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The early 1990s saw Shabba Ranks looking to become the first worldwide breakout sensation dancehall artist. He seemed to be poised to become to dancehall what Bob Marley was to reggae - the man to take the sound and the lifestyle from Jamaica and make heads bump from here to Timbuktu to the infectious rhythm.

Ranks was Mr. Lover Man. Though not his best work, he smashed onto the international scene with that song, and it was featured just about everywhere. From his roots in Jamaica in the late 1980s to everywhere including the Addams Family Values soundtrack in the early 90s, the world was to be his oyster, and he was the toast (pun intended) of England, which was where he was launching his international success (as did Marley).

And then, Buju Banton released "Boom Bye Bye". And the world took notice that there was a rather dark side to dancehall, and to Jamaican culture in general. Banton's song called for homosexual men to be shot and set on fire.

Boom bye bye, in a battyboy head, Rude boy nah promote no nasty man, dem hafi dead.

Unfortunately for Jamaican dancehall, another notable thing the early 90s was famous for, besides grunge music, was hypersensitivity to political correctness. In short, toasting about drugs, crime and women was not exactly drawing-room language, but seen as urban gritty poetry. Calling for gaybashing was another matter.

And dancehall's most visible artist was asked for his opinion on the matter in 1992 on British television program "The Word".

Ranks had several options. He could have declined the interview, he could have made some non-committal statement, but instead, he chose to address the matter head on.

To the audience's initial surprise and eventual disgust, he began by suggesting that as a Jamaican, he was going to support another Jamaican. That not having worked, he began on the tack that it's really a free speech issue, and that he supports free speech. "You've got freedom of speech, and freedom of opinion." When the host, Mark Lamarr, said that he's using it to promote the killing of gay people, Shabba took the worst possible P.R. move he could. Stating that he lives by the Bible and its righteousness, he stated simply that gays deserve crucifixion (according to the Bible, as an afterword), and that God commanded us to "go forth and multiply".

Lamarr was so disgusted (as was the audience, whose gasps of horror and condemnation are so vocal as to be heard in the background) that he simply told Ranks that it was "crap, and he knew it" and simply cut to another segment, ending the discussion.

It was a hideous miscalculation on everyone's part. LaMarr either was intending on baiting the most probably homophobic Ranks, or was blindsided by Ranks invoking the Bible and calling for crucifixion of gays. Given that Lamarr cut completely away from this topic rather than bait Ranks further makes me personally think it was the former. Ranks, intending on seeming righteous and in support of free speech, simply came across as a gay-bashing neanderthal.

The dancehall community didn't seem to understand the problem. Buju Banton asked why people had no problem with anti-gay statements by Guns and Roses on their album (seven million copies sold? Why no boycott of them?)

But the essential difference was this - Guns and Roses were simply macho assholes, whereas Jamaica has a significant legal and cultural bias against gays. In Jamaica, sex between two people of the same sex can carry a sentence of 10 years' hard labour. Violence against gays is commonplace, and even the mere suggestion that another man might be gay could be cause for a lethal beef. Beenie Man defused a potentially life-ending situation when he clarified that a song of his claimed that a fellow artist was riding a horse not an arse and that any suggestion to that latter effect was false.

A gay pride parade in Kingston was abandoned hastily a few years back when it was discovered that within thirty minutes of it being announced, one could not buy a machete because they were simply sold out. I have tried to trace this, having heard it secondhand many times, but have included it in this node because it's quite believable. Machete attacks and shootings of gays are commonplace in Jamaica. People have been known to be killed just for the suspicion of having LOOKED at a man with lust.

Ranks was for all intents and purposes never heard from again. It would be the mid to late 2000s before he would surface again outside Jamaica, working with Akon. Ranks, Banton, even North American acts like Snow who modelled themselves on the dancehall style - gone in a flash, back to Jamaica to pursue more modest careers.

Whether Ranks was speaking from the heart that fateful day, trying to put a righteous spin on a bad situation, or acting in very real self-interest (e.g. not getting shot on his return to Jamaica), his actions on that day effectively killed his dreams and the dreams of others hoping to make it big outside Jamaica.

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