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King Vers: The Man Behind the Music

1._King_Vers_performing~His music mirrors his life~

By Rik Haverman

King Vers, real name Darin Hodge, is a 33-year-old upcoming Soca artist from St. Maarten. Although mostly known for his music, formerly hip-hopç nowadays Soca, King Vers can be described as a jack of all creative trades. The artist also acts, does stage plays, directs and is a videographer. Besides that, he is locally known from St. Maarten radio station Laser 101. The artist's course of life is a remarkable one. Despite many hardships, the Friendly Islander keeps a surprisingly positive attitude to life. Since he was born and raised on St. Maarten, he has many interesting views on island-matters. St. Maarten's very own Soca golden boy therefore tries to spread positive vibes through his music. In addition to the music, he tries to make a change through youth work in schools.

King Vers, a born and raised St. Maartener, has a busy long weekend ahead of him. The artist performs during Soca Rumble in Carnival Village this Saturday, and will be on the splash-truck during Jouvert upcoming Monday morning. Monday evening, the artist will also be on stage in Carnival Village. This time he will perform for Project X Fete 2015.

The Soca-artist started his musical career with rap and hip-hop: "Predominately I used to do hip-hop music. One of my songs from that period, that is most known locally, is 'Welcome to St. Maarten'. Only after his hip-hop period, King Vers shifted to Soca and world music. According to the artist, it's a more positive music style. "Soca music is a lot of feel-good music. It's more uplifting and encouraging, music you can dance to. I try to create positive vibes with it." Soca songs of King Vers that are well known at the moment are 'Gettin' on bad' and his latest single 'Soca Jumbie'. King Vers is also known for cooperating with the popular Red Eye Crew. King Vers and The Red Eye Crew are both part of North Island Records and King Vers participated in the European tour of the Red Eye Crew

The reason King Vers stopped making hip-hop is because, in his opinion, the music has developed in a way that nowadays many songs and artists can be associated with negativity. "Although I will always be a hip-hop fan at heart, I somewhat fell out of love with the genre. I still like good recent hip-hop songs with a good beat and catchy lines, but I leave the lyrical content for what it is. It's just a song with a nice melody, perhaps the artist didn't have the best message in it, but I wouldn't take the negative lyrics home with me. However, the latter is the problem with hip-hop nowadays: the negative content of the lyrics of many present hip-hop songs does influence little kids." King Vers, therefore, is critical to the hip-hop heavyweights of our present time: "Artists like Jay-Z and Rick Ross moved away from their hard circumstances many years ago, but they still rap about money and drugs. They're not encouraging individuals, who endure the same hardships they endured, to do more positive things. The message they convey is: I used to sell drugs and I got out of this poverty."

At the moment King Vers' own life, and his attitude towards life, is changing, so is his music. "When maturity came about, evolution as I would call it, I started to see things in a much different, more positive light. I went through all this violence and negativity, and now I'm living a more positive life. The life I want. I don't want to be part of all that negativism anymore." Ten years ago, when King Vers was in his hip-hop period, his music was more aggressive. Becoming a father played a major role in the shift from the aggressive rap style to the positive Soca music. "Ten years ago, my music was more violent, because that was the environment where I grew up in. I just put out there what I knew: the street life. A key factor in my shift towards more positive music was getting a son, because from there on, I was responsible for a life. I didn't, and don't want to speak out negativity anymore. It's not good to send the world that energy, because I influence people, kids and other individuals. Why would I contribute to this negativity and be part of the ongoing problem? When instead I can add some positivity to life and make people feel good with my music. There already is enough violence and craziness in the world."

According to the musician, people are tired of the repetitiveness of hip-hop artists and their lyrics about negativity and the street life. In a sense, the music style has lost its creativity. "When I sing Soca, people are jumping and smiling. I want to be part of that. I don't want to be part of telling the same old story in fifty different ways about my struggles and the streets. Also, in the short time that I'm doing Soca music, I've managed to go much further than I ever did doing hip-hop. To me that's a sign. It shows what the people want to hear. I think the people are tired of listening to the same stuff all the time."

Along with spreading a positive vibe through his music, King Vers wants to give back to the community. The Soca artist wants to help kids who are stuck in the same situation that he used be in. "I dealt with an alcoholic father, and I went through a lot of trials and tribulations when I was young. It was very though growing up: a lot of fights and police coming to my house on a regular basis. The love of my mother, not wanting to hurt her, and God saved me." The musician and his peers are currently working on a project to reach out to troubled youth. For this they go to schools and speak to the kids in small groups. They try to avoid speaking to the children as authority figures. "I remember when I was going to school, I had my 'cool' attitude, if you came to me with authority I would be like: who do you think you are? So our approach is to come to their level, to give it to them raw, and look what the source is of their troubles."

During this project King Vers also wants to change the mentality of the problem youth in St. Maarten. In his opinion, too many people in difficult situations think they're trapped. "I try to get people out of the mindset that they think they're trapped. You're not trapped! It isn't just what it is; it's what you plan it out to be. I first started out with broadcasting radio, because I wanted my music to be heard and no radio station wanted to play it. One thing led to another and I started to work fulltime at the radio station. The radio station brought me in contact with a lot of people, who eventually helped me further with my musical career."

According to the artist, a big problem in all the communities worldwide, and therefore also on the Friendly Island, are fathers who don't step up. "Fathers need to understand that kids can go wrong or right simply because they're present in their life or not. Children will look up to their fathers and will do, nine out of ten times, what their father does. If the father is violent or non-present and the mother has to work all the time, the children end up on the street and lots of times will eventually mimic the behavior of their parents." Another issue according to him is the education in St. Maarten's schools. "Education is the key, but schools need to change the way they teach. Instead of just slapping subjects on a kid all the time, they need to try to figure out what makes a kid excited. For example, if math isn't the strong point of a student, figure out what is."

Regarding the music industry on the Friendly Island, King Vers indicated that he wants to support all St. Maarten artists. According to him, a lot of St. Maarten artists are promising. "Everybody should keep an eye on all the upcoming artists of the island. We are all on the brink of going major. I would therefore like to encourage all St. Maarten artists to continue to put out quality music: let's be creative." The musician pointed out that creativity could be found by remaining unique. St. Maarten artists shouldn't follow American trends or copycat their accent; precisely by emphasizing the St. Maarten accent, culture and roots will distinguish the island-artists from the rest. Finally, King Vers stated that the government on the island needs to realize that no tourist office or tourist promotion puts St. Maarten better on the map than an artist from the Friendly Island, who breaks through internationally. Therefore the artists need their support.

King Vers' clear opinions will also reflect in the songs of his new album; Universal, that will come out later down this year. His new songs will not only be about dancing and partying, but will also have a message. Although Soca was always predominantly about having a good time, there is a shift noticeable according to King Vers. "Soca traditionally is Carnival music, but it's got its own place in the world with the help of Soca-legends like Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano. Since then, there is developing a trend from party music to music with a positive message to help people through their struggles. That's also what I want to do: tell a story on a Soca rhythm." King Vers' new album is preceded by a mixtape: Universal Mixtape, which will be a sample of what to expect from the album. The songs 'Soca Jumbie' and 'Gettin' on bad' both are on the mixtape. Both songs also are up for election during Soca Rumble this Saturday night. People can vote on these songs by texting 'TEXT #9' ('Soca Jumbie') or 'TEXT #33 ('Gettin' on bad') to 2525.