As Dancehall music continues to strive for international recognition among the mainstream genres of music, it apparently remains blemished by crime, homophobia, and violence. While there have been several dancehall pioneers who have worked and continue to work tirelessly to highlight the versatility and creativity of the genre, and to launch themselves and the dancehall flavor into international markets, dancehall reggae still fails to garner the international appeal its producers, artistes and marketers envisage.
Sometimes one wonders if dancehall music and criminality are inextricably linked. Recently, too many dancehall artistes have been brought before the courts for varying degrees of criminality. This state of affairs does not reflect favorably on a genre struggling to take its place on the international music scene. Dancehall artistes must know that they play an important role in Caribbean society, especially when one looks at the impact of dancehall reggae on the socialization of modern Caribbean youth.
Caribbean youth are tuned in to dancehall. This is a fact that cannot be denied. Therefore, it is my belief that our Caribbean dancehall artiste need to be more responsible in their words, thoughts and actions.
Bounty Killer was recently brought before the Jamaican courts on domestic violence charges. Movado was also recently charged with aggravated assault. Elephant Man was booked together with Bounty Killer and others on tax evasion charges. Ninja Man remains in jail on a murder charge. Vybz Kartel, the self-proclaimed “World Boss”, is also before the Jamaican courts on drug charges and his alleged role in two murders. Buju Banton is incarcerated in the US on drug charges. And a very beloved Busy Signal is about to be extradited from Jamaica to the US on drug charges.
Who precisely is a dancehall reggae role model? Can dancehall music even produce positive role models? Are Sean Paul, Shaggy, Cécile, or even Beenie Man role model material?
Rap/Hip-Hop also has its fair share of criminal personalities at the forefront of its success. However, it seems as if the world is far more interested in the Rap/Hip-Hop genres and exercises more tolerance for the notorious crime figures it exemplifies. A large number of rappers and hip hop artiste have gone to prison and continue to go to prison for a variety of criminal activity.
The litany of rap/hip-hop artistes who have been inmates at some point in time in their careers are too numerous to mention. Names like T.I., Lil Wayne, Tony Yayo, Mystical, and DMX immediately come to mind. Yet somehow rap and hip-hop manage to be widely accepted internationally, far more than dancehall reggae could dare dream of accomplishing. Arguably, rap, hip/hop and dancehall reggae are all black music albeit different genres.
Perhaps the dancehall industry might want to strategically focus on the image of their artistes who like it or not, are the brand ambassadors of the industry. While many might argue that a tough image is needed to lend ‘street’ credibility to the genre, this has little effect on the international audience. Dancehall must rise from its humble beginnings and establish itself as an internationally commercially viable product.
Dancehall lyrics must evolve from its primitive, internationally unmarketable form, where violence, explicitly gross sexual content and stunning homophobia forms the basis of its structure.
On the issue of homophobic lyrics, Beenie Man has come out recently with an apology for using this harmful lyrical formula in his music and urges its eradication from the genre. However, this brave move by the self-proclaimed ‘King of Dancehall’ has been met with conspicuously mixed reactions from friends, fans and foes.