Just when you thought dancehall music was appealing only to Jamaicans, the spunky, ska pop group No Doubt comes along to show you that dancehall is universal. No Doubt’s appealing sound is clearly their own, and there is truly no doubt this group has been soul searching for some new sounds to mesh with their own unique blend of pop, rock, funk and ska. The group’s new single, “Hey Baby” features the one and only Bounty Killer, a fun, lighthearted song that talks about the group’s encounters on the road.
Upon first listen, you might say, “there goes them white folks stealing more black music,” but upon careful listening, you’d see that No Doubt has just merged dancehall with their crossover appeal. No Doubt has been flirting with reggae, ska and dancehall since their inception in 1987.
Their unique style of mild funk, pop grooves, ska rhythms and Gwen Stefani’s quirky but heartfelt voice separates No Doubt from the other cheesy, jump-on-the-next-trend band. They have been consistent and have proven that they have substance. As a band, they have grown musically and continue to use the artists they’ve been inspired by, as demonstrated in this new single. They have always in some way acknowledged the powerful influence of reggae in their music, and have used it to enhance their own sound.
Their first single from their new album, both titled “Rock Steady,” seems to be a testament to their roots. They have fused the music from Jamaica and have brought it honestly to the forefront of America. Only a group with a strong foundation could pull this off, let alone use one of the top Jamaican DJs. Though Bounty Killer’s riffs are short and sweet, his voice is prominent, unmistakable and authentic. Not trying to sound “hip-hoppish,” “american,” or “jamerican,” Bounty brings his lyrics to the song just as raw as he would if he were in Kingston. The tune is reminiscent of Shabba Ranks and Maxi Priest’s explosive one hit wonder “House Call,” a tune that set the standard for dancehall’s dynamic crossover potential.
“Hey Baby” takes another twist because the artists are white, pop, mainstream and have wide exposure. “I think we’re going back to what we were originally about, which was just having fun,” says Tony Kanal, No Doubt’s bassist. The album, which features songs co-written by Prince, dancehall artist Lady Saw, the Neptunes, and the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, has gotten much acclaim for the production credits which include work by Sly and Robbie, Steely & Cleevie, Nellee Hooper, Ric Ocasek (formerly of the Doors), and William Orbit (who has produced much of Madonna’s work.) Making the album was “super fun,” says Gwen Stefani, who compares the collaborations to “getting naked in front of someone you’ve never met before and trying to be creative.”
The video for the song portrays No Doubt’s love and respect for Jamaica, its music and culture. It’s set in a small dancehall and depicts the groupie culture that Stefani observes backstage:
I’m the kinda girl that hangs with the guys
Like a fly on the wall with my secret eyes
Takin it in, try to be feelin me in
With my makeup bag watchin all the sin…
All the boys say, Hey Baby, Hey Baby, Hey
Girls Say, Girls Say, Hey Baby, Hey Baby, Hey
All the boys get the girls in the back
Stefani told MTV that, “You got these girls who basically go to concerts to try to see if they can get with the guys,” she said. “For some reason, if you’re talented and you’re up there, girls want to make out with you,” to which bassist Tony Kanal responded, “It’s actually a very PG version of the actual debauchery that goes on backstage.”
Of course there’s temptation to ask is Bounty Killer selling out his dancehall roots? In a time where exposure is so necessary for reggae, selling out is not a matter of working with outside artists. It shows he has some smarts as a businessman, and as an artist. It is his job to promote the music as far as he possibly can without manipulating its integrity. However, it is safe to say that this is the first time Bounty Killer has been on such heavy rotation on music television and radio across the nation, and it goes to show the power of video in this era of music promotion.
If the Jamaican music industry could clearly see the benefit of having regular videos to promote the music, there would be far more advances in the music than what we’re currently seeing, and Bounty’s presence on screen would be the norm, not the exception. Indeed, it’s always refreshing to see reggae’s continuing influence on a new generation of American artists, and No Doubt definitely keeps it real on this one.