Video producers spend big bucks to promote the Jamaican beat

Not everyone on the shoot is feeling the so-called "togetherness" today.

Carolyn "CJ" Johnson arrives on the set fuming. The casting crew, including Dayo and Green, had decided Friday that Johnson had the perfect "Rasta girl" look to play Anthony B's love interest. (That flush of enthusiasm for Buroz of the previous day has by now subsided somewhat, and she has been relegated to a four-member corps of backups.) But Anthony B's team apparently thought differently. Johnson was informed that she did not look "Jamaican enough" to play Anthony B's girlfriend. She was replaced by Esther Baxter, 19, a darker-skinned model of mixed heritage.

Ready when you are, Mr. B: Dancers wait to go on.
Colby Katz
Ready when you are, Mr. B: Dancers wait to go on.
Anthony B gets down with lead dancer Esther Baxter.
Colby Katz
Anthony B gets down with lead dancer Esther Baxter.

This demotion would have pissed Johnson off anyway, but what hurt her most was the fact that she is Jamaican. Born and bred. To tell her that she's "not Jamaican enough" is like telling someone she's somehow not good enough. But don't ask Johnson to talk about this affront. The 21-year-old light-skinned dancer with blond dreads and cat-like eyes says, for the record, that she loves Anthony B's music, she had become familiar with it from countless radio broadcasts in Jamaica, and she does not want any of her personal issues to interfere with Anthony B's success here. Behind the scenes, though, Johnson shoots murderous glances at Anthony B's team and complains to associates about the injustice of it all.

In the makeup trailer, Shazz, the studio's hairstylist, listens to the dancer's gripes. Shazz, who has done Johnson's hair and makeup multiple times before, has been in the film business for six years now, creating styles for artists like Lil Jon, Lil' Kim, and Monica.

"There, there," she murmurs to Johnson.

The stylist, a short curvy woman with long stick-straight hair who bases her studio in Hollywood, or "Hollyhood," as she likes to call it, struts around the trailer in jeans so tight you can actually picture her veins constricting. She pauses in front of the mirror. "The look I'm going for in this shoot," she says, "is a more natural one. Kind of free-flowing." While she talks, Shazz pulls on a dancer's hair with one hand and points a hair dryer at the girl's nape with the other.

Part of the reason Shazz was hired for this particular shoot, the line producer said, was because she is from Trinidad.

But until a few months ago, Shazz had no idea how to go about creating dreads. "Why should I?" she asks. "I never wore them."

But Shazz knows how to read the tea leaves. Reggae is coming in strong. It was while she was styling for the Bad Boys II shoot in summer 2002 that Shazz says she finally learned how to dread hair. She sat for hours, using her friends as templates, matting, twirling, and dreading human hair into appropriate shapes until she was satisfied with the results. Since she figured out the look, Shazz says, she's gotten lots of requests for dreads in her hair studio. And Baxter, done up in vibrant colors and matted dreads looks pretty darn authentic, if you ask Aisha, Anthony B's female lead singer.

In the reggae business, though, you have to pass muster. Richard Bell, leading Board of Standards watchdog, looks on skeptically with his arms crossed. "That's not how wraps look in Jamaica," he says.

Steve Gagnon, president of Fort Lauderdale-based Gravity Productions, one of two prime production companies involved in the project (the other is Miami-based Toe Jam Productions), sits a few paces removed from the shooting. Dressed in knee-length khakis, a blue collared shirt, and a Marlins baseball cap, the tanned executive is not a "suit." But sometimes he talks a lot like one. Music videos aren't really his forte, he says, studying the crew in action. His production studio specializes in feature films, coproducing the movies Bully and Saved. "Ever heard of them?" he asks. "No?"

Gagnon looks disappointed.

Why would a feature maker get involved in videos? Gagnon believes that Caribbean culture is about to make a huge splash in the United States. Anthony B's video, he says, will lead the resurgence here.

"The Rastafarian culture," says Gagnon, "is all about love. It's about people getting along together. That's the message people want to hear now."

It doesn't hurt, Gagnon adds, a slight smile making its way across his face, that Anthony B has an "old-school style... reminiscent of Marley." "And old-school," Gagnon says, "is what made reggae big."

Right about now, that grip, Tim Bourque, who noted a certain sameness in Florida videography is looking like he really knows his stuff. As cameras stand waiting, Anthony B struggles onto a custom-made neon Harley-Davidson. In a green jersey with the words "Anthony B" stenciled on the back of it and a red, yellow, and green wristband, he waves his fist in the air. "Togetherness," you can almost hear him saying. (There is not, however, a single Jet Ski moment in the video, though there are plenty of shots of Anthony on a yacht.)

Gagnon watches appreciatively. "The major goal in producing the video was to keep the Jamaican culture intact," he says. "We were very concerned with how the culture was perceived. There's a big difference, after all, between Caribbean and rap. They're different cultures completely.

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