Album Review: Dotta Coppa - We Love Dancehall
by Steve Topple
2020 is shaping up to be a landmark year for the Dancehall movement. We’ve already seen inspired albums from Kranium and Govana. And next in line with some positive, conscious vibes is Dotta Coppa – who firmly believes we should ‘make Dancehall great again’.
We Love Dancehall, released via Dancehall Station Productions and VPAL Music, is a banquet of musical delights. The majority of the high-end production is done by Prince Villas Records and Dancehall Station, which has created a technically adept album. But Coppa’s writing and the musical hand of several composers has lifted We Love Dancehall to a much higher plane. Then, the man’s vocal takes it one bit further.
Generally, We Love Dancehall can be broken down into some distinct musical categories. But still, at times Coppa goes off on artistic tangents. The main driver is of course modern Dancehall; a sound that recently has been defined by its crossing over into Afrobeats territory.
The album’s title track is a good example of this mash-up, with all the essential ingredients there. The standard Dancehall six-beat-per-bar clave bass is halved, slowing the track right down. But it’s still the focus of the cut, driving the track forward enough to create an immediate wind. The Afrobeats choral-like synths mix with choppy, offbeat strings to give an airier feel. Percussion replicates the bass, but cutting in again on the offbeats between the third and the fourth. And Coppa’s growling vocal, with the occasional vocoder use, is punchy, eloquent and covers an impressive range. It’s a smart creation, leaving you with a proper earworm; always the sign of a good track.
For straight-up, synth-heavy Afrobeats, look no further than Work – a energetic, contagious and fresh offering. It feels frantic, despite the bass only punching on the first and last beats of the bar. This is due to the complex keys arrangement and the jittery percussion. Coppa’s vocal again impresses, with detailed rhythms and an intuitive use of dynamics to lift the track out of standard Afrobeats territory.
Reggae-Pop features across several cuts. Life Nuh Easy is a stand-out. It’s in part a revelation, due to the slight unexpectedness of its inclusion. And also, because Coppa strays into conscious territory with the narrative about personal faith and positivity. Musically its slick from Marlon Ricardo Morsby, with all the Reggae devices present. The cut goes beyond this, with acoustic guitars riffing away from the skank, the inclusion of synths and a melodica which at times works to a beat of its own. But the production from Live MB is impressive, as the low-pass filter takes away the raw feel of Roots, softening and warming the track almost to RnB territory. And Coppa shows not only his softer side, but also his skill as a straight vocalist – bringing both a vulnerability but also a pleasing tone and resonance to the track.
These Streets takes We Love Dancehall into an impressively brooding, unsettling HipHop/Dancehall/Trap hybrid. It’s cleverly composed by Tim Mackie, with production from Mr. Barnacle. The use of just one melodic key throughout plays to more traditional Rap. Then, the incessant bass feels at time like Dancehall, with its incessant one… two-three – but that’s mixed up with additional syncopation. The heavy use of reverb, creating a slowed-down buzz roll-effect but with synths, feels more Trap (Drill in the UK). The stripped back yet Ambient feel also adds to this. And Coppa’s searingly stark message about the reality of life in poverty-stricken communities and the “corrupted system we live in” fits its musical backdrop perfectly. Extremely powerful work.
For straight-up modern RnB, Free is a good example. Coppa and Troy Elliot have taken Afrobeats sensibilities and slowed them right down, creating a polished, thoughtful cut. Meanwhile, the 90s Hip Hop ballad is reimagined as 2020 ‘Afroballad’ with Shoulda Never. It’s a moving tribute to the passing of one of Coppa’s bredrin. Again, the composition and arrangement (from Morsby) is slick and well-constructed. But once more Coppa’s vocal surprises, cementing his ability to move away from straight singjay into more mechanically complex areas.
But he’s at his finest when he thinks further away from the outside of the box he’s already escaped. The wryly-named Make Dancehall Great Again is probably the album’s hottest cut. Tom Rilinger and Hartmut Lehnhoff have created a mad hybrid of EDM, Dancehall and some Afrobeats with an Ambient vibe – and it works. It opens with some high-pitched synths (more at home in Happy Hardcore). The percussion brings in the Dancehall six-beat clave, with the bass then picking it up. The rapid, semiquaver hi hat is Afrobeats all over – but then it’s embellished with that Trap buzz roll. The heavy use of reverb, the flute synths and the keys which cut in at points, focused on the treble clef, add some Ambient to proceedings. And once more, Coppa mixes the bruk out with the conscious, proclaiming that “all you really need is a shorty, no guns to go to the party” – taking aim at the gang culture that’s dominated some Dancehall for many years. It’s a brilliant sum of its parts – and encapsulates the musical and lyrical ambiguity of the project completely.
We Love Dancehall is a really compelling mix of styles and genres. But moreover, as a listener Coppa’s clear love of the music is infectiously seared into your consciousness. It’s a well thought out, expertly crafted project with some classics in the making. The balance between conscious and bruk out is perfect, creating a sensational platform for this talented artist to bounce off. All in all, we do ‘love dancehall’. And we certainly love Coppa’s entry into this year’s roster of contributions to it.
Dotta Coppa - We Love Dancehall
DIGITAL RELEASE [Dancehall Station Productions]
Release date: 03/08/2020
01. We Love Dancehall
02. Hate & Grudge
03. Thank God I'm Living feat. Darrio
04. Life Nuh Easy
07. Cova Ground
08. Make Dancehall Great Again feat. Elijah Prophet
09. Smoking Away
10. Mama Say
11. Shoulda Never
12. These Streets
14. Getting Married