Should Dancehall Artists & Producers Pushing Gun Tunes Bear Any Responsibility For Jamaica’s High Murder Rate?

The subject of this article is something that everyone working in Jamaica’s dancehall music industry – whether in country or overseas – should seriously consider. In 2021, the small island of Jamaica, with a population of approximately 2.961 million people, reported 1,463 murders. A high percentage of that was gang related.

The reason the question posed in the title must be contemplated is because most of these new dancehall artists seem to be: 1) gang affiliated, 2) always singing / promoting violence and 3) constantly brandishing guns in their videos.

Now as the debate about the high murder rate rages on, everyone, including those in the music industry, appear to be putting the blame squarely at the feet of the government; refusing to make the connection between their colleagues’ lyrical content and what is going on in the streets.

However, the truth is that youths in the streets are a 100% more likely to pay attention to, and imitate persons in the entertainment industry than they are politicians, pastors or police. That is just a fact that cannot be intelligently disputed by any well thinking person. That said, we all – everyone of us working in music – must be honest about where our country is and the role we can and will play to either get it out of this mess, or push it in deeper.

All hands are needed on deck and no role is too small. This means that if all you do is make mixtapes; refusing to include songs that promote violence is what you can and should do. The same goes for radio djs, sound system selectors and everyone in between. As for producers, you are probably in the most powerful position. All you have to do is refuse to voice any gun lyrics on your beats or feature the same on your record label. As for the gun-promoting artists that are financing their own projects, it will be up to the engineers (recording, mixing and mastering) to firmly refuse to work on anything that glorifies crime and violence.

3 thoughts on “Should Dancehall Artists & Producers Pushing Gun Tunes Bear Any Responsibility For Jamaica’s High Murder Rate?

    • Great question! Prior to uttering a response to your poignant question, it is critical to note the importance of Jay-Z and Meek Mills current legal gesture to question, halt and prohibit the draconian, illegal and immoral legal practice of using rap musical lyrics as ‘so-called’ evidence in court proceedings. First and foremost this barbaric form of litigation must be made illegal immediately as such archaic practices have no place in our democratic court systems of law and justice. Nonetheless, to be artistically fair and cinematically accurate, both forms of art (music & westerns) illustrate tales and stories of human realities in ways that brilliantly ignite our imaginations and creative intelligence. Hence, one medium uses words to illuminate, examine and express the lives of those whom the art reflects in magnificent ways, and the other utilizes the powerful lens of cinematic cameras, scripts, angles, characters, story-arch, and vividly imagery to emphasize the incredible life and times of those legends of the fall, rural-life and tiresome cowboy-experiences upon steep yet rigorous terrain. Respecting the artistic merit and integrity of both music and cinema is vital to how we use such incredible artistic modes to shape how we see, think, respond and understand the various segments, demographics, histories and lived-realities of peoples of diverse cultures echoing particular aspects of life in its precious, dangerous, tender, yet violent and sometimes heroic nature.

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  1. Dangerous Cross-Road: Guns, Violence & Music!

    The micky-mouse blame-game of violence and lyrical content has been brewing within the circles of black artistic expressions ever since the days slavery. Scapegoating an entire segment of the society as being liable and responsible for a nation’s GDP, Housing, Education, Health-Care and National Security is a weight unjustly placed at the mics of artist instead of the governing forces (Party Politics, Corporate Leaders, Civil Society) who collectively seek new ways to side-step these pressing social concerns, which are vividly displayed on the streets. A more astute question must be; are some segments of the society afraid of the dancehall, it’s lyrical content, the context of its artistic endeavors/expressions or the existence of these realities echoed through music, realities that continue to exist, fester and stifle the nation’s growth and potential? Artist and entertainers know their roles and play them exceptionally well, depicting the realities that persist and permeate throughout the society, adding voice, dexterity, clarity and vision to the ways marginalized people continue to suffer and live in substandard conditions, inheriting and enduring the violent, terrifying and traumatizing circumstances and abject repercussions embedded within these crevices of the society. Therefore, the argument and debate of violence in Jamaican Society is premature and misguided at best, stale and unfortunate at its worst, as it rather targets and posits the responsibility on the musicians instead of exploring the root-causes of such marginalization and disorientation faced by those who must feel the brunt of the inequities within the broader society. What we need is a new sounding-board, reminiscent of the debate sparked by Life & Debt, a film that illustrated the ways Jamaican society is undermined and choked by outside corporate, business and economic forces that shape the social policies, injuring those most vulnerable to the horrific clutches of neoliberalism and subsistent corporatization of the public-sphere. The more urgent discussion that is desperately needed in the society is what role must the corporate sector play in strengthening, supporting and enriching the Governmental Structure, in a manner that creates a stronger social safety-net, a sharing of wealth accumulation, tightening the gap of income inequality, making certain the common-good and civic engagement of those most impoverished. Dancehall culture, its artist and musical voices have always stood as a resisting force against those who deem and claim their presence as non-existent. Their artistic power, greatness and ingenious
    has always and continues to be one of the most celebrated aspects of Jamaican Culture both at home and abroad. It was Reggae that “put Jamaica pon top” way before the days of Digicel, Mr. Bolt, and Andrew Holness and it will always be a marvellous force of poetic-beauty, magnificent wordsmiths, brilliant vernacular exhibitionism, and trailblazing cultural icons, worthy of enormous praise, hailing and toasting. Stories of violence, poverty, hard-life and tough-living only stand as testaments of those who feel their presence doesn’t matter, and through these lyrical tales their lives begin to take flight in a way they never dreamed possible, and suddenly they are heard, seen and understood like never before. Art has the power to uplift people in ways we can only imagine, and in the words of the great Jimmy Cliff, “time alone will tell” how much longer these youths must continue to tell these deep tales from the gritty lives they try to live, survive and cope with some form of sanity.

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