Unless you've been living on another planet, you've caught some of the buzz…
- Posted on Nov 26th 2010 5:00PM by David Dacks
If you don't recognize the name, you might recognize the plinking piano riff that serves as the hook from 'Hold You,' a song that's slowly and steadily become one of the biggest dancehall crossovers in years, most recently cracking the UK Top 20, winning Soul Train and MOBO awards and scoring Major Lazer and Toddla T remixes.
Its popularity has single-handedly propelled Gyptian to become the most searched for dancehall artist in North America this year, upsetting the consistent reign of Shaggy and Sean Paul at the top of Google Trends. This is no mean feat, considering that duo has held the top two spots for years, but Gyptian is too busy working to take stock of the situation.
"Right now it's all about promotion and people are just starting to know about Gyptian," he tells Spinner. "I'm mostly on the road promoting this stuff."
There are conflicting accounts of how 'Hold You' came together. Gyptian says he thought up the rhythm and Brooklyn-based producer Ricky Blaze built it, while Blaze told the Village Voice the rhythm was already done when Gyptian came along.
"I can't really tell you much about it," Gyptian says. "It's just a song that I wrote and people gravitate to it. It naturally just came out -- and we were being versatile, you know?"
Like Prince's 'When Doves Cry,' 'Hold You' breaks rules associated with conventional pop production: it has no bass line, minimal drums and an atmospheric feel behind Gyptian's loverman drawl. And unlike most reggae hits, the track was made in the US, which has been another crucial part of its success.
During the spring, the song exploded on influential New York radio station Hot 97 -- it was so popular that white-hot rapper Nicki Minaj eventually dropped a remix of it in April. This is a reversal of the age-old Jamaican tradition of reinventing North American hits -- one notable example being Bob Marley's 'One Love,' which incorporates the Impressions' 'People Get Ready.'
"We Jamaicans do that," Gyptian explains. "We would turn around a song from overseas -- this is like tit for tat."
By summer, 'Hold You' was everywhere in New York. But then Gyptian's popularity in Google started spiking throughout North America, as well as in the Caribbean. 'Hold You' was obviously a viral hit, but another factor also came into play: a Spanish language version, which opened up an entirely new audience.
Los Rakas, a Panamanian hip-hop/reggae/dancehall group currently based in California, landed an underground hit with 'Abrazame' ('Hug Me'), which featured a beat -- by Brooklyn producer Uproot Andy -- that was refashioned from 'Hold You.' Andy notes the rhythm's adaptability to different musical influences, including the trendy and burgeoning electro-tropical movement led by über-producer Diplo.
"It was so sparse that I could easily add different parts and rhythms that were interesting to me," Andy says. "I used Indian rhythms mixed with dembow [the beat typical of reggaeton] to give it a sort of pan-Caribbean sound."
By the time Gyptian's album -- not surprisingly called 'Hold You' -- came out in August, between the success of his original, the Las Rakas version and his steady touring, the stars were aligned to send Googlers into another tizzy.
Since then, the stats have drifted down a little but Gyptian remains in constant demand in the studio and on the road. But does he feel that search engine supremacy is a new kind of stardom, where Google hits are more important than record sales?
"It probably is -- but I don't think it's going to work out that well for the artist."