“Yuh cyaan guh out an a look suh,” or, in standard English, "You can't go out looking like that." This is one of many things my cousin and I have said to one another while getting ready to hit the town. And while your 'fit has to be on point for a party, as Jamaicans, we know that hair is everything. It’s part of what defines us, an extension of our individual identities. Our favorite genre of music to hear when we go out is dancehall, which first rose to prominence in Jamaica during the 1970s.
We may be a little biased: Not only is the genre host to a slew of Jamaican talent but within the larger cultural movement, you can find some of the most diverse and eclectic personal style choices. Much like hip-hop music, which itself has Jamaican roots, style aesthetics are as much a part of dancehall culture as the music and dancing that goes with it.
One only needs to look to the most iconic music video in dancehall history, Chaka Demus & Pliers’s “Murder She Wrote" to see original dancehall queen Carlene Smith sporting a curled, platinum blonde, shoulder-length wig. Of course, it’s never "just hair" in dancehall. It’s part of how you’re remembered as both an artist and an individual. I mean, we may forget a good performance, but we’ll never forget a hairstyle — whether it's terrible or fantastic.
Followers of dancehall are well aware of how the tastemakers' personal style impacts the genre’s followers. Before being imprisoned, dancehall king Vybz Kartel infamously started bleaching his skin to make it lighter. Many of his fans followed suit, to the vociferous dismay of many others — a testament to how one artist's personal aesthetic choices can have such a far-reaching impression.
Dancehall artist Elephant Man performing in 2005
Though the entire catalog of dancehall music includes artists who have incorporated bold hairstyles and colors as part of their signature look (who can forget the half-red, half-yellow dye job Elephant Man sported for years?), these four standouts are setting the pace for hair trends in dancehall today. Read on to see how Popcaan, Spice, Shenseea, and Alkaline are all helping to change the game.
Popcaan (who the unfamiliar might recognize as the artist who appeared on the better version of Drake's "Controlla,") has been dubbed a natural hair icon by some fans for good reason. He's known for sporting an assortment of different hairstyles — if you can imagine it, the artist has probably done it.
Up in a high puff; a stretched, brushed-out 'fro in the shape of a flame; and multiple braids sticking out à la Coolio. He's even rocked a version of one of this season's hottest natural hair-trends: the puff pony. However, instead of just one big ponytail sectioned off into puffs with rubber bands, he's divided his hair into several smaller ones, complete with green, red, and yellow elastics. We stan a versatile king.
How could we talk about hair without including Grace “Spice” Hamilton in the conversation? The dancehall diva is an OG of the genre and kills every performance with her dazzling, form-fitting bodysuits. Her look, however, is incomplete without one of her show-stopping wigs. Dubbed “the fashion-forward queen of dancehall” by Vogue last year, she vies towards defending her title with every new look.
Though the artist and Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta star is partial to wigs in virtually any shade of blue (it's for this reason her fans are called Smurfettes), she’s never shied away from dabbling into other eclectic styles including bone-straight, 32” highlighter-green hair; crimped, aquamarine hair with green tips](https://www.instagram.com/p/Bi1_MySAWJP/?taken-by=spiceofficial); or any of her pastel or neon-colored bobs.
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Most notably, the artist headlined performance during Reggae Sumfest this year that was themed after Black Panther. Her creative direction included a bodysuit that likened the one worn by Dora Milaje and sporting her natural hair. The multiple ways in which Spice has been switching up her hair over the years is enough to even make the heads of colorful-wig aficionados — like Kylie Jenner, Blac Chyna, and Katy Perry — spin.
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If there’s a dancehall artist who knows a thing or two about personal style, it’s Alkaline. When he first arrived on the scene, he made something of a shocking debut with a pair of black eyeballs — seriously, no whites were showing. When asked about his literally eye-popping ink during an interview, the artist mentioned that his tattooed eyes “hurt, but pain is temporary."
On his 22nd birthday, Alkaline uploaded a photo of himself with the whites in his eyes finally making an appearance. It was then that fans realized that his eyes were, in fact, not tattooed, but instead a pair of contacts. Phew. Now that the world has gotten to the bottom of the mystery of his black eyeballs, Alkaline began to play more with hair color.
The artist began sporting platinum blonde, shoulder-length loc extensions. The new 'do only lasted a few months before he shed the colorful look for his own natural hue. His locs are perpetually crisp and manicured, sometimes twisted together — another obvious aesthetic proclivity. Though it was short-lived, the platinum blonde extensions were a way for the artist to re-invent himself and showcase his continually-evolving personal style.
Shenseea is one of dancehall's newest princesses, and she's already shown that she is not scared to switch up her look as frequently as possible. While Spice is known for her in-your-face colored wigs, Shenseea's personal style is more of a mixed bag. The artist is just as inclined to rock black, stick-straight, mile-long Cher hair as she is a unicorn-hued topper. Back in September, she popped up on many a dancehall enthusiast's timelines, wearing a mermaid-esque, rainbow-colored wig.
A curled platinum blonde wig saw its way onto the BET Experience stage in June, while straight, 30” thigh-length neon yellow straight style was her choice style for the “Hard Drive” video, which debuted the same month. Looks like Shenseea was already rocking one of fall 2018's hottest colors before it officially became a thing.
In her music video for "Solo," a white monokini-clad Shenseea raps and writhes in a tub full of pink water, rocking a bright pink, wet-looking wig, another beauty moment in dancehall that we won't soon forget. But scroll down on her Instagram feed, and you'll find her with a set of goddess locs, adorned with cuffs and gold thread. All in all, there is no limit to the looks Shenseea serves, though they are a testament to the versatility of her artistry and overall aesthetic.
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