Gyptian: The Rise Of A Caribbean Crossover

Gyptian; credit: Marvin Bartley i i

An unlikely candidate for mainstream success, Gyptian's "Hold Yuh" has brought Jamaican music to American radios. Marvin Bartley hide caption

itoggle caption Marvin Bartley
Gyptian; credit: Marvin Bartley

An unlikely candidate for mainstream success, Gyptian's "Hold Yuh" has brought Jamaican music to American radios.

Marvin Bartley

Monday's Pick

  • Artist: Gyptian
  • Song: "Hold Yuh"
  • CD: Hold Yuh EP
  • Genre: Reggae

Because the Jamaican music industry is so singles-oriented, artists there record with near-manic frequency. So when reggae singer Gyptian voiced a love song for New York-based producer Ricky Blaze in 2009, he kept it moving: On to the next rhythm. More than a year later, though, the tune came back to haunt him in the best possible way. "Hold Yuh" began island-hopping on Caribbean airwaves, generating remixes, earning "rewinds" at dances and landing on the station reggae artists lust after — New York's Hot 97 — during the time of year that's friendliest to Caribbean crossover: spring.

The tune itself is an unlikely candidate for mainstream success. Its stunningly simple rhythm — a six-chord piano loop accented by a bass line that drops in and out — sounds utterly unfinished. (Which, in many versions of the song, it is: "Hold Yuh" wasn't even mixed when it was first released.) But that's also its genius. A pared-down, slightly off-key rhythm not only stands out on hyper-slick mainstream radio, but it also allows Gyptian's remarkable voice to stand front and center. Supple, dulcet and falsetto-friendly, it's also pinched and a tad nasal, which only adds to its unique charm. When Gyptian croons about his woman giving him "the tightest hold me ever get inna me life," it's swoon-worthy stuff.

Of course, "hold" sounds a lot like "hole," which is the point; in the tradition of great Caribbean music, from calypso to reggae, "Hold Yuh" is all about the double entendre, intimating naughtiness (slackness, as it's known in Patois) while maintaining a dulcet demeanor. Sure, Gyptian chats, dancehall-style, about a woman's pum pum on his bike, and there's talk of moans and tight grips. But after one listen to his honeyed vocals, can anyone not believe that when he wants to "put me ting right around yuh," the man's got nothing but the purest of intentions?

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