What Rupee’s “Tempted to Touch” Video Meant to a BET-obsessed Generation
This article originally appeared in the INTERLUDE Newsletter.
As a highly impressionable teen being fed a steady diet American and Jamaican culture through radio and cable, the possibility of seeing anything Bajan outside the realms of channel 8 seemed far-fetched.
Barbadian music had its moments on the world stage times before, but, back in the early aughts, dancehall heavy mix cds (featuring predominantly Jamaican artists), illegal downloads from P2Ps (Kazaa etc.), and shows on BET were our main reference points when discussing popular music – particularly at school. Soca came out in the summer during vacation, and, after the Crop Over festivities, it was back in its radio-induced hibernation by the time the term resumed. So who deserved to be where on the countdown last night, or which riddim had the best songs, were regular debates with our peers. Barbadian artists were discussed, rarely, because, in our young ignorant eyes, they hadn’t “made it”. Then came Rupee’s video for “Tempted to Touch”.
It was a time that Jamaican dancehall had enjoyed a resurgence thanks to Sean Paul’s “Gimme The Light.” My cousin recorded that video, and we watched it on repeat. Here was a song by someone from the Caribbean, on a riddim we hear everyday on the van to school, showcasing dances that we know, on American television. We hadn’t been to Jamaica a day in our lives, yet we identified with the moment, culturally, as West Indians. The world (read: America) then had a growing appetite for Caribbean music which brought soca into the fold, setting off a flurry of major labels signing acts across the region in hopes of catching that flavor.
Rupee, the former front-man of Coalishun, was picked up by Atlantic Records in this whirlwind. His indie hit that got him signed, “Tempted to Touch,” was to be reissued as the lead single for his upcoming album, 1 On 1, and the video, directed by the legendary Hype Williams, was to be shot at home in Barbados, straying from shooting on a soundstage that was a popular move for Caribbean artists back then. “We want Rupee in his environment,” an Atlantic rep said back then of the three-day shoot, “and get [a] slice of Barbados.” But instead Rupee gave them the whole cake; showcasing local conventions anyone born at QEH could identify with. It was so uniquely Bajan: rum shops, dominoes, town. The flag suit and matching hat that should be in the museum.
When the video dropped, my cousin recorded it and we watched it on repeat. Here was a video to a song we know, showing parts of our island we frequent, and a van we get on to go to school every day, by a BAJAN(!!!), on American television. School was buzzing with that moment, too “You see de video?” we asked, beaming. In our eyes Rupee had “made it,” and he did so “the right way” by paying tribute to the land that shaped his sound and nurtured his talent. National identity was high. Rupee’s video invoked a sense of pride to young folks like myself who gorged on music and culture not of our own by putting ‘bout hay on the “map,” and letting us know you can make it without compromising where you’re from. We lapped up every minute of it. Who knew when it would happen again?
Years later, a 16-year old girl would walk into a lifeless club and tell the deejay to turn it up. Now it’s the norm to identify with a local who dominates the world stage, when at the turn of the millennium we never thought it would be possible. Thanks, Rupee.
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder & Editor of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.
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