Jamaican in New York


TGM member and photographer Dee Williams (#shotbydee) took to the streets of NYC for our CULTURE month. With roots deep in Jamaica and an EYE for capturing beauty it was obvious what her submission was going to be. "Jamaican in NYC" - an interview & photo series highlighting the most influential island (shit, the world too) in the Caribbean. Say hello to Bianca Gracie, Koi, Danielle & Cheyann Greirson, Dame Lavie, Garrace "Geezus" Whyte and Tahirah "Tea" Jarrett.

Name: Bianca Gracie
Age: 25
Social: Twitter - Instagram
Location: North Bronx

Roots: My family is from the Hanover Parish. My mom grew up in Logwood while my dad was raised in Orange Bay. 

How do you feel about the recent rise in Dancehall "inspired" music?

This is always a double-edged sword. While I always appreciate when homegrown dancehall is given the mainstream platform it deserves, it seems like these American artists are using it more as a marketing ploy than being genuine. There is nothing wrong with being influenced by another culture–it's been happening in music since the beginning of time. But what I have an issue with is these singers and rappers aren't crediting or respecting the source. Chris Brown, for example, recently released a song called "Questions" where he's embarrassingly trying his hand at patois and basically rehashing Kevin Lyttle's classic "Turn Me On" hit. While being completely reductive and vapid, it's another example of these big artists using these Caribbean influencers as a capitalizing jump off point. It's very frustrating and it's tainting the pureness of our unique culture. We should be helping the big artists in dancehall strive for more international success rather than ripping off their style, which leaves them morally stripped.

What is your favorite genre of Jamaican music + your favorite song?

I've been a lover of hardcore dancehall since I could walk! Many people, mostly men, are surprised whenever I say that I prefer the badmon chunes over the bruk out ones. Growing up, I loved Spragga Benz, Sizzla, Beenie Man and Lady Saw. But Vybz Kartel is my all-time favorite Jamaican artist. The most recent songs that I can't stop playing are Aidonia's "Banga," Masicka and Vybz Kartel's "Infrared" and Alkaline's "Extra Lesson."

Name: Koi
Age: 24
Social: Twitter - Instagram
Location: South Florida /Brooklyn

Roots: My family is from Linstead in the Parrish of St Catherine. Country life!

How do you feel about the recent rise in Dancehall "inspired" music?

I feel extremely uneasy about it. It's weird how American and artists from other nationalities are PROFITING big time off dancehall inspired music but meanwhile actual dancehall artist can't even get work visas. Jamaican artists and Jamaicans in general continue to suffer as others live it up in their name. I cringed seeing all white girls in Justin Bieber's 'Sorry' dance video. It's hurtful. Every time I hear Drake say "unruly" I kiss my teeth in disgust. Chris Brown can have several seats with his new song--that's pretty much just a 'Hold Yuh' and 'Turn Me On' cover. What makes it worse, is there's no homage being paid. Most non Jamaicans just know of Sean Paul and maybe Beenie Man when it comes to dancehall. Something's gotta give.

What is your favorite genre of Jamaican music + your favorite song?

My favorite Jamaican music is definitely Dancehall. I do love reggae as well but it's just something about Dancehall that can't be touched. Everyone can try HARD to duplicate but only the true and real can produce a solid Dancehall track. Lots of songs to choose from but I'll say 'All My Love' by Gaza Slim (Vanessa Bling) and Vybz Kartel is one of my favorite songs. So underrated!

Name: Danielle Greirson
Age: 26
Social: Twitter - Instagram
Location: New York

Roots: My dad is from Spring Village near Spanishtown and my mom is from St Elizabeth.

How do you feel about the recent rise in Dancehall "inspired" music?

I find it very annoying. I feel like it's pretty much cultural appropriation. One notable artist that comes to mind is Drake (obvi). I'm not exactly sure what his ties are to Jamaican culture but it's just like, bro- we need to see some receipts. Which Jamaican legends are passing on the torch to have you represent a whole culture you know nothing about?! Not only that, but he profits on his appropriation of Jamaican-ness and I have yet to see how he gives back to the people he's so influenced by- he needs to show that through either philanthropic endeavors or the building of a platform for other upcoming Jamaican artists to truly flourish. I like Drake but if he's going to profit off of my people, he needs to at least help us build some schools in Kingston, Port More and Spanishtown.

If you could introduce the world to one legendary Jamaican (one that mainstream America generally doesn't know about) who would it be?

I have a ton of "favorites" but Jah Cure would probably get top of the list. If you're not Jamaican or a fan of Reggae, you probably won't know who he is but his music transcends language, culture and time. "Life We Live" is a super powerful, well-written melody and I just feel so at peace whenever I hear it. Most, if not all, of his songs usually have some more expansive broader message about life, love and happiness, especially within the context of the black lives experience. I don't think he could ever pivot over to "mainstream" and I am pretty happy about that.

Name: Dame Lavie
Age: 26
Social: DameLavie.com - Twitter - Instagram
Location: Upstate New York (at the moment)

Roots: My Mom was born and lived in Kingston. Her parents (my Grandparents) were from Hanover & St. Ann. My biological father was from St. Thomas, and my Dad is from St. Catherine, Spanish Town.

What do you think Jamaica's biggest influence on the world is?

Music.. we gave ya'll Reggae & Hip Hop!

If you could introduce the world to one legendary Jamaican (one that mainstream America generally doesn't know about) who would it be?

I would introduce Nanny of the Maroons to mainstream America. The Maroons were African slaves who escaped enslavement and established their own settlements in the mountainous regions of Jamaica. Nanny led more than 1000 slaves to freedom and into these communities. Essentially the og bad gyal to Harriet Tubman, Nanny was declared a national heroine in 1976.

Name: Cheyann Greirson
Age: 19
Social: Twitter - Instagram
Location: I’m currently a student at the University of Miami, but I am originally from Westchester, NY

Roots: My mom is from Montego Bay and my father was from St. Elizabeths

How do you feel about the recent rise in Dancehall "inspired” music?

I think it shows how influential and culturally momentous Jamaica is. Even as such a tiny island, it has such far reaching cultural authority. With that being said, I do think a lot of the songs emulating dancehall culture is cheap appropriation used for sales and clout.

What is your favorite genre of Jamaican music + your favorite song?

My favorite genre would definitely have to be reggae. My favorite artist is Beres Hammond, but my favorite reggae song is Zimbabwe by Bob Marley because of the impact and meaning behind it.

Name: Tahirah "Tea" Jarrett
Age: 26
Social: Twitter - Instagram
Location: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY

Roots: St. Andrews, Kingston, Jamaica

What is it like being Jamaican in NYC?

Being that I grew up in Disney's backyard (Florida), living as a Jamaican in New York is a privilege. My household was very Caribbean but geographical circumstances made it very difficult for us to carry on the culture as we would have liked. Walmart gave us the smallest section in their "International Aisle". The closest restaurant was an hour away, and Sean Paul was the only artist playing on the radio. I moved to NY four years ago and never have felt more Caribbean in my life. I now have the luxury of buying jerk chicken within blocks from where I live, I get to go to bashment parties and whine my waist to the best dancehall music, and most important, I can be amongst people I can relate to the most. I'm grateful. 

What is your favorite genre of Jamaican music + your favorite song?

There's nothing like turning on some good Lovers Rock or cultured reggae on a beautiful Sunday. My father is Rastafarian and growing up we heard nothing but Beres Hammond and Sizzla around the house. My favorite song would have to be  'I Feel good' by Beres Hammond.

Name: Garrace "Geezus" Whyte
Age: 22
Social: Twitter - Instagram
Location: Upstate New York

Roots: All over! My father is from St. Catherine and my mother is from Kingston. My grandparents are from St. Ann and Hanover.

How do you feel about the recent rise in Dancehall "inspired" music?

Conflicted. Though it is great to hear the sound that originated in Jamaica reach mainstream America the way it has, there is a noticeable lack of appreciation and celebration for those who created said sound. We can see this in the music of Justin Bieber, Diplo and many other artist who make such a great financial and social profit on the back of the Dancehall sound. The problem occurs when there is silence and lack of action when it comes to helping the island and the people of Jamaica. I hope to see these artists give back to the island that has given so much but has received so little.

What is your favorite genre of Jamaican music + your favorite song?

My favorite genre of Jamaican music has to be reggae! My favorite artist is Peter "Stepping Razor" Tosh, who also happens to be the artist of my favorite song 'Pick Myself Up'. The song's message of not quitting on yourself after a setback is a truth that applies to everyone universally, no matter who you are.