Order of Ska, Order of Slackness
The placement of the song, Where Does Slackness Come From, on Shabba Ranks' 1991 album, As Raw As Ever, indicates that addressing the matter of his penchant for salacious lyrical content was a priority.
The song is the album's second track, sandwiched between the opening Trailer Load and Woman Tangle, both of which are about matters of the male and female flesh, an enduring topic in Jamaican popular music.
After declaring in the introduction, "slackness a wha we Jamaican no appreciate nor a tolerate", in one version of the changing refrain Shabba demands:
"Where does slackness come from me no know
An a me dem waan put de blame pon, wrong bang
Where does slackness come from me no know
How nobody no blame e pon Yellowman?"
As Raw as Ever won a Grammy in the Reggae category for Shabba and was the first dancehall set to take the American honour, Black Uhuru, Jimmy Cliff, Steel Pulse, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers the previous winners.
Flesh Axe and Gone Up were among the songs with strong sexual content on As Raw as Ever. The title of Shabba's second consecutive Grammy winner, X-tra Naked, was more explicit than As Raw as Ever, and with songs such as 5-F Man, Muscle Grip, Bedroom Bully and Co**y Rim, lived up to its billing.
Just over a month from now, on October 17, Shabba will collect another honour, the Order of Distinction (Officer Class), from the Jamaican government. By then, Prince Buster, another Jamaican entertainer who was awarded an OD, will very likely have been buried.
They have more in common than Government-level recognition for their contribution to Jamaican popular music. Shabba Ranks could well have found an appropriate rhyme in questioning why no one was asking Prince Buster about the origins of slackness in Jamaican popular music (he could have done the same for General Echo and others as well). Shabba Ranks did Needle Eye P** P** (which appears on the Greensleeves Rhythm Album, Number 5: P*****y, released in 2000); Buster did the album, Wreck a P** P** in 1968.
That set started with the title track, followed by the receiving end of the fleshy matter in Wreck a B***y (featuring The Sexy Girls), then Rough Rider and P** P** a Go Will You. For good measure there was also Whine and Grine and P***y Cat Bite Me. I am not sure how much of this is being foregrounded as Prince Buster's legacy is examined in the immediate aftermath of his passing.
We have a way of attempting to sanitise people after their deaths and, in so doing, make them far less than they are. Wreck a P** P** does not even dent, much less wreck Prince Buster's musical reputation. Like Needle Eye P** P**, it is part of a thread of male-female sexuality running through Jamaica popular music, which reflects the tapestry of Jamaican society's fascination with such matters.
It is far from being all they sang and deejayed about, but it is part of their body of work which reflects a national tendency towards sexual matters.
Part of being able to accept Prince Buster's sexual lyrical content is being able to say, "At least, it is not as bad as ...", and here we could put in Shabba Ranks.
Part of being able to accept Shabba Ranks' needle eye ways is being able to say, "At least, it is better then ...", and here we could insert Vybz Kartel. We may live to see a time when, as a country, we are able to accept Kartel because we can say, "Well, really he is not anywhere as awful as ..."
SHARED LYRICAL CONTENT
I am not suggesting that we will one day see Adidjah Palmer, OD, as he does (currently) have a murder conviction. One day there will be, however, more extreme expressions of male-female sexuality in Jamaican popular music than his.
As we prepared to enter a ska standout and honour a dancehall don (and that is not used in the sense of ruling a community, but as Pinchers did musically in I'm a Don and Return of the Don), let us recognise this lyrical content they have in common. And we will see that, thematically, Jamaica's first internationally accepted music genre, ska, and its latest and longest-lasting stage, dancehall, have sexuality in common.
Then we may just say, "You know, dancehall is not so bad after all."
Tune of the week: On Sunday, the USA marked the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on its territory and psyche. Poet and broadcaster Mutabaruka will also receive a national honour on October 17. Take a listen to The Eyes of Liberty, at https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=Gwbllaj_p-E