Tue | Jul 17, 2018

George Davis | Dancehall and crime: is there really a link?

Published:Wednesday | July 13, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Since the start of the 1990s when Jamaica's murder rate began to spiral, through to the 2000s when we achieved the dubious honour of being the most murderous nation on the planet per capita, dancehall music has always walked in lockstep with the violence and carnage wreaked on society by gunmen.

That is until now.

For the first time post-1980, a year in which a record number of homicides was motivated by the politics of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP), dancehall music seems to have lost its influence as a medium that glorifies the deeds of the gunman or tells an aspiring 'shotta' how to conduct himself as he leads a life of crime.

The deejays who have made their names singing about the constituent parts of various makes and models of guns and how they should be used to slaughter men, women, and babies always say they are mirroring reality when confronted about the violent nature of their lyrics. Deejays always say they are just reflecting the narrative of the streets when they sing about using a "gun in a (wheel) barrow, blow di pus*** marrow", rather than advocating that kind of approach in dispute resolution or in furtherance of a robbery.

When Vybz Kartel sang in 2006 about "bad man like me mek blood run like taxi, call me Genghis, Hitler the Nazi", he argued that he was speaking vicariously through the eyes of criminals hardened by some oppressive experience from the ghetto.

The same argument was fronted by Mad Cobra when in 1994, he sang "have me gun inna me hand me no joke me naa play, a will shot yuh, then come yuh nine-night come deejay".

Both Cobra and Kartel argued that they themselves were not gunmen and should not be criticised for merely reflecting the reality of the streets and inner cities. And when they were accused of using such lyrics to glorify and glamorise gunplay and murder, they shot back, suggesting that the accusation was nonsensical, given that they were simple social commentators. But as they and other deejays sang about murder, so the homicide rate galloped, giving anthropologists and criminologists grist for their mill in producing studies showing a link between dancehall music and violent criminality.




Those of us who follow dancehall music closely will note that a change swept through the industry after the security forces led an operation to capture Dudus. Before the Dudus operation, almost every major dancehall act had, if not a string, certainly enough songs about guns and killing to underscore their own ruthlessness. Numerous careers were either established or burnished on the back of songs about the most ghastly kind of murders, including of women, children, government officials, soldiers, and the police.

But post-Dudus, when the capabilities of the security forces, especially the soldiers, were displayed briefly, songs about 'boxing' police inside police stations and shooting soldiers on the grounds of Up Park Camp have disappeared from the radar. Yes, there are a few 'gun tunes' here and there, but not from too many of the popular artistes. Indeed, the six years since the Dudus operation have been arguably the most fallow period for gun lyrics over the period 1992 to 2010.

So, for those who say there is a strong link - umbilical or otherwise - between dancehall lyrics glorifying the gun and our atrocious murder rate, it may be necessary to take fresh stock of the situation. The question must be asked, at a time when the overwhelming number of dancehall songs are about sex, money, dancing and new dance moves, skin bleaching, and of course, the old favourite, badmind, why are we still murdering so many of our people, and to parlay Vybz Kartel, doing so in ways that would, "mek the devil disapprove"?

Is it that the same story is being told in the streets today as were being related in the glory days of gun lyrics, but now for some reason, dancehall acts are afraid to put into song what's happening in the streets? Does the current situation prove dancehall defenders who've always said that with or without violent song lyrics, Jamaica would still be a murderous paradise, right?

Just who's right?


- George Davis is a broadcast executive producer and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.