One of the most interesting and intriguing features of early Jamaican music was the prevalence of verbal clashes between artistes. In Jamaican parlance at the time, it was referred to as 'throw word' or 'musical wars'.
Quite different from what's happening in today's Jamaican music scene, it sometimes started out acrimoniously, then peters out to friendly confrontations, devoid of physical combats by the performers. These throw words, which were conveyed in the actual recordings were at times very harsh, but as one musicologist puts it, "It was designed to create controversy in order to enhance record sales."
Unfortunately though, many ardent fans failed to realise this and sometimes formed warring factions to defend their idols - a stark resemblance to 'die hard' political party followers who sometimes kill each other for political gains, while politicians from both parties knock glasses at cocktail parties.
Many of the early verbal music clashes, or musical wars, traded lyrics to and fro, sometimes covering as many as half a dozen songs. The ska era (the early 1960s), was when this phenomenon really emerged in Jamaica. As early as 1962, late record producer and larger-than-life sound system operator, Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd, used the 13-year-old Delroy Wilson as a weapon to verbally chastise Prince Buster, his arch-rival and former employee. Wilson was barely out of short pants, and still attending Boys' Town Primary School when he made his first set of recordings for Dodd in 1962. Buster had just previously parted company with Dodd in acrimonious fashion, announcing his displeasure with him in a composition titled One Hand Wash The Other, which had ominous overtones in the words:
And every bad move they try,
I pass them by and by,
I leave them to cry,
They might even die.
Wilson's Joe Liges in late 1962 was in direct response to Buster's outcry when he rebuked him with:
Don't you criticise
Your name is Joe Liges,
One hand wash the other
But you don't remember your brother.
Wilson, while still in his early teens, followed up with further verbal attacks on Buster in the recordings I Shall Not Remove, The Lion Of Judas, and Remember Your Nest, the last of those warning:
Don't you forget that nest where you used to rest,
for you, the Sir has done his very best,
you are ungrateful to call him a fool,
you should never forget that nest where you used to rest.
BUSTER LIKENED TO PHARAOH
Dodd added his voice to the proceedings when he joined Wilson (as the first local rapper he claimed) in the recording Prince Pharaoh, which likened Buster to the offspring of the nefarious King Pharaoh of biblical times. Dodd raps in prelude to Wilson's entry:
'When I say go down, I mean go down.
I have no use for you,
your father was King Pharaoh and you are Prince Pharaoh,
you must go down like you father did go down,
go down and drop your crown'.
Buster, in the meantime, had replies in They Got To Come My Way, King, Duke and Sir, among others.
But perhaps the most exciting episode in these early verbal musical clashes was that between Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan.
That episode unfolded shortly after Morgan left Buster's employ to record for the Chinese producer, Leslie Kong, who paid almost twice as much as Buster.
The move infuriated Buster. That anger was compounded by Morgan's recording of a ska number called Forward March, one of the most played songs about Jamaica's Independence.
The problem arose when Buster claimed that a saxophone solo which he created was copied and used in Forward March.
Buster voiced his views on 'the theft' in a recording where he says:
You stole my belongings and give to your Chiney man,
God in heaven knows that you are wrong,
Are you a Chiney man or are you a black man?
It needs no eyeglass to see that your skin is black.
Morgan's response was emphatic:
'You said it, I am a blackhead Chinese
But when I was with you, I was like a bull in a pen,
Live and let others live and your days will be much longer.
The verbal exchanges between the two continued with Buster's Praise Without Raise, Creation, and Chinese Jacket, and Morgan's No Raise No Praise and Don't Call Me Daddy.
Morgan also had other verbal musical confrontations, one with the gifted vocalist Lloyd Clarke, who berated him in a recording titled You Can't Sing. Morgan responded with:
You should be ashamed to hurt a good-hearted woman,
a man of your type should die insane
Imagine a baby you refuse to mind.
According to Clarke, who hangs out in the St William Grant Park, he was being rebuked by Morgan for leaving behind a young baby to go on an overseas tour.
On another occasion in 1962, Morgan rebuked Owen Gray in a recording titled Be Still part of which ran:
Be still I'm your superior, so please be still.
when a lion is sleeping never you try to wake him.
According to Morgan, he was responding to Gray's boastful declaration that he was a better singer.
In 1968, I Am The Upsetter by Lee 'Scratch' Perry was a big hit for producer Joe Gibbs.
The song was a personal attack on Dodd, with whom Perry had previously worked:
You'll never get away from me,
I am the upsetter
Suffer you bound to suffer.
You take people for fool yeah,
Then use them as a tool yeah,
But I am the avenger.
Perry, who gave yeoman's service to Coxson and then Gibbs as co-producer, engineer, talent scout and audition man, became very successful doing his own business in later years. He also parted company with Gibbs unceremoniously with a cut called People Funny Boy directed at Gibbs.
Gibbs hit back with one he wrote titled People Grudgeful. There were other instances of verbal clashes in early Jamaican music, but perhaps these stood out.