The fim — directed, produced, written and starred in by Cannon — follows his character Tarzan on his journey Jamaica in an effort to start a new chapter in his life and support his mother played by Whoopi Goldberg. The film also features Busta Rhymes, Louis Gossett Jr., Kreesha Turner and newcomer Kimberly Patterson.
Centered around dancehall music and the “gangster by day, dancer by night” mentality, the film provides a unique look into the culture. Billboard caught up with Cannon to discuss the project.
What was your motivation for writing, producing, directing and starring in King of the Dancehall, and what was the process like?
More than anything it was just a labor of love. To be able to jump in and capture the culture and shine a light on the experience that really meant so much to me. I had to put my all into it, from writing the script, to selecting the cast, to starring, to financing — it’s all just something where I was really in it for the passion of Jamaican culture.
In the film your mother is played by Whoopi Goldberg, and your cousin is played by Busta Rhymes — how did they get involved in the project and what was it like working with them?
Those are personal relationships. To be able to work with Whoopi, it a dream come true to have her play my mom, and she jumped in immediately for whatever I need and she was so gracious. Busta has always been like a big brother to me, so for us to be able to share that chemistry on screen together is really cool.
What was the experience like filming on location in Jamaica?
It was amazing to be out there with the Caribbean weather and the tropical atmosphere but at the same time with the raw edge of the dancehall.
Dancing is an integral part of the film what was the process like for the training and choreography?
It was just really living the culture, you know what I mean? The people that taught me all the dances were the actual guys in the film, and kind of going out to the club and experiencing everything. It was exciting.
It’s 100% true. That’s ultimately even one of the reasons why I set up to do the film. I feel like dancehall culture is so popular and being borrowed by so many of the mainstream artists today but people don’t really know the whole story and the importance of the energy and the vibrations down there. This an opportunity for people to get a different insight into the real story behind it.
One standout quote from the film is “Dancehall is the music of the people, the struggle, the way out from the bottom — one good thing about music, when it hits you you feel no pain.” What does this quote mean to you?
That last line is a great Bob Marley quote. Dancehall, reggae, that entire music really is the soundtrack to the struggle, the soundtrack to coming from nothing but creating something so amazing and so powerful that can resonate across the entire world.
There is a dance battle scene in the movie that features performances from Sean Paul, Voicemail, Richie Stephens, and T.O.K. Can you talk about the experience shooting that massive scene?
That night was so amazing — to have all those people there and the performances. When you’re up against time — it was the last scene of the movie — I had to do everything I had to do to, capture every shot, remember my dance music. It was pretty outstanding. To be able to experience that — it was electric that night.
The film is being released exclusively on Youtube Red. Can you talk a little about that platform?
I could have sold this film to so many people, I mean we had a bunch of buyers, but I really got excited about the idea of partnering with YouTube Red. I made it with people from a culture where there are not movie theaters on every corner. YouTube Red is currently available in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Korea, but they have plans for international expansion throughout the year. I eventually hope for everyone to see it, from Jamaica to Saskatchewan to Zimbabwe to Mumbai.
What do you want people to get out of the film?
My goal was really just to share the culture with the rest of the world and tell a story that really resonated and had an impact and I think we did that.
What does dancehall mean to you personally?
Dancehall music to me means: freedom, no rules, unchained.
Watch the film on YouTube Red below: