Queen of the Pack: How Patra’s Influence Still Rules The Dancehall Scene
When famed American DJ, emcee and record producer DJ Cassidy aired an all-star showcase of Jamaica’s finest musicians on a special edition of Pass The Mic: BET Afterparty 2022 show in February of this year to commemorate the 53rd NAACP Image Awards, the entertainment world was thrown into a nostalgic frenzy. Social media was ablaze with excitement, with users captivated by 21 industry trailblazers whose indelible impact has had a lasting memory in the minds and hearts of Dancehall and Reggae music lovers across generations. From that legion of musical stalwarts, one heroine’s trip down memory lane was a hypnotic Romantic Call for the masses – Dorothy Patra Smith. Patra’s brief yet dynamic performance that evening was a bird’s eye view into the career of a powerhouse Dancehall figure that ultimately shaped Black music beyond Caribbean borders and ushered in a daring portrayal of womanhood in entertainment.
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Born in the south-side parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica, Patra’s career began as a female DJ under the moniker “Lady Patra,” a play on words coined by her cousin that referenced the royal stature of Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. She quickly gained popularity after her infamous performance at Sting Festival, where label executives began to take notice of her immense talent and captivating stage presence. With a career that ripe for an American debut, she was catapulted into stardom when she was featured on the song Family Affair with fellow Jamaican recording artist Shabba Ranks, who was already enjoying mainstream fame in the US market. Patra’s first album, aptly titled Queen Of The Pack and released under Epic Records, soon made her the first female Jamaican artist to land an album at the #1 spot on the Billboard Reggae Charts. This master stroke signaled her intention to take up space in an industry largely dominated by male emcees and rappers during that time.
With an in-your-face, sensual, electric on- and off-screen persona that made everyone sit up and pay attention in the 80’s and 90’s, Patra’s cultural influence – from her waist-length signature box braids to “batty-rider” denim shorts that showed off her svelte physique and glistening chocolate-dipped skin – won the hearts of fans from various musical genres. This Billboard chart-topper played an indispensable role on the female frontline in the global music industry, along other top acts of the moment such as Lil’ Kim, top-selling girl group TLC, Trinidad-born Foxy Brown, Ruff Ryder’s First Lady Eve and the inimitable Janet Jackson. Though separated by geographical origins, these female entertainers all shared one trait in common – they unapologetically took ownership of their sexuality, dominance and femininity with their provocative imagery and timeless lyricism. At a time where Hip–Hop was also enjoying a whirlwind musical love affair with Dancehall and Reggae music, Patra’s crossover appeal was apparent, making cameo appearances in music videos for Notorious B.I.G. (“One More Chance”) and Tupac Shakur (Romantic Call ft. Yo-Yo). With hits such as Scent of Attraction, Worker Man, Black Cinderella and the remake of Grace Jones’ classic Pull Up To The Bumper, there was no stopping Patra’s meteoric rise to fame. Worker Man in particular became her biggest career hit – reaching #53 on the Hot 100 Charts, zooming past the Top 20 mark on the R&B charts and sat comfortably at #1 on the Dance Charts.
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Fast forward 30 years later, and the music industry has ushered in a new crop of female Dancehall artists who boldly assert their individuality and openly embrace their sex symbol status. While contemporary Jamaican superstars such as Stefflon Don, Jada Kingdom, Hood Celebrity, Shenseea and Ishawna have all taken up the baton in the industry relay race, many would argue that Patra’s undeniable influence – even after a long hiatus from the scene – has led the charge in the way that female Dancehall artists are packaged and presented to an eager global audience. For entertainment executive Odessa Chambers, Patra embodies acultural ambassadorship that authentically represents Jamaican excellence.
“I first met Patra at House of Leo which was famous for Stone Love Sound System, and you could tell that she was a star. She is simply a beautiful Black girl,” Chambers says fondly of her longtime friend.
The daughter of the legendary Reggae icon, Jimmy Cliff, Ms. Chambers – who has worked alongside artists such as Nelly Furtado – stresses on the importance of creating and managing a solid product, which Patra mastered during the height of her career.
“Not only did Patra have the look and the image, but she was fresh – she was a gorgeous, proud, dark-skinned, confident woman who was and continues to be very important for us to see to this day. It was the perfect packagingfor our culture to the world: Shabba Ranks was the King and they needed a Queen. For what the market called for at that time, it worked out perfectly, and she just came to show the global audience what women in Dancehall are all about.”
Hinting via her social media that new music is on the way, one thing is for certain – Patra continues to have the golden performance touch that is still loved by so many. Until that time, the royal Dancehall court is forever indebted to the presence of this Dancehall legend, as the world continues to wait with bated breath for the return of the Queen of the Pack.
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Tenille Clarke is an avid storyteller, seasoned publicist and cultural enthusiast from Trinidad and Tobago who often pens about her ongoing love affair with travel, entertainment and culture through a Caribbean lens. Follow her digital journey @tenilleclarke1 on Instagram and Twitter.
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