Shabba Ranks…the Emperor

By Fitzroy Francis
Observer writer

Thursday, April 18, 2019

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Rexton Rawlston Fernando Gordon (aka Shabba Ranks) deserves his title, The Emperor, due to his groundbreaking achievements. In 1991, he signed a recording deal with Epic Records which helped him attain international stardom and become the first dancehall artiste to win Reggae Grammy Awards in 1992 and 1993.

Shabba's hit songs including Housecall, Trailer Load A Girls, and Mr Loverman, propelled dancehall into the hearts of the hip-hop, R&B and pop communities and set the pace for other dancehall acts like Beenie Man, Shaggy and Sean Paul.

His influence was previously known in Jamaica and the Caribbean where dancehall was viewed with negativity, but Shabba helped transform it into mainstream acceptance. He was chastised by mainstream media in Jamaica because of his sexual content, but to him, it was just an expression of biological reality and a motivational narrative to uplift women.

As a product of Seaview Gardens, one of Jamaica's volatile communities, Shabba chose sexual content and twisted dance styles, instead of the gun lyrics, which were rampant in the 1980s, to get his message across.

One of his most sentimental songs is Gal Yu Good which is about Michelle Gordon, his then girlfriend, now his wife. On songs like Respect, he acknowledged dancehall's elders and those who set the foundation for him and others.

Shabba Ranks was more than music. His Afro-centric fashion imagery was never seen before on the world stage and that translated to a black consciousness that was rewarded in 1994 when he was invited to South Africa to support Nelson Mandela during his run for president.

He gave a speech to resounding applause in Johannesburg. In his words: “This is the biggest, greatest moment of my life, one I will cherish forever.”

This zenith of progress set the foundation for many who follow. Although oftentimes discredited, imitated, pirated or sampled, Shabba Ranks can never be duplicated.

He continues to perform on major festivals like the recent 9 Miles Festival in Florida and is headliner for Best of The Best next month in that state. He was bestowed with the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government in 2016 for his outstanding contribution to the development of reggae/dancehall music.

Shabba Ranks is truly the Emperor of Dancehall.

Fitzroy Francis is a music industry veteran from Waterhouse in Kingston. He is principal of Mightyful13 Records and has toured and worked with acts including Black Uhuru and Jesse Jendau.

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