JULY/AUGUST 2009
ROSS SIMONINI

THE CLASH OF THE JAMAICAN DEEJAYS

AS THE LINE BETWEEN REALITY AND PERFORMANCE DISAPPEARS, KILL INCREASINGLY MEANS KILL.

DISCUSSED: Maybe-Sodomizers, Graduation Caps and Gowns, Bottles Falling Like Old Testament Rain, The Great Gandhi of Reggae, Benign Lyrical Assaults, Jamaican Slang for “Tampons,” The Beast Riddim, The Wwf, Grangerford-Shepherdson Gang-Style Affiliation, Beenie Man, Raggamuffin Thugs, Bright Yellow Baggy Shorts, Bounty Killer’s Alliance, A Refusal to Play “Kill-People Music”

“HIM CHUCK MI FIRST.”

On Boxing Day—December 26, 2003—just as the sun was rising over the town of Portmore, Jamaica, the dancehall deejay known as Vybz Kartel (a.k.a. Adidja Palmer) took the stage at Jamaica’s legendary Sting music festival. The annual concert, widely promoted as “The Greatest One-Night Reggae Show on Earth,” usually includes the most visible artists in dancehall music, and has developed a reputation for hosting infamous onstage clashes between feuding deejays (a term in reggae which refers not to “disc jockeys” but to MCs).

His entourage surrounding him, Kartel dropped maniacal taunts about “wartime” and how “lyrics win war.” Halfway into his set, he launched into the hits: “Gun Clown” and “Buss Mi Gun Like Nutten,” hype tracks that spout the same brutal lyrics popularized by gangsta rap. But Kartel’s songs weren’t just vague anthems to violence; they were weapons aimed directly at Kartel’s rival, Ninjaman (a.k.a. Desmond Ballentine), a senior deejay known for his criminal record and a history of onstage clashes. Kartel called Ninjaman a crackhead, dug into him about some sexual-abuse allegations (“Him say him a bad man and a beat up woman and baby. Then if you beat up lady, that mean to say you a lady bad man and if you beat up baby that means you a baby bad man”), and then accused him of sodomy.

Ninjaman took the stage wearing a graduation cap and gown (a visual jab about being in a higher “class” of deejay than Kartel). But Kartel was a local favorite, and after his strategic set of hits mixed with cheer-induced disses, he’d pulled the twenty thousand fans to his side. Ninjaman gave it his best shot, but after a minute of booing and bottle-flinging, Kartel returned to the stage.

Then something happened that wasn’t supposed to happen: Ninjaman gave Kartel a hard shove on the shoulder—though differing accounts dispute who shoved whom first. (Ninjaman claimed, “Him chuck mi first, mi chuck him back.”) Within a few seconds a fistfight was under way. Kartel and his crew threw Ninjaman to the ground and stomped on his ribs until a few security guards intervened. It was the first incident of onstage physical violence in the Sting festival’s twenty-year history.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Ross Simonini is the interviews editor for the Believer.

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