Sunday, September 22, 2019

Usain Bolt Turns Music Producer


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Seconds after he crossed the finish line in the 100 meters race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, beating his own world record and securing the Gold medal, 21-year-old runner Usain Bolt’s dancing brought worldwide attention to one of Jamaica’s most vibrant cultural expressions: dancehall choreography.

Before an audience of 91,000 at Beijing’s Bird Nest Stadium and millions of viewers around the world, Bolt performed two of the era’s biggest Jamaican dance moves: the Nuh Linga, created by Marlon “Ova Mars” Hardy of Ravers Clavers dancers, and the Gully Creeper by David “Ice” Smith, of the Black Roses Crew (Ice was fatally shot in Dec. 2008.)

Bolt, an eight-time gold medal Olympian, has since retired from track and field; he’s moved into numerous business ventures and continues to shine a spotlight on Jamaican music and culture.

In Nov. 2016, French company G.H. Mumm selected Bolt as their chief entertainment officer responsible for spearheading initiatives for the venerable champagne house.

The initial product from that appointment is Bolt’s Olympe Rosé champagne, its name an acknowledgement of Bolt’s athletic excellence, its flavor a nod to his palate. “When me and my friends (collectively known as the A-Team) go out, we used to drink champagne and cognac and called it money mix,” Bolt told Billboard in an interview at his Kingston, Jamaica home in late July.

“Because Mumm also makes Martell cognac, I asked if we could put cognac in the champagne and they said we can ferment the champagne in the cognac barrels, so it soaks up the residue. So Olympe Rosé is the first champagne with cognac in it and that’s very cool.”

Bolt’s Olympe Rosé champagne was launched on July 4 at his popular Kingston restaurant/nightclub Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records. The launch party also introduced Bolt’s first music industry project: he’s the executive producer of the Olympe Rosé riddim, a trap influenced dancehall beat, produced by his cousin Rajah “Plugs” Nelson.

Distributed by 21st Hapilos, the Olympe Rosé riddim features five artists’ songs: sing-jays Dexta Daps (“Big Moves”) and Munga Honorable (“Weekend”); football player tuned artist Ricardo “Bibi” Gardner (“Mount A Gyal”); singer Christopher Martin (“Dweet”) and dancer/artist Ding Dong (“Top A Di Top”), who has also created an accompanying Top A Di Top dance. “My manager (Nugent Walker) and I always said we needed to do a song or a riddim and with the champagne coming on the market, this was the perfect opportunity,” said Bolt.

Admittedly, Bolt encountered a few obstacles in putting the project together: some artists said they were too busy; others wouldn’t commit to the recording schedule, studio location or the project’s theme, which is to promote the champagne.

“I know almost all of the artists in Jamaica, so I didn’t expect they would give me the runaround when I called,” Bolt sighed.

“They probably don’t understand the opportunity of this platform because we can send this riddim/video to people around the world who will post it just because they respect us. But the artists who got involved really came through for us, took their time and got it right.”

Kelly Dudley, president, Hapilos Entertainment Group, says Usain Bolt’s stature as a global brand giant makes him bigger than any single endeavor he’s involved in, and protecting that brand directs the label’s marketing and promotional approach for the Olympe Rosé project.

“Our strategy includes sustained digital media marketing across all platforms in coordination with Bolt’s team and the featured artists, complemented by print, radio, TV ads, interviews and appearances on popular lifestyle and entertainment programs,” Dudley offered.

“We’ve delivered the Olympe Rosé riddim to over 80,000 radio stations, DJs, programmers and curators worldwide and have released the project to over 600 digital retailers and various revenue stream destinations.”

Veteran artist Munga Honorable, who recently delivered a triumphant return set at Jamaica’s Reggae Sumfest following his recovery from a serious car accident in January, immediately saw the value in a Bolt associated venture. “Many people know Usain Bolt the legendary runner but still don’t really know dancehall music, so with the Olympe Rosé riddim and video, he brings his international traffic from his track and field accomplishments and becomes an important doorway for the music,” Munga told Billboard. Ding Dong, one of Jamaica’s most successful dancers who will appear at Hot 97’s On Da Reggae and Soca Tip on Friday (Aug. 30) at Brooklyn’s Ford Amphitheater, added, “Bolt’s dancing at the 2008 Olympics did so much for Jamaican dancers, and for me personally, because no one ever saw an athlete do something like that before; that made people want to come here, go to parties and learn our dances. With the Olympe Rosé project, he’s reached another milestone in taking the culture to a wider audience and I’m blessed to have a song on the riddim and a new movement to go with it.”

The Olympe Rosé video, shot entirely in Kingston and directed by Ruption of RD Studios, presents a medley of the five songs recorded on the riddim. In the video’s opening scene, Bolt is picked up at home in a jeep driven by close friend Christopher Martin; they join Bibi Gardner and a bevy of bikini-clad women on a boat ride; Munga, meanwhile, relaxes poolside; in an office setting, sharply dressed Dexta Daps celebrates closing a lucrative business deal. On the roof of a Kingston office building owned by Bolt (its outside adorned with a silhouette of his signature “to the world” victory pose), Ding Dong and his Ravers Clavers, alongside Bolt, display their agile moves and ride bright yellow Bolt Mobility electric scooters, another business enterprise Bolt co-founded in 2018.

As expected, the Olympe Rosé flows freely in every scene.

“This is Usain’s investment, there’s no ‘backative’ (support) other than our belief in this product, so to save money, we incorporated things we had access to: Bolt’s vehicle, his boat, his building and boardroom settings,” noted Walker.

“There were some challenges, some artists weren’t available every day, so we couldn’t fully execute our script, but we did a good job with what was available.”

Bolt told Billboard he’s unsure of future music endeavors beyond plans to (likely) release another riddim for the upcoming Christmas season.

“Dealing with some of the artists was difficult, so if I have to go through that every time that I do a project, I probably won’t continue. That’s one of the reasons I never went into coaching, although people have told me to, because I don’t have the patience,” he noted. “But if we plan in advance, we can do a riddim that’s suitable for international artists, too.”

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