Brian-Paul Welsh | Too much gun
In 2006, reggae-dancehall artiste Busy Signal released Too Much Gun, a sonic punch to the gut that bubbled atop Daseca and ZJ Liquid's version of the original Penthouse riddim made infamous by Buju Banton's early hit Man Fi Dead. That song, a blood-curdling depiction of Jamaica's anti-informant culture, is emblematic of the viciousness we gladly entertain and is one of many examples from that era confirming Buju as an icon of the genre.
Before attuning to the insights of Rastafari, the Mr Mention Buju was hailed as a gifted young deejay known for his powerful and unfiltered descriptions of Jamaican life, and possessed with a self-assurance and gruff authority that belied his tender age and slight frame. He bellowed the popular social sentiments of the time, vividly illustrating the sweetness and stench of the system to which we are now accustomed.
On this seminal track, Buju's lyrical arsenal pierces the throbbing bass to deliver a barrage of increasingly violent and outlandish punch lines targeted at those found disagreeable.
Included in these powerful cadences is the following instruction:
If yuh have di MAC-10, an' yuh have di Uzi,
Unnu fi pat it pon di right, nuh bodda fraid fi buss it.
If yuh have di '16, an'yuh have di one-pop,
From a bwoy diss, wi jus buss it head-top!
It is reported that Buju had a change of heart and mind after losing several of his friends to Jamaica's roving crime monster in another of its regular manic spates.
Knowing he might have helped conjure the beast with his melodic incantations, Banton sought atonement with the 1993 release of the track Murderer, on which he wails:
"All men are created equal, but behind the trigger it's a different sequel.
Some ah murder people jus' fi collect medals,
Stop committing dirty acts fi the high officials!"
In 1992, when Man Fi Dead was first released, there were reports of 629 murders in Jamaica that year. At the time, Buju Banton was about 19 years old, and Busy Signal was roughly 13. Over a decade later, and with the number of annual reported murders in Jamaica soaring at the time in excess of 1,300, Busy felt urged to pen the voluminous lamentation titled Too Much Gun seemingly in response, but certainly as a timely update to Buju's earlier reflection of the gritty '90s.
On this track, listeners find a frenzied narrative delivered from the voice of reason embodied by Busy Signal's trilling staccato. He unleashes a litany of poignant observations in a crescendo of dense and rapid verses not only describing Jamaica's state of perpetual insecurity, but also issuing a dire warning to those bedazzled by its scarce benefits and spoils.
In delivering his analysis, he chants:
"Ah nuh one by one, ah nuh three by three, ah nuh four by four man a dead,
Tun on mi radio, an' look pan mi TV, all mi si: more by more man a dead!
Man all a fight fi a work pan site, mi si labourer, trademan, foreman a dead,
Dem nuh ave nuh respect, yu nuh si all di rich and di poor man a dead?!"
This sounds eerily like a postcard from the land of prosperity, circa 2017!
Busy offers a grim warning to every ghetto youth in light of the state machinery's brutish history, beseeching discerning listeners:
"Nuh mek dem sen back Reneto,
Fi go gas dem up like a Esso!"
Incidentally, Reneto Adams was offering his incendiary prescription for Jamaica's crime ills as recently as last week! With key members of the intelligentsia now on his side, perhaps his zeal won't be extinguished this time around.
These little youth running around with big guns are fearful of neither police, nor duppy, nor obeah man; and as Busy Signal astutely observed a decade ago:
"Some a dem gone mad wid di gun,
If dem coulda, dem woulda shoot God wid di gun!"
I can recall a Gleaner headline from September 2016, ten years after Busy Signal's song was first released and 24 years after Buju Banton's anthem, screaming 'Murder madness - Jamaica averaging 100 homicides monthly'. If that vulgar alliteration backed by gripping facts couldn't jolt Jamaica's leadership into action, it seems nothing will.
Despite their omnipresence, it might be surprising to learn that we do not manufacture firearms or ammunition in Jamaica. Like the other cheap staples dumped in excess on developing nations, all are imported, though in our bandooloo system, a substantial number have been coming here illegally and are causing great terror.
At a time when walls are feverishly being erected to curtail the inflow of neighbours, keeping certain undesirables out, let us hope such devices will be similarly effective at containing the outflow of what neighbours might find undesirable, like weaponry.