Abe Beame is more into Miley appropriation.
The greatest controversy in music right now is happening in Dancehall where Ishawna has caused an uproar over her hit single “Equal Rights,” an anthem about fair play when it comes to oral sex. As the rest of the internet remains in full froth over Katy Perry’s culturally insensitive shitty dancing, we should be focused on one woman’s courageous, positive message in a genre that remains in the stone age when it comes to gender equality.
There are so many things to love about this story, the most unlikely of which is probably Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” a hit single more Z-100 than Hot 97, is a major riddim in dancehall right now (And while we’re at it, where is the Drake “One Dance” vitriol for Ed Sheeran’s uncredited appropriation?). Freed from the confines of Ed Sheeran’s soulful white boy lover man shtick, Ishawna unleashes the potential of the beat and turns it into a fucking jam.
Equally great is the backlash the Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn, New York bred Ishawna has faced from the Dancehall community IRL and across the internet (If you have twenty minutes to kill, Google the song and click through some really fantastic concerned letters to the editor, or if you have a strong stomach scroll through the comments on one of the song’s Youtube pages). Dudes are losing their minds over Ishawna’s central point that you have to give to receive.
Her mentor Bounty Killer has insisted she not perform the song, which has been a bonafide hit since it debuted last month, at an upcoming concert and fish fry they’re headlining in Portland next week. Incredibly, her ex-fiancé, the artist Foota Hype, claims that the song ended their relationship. For her part, Ishawna has barely acknowledged this controversy, recognizing the absurdity and has been unapologetic when asked for comment.
The hilarious aspect of the fervor over Ishawna’s relatively common sense request is the hypocrisy. For the uninitiated, Dancehall is without a doubt the raunchiest music on Earth. A standard Dancehall hit essentially does for sex what Young Jeezy once did for coke, with each verse serving as a graphic metaphor machine finding inventive and often hilarious ways to convey that, say, a pussy is tight or a dick is large. Vybz Kartel and Spice’s excellent “Rompin Shop” over the “Miss Independent” riddim is an exemplary urtext. A vagina is compared to a pair of handcuffs and at one point Spice urges Vybz to “spin mi like a satellite dish.” This was a major radio hit in 2009, proving you can pretty much get anything past censors if you say it in Patois.
But apparently a woman exists in Dancehall to “whine” and generally cater to a man. Taking agency has proven to offend the community’s stunningly delicate sensibilities. A wave of response records have been released by Dancehall artists who have what you have to believe are unsatisfied wives and/or girlfriends. The prospect of a good gender response record would typically get my blood up (If you haven’t listened to “No Pigeons” in a while, do so immediately) but in this instance there’s something kind of disheartening about a bunch of dudes pounding their chest and “proving” their masculinity by bragging about not going down on women. Kiprich’s “No Eating Rights” is downright pathological and reads close to body horror at the idea of going down on a woman: “Me feel traumatized if a man ever suck a bag of juice next to me”.
Dancehall is poised to move further into the mainstream as artists like Drake, Beyonce, Rihanna, and, yes, Ed Sheeran continue to reference it in their music. One hurtle to it achieving widespread acceptance for actual Dancehall artists will be this ugly strain of conservative homophobia and misogyny. Courageous, progressive artists like Ishawna are changing this narrative while making great music.