VIPER’s SS23 cover star Popcaan talks about his new album, ‘Great Is He’, the importance of his St Thomas upbringing and being Jamaica’s biggest international star…

With more than 10 years in the game, Popcaan has become one of the most recognisable faces of Jamaican music. Rising as the protege of Vybz Kartel, many first heard his high pitched tones on the cult classic, ‘Clarks’. Fast forward a decade and he’s known worldwide, thanks to his powerful discography, epic social media presence and friendship with Drake. But this didn’t all come by chance, the boy who walked eight miles to school and back each day has invested more than 10 years of his life into his career. The result is powerful music, for both the streets and the elders. We can’t forget the women too, with songs about love and lust representing a significant chunk of Popcaan’s archive. 

With this legacy under his belt, “Poppy” has exceeded the expectations many Jamaican artists have for themselves, upgrading the gold chains of the nineties for the diamond set pendants and buss down watches most commonly seen on US rappers. But style is king. Throughout our interview in a trendy Kingston restaurant, Popcaan rocks his familiar cut-off jeans but doesn’t hesitate to point out that these ones are custom Amiri; not your regular Levi’s… 

The star remains humble though, speaking on his St Thomas origins and family relationships like they mean far more to him than the millions of Jamaican dollars spent on his outfit. To celebrate the release of his fifth studio album, ‘Great Is He’, VIPER caught up with Popcaan to hear about his journey to greatness and what his parish means to him. 

Tell me a bit about the process of making ‘Great Is He’ and the concept behind it.
The time that I took to make this album, I made three different albums in that space of time. There were so many songs and we still have a lot of songs to choose from. But the toughest part of making this album was choosing the songs because there were so many good songs and I’m a fan of all of them. It was a great process, it was a lot of nights of not sleeping. I made the album in different parts of Jamaica, sometimes I was in Portland, then I’d go St Anns, then I’d go Westmoreland, then I’d go St Thomas. I made most of it in the studio in my house. 

It’s your first project since the pandemic, what was the first song you made for the album?
I’m not sure, I think the first of the songs was ‘Defeat The Struggle’, I made that one a long time ago, ‘Great Is He’ and ‘Skeleton Cartier’ I did a long time ago. ‘We Caa Dun’ is fresh, me and Drake had five songs to choose from. We have a lot of bangers from that side of the world as well but I think ‘Great Is He’, ‘Defeat the Struggle’, ‘Memories’, I did ‘Memories’ a long time ago too. I can’t remember which one was first but those are the ones from early and ‘Greatness’; Dre Skull’s song. 

What made this Drake song the album cut, out of the five you had to choose from? Why didn’t you choose an old song?
Because the other ones are more like what we normally do, a nice girl song to get the girls hype, but this one is a balance, it has a street ting to it as well and it’s speaking about our work that we’ve been doing. A lot of people like to say Drake won’t last in these times or Popcaan won’t last in these times so basically we made them know that we gon’ last forever, we caa dun. Cheers to dat. 

You said you recorded the album in a variety of places across Jamaica, do you notice a difference that comes from the recording location?
A record depends on the mood I’m in, whatever mood I’m in, I’ll make a record to fit that. St Thomas brings sad music and Kingston brings happy music, it’s just the mood. So whichever mood I’m in, that’s what you get from the track because it’s like therapy. 

Do you always write and then record in the same place? Or do you write first, then record separately?
No, I haven’t written a song in probably seven or eight years. I just go and put on my headphones and sing. I’m immune to it now, you know what I’m saying? 

What about when you’re not able to record – do you keep notes when you’re inspired?
I think I’m used to making music this way, I can’t make up a song here now, I’ll just go sing in the studio but if I’m on road and I get the idea, I’ll record it on my phone on my voice recorder. But you won’t see me outside writing anything, it’s all written here [points to head] and written in the spiritual realm. 

Obviously St Thomas is your home, I noticed that the only Jamaican artists on the project are from St Thomas, was it coincidental that they were the right fit?
No it’s not a coincidence, it was meant to be; that’s what I wanted. My last album, Skillibeng was on it, you won’t ever see me release an album without a St Thomas artist on it. Especially now when we have so much talent that we have to nurture. I don’t mind sharing my platform with them, I want them all to win. 

What is it about St Thomas? 

Popcaan is from St Thomas. St Thomas is a nice place, it’s filled with nice rivers and nice beaches, nice chill, country vibes, tranquillity; that’s what we get there. I love nature, I’m always somewhere, if you watch my page you’ll see I’m around nature a lot. The other night I took my friends from London to this place in St Thomas, Bath Fountain, where the water from the ground is hot like what’s in your bath; that should be one of the wonders of the world. 

Being from outside the main music hubs in Jamaica, did that contribute to your hard work as an artist?
Well they always say the best comes from the worst, no? So St Thomas has been the worst parish in Jamaica for a long time, but you know Popcaan stepped up and changed that. I brought Drake to St Thomas, he’s never been to other places here [in Jamaica]. People are more intrigued by St Thomas now so the struggles of St Thomas are what made me who I am today because I’ve been through so many things that built me into this firm human being, physically and mentally. It’s like there’s nothing that fazes me, because where I started and where I am now I’m so proud of my struggles and my sufferings, because that’s what built me and shaped me into this superstar that I am. 

How do you reflect on your upbringing now you’ve achieved all of this?
Well it’s an inspiration. Since I went to school, I used to do stage shows at high school and in corridors in Poppy Grove. Every student that went to Happy Grove in my time, everybody knew that Popcaan did stage shows through lunchtime. With all those things that I did in school, I was already built for this but when I left school, I went to do a test to join the army. I still didn’t see how great I was then because I didn’t have the resources to get the music out. I was like, “I think I should just do something to earn some money so I can spend some money on myself.” So I went to do this army test in Portmore, I failed that shit. I failed one part alone, the maths part and I was so mad. I was so disappointed because I really wanted to be a soldier and represent Jamaica as a soldier, but I did. When I finished doing all of that, I was like “I need to make money.” And in that time, I just magically knew Vybz Kartel [laughs] so that is why I say “real thugs never worry about pagan, cause we destiny done planned.” 

What you’ve done for Jamaica is bigger than what you would have done as a soldier. Do you believe in destiny?
Of course I believe in destiny, my faith is super strong, Cobe [Popcaan’s manager] can tell you – DJ can as well – there’s nothing I’ll tell them I’ll do that I don’t do. I speak it into being. Before I had this, I knew that I’d have this; I already claimed it from school. I used to walk very far to school when I was young, I was showing Suspect, “Suspect I used to walk here from school, four miles every day.” He was like, “n**** that’s eight miles still!” [Laughs] No Eminem and these tings, but it’s like those things are what shaped me and when I go there now, I always remind myself. I was there on Sunday and always remind myself, this is where you’re from. I go there and it gives me extra drive because I’m not going to live there again [laughs] never! I just go there and remind myself and show my friends, “yo this is where I’m from, they can’t believe.” [Points] He’s my jeweller, it’s his first time in Jamaica and I took him there and showed him where I’m from. It’s far, we took five hours to reach there, the road is bad but it’s worth it. Hopefully one day you can reach where I’m from originally, it has a history. It has a thing called the Kuna Kuna pass where you can walk there and go to Portland, you can Google it and read it, you’ll enjoy it. There’s a great house there and slaves used to live in it, we have our own history and then we’ve got Popcaan. 876, the area code is very important because the Jamaica area code 876, it governs any area code. We’re loved within every area code. 

How did you become the most international Jamaican artist of your generation?
100%, I knew that would happen, I was very optimistic because I learnt so much about Vybz Kartel by observing. I just observed him and saw he knew how to do this and that, but where I am today, I knew I would be here and I’m gonna be way bigger soon; that’s my mission. ‘Great Is He’, it’s special, it’s for everyone – great is you, great is me, great is he, great is us, you know what I’m saying? Great is he that trusts the most high. Where I am today, I knew I would be here, god blessed me; cheers to that. Never doubt yourself, it’s never too late. 

This is your fifth project, every album has a strong positive message, not to say your loose tracks or Internet tracks don’t. 

That’s different, that’s for the streets. 

So as an artist your legacy is your albums, how do you differentiate when you’re making songs?
I have so many different fans and so many different age groups in my fanbase, I have to be very careful and I have to make everyone happy. So my name is Hot Skull, Unruly Boss, Fry Eye, Popcaan, El Gringo, Skull, so it’s like you have the fans that wanna hear Unruly Boss, me ‘Ova Dweet’, you know? You have a lot of my fans that are very intrigued when they hear me sing about these things and then there’s the girls, which is the first priority. I have to make sure the girls are good because the ladies dem support me so much. If it was up to the man dem, I probably wouldn’t be here. But the girls dem, they scream loud so you have to make sure the girls are good. Then the adults, I did a song with Beres Hammond, I have to be able to produce music for those kinds of people as well so it’s a balance. When I’m making an album, I try to make it a proper ting for everyone who’s a fan of me. 

This is an extract from the SS23 issue of Viper Magazine. Buy physical and digital copies here.

Photography: EDDIE CHEABA 


 Creative Producer: KAYODE THOMAS 




Set Design Assistant: TIA SHARI 


Hair Stylist: SHAMARA ROPER 


Styling Assistant: FLOSSIE DOHERTY 

Location: BLANKBOX 

New Issue

Subscribe to the Viper Newsletter for the latest news, events and offers

Top Stories