Mr. Vegas exits the dancehall stage, then finds a new genre

Another reggae artist has left the dancehall for God. And he’s launching his first gospel album, “Soul Therapy,” this Friday before a visit to South Florida.

“I haven’t walked away from reggae music,” said Jamaican-born dancehall reggae hit maker Mr. Vegas. “I just want to praise God.”

Known for his catchy hooks and consistent hits — “Heads High,” “Pull Up” and “Bruk It Down,” — Vegas announced last year that his last dancehall album, “This is Dancehall,” would be his final one in the genre.

On Friday, Vegas will release “Soul Therapy” and has chosen Miami Garden’s Parkway Baptist Church, 18000 NW 18th Ave., rather than his native Jamaica as the place for the album’s launch on March 3.

“We just think at this point people are embracing Mr. Vegas more overseas than in my own town,” said Vegas, an outspoken critic of international artists’ cultural appropriation of dancehall who waged a media campaign last year against “Drake the fake.”

Vegas calls his conversion to Christianity and gospel, the continuation of a journey that began with songs like 2012’s “I Am Blessed.”

“I’ve been blessed to be able to sing music that can uplift people’s spirits. I already knew that before I continued with my journey,” he said. “I’ve been praising God all of my life, now I’m just dedicated to letting this world be a better place…I just want to remind people that whenever it gets overbearing, there is always somebody that you can lean on. I’m a strong believer in God almighty.”

Vegas is the second Jamaican artist to announce their departure from dancehall’s hedonistic scene, for the Church in recent months.

In December Lady Saw, the one-time ‘Queen of the dancehall’ and of slackness (raunchy), debuted her gospel album, “When God Speaks,” at an appearance at VP Records in Miramar. Lady Saw, who now goes by her given name, Marion Hall, was known for her lewd lyrics and raunchy crotch-grabbing stage performances.

“Being Lady Saw was always a struggle,” she told the Herald in an interview. “Whenever I would perform I would go home and pray.”

Formerly known as Lady Saw, she’s now found Jesus.Jacqueline Charles

But while Saw’s decision to convert came after attending the funeral of a fellow dancehall artist who died in tragic car accident, Vegas’ came after his own near death experience aboard a Paris-bound flight a week after the French city’s Nov. 13, 2016 terrorists attack.

“We were two hours into the flight, and the pilot basically came on and said, ‘Put the cigarette out.’ I thought someone was on the plane smoking,” Vegas, who was born Clifford Smith, said in a telephone interview from his native Kingston. “A lot of things started going through my mind. The air masks started coming down, the plane started descending rapidly and then the gentleman sitting beside me said to me, ‘The plane’s wing is on fire.’ “

“This is it,” Vegas thought as he began talking to God. “I just started basically saying to myself, “God if you let this plane land, I’m definitely going to do more, dedicate myself to you more.”

The plane eventually safely landed. He never forgot his deal with God even though “This is Dancehall” was being received with praise and Billboard named it one of the top 10 reggae albums of 2016.

Mr. Vegas has also found Jesus.

“When you make a deal with God, you’ve got to keep your side of the deal,” he said. “I’m just trying to be a better person. I just want to be part of Christ and what does Christ represent? Christ represents working hard, and taking care of the poor; loving your neighbor as yourself. These are the things that I embrace as a follower of Christ.”

But fans shouldn’t expect Vegas to become a religious zealot, or to completely shelve some of those secular hits that spanned his 20 year career during performances.

“I personally do not have a problem with dancehall,” he said. “If I were to say dancehall was not good I would be a hypocrite because dancehall is what took me from poverty. How can I look down on something that did good for and is still doing good for me?”

His problem, Vegas said, was more his lifestyle, or as he put it “the weakness of the flesh,” and all the drama that came with it.

“I just wanted to be free from that,” he said.

If you Go

When: Friday, March 3

Time: 6 to 9 p.m.

Where: Parkway Baptist Church, 18000 NW 18th Ave. in Miami Gardens

To register: Free but seats are limited at eventbrite.com.

Album available for purchase on iTunes on Friday.

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