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Money, music and murder

BY JASON McKAY

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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Is there a link between music and violence, gang activity and murder?

It is a consideration that is not new. For the last 40 years it has been a question that has come up often, too often, actually. But, is there really a link in any true sense of the word? Or is it just judgement based on ambient circumstances that exist?

In other words; because we live in a violent, gang-dominated environment, do we blame the persons who sing about it? Hmmm … Maybe.

Firstly, why and how do songs get created by artistes?

Well, there is a dominant presence of violent lyrics in both Jamaican dancehall and North American rap music. Why do they sing of gangs and violence?

This occurs mainly because their music is the music form of the inner city in both cultures. The market they are performing to can identify with what they sing about. If they sang of rodeos, their market would be somewhat confused.

This is not limited to dancehall or rap though. Country western musicians sing of gunfights. Remember Marty Robbins' Big Iron and El Paso? These included lyrics about domestic killings, murderous posses, and fatal shootings.

I can just see Terrence Bent in a cowboy hat now. Smile.

There is also John Jones' Delilah, which spoke of a man killing his lover in a jealous fit. Can you imagine trying this now with the '#Me Too' movement in existence? They would have condemned the song and frankly, they would have been right.

With all of this, there is history of violence in music in general, though it is only dancehall and rap that get the criticism.

Could it be just a knee-jerk reaction to the content?

I can recall the response to Bounty Killer's song, Look Into my Eyes. He really got a figurative punch in the gut from the press and society in general, who argued that he was justifying violence and robbery committed by young gangsters because of his lyric: “You've got to rob any kill”.

However, two decades later the line that is remembered and analysed by thinkers is “Look into my home, would you live in there?”. This, to me, should be considered a ballad of protest of the real cause of crime — the dichotomy that exists in our society with respect to how the different groups live.

Let's go further back in history to Bob Marley's I shot the sheriff. It was before my time, so I can't speak of public response personally, and real history of this era does not speak of it. But interviews with sound system icon and pioneer, Vin Edwards, who owned and operated King Edward's Hi Fi at the time when this song was released, revealed that the song was not appreciated by law enforcement or the upper echelons of society.

I will take this position: the lyrics of both dancehall and rap have historically glorified gang affiliation and activity. But, I see change. I look at songs like The Reasoning by Busy Signal. This song depicts a conversation between the artist and an inner-city friend from his childhood.

However, although the friend speaks of guns, domestic violence and gang war, he is discouraging and in fact condemning such activities. He is also portrayed as the successful person in the conversation and the video and thus, as the person who is likely to be emulated. This is not an isolated effort. Several artistes in both rap and dancehall circles have done similar songs.

The sad reality, however, is the affiliation between gangs and popular artists, not in song, but in actual membership and leadership. This is where the relationship becomes tangible. Artistes earn lots of money and have often been looked at as the funding arm of gangs. What is of even greater concern is that the gangs with which some artistes are affiliated were allegedly formed by them. For instance, there was no Gaza before Vybz Kartel.

The number of popular artistes arrested, charged and even convicted is a matter for concern, as the offences are often gun or gang-related. Furthermore, of the top five most popular artistes in dancehall history, two — Adidja Palmer (Vybz Kartel) and Desmond Ballantine (Ninja Man) — have been convicted of gun/gang-related activity.

I can understand but do not justify artistes being forced into gangs because of the wholesale harassment, abuse and extortion they are subject to. But there is no excuse to use their newly acquired wealth to build gangs that prey on the very society which created the opportunity for their wealth.

I don't accept the inner-city excuse for this. Many of our great rocksteady artistes (to include the greatest of them all, Ken Boothe) came from western Kingston and they did not sing songs glorifying violence or create gangs. Yet, Denham Town has been a violent place for a long time.

The change in violent lyrics has begun largely because of a strong press, stage show sponsors, and activism by rights groups.

What I want to see now is a similar rejection of artistes who are criminally charged for violent crimes, to include domestic violence. Only when their money is affected will they alter their behaviour.

You also have a responsibility to manage your image. If you are constantly associated with violence and death, but you are not yet charged, then it is not prudent for responsible corporate entities to be sponsoring the shows on which you appear. It is not enough that you conduct yourself responsibly on that stage, but then appear in the news for being in a club brawl or leading a gang.

I can actually recall the Gaza Gang and Lynch Mob leaders, – both artistes — ie Vybz Kartel and Mikey Peloa-on the front page of The Star as coming to a gang truce, after several persons had been killed, and appearing weeks later on a massive stage show sponsored by a major supplier of a popular product. This just doesn't feel right. This is not violent lyrics glorifying murder; this is actual violence involving murder.

So, in the same way that members of corporate Jamaica have stood their ground on the issue of homophobic and violent lyrics, they should extend their stance to persons whose image is representative in violence of any form.

To the artistes who have changed, thank you. For the rest who persist, let's starve them out of gang activity. It may actually keep them from sharing a cell with Palmer or Ballentine, or a plot with Pan Head, Nitty Gritty or Bogle.

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