Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Celebrating Albinism Week – King Yellowman's therapy as the Blueprint for Dancehall

Previously, I celebrated Connie Chiu for having beauty and fashion associated with albinism. In part 3 of this series, I present to you my King. Yellowman is one of the greatest artists in Reggae music who took a unique stance with albinism and innovated the lyrical content and delivery of deejays. Yellowman directly addressed sex, style, mic skills, with an explicit consciousness of his albinism as perversion, impurity, and threat with a humor that made people laugh, nervous, and intrigued. The sheer power of his lyrics matched his content, delivered with such hyperbole and exaggeration, and the venom that it was all actually true. He said he was the best, and he was right. He said that he had the best jewelry, and it was true. And, he said he had all the ladies after him, and that was absolutely true. At one point, Yellowman had 40 tracks circulating all around Jamaica and was the first Dancehall Deejay to sign to a major label.

Yellowman influenced a huge array of 80’s Hip Hop artists with his rhyme schemes and showmanship. He also popularized the use of another toaster to toss rhymes and verses back and forth, as well as share choruses, with his main man Fathead in tracks like "Operation Eradication". This tune and many others carried small intros and dialogue, quite similar to many Hip Hop acts. I admire his stance on stage as well, wearing the cool clothes at the time, bringing a true swagger to his flow and style with his body movement on stage. I am a big critic of placing emphasis on clothes, bling, and superficial items as signs of your status, but in this case I make the exception.

Compare with Run-DMC's "Its Like That"

Yellowman brought the whole "slack" construct to the vocabulary of reggae toasters. While skank was pretty much a misogynistic approach to talking about girls, I felt Yellowman was taking slack and applying it to his position as an Albino in Jamaica, which was looked down upon. Moreso, a male with albinism would generally be considered an undesirable. Yet with the sheer power of his lyrics and showmanship, he took that stereotype and flipped it, positioning him as a very very threatening man to other males with a strong sexual drive and success, countering all notions of albinism as an inferior trait. He put this threat to good use in “I’m getting married in the morning” where he promised the world his wife would have ‘yellow babies’. He took it further by highlighting the inability to hold themselves back from him in his true slack tune “My Fat Thing”

And on pure lyrical delivery and showmanship, NO ONE could ride a riddim as well as him. Listen to the way he seems to be trying to pull his flow back and forth, fast and slow tall around the track, “Body Move”, in particularly when he sings the hook and explains the dances. These transitions are pure prog-rock and MF DOOM as far as switching up styles in mid track.

As a person, Yellowman has been through a lot. His success did not come without a price. He grew up in a lot of hardship where as a child where he grew up in an orphanage, abandoned due to his albinism. Today, Yellowman is battling skin cancer. The fact that my man continues to make music, tour, and be in front of stage after radiation therapy and suffering its consequences to his body is a testament to his strength and boldness as a human.


At times I wonder how effective was his approach to himself and others. Honestly, he drenched himself in hyperbole, putting to question whether he allowed his albinism to be empathetically attainable from others. At this point I can only see this hyperbole as applicable for the sake of showmanship and self-repair from all the hardship he has faced. It was his isolation, unique placement as a person with Albinism that forced him to find a place in music, yet as mere consequence his position changed Reggae. How effective was his presence to educate those in Jamaica and the rests of the world? There is some solace in knowing that many artists following him (Shabba Ranks, Bounty Killer, Beenieman, Vybes Cartel, etc.) have taken Yellowman’s blueprint and carried it further and applied to non-Albinos. But this is only a literal application (the consequence of this is seen in the perpetuation of misogynistic attitudes towards women and the false-education of the importance of material goods). I think the true blueprint that Yellowman highlights to me is how one must find their path to navigate the oppressions that exist out there. There was no blueprint for how Yellowman should behave; yet he found one, blessed a lot of people with his entertainment, and allowed folks like myself to find a hero.

Here is Yellowman's take, and lets just go with this one...


Anonymous said...

Yellowamn is wel known in my homeland of Sierra Leone. PS loved the vids

Ckanky said...

King Yellowman is such a great performer, I love his work and last but not least there is some
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God bless!