The Penny Section of modern Dancehall

It is no secret that music has a profound effect on the mental state of a person. We experience it every day when we play music to lift our spirits, for motivation when working out or doing chores and even to help us connect with other feelings such as sadness or a broken heart


I grew up hearing the term penny section, not really understanding what it meant. I knew it was associated with making noise because they term is always used with be quiet but it wasn’t until I was in the 5th year of school,  studying Shakespeare, that I learned how that term came about and what it truly meant.

The penny section referenced the poor people or peasants in European theatre history. These people were basically the poor who earned in pennies and as such, when they walked or moved in the slightest the pennies would jingle. These people also paid very little to enter the theatre and were very rowdy. It is believed that the sexual innuendoes in the plays written by Shakespeare were to appease the penny section because the complexities of issues discussed by works such as Shakespeare was above the competencies of the underprivileged penny sectioners.

In looking at how the Jamaican DanceHall genre/scene has changed in the past few years, it was this thought that came to my head. Dancehall music has now become a style that only appeases the penny section of Jamaica.

Recently, I was viewing and old video posted by vlogger @duttyberry where Sean Paul was lauded for yet another number one song on the billboard charts having collaborated with @Sia on the hit Cheap Thrills (which I absolutely love). The song is a true reflection of the growth of dancehall music and all the barriers that past dancehall artists have broken to help position our music as one that is not only for the night but also can be listened and enjoyed during the day at a family BBQ or Office Party.

But to no surprise of mine, there was the penny section complaining about the fact that @Vybzkartel is the best thing in dancehall, in fact, some fans even say he is Dancehall. I can admit that Vybz Kartel is quite a talented artist and I have liked many of his music over the years, but I have disliked far more than I have liked. There’s no doubt that Kartel has shaped the recent image of the Jamaican Dancehall scene as is evident in the lyric style of many other artists who have followed in is foot step or have been given a “buss” by Kartel and or his management team. One name comes to mind @Alkaline who has not only copies his lyrical style and delivery but even his look.

I remember when I was a young girl listening to dancehall music, the days when dancehall wasn’t just catering to peasants so to speak. The truth is, Dancehall has always been sexually lewd and even violent but there was a certain je ne se qua associated with how the issues were presented. I remember songs like “Fowl Affair: Silvercat, Debbie’s Cat: Mega Plough and even more recently These Streets: Tanya Stephens ” that discussed sexuality in a manner where a child could easily listen to the lyrics and not comprehend the double meanings of the song. The old fashioned dancehall, that is missed by many Jamaicans, shows skill and craft my the writers and musicians. It shows a true understanding of the art of writing and the use of literary devices in writing. It basically shows, what I would outrightly call intelligence.

Modern Dancehall lacks this kind of intelligence craftiness and these days literally nothing is hidden in similes, metaphors and personifications, hyperboles etc. Everything is out there for the world to hear and see, in not just the lyrics but the dance videos associated with them. After all the work that had been done by various dancehall artist to include Sean Paul, one of Dancehall’s biggest international crossover artists, we are now being taken back to the point where dancehall music is being scoffed at by various countries (UK, Trinidad and Barbadoes)  and even by Jamaicans themselves. It is quite an irony of sorts where the person that the penny section are crowning king of the dancehall, can’t even perform outside of Jamaica, regardless of him currently serving a long term sentence for murder.

It is no secret that music has a profound effect on the mental state of a person. We experience it every day when we play music to lift our spirits, for motivation when working out or doing chores and even to help us connect with other feelings such as sadness or a broken heart. It, therefore, can be said that music may also have a negative impact on people/society as it does a positive one and as Jamaica’s Dancehall penny section takes over so has the ultimate degradation of the society. The whole culture of Jamaica seems to be going down the drain with everything being over-sexualized and violent as is represented in the music now consistently published in the Dancehall.

I am no social scientist, but I am a thinker and I can’t help but think that the over saturation of mediocrity in Jamaica, in many aspects but more pointedly in the music that we listen as a society have had a profound impact on the current state of mind and ultimate behavioral manifestations that we see in Jamaica today.

As the Mahatma Gandhi states, “a man is a product of his thoughts” which is more commonly expressed in Jamaica as so a man thinketh so is he, it can’t be any clearer that what we feed our minds is ultimately what we will become. So if Jamaicans to a great extent are feeding their minds with overly violent and sexual content, even as very young children, then is there any surprise that the society is manifesting these very things?

“Music can change the world because it can change people.”
― Bono

What do you think about this situation, please share in the comments.