bring the widescreen fear. The moments of major-label trickery - like an EDM synth motif or a Pusha T guest verse - are cherry picked, and when brought in to Where We Come From are thrilling. They elevate the record and give Popcaan’s voice a platform that doesn’t compromise his words.
Even the more starless narratives on tracks like Hustle and the kinetic simmer of Evil have an undercarriage of hope. On the latter, the sinister sub-bass and minimal production gives way to a sentiment of removing negativity. “When dem try get me down / Nothing dem kyaan do”. In the context of dancehall, reggaeton and even hip hop, these beliefs are hard to find. Dancehall has a track-record of homophobia in lyricism. Moreover, the works of fellow juggernauts like Movado or Vybz Kartel are riddled with tales of jezebels who serve no purpose but to meet the sexual desires of the men. Enter Popcaan. On Waiting So Long he euphorically croons, “Make mi put the ring pon your finger”, “Mi no love no one like you”.
With an inextricable link to what he calls “the ghetto yute dem”, Popcaan tells a number of stories on Where We Come From but his own plight takes centre stage. As a pop record, it does the job of capturing the hearts and the dance-floors. As a party record, it contains ear worms like Waiting So Long- one of the most infectious melodies in recent memory. As a dancehall record, Popcaan moves towards a bigger stage by starting to remove the shackles that bring the genre down. His story carries him through- the timeless dream that one day we might all be free.
Words: Duncan Harrison