‘New norm’ for dancehall
Industry professionals say lyrics less hateful to same-sex, other groups
Popular publicist Rickardo ‘Shuzzr’ Smith is commending reggae and dancehall artistes for being more tolerant of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, polygamous/polyamorous, kink (LGBTQIAP) community.
In 2014, Smith faced backlash when he decided to openly declare his bisexuality.
“For two years after making it public, I had no clients, among other challenges,” the New York-based Shuzzr, who was featured in Billboard’s special 2020 Pride Issue in June, told The Gleaner.
He said much has changed since then. “I don’t think people care, once the work gets done. At the end of the day, clients remember me for the quality of work I produce and not for what I do in my bedroom,” he said.
Artiste manager Julian Jones-Griffith believes that the mindset has changed and ‘hate lyrics’ are not as common.
“I would definitely say that part of our genre has pretty much disappeared. It got so serious that police pulled an artiste and I aside at Heathrow to warn against singing songs with anti-gay lyrics, and we also saw where entire tours were cancelled in Europe,” Jones-Griffith recalled. He pointed out that the new generation of artistes have learnt from the experiences of their seniors. “They see it could end careers in a flash, and as a producer or label, these hateful songs are rejected, because where is it even going to play? So it’s a change in mindset right through dancehall, I think,” he said.
Meanwhile, Professor Carolyn Cooper said Jamaican dancehall artistes are becoming much more sophisticated in their response to the local and global LGBTQIAPK community.
“I think the hate lyrics in dancehall have definitely decreased. Tanya Stephens is one of the outliers who has consistently chanted down the homophobia of dancehall culture. In her powerful song, Do You Still Care, released in 2006, she challenged racist and homophobic people to look past labels and claim alliances across borders,” she said.
She also said that dancehall deejays now feel free to come out and claim their relatives who are gay. “Ninjaman is a classic example. He has publicly declared that he is not going to reject his son, who is openly gay,” she said.
But Latoya McKay, in a response to The Gleaner, said that though tolerance appears to be a new normal, “the industry is still some way off from fully accepting an openly gay artiste or the community... “.
“Because dancehall is, and always has, a gangster image, and affects the engagements of our clients based on the market demographic,” she said. Artiste manager and publicist Janice Young opined that homophobia is still present, and dancehall deejays are not necessarily less homophobic or even more tolerant.
“I think they have only come to the point (where they see) how influential or how devastating to their career it can be to profess homophobia in music, whereas 20 years ago, they would do it because basically they were relating to a Caribbean audience that share their views publicly,” she said.