Dancehall artist Mr. Vegas believes Jovi Rockwell’s career would have panned out differently had he been involved when she signed to Epic Records in 2008. The Hot Wuk hitmaker’s trip down memory lane came as he agreed with V6 producer David Ireland that major labels don’t know how to market Dancehall music.
Rockwell, whose claim to fame was the rock-meets-dancehall sonic of Party On in 2005, was snatched up by Epic following her You’re Gonna Need Me collaboration with Mr. Vegas two years later. A remake of Errol Dunkley’s 1972 track (later covered by Delroy Wilson), the reggae groover came out of a writing session for Vegas’ Hot It Up album.
“Jovi Rockwell got the biggest record deal based on my understanding,” the Mr. Vegas said on Instagram recently. “When I recorded You’re Gonna Need Me, they signed her. Everybody lined up to sign Jovi Rockwell.”
Though Rockwell faded into the background after the deal, she’s often spoken about how her artistry has since expanded. She went on to work with Neyo in writing camps, and recorded songs with Major Lazer, Snoop Dogg (then Snoop Lion), Lil Wayne, and Flo Rida. She also learned how to play a myriad of instruments.
In a 2013 Large Up interview, Rockwell addressed expectations for her to be a household name.
“I think everything is about timing,” she said. ”I am a female from Jamaica that is aspiring to be on the world stage. Like my country, I am a melting pot – my music is. When you’re doing something that is pushing borders, and not a set thing, it is more difficult for people to go, ‘Oh, yeah’. Some people get it and some people don’t. That’s the only thing I can think of.”
Perhaps Mr. Vegas is yet to “get it,” as he envisioned a different path for Rockwell, which included more reggae covers.
“When a record label listen to this (You’re Gonna Need Me) and signed you, I had white people dancing – is that she get signed for,” he argued. “Unno tek her and give her all that money and whatever, based on what I heard, allegedly, and she went to Flo Rida dem and Neyo dem and Lil Wayne dem to do music – they don’t know what to do with her. But if they had given me a contract or given me some control over the project, I would have taken her back to Jamaica and put her ‘round Bobby Digital who mixed the record.”
One of reggae and dancehall’s finest producers, Robert ‘Bobby Digital’ Dixon is behind classics like Shabba Ranks’ Wicked Inna Bed, Buju Banton’s Til I’m Laid to Rest and Garnet Silk’s It’s Growing. Dixon, who died in 2020, is also credited for helping to refine the sounds of Sizzla Kalonji, first working on the singer’s 1997 sophomore album Black Woman and Child, and Morgan Heritage’s 1999 breakthrough album Don’t Haffi Dread.
Mr. Vegas continued with his strategy.
“I woulda say, ‘Bobby Digital, give me dem Sizzla riddim deh’, and me woulda siddung inna the studio and woulda find two more old tune, like two more Alton Ellis and one more Delroy Wilson, cause I realised her tone. I’d find two Cynthia Schloss and find a one Marcia Griffiths and just get her fi do a song with a Aidonia, a deejay… Konshens… cause mi have the budget now can walk in.”
But in her Large Up feature, Rockwell said she “got kind of trapped” in Jamaica, being labeled a Dancehall artist. With her father once a cabaret singer, she had an appreciation for different genres and wanted her music to reflect that.
“I felt a little stereotyped in just being one style, and my dream – which is more than a dream because I’m actually doing it – is to really capture all of the elements in my culture.”
Still, Mr. Vegas believes the label was more interested in what they heard on You’re Gonna Need Me.
“This is what they heard, this is weh dem like, so you go now and think seh dem want you to go pop, and that is what happens in a lot of instances.”