Bucking the volume (of song releases)

A digital music app
A digital music app (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

On 1 June 2022, a Jamaican dancehall artiste FS/Crazy Shot and his management team, literally, bucked the volume of singles releases by putting out 60 songs at one go. If that was not enough, the deluge is scheduled to be repeated on 1 July with another 60 new songs and then once more on 1 August. As that is Emancipation Day it may be fitting as it may just be the musical equivalent of freeing enslaved Africans without a plan.

In Jamaican terminology, buck has several meanings. I am using it in the sense of increasing something to its maximum, especially an audio playback system. It can also mean: to encounter accidentally (as in buck up); an animal’s (especially a goat) or human’s head butt; to stub one’s toe; to nod off sitting upright then jerk awake suddenly; and protruding front teeth. I daresay more than the first meaning applies to this quantity strategy, as with this volume of releases in just over two months is an attempt to buck up success, which will likely result in figuratively bucking the toe and the 180 songs falling flat, as they cause the bored listeners to buck. If this is the outcome, then the person who came up with the strategy would do well to buck their head against the nearest wall, repeatedly.

However, like the current graphic violence and sex in some Jamaican popular music songs and videos, this striking example of going for extreme quantity, with the inherent disregard for optimal quality, occurs in the context of a similar approach, previously, which seems to have borne fruit. In 1996, when I started writing a weekly column in another publication, I looked up the weekly list of releases which was published in a particular tabloid for the preceding month and used that as the basis to write about the volume of songs being recorded I Jamaica. I do not remember the exact number, but it was over 400. Considering that all the weekly listings covered only some of the vinyl releases (this was before the CD single hit Jamaica through Dave Kelly’s Madhouse outfit) in the country, it was an extremely high level of output. The practice of recording for multiple producers has also resulted in individual performers having a slew of near simultaneous releases – including albums, which has led to more than one falling out.

When Dennis Brown died at 42 years old on 1 July 1999, he ended up with 90 albums, according to www.discogs.com. The first was No Man is an Island for Studio One in 1970, so you can work out the yearly average. However, by the time D. Brown was recording “Sherry Baby” with Brian and Tony Gold somewhere in the mid-1990s, it was clear that his voice was nowhere where it had once been. Gregory Isaacs, also, suffered from declining standards in his prodigious output and Sizzla, with over 90 albums and counting to his credit, has not always maintained a standard consistent with his special talent. In April 2021, Tanya Stephens released a song per day, but with the “Ruff Rider”, “Rebelution”, “Infallible” and “Gangsta Blues” albums to her credit, she was in a very different position than FS/Crazy Shot’s relative starting stance. I have not seen a count of the number of songs released by Vybz Kartel since he has been behind bars, 12 years ago, first awaiting trial and then serving a life sentence (appeal pending), but it is a whole heap.

We cannot ignore the role of more accessible digital technology in this 180-song strategy. I have heard so many stories of the limited space available on a 24-track tape leading to situations where a single track remained, which had to be judiciously utilised. Of course, the only limitation in a digital scenario is storage and, with the Cloud available, it is easy to upload the songs and let them rain at the selected time.

So, that is a bit of the background to the point where we find ourselves with a crazy shot at success – 180 songs released in short order for those interested to sift through. I can’t help noting the potential irony in the figure, as 180 degrees could mean an about-face and actually moving in the opposite direction of the one intended. This seems like a scattershot, rather than a targeted approach, blasting wildly away and hoping to hit something, rather than aiming carefully and having a much higher chance of actually scoring. I do hope that this means the music volume output is bucked, despite the technological capability to go harder.

Mel Cooke covered Jamaican entertainment as a print journalist for almost two decades, overlapping with his MPhil research on dancehall and experiential marketing with the Institute of Caribbean Studies, UWI, Mona, where he is now working on a PhD while lecturing in the Bachelor of Arts, Communication Arts and Technology (BACAT) programme at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech, Ja.).

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