Dancehall and reggae's long love affair with titles
From the king and crown prince of reggae to the king, queen, princess, and even emperor of dancehall, Jamaican music has had a long love affair with 'royal' musical titles. Since Bob Marley was bestowed the title of 'King of Reggae' and Yellowman...
From the king and crown prince of reggae to the king, queen, princess, and even emperor of dancehall, Jamaican music has had a long love affair with 'royal' musical titles.
Since Bob Marley was bestowed the title of 'King of Reggae' and Yellowman was appointed 'King of Dancehall', the local music landscape has been constantly caught up with thrones and crowns and who's fit enough to handle the 'power' that comes with sitting at the top of the musical hierarchy
Lady Saw, now Minister Marion Hall, left the throne vacant in 2014 when she joined the ranks of Christianity. Spice, the obvious successor at the time, then took over the reign as queen. While she sat firmly on the throne, dancehall newcomer Shenseea laid claim to the title of princess, which didn't go well at first but soon more than satisfied the masses. Why do titles hold so much weight in the Jamaican music industry, particularly dancehall? For industry insiders, it has been a way for artistes to reward and acknowledge their own achievements.
"Inna di early days when Sting just come on to the scene, a we start create titles like that. Me a di person weh really start da thing deh. A we call Elephant Man the Energy God, a we call Bounty Killer War Lord, and a we call Merciless War Head. A we call Beenie Man The Doctor. A Sting establish dem thing deh pan a certain level," said music insider and veteran artiste manager Heavy D. "We were saying that in order to keep the show alive. We did affi come up wid different things to keep the people interested and draw the attention, and when yuh gi di artiste dem certain names and certain titles, it boost the ego a way weh yuh get the best outta dem, and thing. It was just a thing that enhanced the music to establish who that person was and why they were important."
The ascribing was also a way in which dancehall created something for itself, said Heavy D.
"It's a Jamaican thing, and it enhance our artistes and dem career. Memba, nobody nuh gi dancehall nothing. Nobody nuh create nothing fi dancehall, and so dancehall create supmn fi itself - it own royal structure," Heavy D continued. "When people call a man king or a woman queen, it make dem proud say dem do the work, and people a gi dem credit for the work. So when we say dis man yah creditable fi king, or dis woman yah creditable for queen, it is what it is. A our thing, and we know weh a gwaan inna di dancehall."
With that said, Heavy D went on to state that although some institutions over the years have had a say in who is crowned king or queen on the local music scene, appointment to the musical kingdom is usually the people's duty.
"There is no organisation inna music like that to say who is king and who is queen. The fans dem designate that based on how yuh do yuh work. At the end of the day, that is what it comes down to: the work. The title nah go come to yuh just like dat. Yuh affi be the person weh people can look pan and say ,'Yes, dem deserve it'. A nuh anybody people a go just tek up outta di blues and put pan throne. Yuh think everybody can be king or queen?" he questioned, while reiterating that the titles come with time.
"Yuh affi be consistent doing the work. Yellowman did the work consistently, Beenie Man did it consistently, Kartel do it consistently, Spice, etc. And a person nuh affi dead fi a next one come because Yellowman never dead, and Beenie get the king after him. Kartel lay claim to the title, and Beenie Man still alive and a defend the crown same way. Pan the female side, things also progress. Lady Saw was the one who deh deh, and she tun Christian, and Spice get it. Two a dem were very consistent with their work. Now people have it fi say Shenseea can take over and is also because of the work she a put in," he said.
He also pointed out that bestowing titles is not exclusive to dancehall.
Heavy D added: "Nuh badda think a dancehall alone this go for because it happen inna reggae, too. Bob Marley a King of Reggae and Dennis Brown was prince. Marcia Griffiths is considered Queen of Reggae, and people a look at Etana as someone who can be the next queen. All a dem get dem title from the people because dem put in the work."
For Dancehall Queen Carlene, the awarding of titles in the past had much to do clashes. Dancehall, she points out, was built on clashes. The popular personality said a big part of becoming king or queen of dancehall was proving oneself in a clash.
"Dancehall was built on clashes, and that is where a lot of persons proved themselves. That platform was where a lot of kings and queens were built. You couldn't get the title if yuh never win a clash. But that kind a culture is not really there any more, and so the work that one puts in determines who is king or queen. The people who crown these artistes king or queen do it based on how much work they see that person putting in. So now you have to spend time on your career, you have to be consistent, you have to dominate," she said.
"Shabba was the emperor because the people gave him that title, and he was deserving. Dennis Brown was the Prince of Reggae because people gave him that title,and he was deserving. You can't have people claiming and proclaiming things on themselves. Where in the world yuh ever hear people just gi demself title so and people recognise it on a large scale? Even when yuh go school and they're choosing prefects, it has to be given to you. You have to be chosen. You can call yourself whatever, but unless the people give you the title, it don't matter."
After a heated debate involving Spice and Beenie Man back in 2017 about who was deserving of the royal titles of king and queen, CEO of Popstyle Music, Julian Jones-Griffith, told THE STAR that by dancehall's competitive nature, the conversation is likely to be one that will continue until the end of time, but like Heavy D and Smith, he said that an entertainer's body of work should decide whether he or she is crowned. "Dancehall is extremely competitive, so crowns and titles are always going to be coveted and argued over. But your body of work will ultimately decide where you stand in the history of Jamaican music," he said at the time.
shereita .grizzle@ gleanerjm . com