Fresh off the Labor Day weekend, there isn’t a better time to celebrate the Queen of Dancehall. Hailing from the island of Jamaica, Spice’s reign has spanned over a decade, yet she has never felt freer. She recently released her sophomore album, Emancipated, and in addition to owning multiple businesses and being a mother, she finds time to make us laugh and whine our waists. Staying true to herself is at the top of her checklist when making music, allowing her fans to relate to her often viral lyrics. We caught up with the dancehall queen and her blue ombre tresses as she flowed in and out of patois about this new album, the state of the dancehall, and her musical journey.
Jamaica has a global influence, from the states to the UK or Canada. We hear Jamaica in everything from the music to the lingo. Which area do you think has the best dancehall riddims and artists besides the island?
Spice: Besides Jamaica? (she pauses) New York. Anywhere in the Tri-state area I would say, definitely.
Let’s take it back to before the ‘Queen of Dancehall’. Before you got recognized rapping on stage with Bounty Killer. Was music always the goal, the dream for Baby Spice?
S: Absolutely. I used to sing around the house with my father when I was a little girl. As far back as I can remember, I used to be singing in the house. My father was a Rasta, so we used to play a lot of Professor Nuts in the house, a lot of Bob Marley music. He used to say, “my daughter, if you can sing this Professor Nuts song, mi give yuh extra food inna yuh plate, extra dumpling.” I used to love dumplings. I used to sing for dumplings since I was a little child. So when he discovered my talent, I guess he discovered it before me.
I remember how he used to drive me around and his little 50 bike and used to boast to his friends that my daughter is going to become a singer. She’s a star, she can sing. My father died when I was only nine years old. Just so you get an idea of how young I was doing it with my father. So music was my goal. My dream.
The rhymes you spit back then on stage with Bounty Killer, they were very tough, very hardcore. When did you transition from that to this free, playful, experimental Spice?
S: It started in church for me because I used to have to always go to Sunday school. I was always under fire, always had a big voice. I’m a past student of the St. Catherine High School so, big up to St. Catherine High School and the Blue Crest team. They’re always so proud of me because I used to make lyrics in school, educational lyrics. The kids used to come to me to teach them the songs to pass their exams. So, that’s where it started for me. I discovered dancehall when I got a little older when I left St. Catherine high school. And I used to go to parties and events. My father used to teach me reggae but when I discovered dancehall, I fell in love with that style.
So, fast forward to meeting Bounty Killer when I went on stage, it was a community dance that was happening in Old Braeton. And he was on the stage and Bounty Killer was like Yeo, hello, hello, everybody come off on the stage. And this little girl brave ol’ me went on stage and you know, they were doing a lotta lyrics back and forth. And he handed me the microphone. He’s actually the first artist to hand me the microphone within Dancehall and that’s really where Spice was born. So, it was a lot of different transitions from being a dancehall artist. I never stop.
Fast forward to this project, Emancipated. It has everything from an electronic sound on “Pop Off,” a more vocal performance on “Same Mouth,” and that iconic Spice humor with “Tape Measure” and “Bake a Man.” How did you decide which sounds you wanted to include on this album?
S: Um, that was pretty easy. I think my fan base and the audience that I’ve reached kind of helped me to choose. I go on tour in Europe every year. I felt like “Pop Off” would be a good selection for that audience. With “Same Mouth” that was for my fans who don’t want to dance and party, who want something mellow to listen to. A cultural type of song like “Clap Clap” is all me. I started it with that because I wanted to be myself, I’m big on sticking true to my authentic dancehall riddims, bass, and drum patterns. I also wanted to show versatility. That’s why you have a mixture of so many different sounds. I go into my Instagram stories and ask people, what song are you listening to? It’s not like everybody’s choosing one particular song. People like “Crop Top”, they like “Bake A Man”, “Tape Measure”, I’m happy that I was able to reach so many people. I’m super happy that I have a wide selection of songs that people could pick from.
It was a huge battle behind the scenes. But I never cared. I could not afford for anything to hold me back.Spice
We love that the projects went from Captured to Emancipated. You’ve been releasing music independently for a while. How are you feeling freer these days, musically and personally?
S: I’m feeling elated. I’m super excited. I’m really just gleeful over this entire ordeal. To be honest, what a lot of people don’t know, and it’s something that I’m revealing to you now, for the first time based on you asking me this question. When I was releasing songs before, and even the Captured mixtape, I was doing that illegally. A lot of people didn’t know that – I don’t think my fans knew that. I was not supposed to be releasing songs outside of my contract with my past record company.
I was at a place where I wasn’t going to let anything hold me back. So I was just putting out songs and releasing projects. It was a huge battle behind the scenes. But I never cared. I could not afford for anything to hold me back. That’s why the name of that project was called Captured because that’s how I felt. Now you can realize how much this project means to me. This is literally my baby. I’m really celebrating, being emancipated after 10 years, it’s a decade like it’s a long time. I’m just elated, very, very much elated.
Dancehall is forever evolving. How do you feel about the newer artists with trap dancehall and the people that are just dancehall purists, which side do you fall on?
S: I love them, I can’t deny it. I like people that are artistic and different and want to try different things. I don’t mind. I like people that will channel their experiences in music, I really don’t have a problem or anything like that. So mi kinda like the new artists dem, mi nuh really have a problem with nobody mi like how dem ah do dem ting everybody ah gwan good and the fact that dem ah come out one behind each other. They are doing so extremely well. Which makes it like you know, another great thing for dancehall. Yesterday, Nicki Minaj added Skeng, who is a new artist in our genre, on her album. That’s a big thing for all of us, not just him. So I’m super excited for all of the new artists. Big up Brysco as well, which is my friend I spoke to him earlier. Alladem just ah gwan good, dem a do good. Mi like it.
Well, you spoke about Nicki Minaj. You’ve worked with everyone from Shaggy to Vybz Kartel with “Rompin Shop”, Popcaan, and Stefflon Don recently as well. Do you have any dream collaborations outside of Dancehall?
S: Um, I have quite a lot. The list is long, but I have quite a few. I don’t limit myself. I could call a name to you today and then tomorrow, I could do a song with someone else. So I have quite a few people that I dream to collaborate with and I think they know themselves.
We’ll be listening out. You are very outspoken in your brand, your music, and in what you post. What made you decide to showcase your personality on a talk show with, “Spice It Up”?
S: “Spice It Up” is something I’ve been doing behind the scenes. I’m friends with a lot of my peers. I can ask them what maybe an interviewer would be professional about and would be afraid to ask them because you know, you keep it professional. So when I’m behind the scenes, I’ll see somebody and I’ll be like, Oh, I’m gonna ask them that. They’re like, “what, like out of the blue?” “Spice It Up” came along when I decided to start recording these interviews. I signed with Magnum tonic wine, so big up to Magnum, who is the engine behind the talk show. They’re the sponsor for “Spice It Up”. They were receptive to the whole concept. And I was super happy to be that talk show host and it’s something that I enjoy doing. I like teasing my artist friends.
Speaking of the outspoken controversial topics that people don’t really speak about, many dark-skinned women look up to you for celebrating your skin, especially after the infamous bleaching photos. Since “Black Hypocrisy”, do you think we’re making any progress with colorism?
S: I would say we made progress, especially when I released that whole Black hypocrisy movement. I got apologies from people who were coming forward and confessing, “oh my God, I used to make these horrible comments against this person or that person.” I had people calling me crying like real tears, expressing things that they’re guilty of. A lot of people even now are like, oh my God ever since you created awareness for colorism, I’ve been getting more love and, you know, even girls that used to tease me. It’s different and stuff like that. I feel like it’s not going to change overnight. But I feel like the awareness was created.
As the Queen of Dancehall, you can also claim the queen of businesses. Whether it’s Graci Noir the clothing line, the talk show, or your nonprofit, Grace Hamilton Women Empowerment Foundation, how important is it for you to show your fans that kind of independence?
It is super important for me, because like I said, I’ve been captured for 10 years. So now that you know, I’m emancipated again, it is something that I’ve been living for. There used to be this trend going on where they used to say, “I want to find a rich husband.” I used to rebuttal that and say, “I want to be a rich wife.” Women need to realize that we have to be independent, we have to be our own bosses, we have to make our own rules. The decision needs to be coming from us so that nobody has control over our life and our future. They can’t tell us when to go and how to go and what to do. I’m big on independence and began achieving things on my own. I’m a leader that wears many hats. I have Gracie Noir which is my clothing brand, a leisurewear travel boutique line. I have tracksuits, absolutely everything, even luggage. I’m also big into real estate, thats something that I don’t talk about too much. I have a restaurant. I have so many different businesses that I tackle behind the scenes. I’m big on being a super boss.
Dancehall is essentially feel-good music and your lyrics like you said earlier, bring a lyrical component, but also make you laugh. Even with this album, you seem to have the recipe for songs going viral, making people laugh and dance. What’s your process for making a song?
S: My process for making a song is being real to myself. So if I’m gonna write a song, it’s got to be about what’s happening in life. I enjoy seeing people, first of all, having fun on Tik Tok, or Instagram or you know, all those viral moments. It’s fun for me too and I do music for people to have fun. And I don’t think people realize that, so certain lyrics or something may come off funny. But I did it for that. I have a song called “Tape Measure” and I see people literally in their offices using the tape measure, in the radio station, in the supermarket, like it’s fun for me to see people having fun. That’s why I create the type of songs that I do. I’m always laughing, always in a good mood though it takes something easy to tick me off. But you know, I’m always laughing over everything.
We see that! Does it start with the catchy hook or the beats, which one grabs you first?
S: The beats, I would say, because I like to write to the beat. Then I process the beat with the words. And then when I deliver it, I listen to it over and over to see if that’s it before I decide, yeah, this is the song. “Bake A Man,” I recorded that song six or seven different times.
S: There were so many different versions of that song.
When we think of Spice we think of the personality, you think of the music. And style-wise, we think of the blue hair. Even from your “Rompin Shop” video, when did that become your thing?
S: When I was doing “Rompin Shop,” if I’m not sure, that hair was synthetic! Synthetic was a cheaper version. I never had it much back in the days, but I always remember trying to put on blue hair. So when I came into dancehall, if you go back and watch Dancehall Queen videos or stuff like that, when I started the genre, it’s always bright colored hair, a lot of jewelry, and stuff like that. My favorite color was blue. If you notice earlier in the interview, I said big up to the Blue Crest team. I used to wear blue to school. I used to represent Blue House, I was always a blue girl ever since I was younger. So when I had a choice to choose what color hair I’m gonna use to represent me, obviously it’s gonna be blue. And I’ve been wearing blue hair for years now. But that’s my image. It’s something that I love and it’s just part of Spice.