Controversial Jamaican singer faces the music

Fri Apr 4, 2008 7:56pm EDT
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By Patricia Meschino

NEW YORK (Billboard) - For most Jamaican dancehall artists, securing a successful rapper on a song's remix is a hard-won seal of approval. So when Jay-Z, who has never recorded on a reggae track, rhymed on a remix of singer Mavado's current hit "On the Rock," it became arguably the greatest endorsement ever given to any dancehall record.

According to Mister Cee of New York's WQHT (Hot 97), who premiered the remix on his February 29 evening show, Jay-Z heard Mavado's original on Hot 97 and thought the song's "roc" metaphors provided appropriate references for rapping about his invincibility in the hip-hop world.

"Jay gave me the song as an exclusive and the response was incredible," Mister Cee recalls. "The song is now in rotation and hopefully it will get Mavado more mainstream attention."

Since the release of his chilling breakthrough single "Real McKoy" in 2005, Mavado, born David Brooks, has amassed an impressive amount of hits on Jamaican charts as well as international reggae charts. His blood-splattered survival stories, evocatively sung to brooding dancehall beats, have kept his VP Records debut, "Gangster for Life: The Symphony of David Brooks," on Billboard's Top Reggae Albums tally since its July 10, 2007, release.

"People are drawn to Mavado's music because of the conviction in his voice," says Neil "Diamond" Edwards, an executive at the Jamaica, Queens-based label. "Some people don't agree with his lyrics but he is as real as it gets."

Produced by Trevor "Baby G" James, "On the Rock" offers a respite from the gun-laden imagery that Mavado's detractors argue exacerbates Jamaica's already soaring crime rate. Lyrically, it evokes Rastafarian roots reggae as Mavado, who developed his love of singing in church, hauntingly asks for spiritual strength.

Mavado wrote the song following an early morning raid on his December 4, 2007, birthday party/concert in Kingston, jointly conducted by Jamaican police and soldiers who surrounded the venue, locked the exits then searched patrons for weapons. Mavado had planned to donate the party's earnings to his Connect Jamaica organization, which aims to provide free computers for every school on the island.

In a conversation following a March 11 performance in Negril, Jamaica, for the Soul Rebellion charity, which rebuilds local schools through its nominally priced Buy a Brick program, Mavado said he had no idea why the authorities raided his party but added, "There's a lot of people trying to stop me from doing what me a do."   Continued...