You can learn a lot about a culture by listening to its music.
While I would never dare to make sweeping claims about one artist’s impact on the culture of an entire country, suffice it to say that I have not yet met a Jamaican who hasn’t heard of Vybz Kartel, aka Mr. World Boss, aka the dancehall superstar who is currently incarcerated for life on charges of murder.
Kartel has released hundreds of songs. Even since being sentenced and imprisoned in April 2014, he’s somehow still cranking out hits from behind bars. While he does cover more serious topics, like the social climate of Jamaica, the majority of his music is about women. In his music he is open about his infidelity and his love for the opposite sex, which obviously means that he had lots of ‘splanin to do to his main ooman.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your reading pleasure I present to you 15 of my favorite things that Kartel has said to sweet talk his lady(ies). If you’re having a hard time understanding what the lyrics say, try to say them aloud:
#15: “Call mi yo narcotic caw yo body drugs mi. Sit down in a mi lap, it a the lap a luxury. What a big bumper yo better tek it bounce mi.” – Have a Little More (Tek Yuh Time)
A “bumper” is a butt. Apparently, Vybzy thinks that he’s Santa Claus and that everything can be made better if only you’ll sit on his lap.
#14: “First thing in di morning, last ting before mi go a my bed.” – Enchanting
Ok, I was hesitant to include this one because I was trying to keep this post mostly clean…but for the sake of education! He’s singing about a woman’s “pum pum” being enchanting. In a strange way, I find that kind of empowering.
#13: “When yuh touch mi di earth shake, a muss u cause Haiti earthquake.” – Love Yuh Enuh
Whoa. Can you say poetic? Maybe if some of the catcallers on the road whipped out phrases like this, I’d really have something to laugh about!
#12: “Baby, yuh move mi like an epilepsy, even if yuh family a stress me” – Yuh Love
Don’t take this for a backhanded compliment, no no. Vybzy’s similes would put Shakespeare to shame.
#11: “If you have a fool fool man, give de bun.” – Summer Time
Hear that ladies? If you’re dating a foolish man who isn’t all about you, maybe, just maybe, it’s ok to cheat on him too.
#10: “Me gih you my money, you gih me paradise” – Go Go Club
His flattery doesn’t just extend to his main chick, no no.
#9: “Through di thick and thin, she have mi front, she have mi back star. Believe me…Me love how mi living up star. She loves me and me love her” – Yuh Love
This song is too chalk-full of goodness to only quote once. They say that modern love lacks the ability to withstand hardship. To that, Kartel says “not in my backyard.”
#8: “Gyal, you look better than Beyonce.” – Dancehall
HE WENT THERE, PEOPLE!
#7: “Make mi scream like seh mi deh a sea and a drown and want somebody come save mi. You’re real to mi, and mi love that.” – Mama Said
When you’re in over your head and feel like you’re drowning at sea, who doesn’t want someone to come save them? Vybz’s mother told him to hold out for a real girl…wise woman.
#6: “I coulda get water from the moon, I’ll do anything for you. To be that shoulder that you cry on, I would wrestle a lion. Believe it or not” – Believe
Move over NASA, Vybz Kartel knows where to find water on the moon! He’s willing to face the king of the jungle!
#5: “Yo really would a do mi that? After mi tell you seh mi love you gyal…Cyaa buy a benz or a house gi you, but mi give you everything weh mi have.” – Gon Get Better
In a rare display of vulnerability, Vybz shares his despair after his girl decides to leave him for a “money man.” He can’t buy a Benz or a house to give you, but he will give you everything he has! This is like the Jamaican version of Backstreet Boys’ “My love is all (I have to give)!”
#4: “Mi waan gi’ yuh more luv dan yuh mama. C’mon baby nuh drama!” – Forever
He wants to give you more love than your mama! No drama! Because what’s more romantic than drama-free love?
#3: “I must be your tattoo ’cause I’m so into you.” – Electric
Wow. Just wow. File this under: Worst Pickup Lines of All-Time.
#2: “Yuh cyaan spell “us” widout “u” in it.” – Forever
Whenever I get married, this one’s going in my wedding vows. So. Deep.
#1: “She try do ‘ar own ting, she doan inna joke ting, boss lady! Make money, boss lady! My favorite boss lady!” – Boss Lady
Ok, as patriarchal, gross and annoying the rest of these lyrics may have been, I am not being sarcastic about this one. It’s nice to hear a mainstream Jamaican artist celebrate women’s success. He calls out lots of badass Jamaican ladies in this song, including Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister. Girl power.
I’ve learned a lot of Patois, the Jamaican creole language, through music, and am able to laugh off a lot of lyrics like the ones I listed above, but I do think there’s a bigger issue going on here. I really enjoy dancehall for the most part, but it’s a huge nod to the patriarchal gender norms, to men’s apparent ownership over women and their bodies that exists in much of Jamaica. Read more about that here.
This post is not meant to say that all Jamaican men are sexist, unfaithful, abusive womanizers. I’ve met many wonderful men (and women!) who refuse to listen to music like this because they don’t subscribe to this chain of thought.
Vybz Kartel would probably say that his songs are a celebration of how much he loves women. I just wanted to poke some fun at what dancehall’s most famous artist is actually saying in his songs.