If you’ve ever tuned into one episode of everyone’s favourite, entertaining and messiest, reality TV show franchise, Love & Hip Hop, you would’ve heard resident yawdie, Safaree Samuels, screaming it from the depths of his diaphragm. Safaree is mostly known for the 12-year relationship he had with Nicki Minaj but has since grown his fan base because of his infectious personality as a cast member on Love & Hip Hop: New York. He is often seen spreading positivity through his corny jokes and overall charm, sporting furs no matter what time of the year it is, but is also known for being a proud Jamaican of the diaspora.
The past few years of Mona Scott Young’s LHH franchise has seen an uptick of personalities from the Caribbean. Cardi B and her sister Hennessy have Trinidadian and Dominican roots, new Love & Hip Hop: New York cast member, Anaís Martinez, is also Dominican, Steph LeCor, from the franchise’s newest addition, Miami, is from Haiti, Juju is of Cuban heritage and, of course, this season’s fan favourite, Amara LaNegra, has Dominican roots and has used her time as a Love & Hip Hop: Miami cast member to to talk about her experiences with colourism and her plight as an Afro-Latinx woman and artist.
On the season seven premiere of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, viewers will have the privilege of getting to know my queen and Jamaica’s gift to the earth, Spice. Grace “Spice” Hamilton is a Jamaican-born artist who is, arguably, the reigning queen of the dancehall. Her style has been described by Vogue as “fearless [and] ever-changing” and she has an eclectic personality to match. Making a brief appearance when the women of season six went on a trip to Jamaica, the ladies linked up with Spice through Karli Red—who is Trinidadian—and got to see the star perform at a venue on the island alongside her dancers.
I’ve been a fan of Spice since I was thirteen years old and first heard the “Fight Ova Man” record. I’m not sure what my just-entering-teenagehood self knew at the time of her lyrical content but it was a bop nonetheless and I still stan. As a diasporic Jamaican, dancehall has been (and still is) a huge part of my life; but I am fearful that for those who may have not been exposed to it, to the extent that I have, will wildly misunderstand her artistry, and by extension, the genre.
I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am to see an unapologetic Afro-Jamaican woman [Grace “Spice” Hamilton] representing the country of my heritage, as well as dancehall, this way.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: our experiences as people in the Caribbean don’t need to be validated or approved by anyone else. However, representations of the Caribbean and the countries within the region have never been great (Cool Runnings anyone?). When our dialects or accents aren’t being butchered, our narratives are essentially turned into poverty porn, our women are hypersexualized, and we are frequently grouped into a homogenous identity even though there’s so much cultural diversity and richness in our likkle home in the sea (and off the coast of South America; Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana, we see you!).
That’s why the casting in Love & Hip Hop matters so much. For once, a mainstream television series is showcasing the diversity of our people and region without it being dictated by respectability politics. When Cardi B first came onto the LHH scene, she was often made fun of for how she spoke, looked and acted, which are, ironically, the reasons why she was able to captivate the hearts of an international audience. The same can be said for Amara, however, there was, arguably, a lot more support on her side as she tried to, and still is, constantly (God bless her) explaining to her castmates about anti-Blackness in Latinx community. There’s been progress but we still have a ways to go.
Spice will bring Jamaican badniss to television screens elevating her to a much more visible level than before but not without predisposed judgement that other cast members from the Caribbean have had to face. Someone will likely ask if one of her “accents” are fake, as she’ll probably switch between Standard English and her native tongue, Jamaican Patwa. Haitian on-air BET host Jessie Woo was subject to this same questioning of authenticity when a post circulated on Twitter of people trying to figure out what her “real voice” was, as she’s often playfully switching between her alter ego, Cadoushka Jean-Francois, and the “American voice” she uses as a television host.
Many of the languages and dialects spoken in the Caribbean have origins in and are comprised of words from the countries on Africa’s west coast that travelled with our ancestors during the transatlantic slave trade, English, French and/or Spanish (shoutout to colonization!). Many people who have grown up in the region and end up having the opportunity to go abroad, or go “farrin” (foreign, as it’s referred to in Jamaican Patwa), code switch between their native and Standard English as a means to adapt or assimilate into their new settings. This is not uncommon. Our second Queen of the Caribbean and Bajan royalty, Rihanna, has shared in the past of how she’s had to alter the way that she speaks, so that she is able to communicate in business meetings or when she’s undergoing interviews. So when you see Spice going back and forth between Standard English and Patwa: Don’t. Be. Alarmed.
At some point, I’m hoping, Spice will be seen performing with her dancers: Christina “Rebel” Nelson, Tallup and/or Keticia “TC” Chatman, as she regularly posts on her Instagram page. Contrary to widely and wholly wrong belief, dancehall dancing is just as legitimate as any other types of dancing: it requires the same kind of practise, focus, flexibility and poise to be done correctly. Yes, it’s sexual, but so is your fave’s choreography. Yes, the visual optics are different, but that’s what makes it so unique. Spice’s dancers are serious about their craft and their skills as choreographers and instructors are highly sought after, as they instruct dancehall classes around the world.
Dancehall in the mainstream will be exposed through a veteran artist—literally who better to have on this show?—and I’m even more excited about the new fans she’ll garner when she starts releasing singles post-her LHH debut. Spice has worked so hard for her accolades and, if she capitalizes on her new reach, she’ll have the ability to take her career to new heights, which could open up a world of possibilities for contemporary dancehall’s culture, visibility and market as a whole.
In a recent VH1 video celebrating Women’s History Month, Spice is seen saying, “Over the years I’ve been told that because of the colour of my skin, that I wouldn’t make it this far, so I look up to strong, powerful, Black women.” For me, that woman is Spice and I just know I’m going to love everything that she’ll bring to the the franchise.