Gospel artiste Papa San is back - kicking it harder than ever for christ


papa_san_gospel_jesus_God.jpgIt's often been said that music is the universal language. And, if that's so, no one speaks it better than Papa San. He opens his latest release, the astonishing, compelling, arresting Real & Personal, with a question that almost teases the listener to try and answer it. "Is it rock?/Is it roll?/Is it reggae?" Papa San asks, as machine-gun volley of percussion, crunching metal guitars and synths pound into play on the sizzling "More Life."

And, of course, the answer is simply, "Yes! All of the above." But the trip has only begun. It would be more accurate to just say it’s international, Jamaican, "new-school" Dancehall superstar, Papa San: back, bold, and in your face like never before. With a sound completely his own-and constantly evolving-Papa San stretches Gospel to places only he could take it.

"Dancehall" music is a highly rhythmic and rapped spin on the traditional melodic reggae groove of masters like Bob Marley, and Papa San was pivotal in birthing it on the world music scene some twenty years ago. Today, he still tips his hat to the past, and reveres his forebears-from Marley to Jimmy Cliff, and Toots & the Maytals-but Papa San has long since moved on-even since his last, award-winning smash project, God n i.

"You can't sit still, "he says. "Sure, this is still Dancehall, but it's new-school. It's some things that are familiar, and some that are brand new. It's what the Lord gives me, and what comes out of my head and my heart. And I let it take me wherever it does. There are no boundaries-to God, or to music."
In 1997, Papa San, a long-established king of Dancehall and World music, had what he describes as a supernatural visitation, and committed his life to Jesus Christ. The content of his songs changed to convey his newfound faith in the Gospel, but the mighty grooves, unforgettable hooks and mile-a-minute words and rhymes continued to soar, pour and roar forth. You can't have a culmination on a journey that never ends-and make no mistake, after 20 years and almost as many albums, Papa San has not once even slowed down-but Real & Personal is definitely the most dramatic, captivating, and downright thrill-a-minute ride in his long and preeminent career.

papa_san_gospel_jesus_God_church.jpgThe album's 11 new Papa San originals each take the listener to a place of its own, and when everything stands out so distinctly, it's impossible to list any one or two stand outs. Still, if get through just "More Life" alone, and are less than dazzled and devastated, you might want to head for the nearest ER and make sure you've still living. As Papa San and a pile-driving rhythm section pound home the message of eternal life through Christ, a soulful-even sweet-female vocal ensemble moves in, above, around and through it all with a classic, too-cool and catchy, melodic chorus.

Yes, Papa San is back indeed, and kicking it harder than ever for Christ. At the speed of light, Papa San turns the whole groove around, with the other-worldly beauty of "For You Lord," as his singers float in on a gorgeous cloud of melody, and Papa San answers with a slow, penetrating rap, setting up a dialogue with the singers that continues until the two merge into one, in one of the freshest, most fearless expressions of simple and outright praises to the Almighty imaginable.

Anyone who's ever wondered about the roots of modern-day rap and hip-hop need look no further than the classic Dancehall jam, "Good to Me," as Papa San spins lightening-fast words, bone-crunching rhythm, and constantly recurring flashes of unforgettable melody into a web of worship that is nothing less than transcendent.
Having had his first smash while still just a teenager in the mid-'80s, Papa San's phenomenal, ongoing reign on international music charts earned him the nickname "Marathon Man," as it was not uncommon for him to simultaneously hold down several positions in the Top 10 at any given time, as well as to log runs at No.1 that still no reggae or Dancehall artist to date has surpassed. In 1994 he filled dance floors around the world with "The Programme," which also hit the top of the Billboard dance chart. Smash hits like "I Will Survive," "Legal Rights," "Strange" and "Maddy Maddy Cry," among many others, brought Papa San a huge audience in all the Caribbean Islands and around the world in Japan, Europe, Africa, the U.S. and more throughout the '80s and '90s.

In fact, before giving his life to the Lord and being baptized in the faith in 1997, Papa San was a popular figure in American rap circles, being credited as a pioneer by a host of rap superstars. Later connecting with fans of American hip-hop, Papa San landed numerous videos in heavy rotation on MTV. More recently, he has made guest appearances and shared stages with Gospel titans the likes of Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Trin-t-ee 5:7, Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker, and BeBe & CeCe Winans.

Raised in Spanish Town, just outside of Jamaica's capital, Kingston, Papa San grew up in an environment where hard work and grinding poverty was the daily norm. But fervent revelry ruled the weekends. Spearheaded by any neighborhood resident with charisma and a potent enough sound system, music, dancing and singing prevailed well into the wee hours of Friday and Saturday nights as the sounds of reggae blasted from P.A.'s loud enough to be heard and felt for many city blocks. Papa San's own father manned such a sound system every week-dubbed "Black Universe"-and his naturally gifted son soaked up the music like the Caribbean sun. The strains of reggae greats like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, and John Holt were interspersed with a wide range of American pop and rock music, from venerable crooner Nat King Cole to disco diva Donna Summer, all adding additional color to young Papa San's musical palette. By the age of only 12, he had already begun performing with artists more than twice his age, cultivating his prodigious gifts with words and music, with acclaim beyond his young imagination only a few years away.

Reared by his grandmother, and being taught the doctrines of the Rastafarian religion, Papa San explains that he never had any teaching or ministering in Christianity or the church. "As a child growing up, I always believed that if I just achieved certain material things that everything would be all right," says Papa San. "As I became older, I had lots of success. I had lots of things, and had tried lots of things, but I never found the satisfaction I had expected. I had given some bad messages in my songs, and I myself at one time had been involved with firearms, and had run-ins with the police. I had two brothers and two sisters, and both my brothers were killed in street violence. "Life began to take some different turns down roads I had never anticipated. I would have said I had a relationship with the Creator, but I was obviously moving in the wrong direction," he continues. "One day, I opened the Bible and began to read it, and the Holy Spirit started ministering to me, saying in my heart: `You need to get yourself straight. You have to get yourself right.' I wondered if God could really forgive me of my sins over all the years and accept me into His Kingdom. My wife and I went to a church and the pastor told us about Christ. My eyes began to open and I knew that I had to receive Him, regardless of what anyone else thought or said about it."

In what could safely be called the world's first new-school, Dancehall "hymn," Papa San's words punctuate an almost choir-like anthem on Real & Personal's "Oh Zion," all undergirded with reverent but relentless rhythm. As the song fades with a lone female voice-sounding both as close and distant as heaven itself-repeating the single line, "There is a place for us," the vision of unity and one-purpose of all God's people that is the heart of Papa San and Real & Personal shines brightly, with a clear and holy light. There is indeed "a place for us," and just like the singular, untouchable sound that Papa San can truly call his own, it goes infinitely farther than any preconceptions or easy definitions could begin to convey, and speaks not to just one genre or culture, but to the very heart of humankind itself.