Spliff n’ groove 

Detroit’s dancehall and reggae scene can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. With zero media attention and few venues — save Trenchtown and Tropical Hut, which play reggae consistently — a person could assume that Detroit lacks a dancehall community. To some, the absence of dependable reggae might not mean much, but to the growing West Indian community throughout metro Detroit, a shortage of ragga is almost criminal.

So it’s no surprise that Jamaican promoters and sound systems have recently been trying to pump vitality into Detroit’s dancehall (a genre of reggae that, among other things, incorporates a DJ) scene.

Such sound-system operators as Xtreme, King Harmony and Infinity Sound are beginning to play venues throughout Detroit, and promoters are hustling to bring international reggae artists to the city more regularly. These types understand that reggae presence in Detroit is well behind sister cities like Toronto and Chicago.

The respected DJ Buffalo, who heads Xtreme Promotions, says the dancehall scene in Detroit is “coming up and everybody is getting involved. With Beenie Man and Sean Paul crossin’ over, once you say reggae, everybody used to say Shabba [Ranks], but t’ings gettin’ better now. The ragga sound in Detroit is much tougher these days, and people are coming out to support it.”

This week, old-school roots musician Half-Pint arrives in town from Kingston, Jamaica, with legendary dancehall artist Mad Cobra (remember the hit song “Flex”) and reggae singer Nitty Kutchie from the Scare Dem Crew. They’re armed with brand-new music and a fierce desire to kick up the dancehall.

Mad Cobra, probably the most recognizable name of the bunch, has a new single out, “Hot Gal,” that’s tearing up Jamaican charts. Cobra, you’ll note, was also the first reggae artist to hit No. 1 (with “Flex”) on the U.S. Billboard rap charts, though he’s still a one-hit wonder to American audiences. Cobra — who’s responsible for the classic, if not cheesy, line, “girl flex, time to have sex” — enjoyed brief stateside stardom shortly after that 1992 smash, and has been cranking out hits throughout Kingston with Jamaican super-producer King Jammy. He brings a strong selection of old-school hits for early ’90s dancehall fans as well.

Veteran dancehall singer Half-Pint, well known for his diminutive stature and classic Rastafarian anthem, “Greetings,” is slated to headline the show. Famous for touring with the Killamanjaro sound system in the 1980s, and for his work with Yellowman and Junior Reid, Half-Pint is well-versed in working crowds into a frenzy, and is recommended for both fans and novices of the genre. Rude-boy vocalist Nitty Kutchie, longtime Scare Dem Crew affiliate — picture Bounty Killer and Elephant Man — will be working his mojo as well.

Early toasting will be handled by King Harmony, one of Detroit’s tougher DJ crews; Ann Arbor’s WCBN radio DJ Brian Tomsic will host the event. Hip-hop and reggae lyricist Rusty, of Potential Records, will also perform. Though he’s still adjusting to the local scene after living in Miami and Jamaica for the past few years, Rusty sees great potential for reggae here.

“I think people are finally starting to get into reggae music here in Detroit,” he says. “People who aren’t from the West Indies are starting to really feel it and that’s a good thing — plus the lyrics in dancehall music are getting more positive, which is long overdue.”


Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Sigma Plaza, 1721 E. McNichols Rd., Detroit; 313-218-0872.

Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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