“It wasn’t an easy nine years,” he says. “Learning by my mistakes, not giving up on my culture and what I was raised in, I’ve supported reggae music for 22 years of my career, and I can’t give up. Giving up means you’re a failure.”
Jabba’s been coming down to participate in Memorial Day Weekend in Miami, also known as Urban Beach Weekend, since the early 2000s. He says there used to be a few dope Caribbean concerts. By 2006, though, he and his friend, eventual Best of the Best cofounder Joey Budafuco, noticed most of those parties had given up.
We got to keep reggae music alive, Jabba remembers thinking, and plans were soon set to stage the first Best of the Best Concert the following year.
“It was an amazing lineup,” he says, “one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had.”
That inaugural concert drew nearly 25,000 people with headliners like Shaggy, Wyclef Jean, Akon, Lady Saw, and Bounty Killer. Following this success, Jabba and his crew figured, since they made so much money, why not pump dollars into expanding the next year's lineup to include massive stars of hip-hop. What could go wrong?
Apparently a lot. Though the lineup still offered the Best of the Best across genres, the concert’s turnout was down.
“Some of the Caribbean folks didn’t want to be with the hip-hop, and some of the hip-hop folks didn’t want to be with the Caribbeans,” Jabba says. “We took a drop in the numbers.”
Add the economic downturn of the late 2000s and things weren't looking good.
“But then we started taking calls [at Hot 97], saying that was the problem: the combination of artists, with the reggae and hip-hop,” Jabba recalls. "That kind of gave me an idea.”
Organizers decided to go back to the all-Caribbean approach they'd originally devised for Best of the Best's debut. They replaced hip-hop with soca, and there was an immediate increase in the number of attendees.
“Some people were just not coming back to Best of the Best because of the profanity,” Jabba says. “The energy we was puttin’ off wasn’t a really good, positive energy for the brand.” In its seventh year, Best of the Best took things one step further by requiring artists to commit to a clean performance. With PG language on stage, the concert became a full-on family-friendly event.
This year, kids 12 years and younger can come to the show for free and enjoy a bounce house, games, party clowns, and other activities. There’s also a historical attraction for the parents and grandparents: VP Records' Reggae Music Journey exhibition, featuring the stories, art, and music of Caribbean superstars from Bob Marley to today.
On the stage, Best of the Best 2015 will be bringing out 33 of Caribbean music’s finest, including Beenie Man, Capleton, Spice, Lady Saw, and a special late addition, the legendary Shabba Ranks.
“What I’m really looking for is a great show with positive vibes, where everybody does well,” Jabba says. “And personally, I’m excited to see Shabba’s performance.”
Best of the Best 2015. With Beenie Man, Capleton, Shabba Ranks, and 30 others. 2 p.m. to midnight. Sunday, May 24, at Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $57 and up plus fees. Visit bestofthebestconcert.com.