Marvin Sparks speaks to Jamaican artist Popcaan for The Wrap Up about his troubled upbringing in the ‘Gangsta City,’ avoiding temptation to enter a life of crime and tells us what makes Clarks an essential purchase for the summer... and the winter!
Born Andre Sutherland in St. Thomas and raised in a rough district of Portmore in St. Catherine, Jamaica, from the age of 7, Popcaan's began as a performer at his high school concerts. He never took his music career seriously until being scouted by leading dancehall artist, Vybz Kartel to join Kartel-led group, Portmore Empire in 2007 after spotting his talent at a local party. Kartel signed the youngster to his record label, Addijaheim soon thereafter. The 22-year-old counts reggae legend Sizzla Kalonji as his biggest musical inspiration alongside Vybz Kartel. Popcaan’s appearance on Vybz Kartel’s 2010 dancehall anthem ‘Clarks’ is currently taking dance floors by storm…
The Wrap Up: Where did the name Popcaan come from?
Popcaan: Me and you can reason about that name at a different location one day [laughs], but it was from a friend who passed on.
TWU: How would you describe yourself?
Popcaan: Hot skull, fry yiy [eye], boil brainz! [laughs]. Where my families concerned, I'm a loving person, where the ladies are concerned I'm a very loving person and I'm full of hype.
TWU: What have you learnt from being around Vybz Kartel?
Popcaan: I've learnt countless things from Kartel. You see di Teacha, he is the real teacher. He's taught me loads of things outside of music too, so he's a teacher in every way.
TWU: Most people will know you from your intro on Vybz Kartel's hit song ‘Clarks’. How did your feature come about?
Popcaan: Clarks are shoes we've worn from school days. Everybody wants Clarks. For a while me and di Teacha have only worn Clarks. One day a girl saw him and said, 'Them Clarks are bad you know!' He went home, called me and said, 'Yo Poppy, you know we need to do a tune about Clarks.’ He couldn't find a better person to record the song with, because we only wear Clarks!
TWU: What is it about Clarks that make them a big fashion statement?
Popcaan: We wear Clarks for many different reasons. The main reason why I like Clarks is because they are comfortable; we run in it, play ball in it, they are all purpose shoes for different weather. You have the leather and them things there. Everybody has their own Clarks; for ladies and for big man.
TWU: Of the various styles which one is your favourite?
Popcaan: My favourite Clarks are the 'bank robber Clarks,' the ones with the stitch in the centre. Some call it the centre stitch, but we call it the bank robber. I love the desert Clarks. Those are my favourite Clarks, in every colour.
TWU: Have you got a favourite pair of Clarks that you have for special occasions?
Popcaan: I have a special one and I never wore it again until the day of the video. I wore them on the first Reggae Sumfest I did, that was last year. You see me in the video with ones with the fur? Ah di special Clarks that!
TWU: People in the UK were a bit confused with the question ‘Whe' you get da new Clarks deh daadi?’ Because Clarks have stores over here. Where is the best place to get Clarks in Jamaica?
Popcaan: Downtown Kingston. You get the best Clarks in downtown Kingston, but you have a few fake ones, still. If you're a real Clarks fan, you'll know the real ones so nobody can trick you for your money [laughs]. They sell them in every store and on the street with people selling them from their car on the road side. As long as you're in the town you will see Clarks inside and outside the stores, they are everywhere.
TWU: Which are the fake ones/ones to avoid?
Popcaan: Well you have some fake Clarks made in some different places like China. The real Clarks are made in Vietnam and England. Some man have some Clarks made in Jamaica [LAUGHS], they have their own Clarks. But you see the made in China Clarks? Those are the diseased Clarks [laughs]. They dry up like a dry leaf on your foot after you wear them two times!
TWU: What is the fashion to go with the Clarks?
Popcaan: [Sings Vybz Kartel song] 'Straight jeans and fitted,' white t-shirt, rosary chain, fitted baseball hat and Clarks. That's the dress code.
TWU: Where did the slang term ‘hot skull’ originate?
Popcaan: It's like a nickname for our friends. Like I would say 'Wha gwarn darg?' We just say 'hot skull'. We always try to do our thing different; we don't try to say anything other people are saying. Anywhere a word comes from we try to make it our own thing and that's where hot skull came from. Kartel said 'Wha' gwarn Popcaan?' and I said 'Dehya inuh hot skull' and the whole world start saying hot skull. That's why I started saying, 'Fry yiy [eye]' and 'boil brainz'.
TWU: That's my next question; the name of your mixtape is 'Hot Skull, Fry yiy, Boil Brainz'. Where's all that from?
Popcaan: True my skull is hot, that means the whole top half is hot, so I get a fry yiy [eye], and a boil brain, roast brain [laughs]. It's the same thing; it's just hot, always hot. Fry is hot, if its boil it's hot, if its roast it's still hot. At the end of the day, its all 'hot skull'
TWU: Another popular song you have right now is ‘Gangsta City’ where you talk of your experiences living in the ghetto. What was it like growing up in the gangsta city?
Popcaan: Life was a whole heap of ups-and-downs. Some good times, some bad times. Lose a few friends, police killed a few friends, bad man killed a few friends. Good times were before some of my friends passed on. When me and my friends would go on the road, we'd rap together, we'd cook together, and we’d go parties together. When certain people pass on, life changes you. You have people that mean a lot to you and they pass on, life changes you. But we had a lot of happy times even though we never had a lot. We never had fame, no one never knew me them times. We had a mixture of good and bad. It's garrison living, gangsta city!
TWU: How did you manage to overcome those things and stay strong?
Popcaan: To tell you the truth, I had to take away myself for a minute and dedicate myself to music. I had to make sure that right now, its music I'm doing because I don't have time to waste. If I don't have fare to go to the studio, I make sure I find a fare, because I know this is going to make me buy a vehicle to drive and buy a house for my mother, I have my daughter, and can uplift my friends. I had to stay far away from the same and the whole heap of excitement. I could have got caught in certain things, but I decided to get caught in music.
TWU: Was there a lot of temptation to go down the wrong road to live and survive?
Popcaan: Yeah man, remember we live in the gangsta city. Everything that you can think of is in the city. You have to go past it and do what you want to do and get what you want in life. If a youth wants to become a pastor and he puts his mind to it, he can become a pastor. That's why I say all of this comes like a dream. It comes in like a dream even though I'm living it. If you want to do something you have to just do it. Don't bother getting caught up in the wrong thing, that is my advice to the youth, because there is nuff temptation to do all kinds of things. You know everybody can't sing and not everybody can rap, not everyone has what it takes to become a doctor or a lawyer, but you have to put your mind to doing what you can do in those areas where you are living.
TWU: So you thank Vybz Kartel for helping you?
Popcaan: Yeah man, that's my daddy in real life. Right now, he's in his jail cell, but ah Gaza said way.
TWU: When you were younger, what did you want to become when you were older?
Popcaan: Well I always wanted to become a soldier. I actually took a soldier test once, but I was at the soldier test too long and it was just running over things so I just left [laughs].
TWU: What are you aiming to achieve in the future?
Popcaan: We're aiming to achieve the best; house, land, car, assets. Just hoping for the best in the future, always recording, writing songs and doing the work. I have to enjoy it, because hard work will be the key to success, because the harder you work is the superstar you become.
TWU: So what can people expect on the mixtape?
Popcaan: We have a few old tracks and a few new and we have a mix. I have a freestyle medley where I do about 9 songs on one riddim. My big hits are on there; ‘Clarks,’ ‘Gangsta City,’ ‘Dreams,’ ‘Up Inna di Club,’ ‘New Year,’ ‘Hot Grabba’ and a few new things on there.
TWU: And what inspires your subject matter?
Popcaan: Well, life you know. I put things that happen in my lyrics. I will always rap about something that happened close to me. Sometimes I put something in my song and people wonder where it comes from, but it's just something that happened and I just put it in my lyrics. Even sometimes me and someone saw something happen and they forgot it happened, they hear it in the song, they say, 'You made me feel that.’
Popcaan's free mixtape: 'Hot Skull, Fry Yiy, Boil Brainz' - is out now.
Stay up to date with Popcaan on Twitter - www.twitter.com/Popskul
Words: Marvin Sparks
Online editing: Joseph 'JP' Patterson