Portrayal of LGBT people in popular music

See also: Murder music

Jamaica’s popular culture has a strong tradition of music, particularly reggae and dancehall. As a consequence performers are high profile, either (depending on perspective) seen as influencing popular opinion or reflecting it. Artists such as Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel, Elephant Man, Sizzla, Capleton, T.O.K., Anthony B and Shabba Ranks, write and perform songs that advocate attacking or killing gays and lesbians.
Apologists argue that these artists are simply championing Rastafarian values in contemporary reggae music by recording material which is concerned primarily with exploring Rastafarian themes, such as Babylon‘s corrupting influence, the disenfranchisement of ghetto youth, oppression of the black nation and their abiding faith in Jah and resistance against perceived agents of oppression. Homosexuality is enmeshed with these themes.

One of Beenie Man’s songs contains the lyrics: “I’m a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays.” Lyrics from Sizzla’s songs include: “Shot batty boy, my big gun boom” (Shoot queers, my big gun goes boom). “A Nuh Fi Wi Fault” by Elephant Man boasts: “Battyman fi dead!/Please mark we word/Gimme tha tech-nine/Shoot dem like bird”.
Shabba Ranks‘s reputation was badly damaged by his explicitly homophobic views and lyrics. This was evidenced by a notorious incident on the Channel 4 programme ‘The Word‘ where he advocated the crucifixion of homosexuals. This view was also aired, for example, on his track “No Mama Man”, where the following lyrics can be heard: “If Jamaica would a legalize gun / to kill battyboy would be the greatest fun”.

An international campaign against homophobia by reggae singers has been launched by OutRage!, UK-based gay human rights group., the UK-based Stop Murder Music Coalition (SMM) and others. An agreement to stop anti-gay lyrics during live performances and not to produce any new anti-gay material or re-release offending songs was reached in February 2005 between dancehall record labels and organizations opposed to anti-gay murder lyrics. As of July 2006 this agreement seems to have been revoked.

The Canadian High Commission in Jamaica is also requiring performers who wish to tour in Canada to sign an Entertainer Declaration that states that they have read and fully understand excerpts from the Criminal Code of Canada, Charter of Rights and Human Rights Act and “will not engage in or advocate hatred against persons because of their… sexual orientation.”
The most recent rising star of dancehall reggae to use violent homophobic lyrics is Dr. Evil, aka Mr.Evil of the duo Leftside and Esco. In his song “JA don’t like gay” he uses lyrics which include, “I bought this AK to spray on all gays.” In 2008 he collaborated with dancehall star Sean Paul.

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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