Ahh the 90s…what contradictions do you sow in my heart! While I nodded my head in sombre agreement when Stone Love famously banned Gun tunes (and later disregarded said ban!), I was also buying up each and every Gun Tune that dropped in the 90s. Why? Well, despite the deeply controversial aspects of songs that celebrate guns and shooting and killing, music and art about violence have been around since, well, since the beginning of art itself.  And many of those great gun tunes of the 90s took the theme of violence and elevated it through metaphor, delivery, etc. into something closing in on the sublime. And when all is said and done, taking violence and turning it into art will always be positive in my book. 

When it came to Gun tunes, the best of the best were the tunes released by the various Jammys off-shoots (Father & Son, Kingston 11, John John) featuring re-licks of Studio One and other Foundation riddims.

And that is where my tune of the week comes from – Spragga Benz’s ‘Bad Man No Beg No Friend’ dropped in 1995 on a killer versioning of Coxsone’s Hi Fashion aka Bobby Babylon riddim.  Spragga, always an unconventional talent, leaps on the riddim with the laid back charm of beach-side raconteur spinning a tale of bad man codes and bad man deeds.

And Spragga, marking the difference between himself and the legions of second tier DJs who sought fame by speaking about guns, illustrates those tales with deft metaphors and a style and pattern that lifts the tune into the realm of poetry – a three minute mini-epic that is as rousing (to me!) as the calls to battle found in Greek poetry of old.

As Spragga’s language reflected the lexicon of both the streets of  Brooklyn and the ghettos of Kingston, the experience of playing this tune out in one of the late night Blues that used to line the basements of Crown Heights was not to be equaled – forwards upon forwards with badmen and civilians alike singing each and every line with the joy of finding redemption in having one’s reality elevated into art.

More info:
Spragga Benz – Bad Man No Beg No Friend on Deadly Dragon

Scratch Famous, Deadly Dragon Sound,  New York City