Murda She Wrote: September's Best Dancehall

A war of words is heating up.

murda she wrote dancehall
P&P Original

Image via P&P Original

murda she wrote dancehall

The summer may have passed, but the streets of Jamaica are on fire. Every so often the vibes in the place shift a degree or two, and September found many of dancehall’s top artists in full-on war mode.

Clashing is embedded in the DNA of dancehall, with epic sound system competitions and lyrical battles stretching back half a century. There’s no need to ask who started it: once the war kicks off, all that matters is who’s in it to win it.

Popcaan - "Mi Unruly"

View this video on YouTube

“No time fi dem (badmind),” Popcaan sings on “Mi Unruly,” a laid-back jazzy groove with live instrumentation that leaves plenty of room for Popcaan’s killer melodies and bars to shine. “Meanwhile them ah pray fi me poor / Me upgrade the three to the four / 30,000 feet way up inna the sky me ah soar.”

Coming in the midst of the escalating war of words between Poppy and Mavado, the artist’s declaration that “Mi Unruly and me NAH change” also feels like a decision to take the high road in the conflict. The song was released around the same time Popcaan posted a since-deleted mea culpa to his Instagram. “To my younger and my older fans I would like to apologize for all the language that I been using in me and Mavado lyrical battle,” Poppy wrote, dismissing any notion of physical confrontation. “We have no violence whatsoever towards each other,” he added. “Bless up all real dancehall music fans wey been a follow the culture and bless up Mavado.”

Although the IG post may have disappeared, the tune—produced by Jamie Roberts for Young Vybz Productions—remains. “Mi Unruly” has a catchy feel that makes you want to roll up a spliff and just bop to the beat. But don’t sleep on the lyrics: “Me ah watch dem ah watch me / Ah watch dem ah chat me / None ah dem cyan stop me / Oh God, them wish them coulda flop me.”

Great song? Without a doubt.

Clever chess move by the Unruly Boss? At this point, Popcaan doesn’t really need hype or controversy to gain recognition for his work.

End of the war? Well… not exactly.

Mavado - "Dem Fraid"

View this video on YouTube

A short time later, the Gully Gad made it clear he had no intention of slowing down the war chat. “Pussy weh a talk and a miss,” he clowns Popcaan on “Dem Fraid.” After his legendary campaign against Kartel, there is no denying that Mavado is a war veteran—as he points out, “Gullyside war stretch like catapult.”

Over an ominous Mos House production, he warns in a husky voice, backed by the sound of falling spent shells, “Diss mi, dem know it risky / Gully Gad return like his majesty.” His mirthless laugh says it all; Mavado may not be enjoying the war, but he sure isn’t afraid

Alkaline - "Loyalty"

View this video on YouTube

In a war you have to choose sides. With diss tracks whizzing back and forth between Poppy and Vado, many other artists have jumped on riddims to pledge allegiance. “Before you fuck with mi family just try remember me,” Alkaline cautions on this tune from Lee Milla Productions. “After all after all / Dog dem jussa wait pon a call / Four rifle inna panel wall / Unmarked car drive up...”

You get the picture. Having collabed with Mavado a couple times already, Alka has stayed strong on the Gully side. “Loyalty” makes it clear that he has no signs of switching lanes in the heat of battle. “Me nah sell out, me cyan sell out,” he states. “If you pree my brother then you haffi pree me.”

Loyalty most often comes with a price, but Alkaline seems unafraid to stand up for what he believes. “You can’t escape pain,” he once told me. “You can escape physical pain but emotional pain sometimes worse than physical pain.”

Demarco - "Board Box"

View this video on YouTube

When it’s war time it’s grind time, as Demarco proves on this cut from Triple Dose Productions’ punchy iMac riddim. “Fi di war ah no play-play ting / No time off, no vaca ting,” sings the burly, bearded bad bwoy. The first clue that Demarco isn’t playing is the song’s title, which refers to the cheapest possible coffin—a poor man’s casket.

In a war, anything that may have been said behind closed doors can be turned into lyrical ammunition. In the past, Mavado has dissed Demarco by referring to him as “King Kong,” but on this song Demarco embraces the nickname as he pushes the war to Mavado’s door. “Len’ him a watch cause the whole place tell me / A borrowed time him ah live pon.” And the battle rages on and on.

DJ Frass - "Street Light Riddim"

View this video on YouTube

Raised in Kingston’s Tower Hill neighborhood, Andre “DJ Frass” Gordon got his big break from Mavado in 2010, in the midst of Mavado and Kartel’s Gully vs Gaza war. The young producer’s sound has progressed significantly since that time, expanding from hardcore war tunes to warm and easy reggae, winning a Grammy along the way.

This year, Frass has solidified his position as one of dancehall’s most consistent hitmakers. This month Frass dropped his latest project, “Street Light Riddim,” a midtempo track with squelchy digital bass sounds and layers upon layers of quirky sound effects and drum fills.

The artist lineup is small but effective: certified-diamond pop star Shaggy delivers a boisterous girl tune called “Waistline,” rising star Jahmiel writes the producer a letter about all the haters he’s encountered on “Dear Frass (I Just Don’t Know),” and Frass’s longtime sparring partner Mavado rounds out the riddim with a tune called “Lowe Me.” The song serves as a warning to other artists and adversaries to simply leave him alone for their own good.