The legendary Sister Nancy did what she had to do and became Jamaica's first female MC to deejay (i.e. rap patois lyrics) on a sound system. Her groundbreaking efforts paved the way for subsequent generations of female deejays including Lady Ann, Lady G, Hempress Sativa, Sister Carol and rising 17-year-old Koffee. Born Ophlin Russell, Nancy began her career in the late '70s; the popularity of her brother, the equally venerable deejay Brigadier Jerry, facilitated Nancy's introduction into the staunchly male sound system arena.
"When I started out some people told me 'leave the microphone, you're not good.' Some people wanted to say even worse things but because of Briggy, they thought twice; I always wanted to do what my brother did so I just persevered," Nancy reminisced on the phone from Switzerland while on an early spring European tour. Nancy's half-century career defies industry norms: she has recorded just one album One Two, produced by the late Winston Riley; the final track added to the 1982 album, "Bam Bam," has been sampled a staggering 89 times according to Whosampled.com, most notably by Lauryn Hill ("Lost Ones"), Chris Brown ft. Wiz Khalifa ("Bomb"), Kanye West ("Famous") and JAY-Z ft. Damian Marley ("Bam"); even Beyonce featured a snippet of "Bam Bam" in her dazzling April 14 Coachella performance.
After 32 years of unpaid royalties from "Bam Bam," Sister Nancy hired a lawyer in Dec. 2014. While she didn't receive payment for all 32 years, Nancy was compensated for the last 10 years of her song's usage and she now owns 50 percent of the rights. In 2016 she quit her full time job as an accountant in a New Jersey bank to better facilitate an increasingly hectic performance schedule. Nancy assesses things are easier for female artists nowadays, although pay inequality remains a major obstacle ("We work harder than these damn men," Nancy fumes) and she cautions upcoming female artists to steadfastly maintain their value while in pursuit of their careers. "Some ladies sell themselves too cheap, some even walk naked just to sell their songs but I know they can do better; real beautiful black women, or women of any race don't have to do these things," Nancy says. "Money is a necessity but don't sell yourself just for money. Stop using your body, use your talent."
Sister Nancy made her name in the dancehall, but in the synthesized rhythm-driven dancehall reggae genre, created in the mid-1980s, few women have risen to stardom without cultivating a raunchy image, irrespective of their vocal skills. Lady Saw pioneered the lewd female persona in the early 1990s and reigned as dancehall's queen before renouncing her bawdiness in 2015 and urging some of her female colleagues to do likewise; now a born-again Christian she sings gospel using her birth name Marion Hall. Today's reigning dancehall queen Spice (born Grace Hamilton) shot to prominence on a duet with Vybz Kartel, the explicit 2009 hit "Ramping Shop," which reached No. 76 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Over the years Spice's imaginative videos and stage performances, her provocatively chic fashion and her dynamic vocal flow have earned her a large, loyal following. The video for the risqué "So Mi Like It" recently surpassed 77 million online views, a record number for a Jamaican female, and on "Like a Man," she tackles sexism in the dancehall business. At the 2017 BET Awards Cardi B professed to be Spice's biggest fan and called the Jamaican star "an inspiration."
Spice recently broke new ground for dancehall females by joining the cast of VH1's Love and Hip Hop Atlanta. In an interview on VH1.com, vacillating between standard English and patois inflections, Spice touched on career obstacles and her reasons for venturing into reality TV. "In Jamaica it's hard to get your songs played because it's a male dominated business. No management made me grow into what I am today; I am now crowned queen of the stage because of the energy that I bring. I can't get any bigger in my country so I am using this platform, reality TV, to elevate my career and introduce my music to a wider audience."
"Kudos to Spice, she has something she wants to prove, she's taking the criticism, taking the praises and going for it; females should think about what they really want to give and get from this music business because it's not going to be easy," acknowledges Queen Ifrica, born Ventrice Morgan, daughter of ska legend Derrick Morgan. An outspoken social critic who, away from the stage, has helped to broker peace between rival gangs in some of Kingston's most volatile areas, Queen Ifrica's catalog is equally redemptive, addressing women's empowerment ("Lioness"), nation building ("Times Like These") and the role of sex in troubled relationships ("Below the Waist"), each delivered with her signature, hypnotic fusion of deejay and sung vocals. Her most audacious single "Daddy," which tackles the taboo subject of incest, was promptly banned from Jamaican airwaves upon its release. Nonetheless, "Daddy" found an appreciative audience and, as a result, new legislation was passed imposing stricter laws to protect children, with Queen Ifrica becoming an advocate for children's rights and for sexually abused women and men.