Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | March 29, 2009
Home : In Focus
Daggerin' with cleaner lyrics

Carolyn Cooper, Contributor

Vybz Kartel and Spice have come up with a new version of Rampin' Shop that is receiving much airplay in broad daylight. Like the original, this version is all about sexual intercourse - or to use the current dancehall slang, 'daggerin'. The main difference between the two is the metaphors that are used for the act.

In the 'x-rated' version of Rampin Shop, Kartel and Spice use common slang words for the private parts and the sex act, instead of the formal Latin/English names. Sexual intercourse is enacted as a playful romp.

In the revised version, Spice invitingly says to Kartel:

Well yu ha fi rev it hard

Drive it full speed and crash it if you like

Da gear stick ya feel rough

Put di car inna di garage

Drive in front way or back it up

Til di headlight show.


Some listeners will claim that these lyrics are 'cleaner' than the original since Kartel and Spice are pretending to be talking about driving rather than sex. The lyrics are 'suggestive' rather than sexually explicit. But even without knowing the original lyrics, it is quite clear what the version is supposed to suggest. The gear stick is obviously meant to be a penis. The garage is the vagina in which the car is parked.

Now the origin of the word vagina is Latin, meaning sheath or scabbard. As the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, a scabbard is "the case or sheath which protects the blade of a sword, dagger, or bayonet when not in use". So, the English word ,"vagina", already signals the dancehall metaphor for sexual intercourse - dagger/in. Of course, in the dancehall sense of the word, the dagger is very much in use when it enters the sheath. Except, of course, if it has lost its mettle, which is another matter altogether.

Kartel and Spice are clearly taking the Broadcasting Commission for a ride. For there is, essentially, no difference in the meaning of the two versions of Rampin' Shop. Both sets of metaphors are sexual allusions and it is nothing but hypocrisy to pretend otherwise.

If we accept that daggerin' is simply a metaphor for sexual intercourse, what then is the reason for the Broadcasting Commission's recent decision to come down so hard on 'daggerin' lyrics? Is it because sex is conceived as a purely private matter about which there is to be no public intercourse? Clearly, not.

Sex is a subject that is widely talked about in all the media all the time. Sex was a very popular subject on TVJ's Man and Woman Story, which was first co-hosted by Dr Leachim Semaj and me. I've also guest-hosted IRIE-FM's 'Sex Wise', a programme focusing on sexual issues. Dr Semaj's popular 'Night Doctor' radio programme, like Gregory Isaacs' Night Nurse, paid a lot of attention to sex. And, there are many current programmes that give advice on sexual matters. Are these not all 'daggerin' lyrics, broadly defined?

The music industry

The Broadcasting Commission's ban quite explicitly limits its application to the music industry: "There shall not be transmitted through radio or television or cable services, any recording, live song or music video which promotes the act of 'daggering', or which makes reference to, or is otherwise suggestive of 'daggering'."

What is the rationale for focusing only on popular dances, music and lyrics but not on other forms of public discourse that make reference to sex? Is it because the music industry is an easy target?

One of the ironies of censorship is that the more you try to suppress certain forms of expression, the more popular they become. It's a basic economic principle - supply and demand; the scarcer the commodity, the greater the value.

Slackness is such a readily available commodity in Jamaica today, it's a miracle we can manage to turn it into a scarce resource. Yet, by constantly attacking slackness, we automatically put a high premium on it. And, just think of the priceless notoriety that comes to a DJ from being declared so slack that you go right off the scale of respectability! You can't pay for that.


The Broadcasting Commission has senselessly banned not only songs that promote and/or make reference to 'daggerin'. Even songs that are 'suggestive' of 'daggerin' have been banned. So is the gear stick version of Rampin Shop not suggestive of sexual intercourse? Shouldn't it also be banned? Who determines what is suggestive to whom?

Which brings us to that respectable calypso tradition of suggestive lyrics. Calypsonians have long mastered (and mistressed) the art of slackness. But some purists wouldn't even apply the word slackness to what these cunning linguists do. Instead, they would use fancy French letters like double entendre.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'double entendre' in this way: "a word or phrase having a double sense, especially as used to convey an indelicate meaning." So, what the double entendre does is to cover up indelicacy in such a way that a whole lot is left exposed to the imagination. So calypsonians get away with singing about sex all the time under the guise of sexual innocence, a kind of lyrical strip tease, uncovering just enough to titillate, one bit at a time.

But there's something basically dishonest in all of this covering-up and letting off. If the talk of sex is frontal, it's not on; but if it's coded in certain kinds of metaphor it can gleefully wine pass the censors. The double entendre conceals a double standard. It's OK if you think it, not if you speak it.

Mother to the deed

Slackness is what oft is thought, but ne'er so well repressed. But since the thought is mother to the deed, it seems as if the real issue isn't whether you speak it or think it. It's really IT. What is so wrong with IT that makes IT unspeakable? Are sex and talk of sex really so immoral?

Single our double, bare or covered up, a lot of Caribbean popular music is about sex: from mento to dancehall, from calypso to soca. And though I would admit that there's an added layer of pleasure in the wit of the double entendre, the real romp when you go for cane, for example, is the naked meaning of the act.

I think the judgement of the Broadcasting Commission needs to be much sharper on this business of suggestive lyrics. Fortunately, it seems as if the ban is not really being rigorously applied. Spice and Vybz Kartel appear to have got away with their joy ride. But who knows for how long?

I bet you anything a mean-spirited member of the Broadcasting Commission's freelance anti-daggering brigade is going to decide that the DJs have revved it too hard. And the romping garage is going to be closed down tight.

Whichever way you take it, literal or metaphorical, "front way or back up it," the DJ is caught in a vice.

Carolyn Cooper is professor of literary and cultural studies at the UWI, Mona. She may be contacted at karokupa@gmail.com. Feedback may also be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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