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Lucas DiPasquale Owes Popcaan His Career, But Wants to Switch Lanes

The talented Ontario artist has more to offer listeners than just a convincing Jamaican accent.
July 8, 2015, 10:15am

Photo By Jo Jo

“It was that opening line in the song “Blocka” where he says ‘Dis type ah shit happen everyday’, that really got me into him,” explains singer-songwriter Lucas Dipasquale when asked how he discovered reggae artist Popcaan. “The song had this sick hip-hop grungy bassline so I started exploring more of his music and I liked what I heard and decided to do a cover of his own songs,” says DiPasquale. Little did he know his “Popcaan Mashup” cover would become a viral sensation on YouTube, as the Canadian singer attracted viewers with his seemingly natural ability to put on a Jamaican accent. “Yeah, a lot of my friends are from the Jamaica and the West Indies so I’ve always been surrounded by the culture and people saying like ‘teef’ and ‘seen’,” says DiPasquale. “It’s no secret the Greater Toronto Area is a big melting pot of Caribbean culture, and those are the type of people you meet and the language that comes with it.”

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Raised in Markham, Ontario, DiPasquale’s initial brush with music was ordinary. Picking up the guitar at the age of nine, he would start playing music seriously in high school doing covers of artists like Louis Armstrong, Ed Sheeran and Young Jeezy. Soon after, he would start uploading covers on Youtube. “Me and my friend [Kelly] would do covers of Maroon 5 and a couple people left really good comments so we started uploading more in the hopes we could take it to the next level.” DiPasquale would get his wish, marrying Popcaan dancehall hits like “Ravin” and “Road Haffi Tek On" with an acoustic filter and ear-catching patois inflection. However, it wouldn’t be till Popcaan retweeted the video on Twitter that it caught national attention.

“I’m not even sure how he found it, but I remember I was in my dorm room and after a couple of days all these comments started coming in out of nowhere from the Caribbean and I saw that he had retweeted it to his fans and the feedback was overwhelming,” says DiPasquale. “I had always wanted to reach this kind of platform but this was just incredible. I was literally sitting in for my English exam and just thinking man I just want to go make music, this is not doing it for me anymore.” Shortly after, Popcaan invited him to play at Jamaica’s largest musical festival Dream Weekend. “I was a little bit like ‘how are people going to react to this?’ And then everybody was like, ‘Yeah man, to the sky bro, go as far as you can with it,’ and it felt good having people from the country give me those props. On the flight back actually I remember these two guys saying like ‘hey man you see that little white boy who was singing Popcaan?’ and them being amazed when they realized I was that same guy.”

Now, almost a year removed from the success of his covers, DiPasquale is equal parts excited about his new original music while wary of being pigeonholed into a gimmick—a fate that’s befallen fellow non-native reggae artists like Snow or Toronto band, Magic! responsible for 2014’s reggae-riffing summer hit, “Rude.” “Obviously I wouldn’t be here without doing the Popcaan cover and it’s cool people took to it, but the idea of just having to play it everywhere was getting kind of tiring. But now I’ve moved into a stage where I’m going to release music that shows a wide variety of sounds.” And while his newest pop infused dancehall riddim track “Do It Like,” featuring Kardinal Offishall and reggae mainstays Stylo G and Konshens off his upcoming EP Post-Secondary, isn’t a complete departure, DiPasquale is confident it will showcase his growing ability as a songwriter. “I’ll slip into Patois when it fits a purpose but I won't be making full-fledged songs in that style because I do have my own sound. And I think it’s important to me that I really show that to people.”

Noisey: What was it about reggae that made you feel like it was something you wanted to listen to?

Lucas DiPasquale:

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Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with the culture. You don’t get to experience different cultures unless you give them a chance and I’ve always been into different genres and singer/songwriters. I enjoy people who can play an instrument on their own and sit down and write a song. So all these guys, Bob Marley is obviously the biggest one, but also people, Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, artists like that, they’re able to do that and tell a story and connect with meaning. At its very core it's still someone sitting down with a notebook and writing about what they really feel passionate about and what they want to tell people in music. I think that for me, just like hip-hop, it’s one of those core elements of my musical sound and I guess my mind which is why it always comes out in my music. But to bring it back, as a little kid Sean Paul was huge and Shaggy was tearing up the radio scene when I was young so I would always hear songs like “We Be Burnin” or “Gimme The Light” playing on the radio a billion times. I was always really fascinated with that kind of music and culture so I’m really not that surprised that this has happened, it’s been ingrained in me since I was a little kid.

How was it making the video, “Do It Like” considering it's not only your first video but you’re making it in a different country along with Kardinal Offishall?
It was incredible. The idea that I’d be shooting a video for a song that I wrote myself along with Stylo G in London last year was surreal. But yeah Kardi messaged me and was asking about my music and what my next step was. I had already been looking into a few things with Universal Canada and Kardi—I think he’s an A&R there—was already really interested, so we decided to do a feature. It's crazy because I’ve been listening to him since I was eleven singing songs like “Everyday Rudebwoy” so working with him was great and we got pretty close during recording. Our vibes just meshed, I'd say he’s like a friend now; I can go to him for things and of course that translated to the shoot. We actually have a few cameos from [dancehall artist] Assassin and others which was a big deal to me because I got to hang around in Kingston with a bunch of my music heroes. I’ve actually been listening to a lot of Assassin in particular since I heard about him like a year and a half ago. I’m actually trying to work with him too.

While you’ve garnered a lot of success and appreciation from the Caribbean community there have been comments from detractors. Do you feel it’s because of the fact that reggae music, more specifically dancehall music is typically reserved for black artists?

I mean, I was definitely wary of that fact when I was making the music and definitely when I was invited by Popcaan to go over to the islands. But when I talked to everybody during my time there it was a completely different story. There’s alway going to be people who don’t like what you’re doing but when you’re given such overwhelming support by the audience who create and inspire the music I can’t even think about it. I’ve seen comments on my YouTube page and Instagram where people are tagging each other while expressing disappointment because it seems like a white guy is trying to take some of their culture and use it to their advantage but that’s not what I’m trying to do. The covers I’ve made and the music I make are really me trying to do the genre justice and honour it. It’s really about me doing the best I can to re-create it, at least when it comes to the covers. Even now when I returned to Jamaica to shoot the “Do It Like” video I was a little bit apprehensive, thinking of how everybody was going to respond to it. Yet again, it was really well-received so the idea that people on the island were excited about it just took away those negative feelings. For me, the takeaway was if they are enjoying the music and this is something I love and am passionate about, it shouldn’t really matter what I look like. I think that may also be the case for everybody else too.

Will patois still be something you experiment with in your music going forward?
I have my own singing voice and I really want to start showing that to people. So, the new EP Post-Secondary coming in August will definitely still have that in there but in general I like to slip into the accent when it fits. I’ve never just used it to sound cool because it's a different dynamic that you don’t really hear a lot outside of its usual context in reggae. I also wrote a lot of the tunes in Jamaica so if there’s Patois in it it’s because of my surroundings and listening to what people were saying around the island which of course was an important inspiration. Again, it's usually for a purpose and it’ll definitely come up in some songs but I don’t think I will be making full-fledged songs in Patois. I think it's already evident,but I always want to grow and be making different sounding music so that listeners don’t get bored and so I don’t either. Either way, my music will always consist of a blend of hip hop elements along with singer/songwriter and dancehall elements as well.

Jabbari Weekes likes to do Serani covers when he's in front of a camera - @DaysandWeekes