Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Religion & Culture / Religious Studies
Faculty of Arts
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 three sections: a) an overview of theory and methodology, b) an ethnographic case study based on Yellowman’s life and career, and c) 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 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.
Hagerman, Brent, "You Can’t Go To Zion with a Carnal Mind: Slackness and Culture in the Music of Yellowman" (2011). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1110.