‘But Mi Hear Say She Gi’ It ‘Way’: New Dancehall’s Sexual Politics in Song

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How does a dancehall song surprise me in 2015? Well, hear nah, Dexta Daps’ “7eleven” does. It’s been a long, long, long time since I last heard a dancehall song possibly complicate the areas of gender and sexuality in the West Indies. And possibilities for complexities count for a whole damn lot where I am coming from (I’ll take it where I can get it at this point). Worse yet, a song being sung by a man. Worse yet a hot song at the cusp of an artiste finally blowing way, way up.

Female sexuality is, of course, no stranger to dancehall. All throughout the diaspora, we find musicians and performers wrestling with an articulation of self and culture through the rhythms and lyrics created. Sex is ever (though not solely) prominent. In Jamaica, as elsewhere in the region, we often do a dance between the “virgin/Madonna-whore dichotomy. On the one hand, venerating the female body and womanness, purity and fidelity when enacted appropriately, and demonizing the sexuality of women who don’t play by the rules, who have too much sex and like it, who dress provocatively, and who have had more than one man* to name just a few. (More on more than one man later.*) These women are thots, hoes, sluts, skettels and baddises.

With its liberal usage of “fuck” and “pussy” inside beautifully melodious articulation, I really like the song. I dig it for several reasons, least of all how it helps us delve into pum pum politics in song. Firstly, to hear a West Indian man acknowledge — even barely acknowledge — that his woman has a sexual past (maybe) is nearly unheard of. Men do not do that in dancehall. Or many other places even. They don’t and if they do, they are hardly singing about how she’s his main in the same breath.

Most men sing about a woman as though the only man who has ever existed on her realm of sexual experience is them. Even though, in reality, that’s often hardly the case. Dancehall love songs like Kartel and Spice’s “Ramping Shop” or “Conjugal Visit” create the same kind of sexual bubble. There’s a whole lot of fucking and quinting going on, but only between Spice and Kartel. Nothing else exists or has ever existed in the history of their fucking.

Obviously, if you’re in a presumably committed relationship, probably your sexual history is in fact, not relevant to the current boo and no one expects it to be brought up regularly, but the fact is it’s all part of who we are. It shouldn’t undermine your current sexual relationship/s at all. Separating women from their sexual history is this weird patriarchal inclination whereby a woman becomes incrementally devalued by her sexual experience (basically anything and anyone outside of who you are currently dealing) but for men, it’s a plus. A lot of men internalize this nonsense and pathologize sexual women. They would do the same to their gyul too, the only difference is being with her now. Too many men are overly consumed with notions of how much man a woman might have had before they came along. Get over it, you’re probably not the only person she’s fucked.

The topic of women and their number is still a big issue for some of us in many parts of the world. Living in small societies and or islands, divided by class and colour, and interconnected by variant social connections can make it a hotbed for the worst kinds of linkages being made. Now that I am older and wiser, I really have to side-eye every rumour I have ever heard growing up about some girl’s sexual history. And it was always a girl. The fact is, growing up in Trinidad and being entrenched in small, limited social circles (education, neighborhood, etc.) means the potential for a girl to end up experimenting with and or having sex with more than one guy in the same or overlapping social circles, and even the same school is really high. Unless you have one guy from teenage years onward. And people talk, and all the talk is always about what girl did what on whom and never as negative about the guys.

This song would be a lot more mind-blowing if Dexta didn’t have to reiterate that he took his girl’s virginity — this of course conveniently being the counteraction to the alleged claims of sexual wantonness from all and sundry. It is, in actuality, (for those who subscribe to all that purity business) probably the only way a guy could definitively contest talk of his woman’s sexual character. And in that sense, the song is also a bit of genius in its construction of allowing the sexual experience/s to have taken place, but seemingly undercut by virgin pussy. Or is it? Granted, pussy tightness can’t be qualified by anyone else either unless you yourself have been there. Lines like “mi nuh know who yuh gi’ it to” and some of the Youtube (typical) hand-wringing commentary of things like ‘he’s promoting hoeing!’, shows how the song’s complexity does the work it’s supposed to.

What’s really interesting to me is that the singer names the fucking: “so all when yuh fuck ten man / mi haffi be eleven”, and “all when dem say six man go deh / guess who mek seven”; no ambiguities there whatsoever — he goes there — and he counts the men and the rumour mill is this quasi-definitive thing that has named sources like “Natalie”, but he still claims her as his lady. It’s very. . .refreshing in some ways. Especially after so many umpteen gyallis songs and hearing men sing about or allude to juggling a bag of women and downcry women who do the same or similar things.

The sexual politics surrounding the effects of a “tainted” name on a woman (even if not true) are unfortunately a very real thing. The smaller the place or community and the more sexually or religiously conservative a place is, the more detrimental it can be. We’ve been long overdue for a fresh way to hear about some of these issues in song. And extra props for the fact that I can wine to it.

Photo credit: “Daggering in Hellshire beach, Portmore, Jamaica” by Pietro Carlino via Tumblr. Used under a creative commons license.

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6 Responses to “‘But Mi Hear Say She Gi’ It ‘Way’: New Dancehall’s Sexual Politics in Song”

  1. Thano Paris Says:

    I really would like to see you write about Jamaican dancehall artist Tanya Stephens. I think Tanya is almost as close to a sex positive feminist/womanist sensibility in dancehall as it gets…I also want to ‘big up’ my cousin Adaeze Lyrics, who is a conscious, queer positive artist in Barbados…

    • soyluv Says:

      Whaaaat? Your cousin sounds amazing! Send me some music links please if you have any. And I love, love Tanya Stephens and Lady Saw (and admittedly Vanessa Bling, lol). Hmm…I should write something about the dancehall divas. 🙂

  2. Thano Paris Says:

    I do want you to know that I did enjoy this though!

  3. Tricia Noel Anthony Says:

    Two years later I stumble on this very well written piece as I was searching the interwebs looking for reviews/the peoples take on 7eleven. I listen to this song at least once everyday while at work and it gets me thinking each and every time. I love the honesty….he is unapologetically in love with a _. Love your analysis.

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