We wrap musical genres around us as personal identifiers, like the plastic bracelets folded around newborns’ wrists. Their grooves become as familiar to us as our own heartbeat. So, to some steeped in the revolutionary associations of Jamaican music, hearing the one drop riddim blast out of regular old pop radio on a song like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” meant betrayal; dancehall had been hijacked and given a bizarre transplant in order to sound like some new entity called “tropical house.”
Hence the shock of seeing the bespectacled singer-songwriter beaming amidst the inner circle of today’s Caribbean musicians—Damian and Stephen Marley, Wyclef Jean, Chronixx, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sizzla, and more—on the cover of the 2017 anthology Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica. A conceptual compilation, it set out to remind listeners of the original identity of tropical house by pulling together the style’s forebears alongside those they had influenced, like Sheeran.
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