Lyrical rivalries and confrontations have for a long time been a part of the local entertainment culture. It is the backbone of dancehall and for live shows and it is the highlight of the night for shows such as Sting and The Settlement and even Follow Di Arrow. Rivalries such as Stitchie versus Papa San, Beenie man versus Bounty Killer, Vybz Kartel versus Movado, Supercat versus Ninjaman, Ninjaman versus Shabba Ranks and Merciless versus Bounty Killer are some which have been taken place and are popularly known. In fact, Hip-Hop and Rap lyrical “wars” such as Tupac versus Biggy have all been influenced by dancehall clashes as Hip-Hop gained its grounds from the trends of the dancehall.
Dancehall music highlights social commentary, struggles, inner city garrisons, flashy cars, money, scantily clad women, expensive lifestyles, “thuggery”, guns, poverty, drugs, “macho-ism” and lyrical battles. From in the early 1950’s when the dancehall was just a space in the street or on the lawn with two speaker boxes, clashes were a part of the culture. This was before it was even categorized as “dancehall music”. Sound systems used to clash in the early days before artistes took the roll on themselves. An example of competition in the industry from the sound system is Duke Reid with the Trojan, and Clement Dodds with Sir Coxsone Downbeat. Competition between them was fierce. The sound system was a competitive venture. Competition was central to the success of the sound system and it is because of competition why the sound system became so popular. Likewise competition is central to the success of many artistes and thus performers started to lyrically compete against each other. Thus clashing is heavily embedded within dancehall.
Lyrical confrontations used to be done to please the crowd. But ever since clashes started becoming personal and more about the artiste’s personal issues there has been a debate as to whether artistes should be allowed to clash or not. Clashes have gotten to the point where it is now a physical threat to the artistes, fans and entourage of the artistes’, as it is no longer remaining only lyrical but has gotten to the point where physical altercations arise as a result.
Lyrical confrontations have reached the point where it is not so “entertaining” again as it is too serious and personal. An example would be Bounty Killer and Beenie man clashing over a girl, i.e. D’Angel, which is clearly a personal issue, which should not be argued in public. People want to hear creative lyrical content not petty arguments. It became evident that the clash scene became a real personal one where you really “better be careful” what you say when Vybz Kartel attacked Ninjaman at Sting 2003. After Kartel called Ninjaman to join him on stage to lyrically battle it out, Ninjaman appeared to have shoved Vybz Kartel and that is when members of Kartel’s entourage, who happened to be on stage, attacked Ninjaman with Kartel delivering a blow to the artiste’s face using the microphone. Even during the recent well publicized “Vybz kartel versus Mavado” clash at Sting 2009 many “threats” were passed and a lot of derogatory comments were made that made you wonder if this was “entertainment” or real.
Examples of the younger generation clash artistes are Movado, Vybz Kartel, Black Rhyno and Aidonia and examples of the veterans, the original, clash deejays were Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Ninjaman, Supercat, King Yellowman, Papa San and Lt. Stitchie, to name a few. It should also be noted that most of the younger generation clash artistes come from a Bounty Killer led camp known as the Alliance which helps to expose young talent to the world.
Bounty Killer is classed as one of the Kings of Clashes. Bounty Killer’s famous rivalry was with Beenie man and the two of them have been lyrically at it for years. They have both been throwing lyrical punches at each other for years now on recordings, during stage-shows and on interviews. An example of Bounty Killer versus Beenie man are found in the songs “Bulletproof Skin” and Beenie Man’s “The War Is Not Over” where they exchange lyrical shots at each other. The two have clashed numerous times such as at Sting 93’. The two recently however made amends at Fully Loaded 2010 held at James Bond Beach, Ocho Rios, where they performed side by side, to the surprise of many and seemed to either have already or to be trying to put all the negative history they have in the past and move on. This will not be the first time however, that the two will try to squash the animosity or “war” between them. All previous “unity” attempts have failed, but the special thing about them trying right now is the “timing”. Timing is key and in a time where the local scene is trying to get a grip on things and trying to come to terms with everything that has been happening from the recently imposed state of emergency and from the Gully and the Gaza war, etc, this move will have a great impact on the upcoming Sting 2010, “the greatest one night reggae show on earth”, known for producing some of the best clashes ever.
Supreme Promotions’, Demario McDowell says “you have to understand that the backbone of dancehall music is built around “thuggery” and “badness” and with all that has happened this year, with the police sort of breaking the back of the criminal underground, the mood will be more “mature” this year”. He continues to say “nobody wants to jump up and say that they are “this” or “that” in a time like this”.
When Beenie Man and Bounty Killer united on stage at Fully Loaded a host of other artistes were there on the stage to support what was happening such as Aidonia, Einstein, Mavado, and Chase Cross, etc. The artistes were all laughing, dancing and giving “forwards” while the two deejays performed hit songs, tune after tune, and even did a comical clash, to show that everything was good between them. This is a nice way forward for the industry as it shows unity and it shows that there is hope indeed for its growth and continued success as it reminded us of the good old days when clashes were nice and fun and that it wasn’t all about having a screwface and being offensive. This unification, at this time, so close to Sting 2010, symbolizes that come Boxing Day, the main objective will be to please the crowd and not to settle a dispute on stage.
The mood for the upcoming Sting 2010 show to be held on Boxing Day at Jamworld in Portmore, Jamaica is not its usual “war”, “militant” kind of vibe. It is not a vibe for a “personal” clash to take place so far but currently one to see recovery, healing, upliftment and betterment. Due to all the crime within the country and deaths that have occurred the last thing the environment needs to hear is “who a go get shot up now and when and how or who have which big gun and where”.
It should be noted also that by now, in August, going into September, we would normally have identified a feud building up that would lead or signal a vibe to a clash at the big “Sting” but I am yet to identify one, needless to say I am not necessarily looking for one to occur. Vybz kartel has made peace with Mavado, Bounty Killer with Beenie man, Aidonia is not in any real lyrical confrontation at the moment and the scene is just quiet.
And even though clashes are the foundation of Sting and the main attraction, as real followers of dancehall look forward to a clash, things and times can change and clashes can return to been more of an “artistical” expression or a real way of pleasing the crowd and not an avenue for unnecessary disputes to stir up between two artistes which has occurred time and again within the past few years with the “Biggie and Tupac” effect. Even the comical clash between Mr. G and L.A. Lewis at the Settlement in 2010 has played a role to sort of calm the vibe down from being so serious to fans once again realizing that this is supposed to be entertainment. L.A. Lewis actually has done something as he has contributed to bringing back the “niceness” in the clash just for being comical about the situation. Thus in my opinion, if we even do see a clash, it will be one with entertainment as its prime objective and not mischief.
Demario is also saying, “who knows, this year you might see a singer going up against a deejay and a grown man going up against a little kid or a female versus a male, a clash is possible”.
To see Bounty Killer and Beenie man on stage having fun together at a time like this is a move that I applaud. However I am sure that there are many young artistes who rely on a clash confrontation to get a highlight on the Sting stage show, and even some established ones who hope to gain back a “hype” by engaging in lyrical “crossfires” with other artistes, who are not too pleased at the moment. This however is for the best in all respects as artistes now have to focus on the society’s mood at large and finding “hit” songs to perform on the show, which is what we need inevitably to be produced in a time where a lot of the artistes and work that is being published is being poorly rated. Raising the bar to surpass expectations is necessary right now.
Demario of Supreme Promotions states that “The artists will be performing more for the country than for the people” and this makes sense to me as if they were performing for the people then we would probably see a high intense dangerous clash as history has proved that Jamaicans love controversy.
So the vibe going into Sting 2010 hopefully will be a more professional one on the artiste’s part and more about the crowd than the artiste’s personal issues. And then again, us being Jamaican, the mood might not change for the slightest because we are who we are and it is also embedded in our culture so some might still be in the mood for a clash. However being that we are cultural people the intention of people like Bounty Killer and Beenie Man from what I gather would be to change the clash from having a negative to having a positive effect like it originally had and to save the “clash” culture from being mowed down and erased so to speak.
At the end of the day, It will be interesting to see what will come on Boxing Day when Sting 2010 kicks off as the show always brings a good line up full of surprises. So, who knows? I’m looking forward to going to a good show, not a “warzone” and to listen to some good music and not unnecessary “rat-ta-ta-tat”. Possibly I may enjoy an entertaining, non-violent, clash. One thing I know for sure is that at this moment, I see no hostile moods going into the show but it’s still early days. Demario of Supreme Promotions says, “It is too early to tell if there will be a clash or who will or won’t clash as we still have 4 months to go”.
By Dax Vernon