The Council: Streets of Jamaica

Son Raw takes a look at the Jamaican rap crew's newest project.
By    June 16, 2020

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Son Raw is from a foreign.

From foreign shores, it’s always a challenge to keep up with developments in Jamaica’s fast-moving music world, but it’s also impossible to deny the country’s underlying global influence. It’s not just that Dancehall set the stage for Afrobeats’ recent rise – everything from EDM’s brief flirtation with tropical pop to the near entirety of Toronto’s rap/R&B wave this decade owes a tremendous debt to Jamaican music, and that’s just in the charts. Underground, everything from the UK’s soundsystem legacy to the entire concept of clashing emerged out of an island with a population hovering around 3 million people. That’s not just punching above your weight, that’s Bruce Lee drop kicking a Sumo wrestler the fuck out.

But what’s going on in JA TODAY can still be tough to parse for non-initiates. Despite veterans like Bounty and Beenie showing Americans how its done, it too often feels as if Popcaan was the only new musician the island produced this decade, and that he blew up but for the swag vampirism of Drake. Go beyond the surface however, and Dancehall continues to generate heaters, while new styles like Choppa Music showcase a hyper local trap influenced scene rivaling Detroit’s, existing mostly on Soundcloud and Youtube.

Then, there’s the Council, a crew I’ve written about in individual terms, but who’ve now reunited on Streets of Jamaica, a track that exists at the intersection of Jamaica’s musical currents while also proudly flying the flag for underground Hip Hop. There’s never been a better moment for the crew’s First Coast concept emphasizing Hip Hop’s Jamaican ties: throughout rap’s new East Coast underground, a wave of emcees have resisted America’s melting pot approach to culture to proudly fly the flag for home countries like Haiti, The Dominican Republic and Colombia. Council emcees the Sickest Drama, Carlos Nomad and Five Steez effortlessly compete in this space, repping for Jamaica with varying levels of Patois and bar-centric verses that range from consciousness to street level tales, but they also resist the trap of focusing on strictly headphone music.

To this point, “The Streets of Jamaica” flips a jazzy, nocturnal sample worthy of Black Moon, but pairs it to trap inflected 808s and an undeniably yard hook from Eesah and guest verse from SpaceAgeRasta. This means it doesn’t fit snugly into a pre-existing paradigm but that’s also what makes it music so exciting, as the crew balances production competing with the most to date Jamaican sounds with flows that would give any headnod emcee a run for their money.

The best rap music can introduce newcomers to an entire world while giving a voice to everyone within it. From Detroit scammers to Houston’s candy paint to Atlanta’s strip club A&Ring, to London’s history of Bass music, Hip Hop’s most recent wave hasn’t just propagated a static culture, but has expanded its listeners’ understanding of Black life globally. At their best, The Council are a reminder that Hip Hop not only has roots in Jamaica, but that Jamaican music is very much a key component of today’s musical conversation, even as its most exciting developments take place underground.

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