The following is a transcript of Season 1, Episode 5, of the Hot Girls Podcast Series. Celebrating icons in the music industry. Listen here.
This week I’m going to be delving into the back catalogue of an artist who has been making music for over twenty years. Someone who has been a massive part of the success of Dancehall – the genre which grew out of Jamaica and has had such a huge impact on popular club music all over the world. She’s called Spice, which when I typed into Wikipedia didn’t show up because of all the Spice Girls albums. Now I love the Spice Girls, but this Spice has had such an impact, can we get her up there please!
As always with these mini artist episodes, this isn’t just her life story, but also an exploration of her musical influences, and the decisions she’s made throughout life to get to where she is today. Spice is a phenomenal woman with an interesting journey full of ups and downs so enjoy this and then make sure you go and listen to some dancehall and you’re guaranteed to improve your day!
In the summer of 1982, a young girl was born in St Catherine, Jamaica. It was in Jamaica that Spice grew up – she was called Grace Hamilton and had a very humble start. She had four siblings – her father died when she was 9 so it was up to her mum to raise them all which was pretty tough and they definitely didn’t have plenty.
Whether it was the absence of things, or just an inherent part of her nature, Spice was hungry and I think she would have been successful, whatever path she’d pursued. But, luckily for us, music was the avenue she spied to make her mark on the world.
Her first kinda known show was performing at Sting in 2000 when she was 18. Sting was a one night festival for Dancehall and reggae music which used to take place once a year, it doesn’t exist anymore but ran for 30years and over that time featured performances from Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, Popcaan, Biggie Smalls who actually had to play in a wheelchair because he had a broken leg the year he performed.
Sting was famous for hosting clashes – so all this basic beefing artists do now over Twitter and instagram – snore – at Sting they’d bring two artists out onstage and they would try to win favour with the crowd predominantly through performance. There’s an amazing video of Mavado clashing Vybz Kartel and Vybz is like bouncing around the stage in full army gear with lots of bags he’s a legend but it’s funny – would recommend. Anyway. I digress.
This was Spice’s first platform and she didn’t have any big, well-known songs to play but what she had was a fuck tonne of energy and stage presence. This is so much what Dancehall is about. As an artist it relies a lot, still, on what you can lay on top of a beat already produced, both in lyrics and attitude and presence.
After this performance and getting her name on people’s radars Spice started building hype and creating music, she managed to get over to the UK for a small tour and got the attention of some more established artists, particularly Baby Cham and Beenie Man. Even if you aren’t super familiar with Jamaican music you’ll probably know Beenie Man because he has songs like Dude, Rum & Redbull and Sim Simma who got the keys to ma beemer, which Mahalia samples on her song Simmer – Dude came out in 2004 and it was around this time he met Spice and then she featured on his next album.
Her first popular single was “Fight Over Man”, which didn’t blow up internationally but did well in Jamaican and more concentrated Dancehall spaces. She used “Eighty Five Riddim” which is the same riddim used for Miss Fatty and also in Ghetto Story by Baby Cham which Akon and Alicia keys remixed so that single charted in the US.
Spice’s breakthrough moment was very specific. 8years after she first performed at Sting, 8years ok people – just saying, for anyone who’s like been making music for 2years and doesn’t understand why they aren’t Adele yet, she collaborated on a track called Romping Shop with Vybz Kartel who tops pretty much every list of the greatest Dancehall artists of all time. The song was catchy and caught the attention of Global listeners. There was also a suitably raunchy video and photo shoot done to accompany the single and help it’s success along. Though I really think it did well because it’s just really catchy.
The song was ranked at number 9 on Pitchfork‘s list of the “50 Best Dancehall Songs of All Time”. Also if you listened to the episode on Nicki Minaj where we talked about how she created a really clear visual identity, you can see Spice had started to find hers by these Romping Shop days, where she has bright blue hair and the same lower lip piercing she still has. This gets exaggerated at points in her life but generally she has a very distinctive image with brightly colored hair, lots of jewellery and almost fantasy kinda clothes. She looks like a superhero a lot of the time when she’s performing.
“Something has to stand out, whether it’s my blue hair or whatever, something has to stand out so people want to know, who is that girl?” – Spice
From what I can find, she wasn’t signed to a label when Romping Shop came out but she did sign afterwards in 2009 to VP records, which is based in New York but signs mainly Jamaican or Caribbean artists. Missy Elliot actually remixed one of her songs in 2011, but is probably fair to say that in general, outside of Romping Shop, Spice was more known in her home country than Globally.
She’s had a huge volume of songs out but her debut EP didn’t actually come out until 2014. When it did, she became a lot more famous, outside of the music world – the song from that which got the immediate pick up was conjugal visit because it featured Vybz Kartel and he just has tremendous power – also they did it as like a “continue the story” from Romping SHop. BUT the song that has really lasted and the song I think of as like iconic Spice, is “So mi like it”. The video for it is a level up for Spice in terms of budget and glamour, and her hair is full turquoise. For me, So Mi Like It is really Spice at her best. It’s powerful, a bit filthy, as some softness that makes it catchy for people who aren’t used to the nuances of Jamaican lyrics, but also the way she spits the lyrics out is what’s so distinctive about her as an artist.
So just to pause on Spice as an artist and musician, by 2016 she’d been performing and making music for 16years, fairly relentlessly. While she had a label, she was never the priority of a label. The things that really helped her get ahead and get known were, firstly having a very distinctive like nuanced Jamaican sound, a bold image and then, has to be said, a good relationship with one of the most consistent and prolific artists of all time, Vybz Kartel.
Then, the other thing that makes me have massive respect for her is the amount of energy that she brings on stage every single time she performs, she makes Lizzo look like a clicking backing singer, like she flips, twerks, splits, jumps on the audience. She’s just this huge ball of energy, it’s amazing. Dancehall has always been underrepresented by women and I’m just gonna insert a little clip of what Tifa, another artist had to say on this…
Anywayyy, Spice is a hustler. That’s the most important thing to understand. She is relentless. She will never stop working, creating things. She recently made the decision that she wanted to grow outside of Jamaica and so went on the American show “Love and Hip-hop” to build her profile, outside of people who specifically follow Reggae and carnival culture. She says her process to join was exactly the same as everyone else’s – she applied, she interviewed, she did screen tests, she got on. I watched a couple of interviews with her around this process and it was really interesting hearing her talk about the whole experience because on the one hand she’s so famous but then there are obviously so many worlds who have no idea who she is. Some quotes from her about why she wanted to penetrate the states: “We don’t have that type of audience in Jamaica… Jamaicans don’t even buy records… you want to get more Americanised so people will buy your record” – “Yes I’m the queen of the dancehall but me wanna do more” – “I’m signed to VP records but they’re not doing nothing for me, so I’m doing this by myself… just me, myself and god on my side. It’s very, very, difficult as a woman.”… “I’m also a mum”. She loves her country but she wants them dollar dollar bills. Probably so that one day she can chill out for a bit!
There are two controversies Spice has been involved in recently, outside of music, but connected to it in one case. I’ll call out both because I think they’re a positive reflection of who she is as a person. The first was when she whited up for a music video and shoot. She literally went blonde and had this creamy skin and lots of people thought she’d done it as a genuine thing when she’d actually done it in protest against skin bleaching which she saw happening in the Jamaican culture. She obviously did not look good and that was kind of the point she was trying to make like, is this attractive, is this how I’m supposed to look to be sexual?
This is a really important thing in music culture because as well as being a lack of representation of female artists, there are also issues when it comes to the different way labels treat black female artists vs. either lighter skinned artists or white women. Not something I’m going to get into today but if anyone did see those photos of spice, they were connected to her song Black hypocrisy, some of the lyrics are:
(‘Cause) I was told I would reach further, If the colour of mi skin was lighter, And I was made to feel inferior Cah society seh brown girls prettier. Now I’m gonna see if you gonna say I’m too black for you
Or do I look pretty to you?
Another thing she was accused of, when she was on Love and Hip-hop was fat shaming one of the other girls and she had the best response to this which was basically that, before she spent time in the states she didn’t know fat shaming was a thing because it isn’t in Jamaica. Where she’s from it is not a rule that you’re more or less attractive based on your weight so she didn’t see it as offensive. So take that western society.
I don’t think there is anything I could add that would be more poignant or more important than what she’s said there. Spice is a talented artist but more than that she’s an incredibly resilient woman and mother and daughter and you should listen and play her music and find that hunger in yourself to create because blessings come from that process.
Thank you for listening – blessings for your day.