COLUMN: Dancehall today more about hype that hits

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Demarco and RickyCarty

By: Marc Parc

A threesome involving two girls in masks, a live sex show, a borage of videos filled with cheeks of the below the belt variety and occasional quips about oral and anal sex.

No, I’m not describing features on Pornhub or XVIDEOS, but Dancehall in 2014; a genre filled with recent, overexuberant attempts to gain attention within the music world and create controversy. From established acts such as Demarco to young artists including Ricky Carty, there has been a seemingly concerted effort to correlate Dancehall and porn in music videos, not necessarily for your enjoyment, but to garner buzz in the media that they would not have attained through any other means. After all, sex sells right?

Let us not be naïve, controversy has long sold records and appealed to hardcore followers of ‘fast Reggae’ since it became popular in the late 1980s and early 90s. However, since the turn of the decade, controversy has not only become an ingredient to the recipe of success within Dancehall, but the main ingredient; in some cases, the only ingredient. Though there have been some instances of top-quality Dancehall music being produced, lyrical content and originality are drastically lacking, thus causing many acts to resort to extreme measures, including visually, to reel in fans and keep them paying attention and downloading their material.

When a young phenom such as Alkaline came along with his Not A Slack Song video and later, tattooed eyeballs (though whether they’ve been tattooed continues to be debated by the masses), he instantly garnered attention before people ever really paid attention to his lyrical content. Unlike others, he has managed to last thus far because of his flow and understanding of the industry, making him an instant star. However, time will tell whether the gimmicks and sometimes questionable lyrics (the anal stimulation lyric in Love You for example) that accompany his act will wear thin or allow him to stay the course.

Other acts have tried this route in the last year or two, with mixed results. Tommy Lee Sparta stood out in 2011 and 2012 with his occasional demonic references in his music and the scary performance getup to match. While fans were seemingly OK with it for a few months, their patience grew thin, often chastising him for his content via social media and other means; leading to his reduced impact within the Dancehall scene in the last year and a half as his continued demonic references and sudden switch to more positive songs have been met with a collective ‘ho hum’ from the masses back home.

Looking to build momentum following a nasty feud will fellow deejay, Spice, Macka Diamond struck gold with the sexually-charged, chart-topping anthem, Dye Dye. Seeing how well-received the song was, she then turned up the ante and then some for her follow-up single, Twist Me by, let say, having a man taste a different type of meat in her kitchen. The visuals were a distraction from the average content the song itself offered, and got lots of criticism from music lovers who felt the imagery crossed boundaries. On the contrary, said imagery worked as far as creating online buzz was concerned.

Dancehall, pre-2011, did not need the overbearing sexual references and risqué image changes to become popular. Metaphors, similes and smartly introduces touches of edginess made the genre more original and easy to follow. Perhaps we should have seen this coming though.

Since the Broadcasting Commission’s outlawing of gun lyrics on Jamaican airwaves in 2008, more entertainers have been forced to be more original and cunning with their lyrical content and imagery. However, many veterans and up-and-comers have over-relied on sexuality to gauge interest from the public at large, thus resulting in an ample amount of explicit videos and promotional pictures exasperating T & A to get their points across; with explanations from managers, promoters and artists themselves centering around the copout that they’re ‘giving the people what they want.’ Did they survey fans asking what they wanted? And, even as enjoyable as sexuality it, once pushed so often, said fans will get tired eventually.

These stunts only cover up the big issue at hand, that variety and tasteful conceptualization has been disappearing from what still is the biggest genre in Jamaica. However, with Reggae music now regaining the consciousness of the people, in part thanks to the fresh young talent such as Chronixx, Dre Island and Jesse Royal, Dancehall must now challenge itself to get back to its roots and stop relying on exaggeration to get points across. It has become a hype machine, where hits aren’t necessarily the aim, but pushing agendas that get the media and fans talking. What artists don’t realize, are that they aren’t necessarily being talked about for the right reasons, which only leaves the genre in a bad place.

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