Dancehall, Reggae, Hip-Hop and Soca – four teams, four stages, four rounds and four points up for grabs – throw in thousands of witnesses and you get the perfect ingredients for the biggest, most epic sound system battle.
In the end, the Do It For The Culture crew, led by Jamaica’s very own Spragga Benz and legendary American producer Salaam Remi walked away champions of the Red Bull Culture Clash — held for the first time in Jamaica at the National Arena on Saturday, November 2.
Resilience, creativity, resourcefulness – all wrapped and served raw and unfiltered for the masses crammed into the National Arena.
Red Bull’s journey to the home of sound clash, eight years in the making…
Jamaica…a tiny country with an enviable global imprint had the best of her culture and the city of Kingston on display. Trust me, Dancehall is very much alive.
With a kick-off time scheduled for 10:00 pm, patrons streamed in steadily at 8:30pm, the venue cool, breezy and inviting.
The main turntable belted 90s Hip-Hop hits, setting the mood for an epic night. Red Bull Jamaica pulled all the stops, making sure security was tight and amiable bartenders kept the liquor flowing all-throughout.
Between the thumping bass and dazzling strobe lights you could get a buzz without even being tipsy.
Arguably the first team present, Romeich Entertainment, entered LIT – with two ‘hypemen’ studded out with LED fixtures immediately commanded the attention of everyone signalling a teaser to an epic show.
Appetites were whet and patrons waited for an explosive set. By showtime, there was barely any free space to breathe let alone stand.
Closer to 10pm, and Dancehall and Reggae hits of the 2000s blasted through the venue; there was no shelter from the ‘Jamaicaness’ of the Red Bull Culture Clash.
Four teams, only one champion
Inspired by Jamaica’s rich and impressive sound clash history, expectations ran high and Red Bull was poised to deliver a brilliant experience.
Starting at customary “Jamaica time”, ergo, much later than the 10pm, the lights dimmed, and the four contending sounds rolled out.
10:38pm and I was told half of the teams and patrons were here…this is gonna be a long night but I’m here for it.
10:43pm, one-by-one, the four sounds entered the arena, primed for battle and hungry for victory. Not only was a massive trophy up for grabs, but also, as with everything Jamaican (and most importantly) BRAGGING RIGHTS!! They worked hard, but for Saturday’s inaugural culture clash, there could only be one winner.
Salaam Remi, Spragga Benz and the Do It For The Culture sound was up for the first introduction, followed by crowd favourites Romeich Entertainment. King Bubba and the RiddimStream Platta posse was up next; and last but not least, Govana and Jada Kingdom came out, guns (or rather mics) blazing for Strike Force, supported by Fire Linkz, Heavy Chromatic, ZJ Sparks and Richie Feelings.
Listen when I tell you…massive talent across the National Arena. No expletives allowed, and the four judges brought in by Red Bull were watching and listening closely. Not that Section 9 of the Community and Towns Act would be a bother to anyone. Alas, rules are rules.
Round one: ‘Temperature Rising’
Round one, dubbed ‘Temperature Rising’ was a 15-minute warm-up appetizer for the crowd. The sounds had any musical weapon at their disposal, some taking no time to send out warning shots. If you didn’t already know, this is war. Lyrical warfare.
Starting with Do It For The Culture…with a specially ordered dub from Reggae star Chronixx, spins from Mad Kobra, Beenie Man, Burna Boy and Allison Hinds soon followed. And the crowd was loving it. A splash of Elephant Man; multiple entries from Capleton, Junior Gong, Baby Cham, Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Agent Sasco and the thousands present knew the competition was just about to get hotter.
Romeich Entertainment was next. And they brought the energy! Buju Banton was their opening number. Busy Signal. Demarco. Mr Lexx. I-Octane. Capleton. Kiprich. Lalee. They were a little heavy on the expletives but judging from the crowd’s response, it was welcomed. Konshens. Vybz Kartel. Aidonia midway into their warm-up and Romeich Entertainment had the crowd eating out of their hands (or mics in this case). A Tommy Lee Sparta hit invaded my eardrums and listen, di man dem rinse the classics from the warring Gaza-Gully heyday of Dancehall!!
Mavado. Munga Honourable. Bounty Killa. HotFrass. Popcaan. They even got the audience in chipping a few ‘claats’ and I wasn’t even mad. The scammers anthem from Intense was a clear crowd-pleaser. The ‘Trending’ man Squash got his first rotation followed by fellow 6ix member Chronic Law. Masicka. A gem from Kevin Highcorn got everyone rocking to the Sauce Boss. No holds barred, and no one was safe. He wasn’t on stage just yet, but Tee Jay got a massive boost as his ‘Shub Out’ hit blared from the speakers.
RiddimStream Platta was up next. The Barbadian King Bubba decided that he was going to start with a special dub of Kes The Band’s ‘Savanna Grass’. If anyone needed a hint, this was going to be a soca-infused set. ‘Too Real’ was the next selection and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel, though.
Don’t get me wrong, you know it was a real culture clash when a heavy Dancehall-infused set makes way for soca. But hey, nothing is off-limits, after all. A spin from Machel Montano was up next.
Of note, the soca hype crew was fit and energetic, I must say. I was rocking along despite the songs. Voice’s ‘Cheers To Life’. The thousands from around the National Arena were less than enthused by the change in pace, but as soon as the first Vybz Kartel hit, the crowd responded. And what a ‘fawud’ di Bajans get!! Aidonia, then Jahvillani, followed up by Allison Hines and again…we were back to the soca. I’m sorry, guys but that Kevin Lyttle dubplate sent a rapture of shouts through the crowd.
Eager to attack was Strike Force, which was up next. They almost got caught slippin’ with a song already spun by Romeich’s team, but Strike Force was quick on the draw. In true sound system style, the Strikers started with Marvia Providence’s gospel hit ‘Hear My Cry Oh Lord’, the Kevin Downswell. BUZZ fam, when the dropped that Demarco dub it was clear to me that ZJ Sparks and the Strike Force crew didn’t come to play. The ‘badwuds’ came and they came aplenty.
Shots were fired. quadA made a guest performance and immediately captured the crowd. Capleton turned out to be a favourite dub selection, not that the National Arena was complaining. They took everything Strike Force had to feed them. And Fire Links refused to leave his guests unsatisfied. Vybz Kartel twice in succession was a great crowd-pleaser. An energetic spot from the Ultimate Rejects’ ‘Full Extreme’. Pamputtae. More Kartel…albeit even though some were already played. Aidonia. Vybz Kartel again.
Round one was done and dusted; and, if I were judged just from the crowd reaction, Romeich Entertainment and Strike Force were the leaders. Adding a live decibel metre, didn’t hurt and it turned out to be clearly in favour of Romeich Entertainment.
Round Two: ‘Temperature Rising’
Round 2 came knockin’ and up first was RiddimStream Platta with their 12 minutes to impress. Barrington Levy. I’m gonna be honest, I tried my best to get into it but I dunno, there was a lot happening. And of course, ‘Palance’ had to join the party *rolls eyes HEAVILY*
A single gem from Koffee put some energy into the bulk of the crowd. And then, the shot of all shots dropped. A cunnilingus dub from Romeich signee Shenseea herself turned the National Arena into shambles.
Do It For The Culture, blessed with experienced clashers, decided it was time to take of the training wheels. This is not child’s play and the class bully was here to dominate! Opening with a Popcaan dub that the National Arena gobbled willingly. Goddamn, points for goin’ old-school!! And then, like clockwork, Spragga Benz sprang into action with a lyrical tirade that was well-received by the crowd. Ky-mani Marley, Capleton, Barrington Levy. Marcia Griffiths. Two orders from Junior Gong and Chronixx. The entire arena was running on a high!
Strike Force stepped up to slay. An opening dub from Kranium. And ahem….it would appear that Romeich and his ‘extracurricular activities’ were the topics of discussion tonight (sips tea)!! Belting out hits from Taurus Riley, Buju Banton and Bounty Killa, all chill left the complex when Intense himself appeared and sent the crowd into a mad frenzy. My one *tiny* issue though…Fire Links took up so much of his team’s time firing shots at the other competitors.
Romeich Entertainment was up next, and listen to me, they went for the jugular. Ahem. Uh-oh. False alarm? The power went and boos echoed hauntingly. The engineers got it right and the audience was treated to a Wayne Marshall dub. Vybz Kartel, Masicka, then Busy Signal in quick succession. Alkaline. Tommy Lee Sparta. More Vybz Kartel. Mavado. Aidonia. BUZZ fam! Romeich’s team had the National Arena at their complete mercy and the audience refused to be spared.
We. Want. Alla. Dem. And well, Shenseea returned to give a strength to Romeich…and her re-splice of RiddimStream’s dub. It was a twist that was followed by Ding Dong and Tee Jay numbers.
And so, it endth, but thy doth be sure the drama continued…
The decibel metre turned on again and Do It For The Culture bagged their first win.
Round Three: ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’
Round three was next: ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ was the theme. The teams had to ensure songs between 1990 and 2005 were present in their sets and the judges scrutinised every selection.
Starting off with, 10 minutes of reggae from Strike Force and the team opened with Chronixx. Junior Gong Marley. Barrington Levy. Taurus Riley. Lady Allen’s classic ‘Informer’ graced my ears and all was right in the world. Another dub, in the form of Agent Sasco then gave way to a surprise performance from Protoje had the crowd vibing.
My word Strike Force, mek unno deal wid we so? Blissful pandemonium ripped through the venue when I-Wayne graced the stage. And it was all over when specially ordered dubs from Beres Hammond, Tony Rebel and Tanya Stephens.
RiddimStream Platta and a Dancehall set? I’m intrigued. Let’s go! A Mavado from 2018? Shaky start but we remained hopeful. Now things got interesting…Beenie Man came to murder the scene and the audience was in shambles. Enter Tony Matterhorn, good mawnin!
Drama waved hello and so did the dubs from Mavado and Alozade. War get hot papa, cool it dung deh! Ding Dong classic throwing shots at Romeich Entertainment, again. King Bubba spun more of war-era Kartel and Mavado; ending with an entry from Shabba Ranks.
Romeich Entertainment was up to bat, doing Reggae. Back-to-back Sizzla anthems set the standard for a thrilling 10 minutes. Jah Mason’s mega hit My Princess Gone got a massive forward. Yo, these throwbacks were everything! Hits from Buju Banton, Bascom X, Pressure, Jah Cure and Gyptian brought many down a trek on memory lane. At the end, I was left a little confused, since they switched up with some new-age Reggae from Chronixx, Jesse Royal, Lila Iké, I-Octane and Romaine Virgo.
Do It For The Culture, last but not least, bringing a Dancehall set to the fight. The National Arena lost all composure when a youth orchestra made their way to the stage. And then we saw why; they were performing a magnificent Aidonia dub remix of the Barber of Seville.
Yes. Yes. And yes!!! Spragga Benz, Dance Expressions, Frisco Kidd and Terro Fabulous live? EPIC!!
The decibel metre came back and the sound levels favoured RiddimStream Platta. After a quick consultation, it was revealed that RiddimStream was disqualified from the round for playing songs already rotated. The round then went to Do It For The Culture, now two points clear.
Round Four: ‘The Decider’
Final round was upon us and worth a whopping two points, it was dubbed ‘The Decider’. First out the blocks, Romeich Entertainment came out like a bullet, pulling on local social media favourite Facebook Hero.
Then the National Arena was fed dubs from Masicka, and Stylo G. My word… *checks for spontaneous combustion*
Hello Mek unno ramp so ruff? Daddy1. Jahvillani. A wicked Tee Jay medley from the UpTop Boss in person and Romeich Entertainment was in cruise control – all money dash weh. Then, no longer the leader of the ShengYeng pack, donning a mask, Shensaw made an appearance. And lawd…she came out swingin’ with shots at Jada Kingdom. My scalp. Help me. Weh di ambulance deh? Umm…
Strike Force was up next and Govana, who’d been quiet for much of the night, was livid. Literally seconds into it and there was the genna-genna incarnate Aidonia himself. There it was: the gauntlet, the armada.
Strike Force threw everything at the crowd. The dubs came in hitting hard. Munga Honourable entered the chat and shut the stage down. The rest of the Strike Force set was made up of dubs from Chronixx, Buju Banton, Serani, Jahvillani, Jada Kingdom, Busy Signal and Mavado.
Do It For The Culture was up next, but I don’t think I was fully prepared for the trauma I witnessed.
What an intro from Dovecot Memorial cemetery, Taurus Riley and the legendary Jimmy Cliff?!?
The attacks kept coming and Do It For The Culture drew on the lyrical expertise of Koffee, R&B crooner Miguel and Agent Sasco. Then it came time for entries from Omi and Busta Rhymes, with the latter being cut short.
RiddimStream Platta was down but not out. They may have been hit with a few setbacks but this was still anybody’s fight!
What is air? That ‘Loving You’ opener ended me, giving way to dubs from Potential Kidd and afrobeat kings DaVido and Burna Boy. If the Red Bull Culture Clash wasn’t already epic enough, that rousing set was sure to get folks talking.
OT Genasis’ hit ‘Cut It’ got the dub treatment as well, and a massive strength from the crowd. This is a Bajan side after all, so what would a clash be without soca? Mr Killa made a guest appearance with his hit ‘Run Wid It’. When I tell you that the National Arena descended into chaos on the arrival of Stylo G, you hear the truth.
Wul on, hello! What is going on, why is it suddenly so hot? Stylo G
Okay, with the decibel metre being used for the final time and paired with the judges’ score, Strike Force took round four. But wait, it was a tie. Strike Force now had to face-off against Do It For The Culture one more time.
And anything goes, within the law (looking at you, expletive ban). It all comes down to this. Five more minutes, fresh tracks and no repeats. There was a coin toss, which was won by Strike Force, sending Do It For The Culture to spin for their life.
And they’re off! Do It For The Culture called back for the exclusive Busta Rhymes dub, followed closely by another Supercat. Then came hits from Nadine Sutherland and Buju Banton. It was smooth sailing for Do It For The Culture, finding yet another fresh Capleton dub to remain in contention. The team ended their final (final) set with Buju Banton.
Strike Force come out clean an all these tings! Was that an exclusive DMX dub? Yes to Louis Culture and Tanya Stephens. Govana, feeling confident turned up the charm on the National Arena with a sample of his hit Champ, ending their time with another Aidonia classic.
And the winner is…
The decibel metre was to be used for the last time, when, in a shocking and unceremonious twist, Do It For The Culture was declared the winner at the expense of Strike Force, that got disqualified…
As far as twists go, judging from the boos the rocked the National Arena, M. Night Shyamalan would have been proud.
Overall experience? 20/10. A moment in history is ALWAYS BUZZ-worthy.