Recently Mavado's "Take it" video which became the first ever track or music by a Dancehall artiste to debut on Billboard, now makes another massive debut on MTV.
By Marlon Bishop
Imagine Mavado flying above Jamaica and surveying his realm. It must be an eerie feeling for the dancehall king to look around and see no challengers in sight, after hustling in the island's brutally competitive reggae scene since he was a teenager growing up in Kingston's slums.
That's because Mavado has been the unrivaled lead voice in dancehall since arch-nemesis Vybz Kartel was thrown in jail on a murder charge in 2011. Now, the undisputed ruler is using that hard-won stature to develop a new career in a much bigger pond than Jamaica, the US.
It's a full scale assault - collabos with heavies from Rick Ross to Akon, tours supporting hip-hop royalty and an upcoming record on DJ Khaled's We The Best label. If the plan succeeds, Mavado may become the first dancehall artist since Sean Paul to crossover in a big way. If he doesn't, it will be a major blow to a teetering dancehall scene back home on the island.
"I definitely feel the responsibility," said Mavado in a phone conversation. "That's the main reason why I'm working so hard right now because I know I have to be keeping dancehall relevant, keeping dancehall moving."
Mavado's latest push comes via a new single and video, an infectious "sex me up" -style tune called "Take It" with chorus and curves courtesy of Canadian-Jamaican artist Karian Sang. The video was exclusively premiered by Billboard in early March, a first for any dancehall artist.
"we been getting a lot of love for this song," said Mavado. "It was number one in England for like eight weeks, and number one in Trinidad for a month. It's on the charts in Europe, on the islands, so things are going real great right now."
If things are good for Mavado, it's partially because he doesn't need to watch his back like he used to. For years, dancehall in Jamaica has been dominated by the feud between two crews; Gully and Gaza led by Mavado and Vybz Kartel respectively.
The dancehall dramas of Jamaica make US hip-hop beefs seem like kindergarten quarrels. The sheer complexity of the politics between factions can be harder to follow than a shakespearian tragedy. Whereas US rappers trade more than insults, Jamaica's music industry battles have gotten bloodier and bloodier over the years.
The war between Gaza and Gully that unfolded over the 2000s took things farther than they had ever gone before. The fights and reprisals between supporters literally threatened to destabilize the country. Everybody had to choose a side - even track star Usain Bolt was said to have an allegiance. It got so bad that the Prime Minister himself stepped in to broker a truce in 2010. So did infamous drug lord Christopher Coke, who allegedly organized the Kingston concert where the rivals finally shook hands.
Since then, things have settled down, minus little flare ups between Mavado and up and comer Popcaan, but even that was squashed when both artists worked together on Snoop Lion's "Lighters Up."
Mavado doesn't see anybody coming for his crown anytime soon. "I don't have any competition I don't think," he said. "I've been building my everything towards music for many years now and nobody is working as hard as I am working."
Mavado entered the scene as the archetypal "badman." On tunes like "Last Night" and "Weh Dem A Do," he recounted ghetto gun battles and tussles with the law. He smoothed things out a little on his 2009 sophomore release with songs like, "So Special," his biggest US radio hit to date. And of late he's been putting out a string of party-focused, "wine gyal" tracks of the type that have been hot in Jamaica over the last few years. See: "Caribbean Girls."
But he's also been popping up in all sorts of non-dancehall places too. There's the 2010 video for Drake's Find Your Love," in which he has an acting role as a villainous gang leader. He's worked with Alicia Keys in '09, did a remix for Ne-Yo in '11, and scored an Akon feature for his track "Survivor." More recently, he makes an appearance on DJ Khaled's "So Suicidal" video alongside Birdman, came off a tour with Drake, and has a new track coming out shortly called "Rise Up," featuring Khaled and Rick Ross.
In interviews, Mavado has also hinted at features with French Montana, Niki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Pharrell. Looking forward, there will be a US-oriented mixtape and a full length, major label-distributed studio album. No precise dates for either of those releases have been set.
Mavado says he intends to push his career in the US while still maintaining his place in Jamaica. "I know there's more I can do, more I can achieve," he says.
Historically, it's been hard for reggae artists to maintain credibility at home while pursuing fame and riches abroad. For example, Shaggy and Sean Paul, the most successful dancehall crossover artists have largely been written off as sell-outs back home. But by signing with Khaled, Mavado appears going a different route than either of those artists, who went for more of a pop market than a hip-hop one.
But with characteristic confidence, Mavado shrugs off the suggestion that his loyal fans at home might one day turn against him. "I'm not just doing this for me," he says. "This is for all Jamaican and dancehall."