American rapper ‘Icy Girl’ Saweetie drew some heat from Jamaicans recently for wearing an outfit that was reminiscent of 90’s Dancehall Queen splendor.
The hip hop siren sent tongues wagging as some felt her risque attire was appropriating Dancehall culture without acknowledgment. The sexy two-piece ensemble, platinum blonde wig, and matching thigh-high boots were likened to those worn by Carlene Smith, a pioneer of the phenomenon and Jamaica’s reigning Dancehall Queen from 1992 to 1999.
“It’s amazing how much is borrowed from Jamaican dancehall culture without even a shout-out lol,” Dominic Bell wrote on Twitter, alluding to the culture’s ineluctable influence. Dancehall culture is rarely absent from the world stage and is the driving force behind everything from slangs to the Verzuz organizers’, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, favorite moment in the series so far.
DHQ Carlene, contacted by THE WEEKEND STAR, said that while many foreigners borrow from local culture without crediting the requisite persons, Jamaicans are guilty of not paying homage to their own trailblazers.
“I have never heard a Jamaican artiste big me up for what I have done. They all come with the sex symbol kinda thing, but that wasn’t dancehall before me. You look back and see! And none of them have ever said, ‘I am doing this because of what Carlene did or what any of the original dancehall trendsetters did’. So why are we jumping onto the backs of the Americans? Is it because we are Jamaicans and we are entitled to it?” she questioned.
“I not saying that I am OK with what the Americans — or anyone else around the world — do when they imitate our culture and don’t give us credit. I am just saying that if we want that respect, it starts right here at home.”
“Go back and look what music fashion was, especially in hip hop before the 90s. It was big clothes, heavy clothes. We changed that. I changed that,” she continued, adding that instead of crediting her, persons “more want to put me dung”.
The former dancer said that persons overseas who borrow from the Jamaican culture may be minded to credit the creators if they could identify them.
“Way back when, Lil Kim said in one of her interviews that her look (with the blue wig) was inspired by dancehall, and so if they know who to credit, they will,” she said.
Speaking about Saweetie’s outfits, DHQ Carlene said that “it’s clear” that “the look was inspired by dancehall”.
“That’s dancehall all the way. But I can’t bash her for not crediting dancehall because she may not even know who to credit. I have to big up (Culture) Minister Babsy Grange because she is the only person outside of the industry players themselves who make sure that people know who to give credit to for certain things,” DHQ Carlene said.
“Give Ms. Carlene her flowers”, another popular comment insisted, citing Smith’s contribution–nails, hairstyles, and costumes–to the empowering aesthetic through fashion and flirty moves.
“All this came because of my unique designs,” Carlene told Caribbean Beat some years ago. “It was never a dancehall clash that made me dancehall queen. It was a fashion clash.”
These displays in the 90’s Dancehall golden era usually attracted spectators and scholars alike, eventually infiltrating the world of film. One director, Cori McKenna, gave the rationale for her documentary as “these bold and daring women have turned Jamaican street dance into a massive global phenomenon. These women use dancehall to express themselves, to own their sexuality, and to gain confidence in every part of their lives.”
Saweetie, whose debut EP is called High Maintenance (2018), is a shameless proponent of such concepts.
“Yes, I’m a fashion girl. Yes, I’m an artist. I love the glitz and glamour, but most of all, I like that money and I like handling my business,” she told PEOPLE magazine last week.
While she and Carlene may be birds of a feather, the issue fans took with the outfit from her January 7th Doja Cat duet, Best Friend is that credit wasn’t given to what they see as its obvious source.
“She literally look like Marcia against Oliveen in Dancehall Queen [the 1997 movie],” said one fan while another agreed, “she jacking Carlene right here.”
Dancehall vixen Jada Kingdom added her thoughts on the look, “Coincidence dem seh …neva wa giwi credit yet.”
Others didn’t agree with the argument at all, as risque, next-to-nothing outfits are commonplace in the music industry.
“Because dancehall queen alone dress like this?” one fan quipped. “I’m confused there’s literally no similarities. Anyone literally can dress like this. We’ve seen many women dress like this in the music industry. Jamaican people always want presidential attention just stop.”
Another more forgiving individual privy to production standards added that it might not even be Saweetie’s blunder: “Maybe is her stylist we fi blame for that.”