My Research

I set up this page while I was a PhD candidate in Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. My dissertation is called "You Can't Go to Zion With a Carnal Mind: Slackness and Culture in the Music of King Yellowman." It is a critical biography of Yellowman based on field research in Jamaica, Canada and the United States.

 

Abstract

Jamaican deejay Yellowman is best known for “slackness”: lyrics centred on masculine heterosexual potency, sexist objectification of women and graphic sexual narratives. Yet a deeper look at Yellowman’s life and recorded output suggests that when his slackness is read in the context of Afro-Jamaican culture, reggae history and his Rastafarian faith, a more complex interpretation of his slackness is needed. This study will draw on Carolyn Cooper’s (2001) theory that slackness is a “metaphorical revolt against law and order, an undermining of consensual standards of decency” (p. 141). Whereas the term “culture” is used in reggae to depict music that is Afrocentric, Rasta-inspired and socially conscious, and is normally seen as the antithesis of slackness, I suggest that for Yellowman, the slack / culture dichotomy is eroded when slackness becomes part of the religious repertoire of resistance against mainstream Jamaican society.

            This dissertation is divided into two sections: a) an ethnographic case study based on Yellowman’s life and career, and b) four analytical chapters that offer itineraries to theorize slackness in Yellowman’s music. First, I argue that through slackness Yellowman subverted embedded Jamaican cultural notions of sexuality, gender, race, nationality and beauty by promoting the dundus (black albino) as sexually appealing, hyper-masculine and part of the imagined black nation. Second, I demonstrate how Yellowman’s sexual lyrics are an example of Obika Gray’s (2004) thesis that slackness was a conscious political project employed by the Jamaican poor to contest the normative values of dominant society. I also contest the neat binary used in reggae journalism that pits Yellowman and slackness against Bob Marley and culture. Third, I argue that Yellowman employs slackness for the purpose of moral regulation based on conservative Afro-Jamaican sexual morés and his understanding of Rastafarian morality. Finally, I situate Yellowman’s perforating of Christian dualistic ideas of carnal/spiritual in the Rastafarian Babylon/Zion binary and show how Afro-Caribbean religion has redefined Christian dualism using an Afrocentric body-positive ideology.


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