Braggadocio goes with the territory in dancehall, but when Popcaan says, “Mi name global like Guinness”, it’s more than just hot air. The singer born Andrae Sutherland has collaborated with Drake and Gorillaz, been sampled by Kanye and is a leading voice in the reshaping of dancehall’s image, supplanting its gangster associations with more uplifting messages.
Tonight, markers of success abound. The place is sold out, and a number of the 11,000 enthusiasts have visited the merch stand, where sweatshirts embroidered with his “Unruly” logo cost £50. The show’s production values, moreover, are high end: last time he played London, it was on a bare stage with a DJ for company, but tonight there’s big-budget pyro and inventive graphics projected on to five screens. And there’s a cracking five-piece band, whose first 15 minutes on stage is given over to a space-rock instrumental that explores territory Sun Ra would have thought abstruse. At the end of this, as the audience are expiring, Popcaan appears, lordly in sequins and jewellery, and surges into High Drive (Louis Out), from current album Forever. Barely drawing breath, he follows with his 2010 Vybz Kartel collaboration, Clarks. In 2010, he was the protege of the now imprisoned Kartel, but now – as High Drive makes clear with its sardonic “Where your Clarks deh?” – he’s his own man.
Unbesmirched by the Auto-Tune that drenches the album (a regrettable consequence of consorting with the likes of Drake, who was rumoured to be here; instead, the guest slot is filled by viral star Big Shaq), his live voice is supple and sweet, his body language insinuating. There’s a good deal of sexual slackness, which the many “bad punani girls” in the house enjoy as part of the package, but there is also a motivational zing that sets him apart. Introduced as “a true story” about self-belief, the title track of his debut album, Where We Come From, is sincere and emotional; the synth-driven pop tune Dream is dedicated to absent loved ones.
There are balletic leaps and Freddie Mercury-esque victory laps. Mustering an English-ish accent, he shows off his leather boots: “Do you like my shoes, mate?” Naturally, they do. The man looks like a rock star. Scratch that: if these things are measured by confidence and a beakerful of charm, Popcaan is a rock star.