Did Sting Lose its Bite? Ninja Man, Gully Bop and the Politics of the ‘Clash’ 

Sting2014 poster

By Way of the Bible and a Little History

Let he who hath successfully planned and executed an annual show over 31 stagings on the same date, rain or shine, stand up now and cast the first stone! My remix of that well known biblical injunction is useful here because I’ve observed a ‘certain’ lack of sustained focus on Kingston’s entertainment product and the way, in a real sense, we forget the responsibility we all share for how that product is nourished and sustained. Though some would like to think otherwise, the fact is we as a people are far better at ‘casting’ stones than using them to build strong foundations.

I like to have the dust settle a bit after the usual news mongering and racing for quick stories. Afterall, I am not a reporter. I have over the last few years however written reviews of Sting, Jamaica’s premiere clash event, and for some, the ‘university’ from which every aspiring dancehall artiste must gain credentials. Well, after the 31st staging, I am yet to see a meaningful review of Sting which puts into context some of the questions I have raised over the years in different fora. Here is the OnStage review (December 27th feature) and the Gleaner’s report which has a few points that I clarify below.

There is a certain shortsightedness in the reviews I have read which I am addressing by way of some observation and history. How many of us recall that Sting, though it has developed a reputation of featuring the most virulent of dancehall clashes, has also promoted peace consistently and in some years there have been no clashes, but rather an emphasis on togetherness? Yes, clashes have been a staple of the event, but the early Sting years look like this in terms of clash highlights revealing that 36% of the shows were not billed as clashes:

Michael Palmer, Half Pint and Junior Reid – 1984
Papa San and Tonto Irie – 1985
NO CLASH featuring Tiger  – 1986
Four the Hard Way with Prof Nuts, Lt. Stitchie, Papa San and Admiral Bailey – 1987 (pulled 21,000 outgrowing the Cinema II venue)
Flourgon and Red Dragon vs Ninjaman and Jr. Demus, the latter being in Laing’s Supreme Promotions camp. Also Four the Hard Way with Sanchez, Courtney Melody, Conroy Smith, and Pinchers – 1988 (in a new bigger venue, National Stadium)
NO CLASH featuring Fat Boys and Jesse West, along with Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor – 1989
Ninjaman and Shabba Ranks – 1990 (an epic clash signalling Ninja’s rise as a deadly clash artist)
Ninjaman and Super Cat – 1991 
NO CLASH – 1992
Beenie Man and Bounti Killa – 1993
NO CLASH – Togetherness theme promoting peace with Garnet Silk, Luciano, Tony Rebel (in this year Silk’s tragic death came before the show which had moved to its current home Jamworld) –  1994 

And here are some of the memorable clashes, a significant archive afforded us by online platforms such as YouTube.

Papa San vs Lt. Stitchie

Ninja Man vs Shabba Ranks 1990

Mavado vs Vybz Kartel 2008

Kiprich vs Tony Matterhorn 2012

Kiprich vs Ninja Man 2012

Kiprich vs Rhyno 2013

Lady Saw vs Macka Diamond 2013

How many know that the Supreme Promotions outfit has consistently staged events beyond Sting, managed artistes such as Ninjaman, and has contributed to the building of Kingston’s and by extension, Jamaica’s entertainment product in a real way beyond clashes? And, how many recall that Sting’s first attempt at streaming was not in 2013 when focus on pay-per-view for international reach was facilitated by partnership with Downsound Records? How many of us know that Sting, like many other Jamaican shows, has not benefitted from government support in any sustained way? What I am highlighting here is that the event ought to be seen in a larger context of Kingston’s broader entertainment calendar and offering, not as a dancehall shooting star which disrupts our sensibilities once a year with the same ‘tired clashing narrative’.

So What did Sting Bring in 2014?

With some 74 acts, sound system selectors including Sky Juice (Metro Media) and Badda Bling (Flava Unit), dancing sensation Ravers Clavers, and celebrity MCs such as Nuffy and Wally British billed for the show, Sting 2014 raised some important and recurring questions for fans and myself. Chief among them were the quality of the show, that is, the line-up, choice of artistes, and the matter of the seemingly uncontrollable clash.

Ninja Kiprich ClashBeenie Bounti Clash

A show of this magnitude compared with other one night events inside and outside Jamaica has no rivals. Indeed, some may question whether the show isn’t trying to achieve too much in showcasing so many new and emerging acts alongside major stars within spectator-enticing arrangements such as tag teams, and four the hard way. I have commented in previous posts about the art of managing the line-up of a show such as Sting, within a context of volatility emerging often prior to the show in feuds and altercations. I have also commented on the need to manage the energy of the show from beginning to end in skilfully producing that needed climax, and the difficulty involved in such an endeavour. The fact is planning for the next staging begins at the end of each show. This also involves staying abreast of emerging trends, responding to them and making quick / necessary adjustments in the overall plan for the show. There is no simple answer to these concerns as the ever-shifting profit/performer-audience satisfaction/product/sponsorship equation is increasingly harder to pin down in an age of financial uncertainty.

I arrived at the venue around midnight to few patrons. This is characteristic of Sting as the ‘clashists’ know what they want and when to turn up.  I had to see Capleton who was expected to touch the stage at midnight. The show was running late and I arrived at just the right time. The reggae show was a hit, with smooth band changes, entertaining breaks and meaningful performances. I saw Nature, Ikaya, Kukudoo (with his signature line ‘you neva go a Obeah man from yuh born, hallelujah), along with Droop Lion, Exco Levi, Iba Mahr and Kabaka Pyramid who signalled that the reggae revival had infected even Sting. While some may see it as an insightful departure on the part of the Supreme Promotions team to have included a reggae segment, it also made good sense by virtue of trends over the last two years in particular, not just locally but internationally.

Then it was time for Badda Bling from Flava Unit who sounded the system straight to my veins with his selections from the Mighty Buju Banton, among hits from Kartel, Popcaan and more. I was pleased to see short band changes and the way the transitions were used to give space to advocates, dancers, and selectors to spice up the night.

Declaring he would be burning unconcerned, Capleton was next with a solid, fiery and energetic set including hits such as No Lotion Man, That Day Will Come, Jah Jah City, Everybody Needs Somebody, and Number One Pon Di Look Good Chart. With his own brand of pyrotechnics the fire man burned the stage for a day when good will be victorious over evil, and in him, the crowd was well pleased.

“Dem tink dem reach di ultimate but nuh reach no weh yet..Seh di wickid man will have to fall… a long time wi a warn dem an dem nuh waan listen…”

With declarations that he had plenty things to incinerate Capleton went about his set with precision calling on the crowd in standard dancehall ritual character to participate in the highest of (moral) purification touching all especially the oral sex ‘taboo’. Capleton is one of a dying breed because the truth is, oral sex is only taboo in Jamaica on a dancehall stage occupied by few, and one has to think hard about whether the performance translates into any kind of reality nowadays.

“I will never stop always keep the fire burning “

Tarrus Riley did it for me too. My favourites – Push it to the Limit, She’s Royal, My Day, Good Girl Gone Bad, and One Drop – were skilfully executed with the backing Black Soil Band. Riley declared “we naah rush, we a sing over Sting.” And that he did.

Weh Gully Bop Deh?

Well, the Sting crowd is one of the most rabid so whispers of ‘a weh Gully Bop deh’? could now be heard. The clash fever was rising and the crowd was getting impatient. As excitement backstage built with anticipation front stage around 4.00am artistes such as Sean Paul and Elephant Man rolled in to witness the bite of Sting as did members of the Downsound team. There were still performances from Japanese duo Ackee n Salt Fish, Kalado, Ishawna and Demarco who touched the stage around 6:00 a.m. With Puppy Tail and Good Book, Demarco represented but it was the backstage fracas about which he will be most remembered. While he was not directly involved, members of his entourage clashed with those of Masicka’s leading to gunshots and stampeding.

Demarco

MasickaB20141227AM

Later on it was time for Gage and Tommy Lee. This is what Curtis Campbell of The Gleaner reported. 

 “After that melee, so disappointed were the patrons and even some of the other artistes that Tommy Lee Sparta and Gage decided to cancel their highly anticipated clash and called for peace. Both acts embraced onstage and performed songs from their budding catalogues, in an attempt to show their supporters and critics that recording artistes possess the ability to co-exist without animosity.”

Black Rhyno vs Kipprich and Tommy Lee vs Gage 

http://youtu.be/Xz4_ZGX0JeQ 

This needs clarification. Sting’s Intention to call for peace in 2014 was not publicised (same in other years) and it needs to be revealed at this juncture in light of the history I mentioned previously. Ninjaman’s pull out was a spoke in the wheel of a plan on the part of the organisers to call for peace with artists Tommy Lee and Gage in particular. I was in the process of interviewing the Sting boss and was part of the discussion about the show on Tuesday, December 23rd at the Pegasus Hotel when Junior ‘Heavy D’ Fraser and Isaiah Laing revealed the plot twist that would turn the anticipated clash at the end of the show into a call for peace. Gage and Tommy Lee had agreed to do exactly what they did and it was not precipitated by the backstage happenings which only provided an opportune moment.

The plan came out of a concern for the high rate of violence leading to Jamaica being named the 3rd most murderous country in the world. The team explained that Sting could be a platform to bring peace to Jamaica using artists who have a powerful influence through music. In other words, while seen to be flirting with volatility of clashes, the organisers have consistently been concerned about the social ills manifesting in for example violence and have tried to promote an internationally appealing product without profanity, hate lyrics or violence from musical clashes on stage.

In the end, it was the altercation between Kiprich and Black Rhyno which ended the show prematurely, and for which the critics gave their harshest words.

Video of altercation between Rhyno and Kip Rich

http://t.co/qDj20LlVvs  

Beyond Gimmicks

gullybopatstingD20141227AMFirst of all Gully Bop emerged as a star, in fact the fastest rising internet sensation in the history of Jamaican music. Having been in the dancehall, experienced addiction and falling from grace, the story of Gully Bop’s rise is phenomenal, and just the novelty that Sting needed to ride the media waves. Indeed, not only did Gully Bop rise but he exhibited his love life and attracted attention for the dental care he is badly in need of. 

@Muta_baruka: Gully bop inna real life is base pon dah breada deh inna boondocks rasta cause a cartoon ting him deh pon http://t.co/AMpgKAUTxP

However, Gully Bop is the envy of many as his minimalist catalogue (only 3 recorded songs) has received attention from major producers such as Major Lazer and Walshy Fire who have released an EDM remix of Bop’s Dem Nuh Bad Like Me recording here

Who could have guessed that a toothless gully wonder would be the highlight of Sting? Well, this is Jamaica we’re talking about. A place where people dream on fumes of hunger and the unexpected larger-than-life emerges. Let me put in context for you how Gully Bop is seen. One patron was overheard saying this:

“Him name Gully Bop, mi name Gaza Bop, and mi a guh gi him a Baby Bop.”

MC Nuffy did not spare any words in introducing Gully Bop

“People, di brethren rise, first dem a call him seh him a mad man..can a mad man find a man to threaten anedda sober man?…This sound like seh somebody running and somebody forwarding…oonu a wait upon dis…him can freestyle, him know weh a gwaan…Let’s welcome the fastest rising international champion…”

Declaring Ninjaman “last year’s bad man” Gully Bop rode the riddims provided by Ruff Kutt band all the way into the hearts of those who were waiting to experience all the toothless freestyling prowess he promised fans leading from the hype social/ media facilitated.

This is not just gimmicks. And neither is the disrespect that Ninjaman explained to me in a telephone conversation on December 24. How could he consent to clash with a man they’ve taken from the gully? According to Ninjaman, Supreme Promotions hasn’t given him the ratings he deserves as a recording artist and one of the best clash artists Sting, and Jamaica have seen. In this regard, I hesitate to pass judgement on Ninjaman’s feelings which some may add could easily have been dealt with if he had resolved to demolish the ‘non-entity’ of Gully Bop. But alas, a man’s conviction is not something to take lightly. Ninjaman has had concerns for sometime about his place at Sting which has been documented in the media. Further, there is nothing to suggest that a veteran artist such as Ninjaman could be afraid of Gully Bop who needs to be advised now that the clash is over to leave the ‘gimmicks’ behind.

@boomshots: .@RealGullyBop tells @ReshmaB_RGAT “Ninja Man fraid of me bad bad bad” http://t.co/oPs7dcAoy8 

With a successful debut at Sting, based on the number of forwards received from the audience as he freestyled his way into solidifying a moment of fame, the toothless one, hurled lyrical insults at Ninjaman, Black Rhyno and Alkaline who was not present at the venue. This is what Gully Bop said of his performance:

“It was a nice experience performing at Sting. Ninja Man run and Black Ryno love run up on stage but him never try that with me because him afraid. The people dem love me and for 2015 Gully Bop career will stand tall. Mi have nuff nice songs and mi nah talk about slackness, mi a talk clean music. A true some a dem song here a dem mi buss wid mi a gwaan do them.” 

Gully Bop at Sting 2014

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=368lj6MKIqs

And the Critics Spared No Words

Harsh criticisms hurled at the show via social media in particular could be seen during the morning of the show and into the day. Some of the comments include the following:

@yardlink254 #Sting2014 101 If You’re An Artist And Nobody Listens To Your Music Pay Laing  And Have A Great Artist Like Capleton Curtain Raise Fi Yuh.

@AllianceJamaica Sting made itself irrelevant this mawnin, thats sad.

@NinaRaZziPR Laing has to.go back to the drawing board and do a complete overhaul and revamp next. Tummy tuck, breast &b*TTY lift.

@DalkeithDawkins Rasta nuh fi mix up in a Bangarang. #MagnumSting2014

@BullyRingo #GullyBop about 25 years late & him still far better than the 4 alleged artist they put on  the late morning together

@MarvinSparks Sting was worse than I thought it would be. Its the lack of professionalism and man taking on the war ting too far that kills it

@MarvinSparks …Instead Laing gives us reggae artists, Capleton > EDHM > Tarrus > nobodies > clashes > nobodies > Demarco > Gully Bop > dead clashes

@MarvinSparks I’m pretty sure Ninja didn’t take kick and box for Sting to be this shit

@7thletterja So both Joe and Ninja abandoned Laing…

@NinaRaZziPR Laing need fi know when Buju a get released and pudding a 3 mill or so and pree book him.

@slunchice1 Gully Bop is NOT another Rosie or Cliff twang.

@1RealMarkus Both clashes were a bluuurrrr

@DJPAULMICHAEL Ima go listen to Shabba tunes right now so I can still love dancehall

@Masakrah #sting2014 The greatest one night chaos on earth!

Let’s be clear, it is not easy to manage the unpredictable nature of what has been at times a highly volatile dancehall arena. We all recall some of the major clashes and how Supreme Promotions has benefitted and in some cases stoked the marketing flames around clashes billed for the show. The anatomy of the show, akin to the anatomy of the dancehall clash as a performance mode, is highly complex.

There have also been extremely positive comments especially in relation to the ‘two shows in one’ concept which saw a battalion of fire-chanting, capitalist-burning reggae acts alongside younger dancehall performers chosen as headliners over traditional and expected veterans. This contributed to the reduction of profanity throughout the show. As one person commented, ‘a nuh big name act mek show’. According to Sting’s management, the event pulled its largest audience in five years since 2008’s highly inflammatory and anticipated epic clash between the feuding Gully / Gaza factions represented lyrically by Mavado and Kartel.

Where Do We Go From Here?

First of all, Sting will continue to be a staple on the Jamaican dancehall calendar for some time. Congratulations to corporate sponsors such as Magnum for consistently associating with dancehall as an authentic Jamaican product. While there is far to go to get to perfection, many have struggled to maintain events with little support from the apparatuses of the State we have called home.

While it was really tempting to quote myself especially on the moral grandstanding I highlighted in last year’s review as a major issue surrounding dancehall, Jamaica’s entertainment culture, and the role of government in this product being availed an enabling environment, I resisted. The role of government as a facilitator in the equation is of paramount importance but we are all ultimately responsible. Whether you believe this or not is another matter, but for the moment, trust me on this. Also trust my intrinsic awareness that the location of cultural response is a critical matter, one dependent on a multiplicity of ‘resources’. Further, one’s ‘location’ determines one’s ability to respond, a matter I touch on in this interview here.

Let us not allow politics, class or creed to occlude our vision and prevent us from playing our part in the music foundation we have built as a nation.

Finally, let me end with this question: Do we have a smoking ban in Jamaica or not?

(Credits: Photos of Demarco, Masicka, and Gully Bop courtesy of The Jamaica Gleaner.)

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10 thoughts on “Did Sting Lose its Bite? Ninja Man, Gully Bop and the Politics of the ‘Clash’ 

  1. ahhh…finally an account of STING that goes beyond subjective description and ‘rock throwing’. Mi know mi coulda depend pon yu fi deliver a fairly comprehensive and nuanced review. Thanks for offering some context and analysis and clarification…an nuff more!

    • Blakka!! Thanks for your feedforward. I took it upon myself to do some intepretation beyond the face value account. Thank goodness for books and the space blogs allow for going beyond the reportage we get in mainstream media.

  2. I absolutely love this thought provoking article.
    I am not an expert, but in my own observation, Sting among many other factors have facilitated the embellishment of Dancehall as a complex ritual that lives in the spiritual realm of colorful and vibrant clashes. Most Jamaicans have come to define and interpret Sting by its memorable clashes. So, in promoting “togetherness”, will Sting loose its authenticity and grip? What is it that the people want? Do they want a peace concert or heated rivalry? In my opinion, the backbone of Sting is the highly anticipated lyrical combat. However, Sting is a living heritage and like it or not, it will evolve as generations go by. Few years down the road Sting may not even be what it is today. I believe that the government in establishing “Brand Jamaica”, currently sees Sting as a ‘bad apple’ for promotion of destination Jamaica. With that said, Sting has much more potential as an economic powerhouse but unfortunately it is currently limping because of the violence associated. Overall, the promotion of peace and unity in Sting is an excellent start in developing this show as a viable product for cultural tourism.

  3. Gwiz, it certainly lost its buzz

    at any rate, might you make your recent book available to college students and not just university students/ academic

    thanks

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