Dancehall/murder link, a broken record? - Crime and violence goes well beyond dancehall, says Hope
In a recent Instagram post, dancehall artiste, Bounty Killer, condemned the recent execution-style killing of an 81-year-old grandmother and her two grandchildren aged ten and six.
The entertainer, born Rodney Pryce, denounced the act as barbaric and lamented that if Jamaica continues down this gruesome path then “dog nyam we supper”. In response, some social media users called out the deejay for the part, they say, Killer and his colleagues have played in enriching the culture of violence now plaguing the society.
They pointed out that with the artiste’s extensive catalogue of “gun songs”, he, and other entertainers in the dancehall, have fed the monster of crime and the beast is haunting us now more than ever.
It’s not a position held by Professor Donna Hope. In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Hope, a cultural and entertainment authority, expressed that dancehall music is usually one of the first tenets of society to be blamed for the atrocities the country is now drowning in because the genre was birthed from reflecting on “violent situations”.
“One of the things that I find is that whenever there is a spike in criminality and murders, the powers that be, and persons who are supposed to be taking care of us like the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) seem to always attack dancehall. It seems almost like its good PR to target dancehall. And you and I know that crime and violence comes from a lot of different places. Dancehall perhaps has celebrated it in some ways, but the crime and violence problem we are having in this country goes way beyond dancehall music,” she said.
Hope says it is dancehall’s connection to the realities of the inner city that often makes it such an easy target.
“The problem why the music is always blamed is because dancehall has that connection with the hardcore lifestyle of Jamaica that involves guns. Dancehall comes from the garrisons, the ghettos where the guns play a big part. A lot of artistes grew up in these communities where they saw a lot of the things they sing about playing out before their eyes. We spend a lot of time in dancehall talking about guns because Jamaica is a violent society and guns have been a part of the lifestyle of Jamaica,” said Hope.
“In Jamaica, people know when a bullet connects with flesh, and some guys will tell you from the sound of the bullet, they know what kind of gun it came from and that’s because of the intimate relationship they have with guns in some of these places. And these are not guys who are criminals or people firing guns, but they live in a community where guns are a part of the lifestyle, and so they can’t escape it,” she continued.
“So the intimacy with guns becomes a big part of dancehall and then everybody who comes into dancehall even if they don’t live in that kind of situation, it’s almost like a rite of passage. Artistes know that in order for dem to buss in dancehall, dem affi have gyal tune and gun tune. It is a ritual.”
Gutty Bling, producer for dancehall artiste Skillibeng agreed. He expressed that he doesn’t play too much into the gun culture in dancehall, and usually encourages his artistes to expand their musical horizons. However, he says he understands why male dancehall artistes would play into the gun rhetoric.
“More while when the artiste do dem gun song deh, a di biggest forward dem ever get inna dem career and das why nuff a dem love it differently. Respect levels go up when yuh talk about certain things inna song and who nuh want respect as a dancehall artiste?” he questioned, as he pointed out that guns are seen as a symbol of power in Jamaica.
“Mi think international and a only one and two gun songs will get weh overseas and das why my aim as a producer is not to push out gun music. But majority a di time di man dem a medz the gun songs and mi understand why. Once yuh get a badman tune and it buss inna dancehall, yuh start get certain ratings. Is a culture thing from before me born weh singing about guns get yuh certain respect. And it nuh only go fi when artiste a sing bout murdering people, it also goes when dem a tell yutes things like it nuh look good fi a kill old people and children. But, you know people nah go see dat part of the music. Dem nah go recognise when artiste a go against killings and gun violence, only when dem a embrace it,” he shared.
Songwriter and dancehall artiste, Savage, shared similar sentiments. The entertainer who is responsible for penning the track, Gully Christmas back in 2009, which came under heavy scrutiny for turning what was considered a joyful time of year into another celebration of guns and murders, said artistes have condemned gun violence in their songs, but expressed that dancehall is seldom recognised for positive rhetoric.
“I really don’t want the people dem fi go too hard pan the music industry because dancehall is culture. Dancehall music talks about a lot of what is happening in real-time in the ghettos with the poorer class and most a di man dem weh rise form these places a sing bout dem life and weh dem see happen around dem. Most of these gun song stem from reality and is not just baay killing songs. Nuff man sing gun song weh a make man and man know say da lifestyle yah anuh supmn fi follow up because a two roads it lead to: death or prison. Why dem nuh talk bout that when dem a talk bout gun songs weh dancehall artistes sing?” he questioned.
The artiste, whose given name is Simone Daley, says the bad is often highlighted more frequently that the good.
“Nuff man sing about doing the crime and nuh care, but man talk bout the consequences of gun violence too, but I guess the negative is always easier to glorify. For example, if I was to see an old lady going across the road and mi hold her hand and cross her, I would get no recognition. But if I was to see that same old lady and push her dung while she a cross, everybody would be talking about it,” he said.
“Mi just think the artiste dem need a break because a nuff artiste sing gun song and never get caught up in no gun nothing yet,” he continued.
“Bounty Killer is a perfect example of that because a him sing ‘big things a gwaan 2004, mi have a gun weh name see you no more’, but yuh never hear say Bounty Killer get charged fi a gun or get hol’ wid a gun or nothing like dat. Him have the personality like a badman and him have the image because dancehall nuh deal wid coward and timid people, but him separate him dancehall persona from him real-life image. The dancehall crowd respect him as the five-star general, but people outside of dancehall also respect him cuz him nuh live weh him sing.”