Tanya Stephens Interview: Gangsta Blues

Leading Jamaican dancehall and reggae MC Tanya Stephens

Below is an interview with reggae MC Tanya Stephens, originally published in New Nation newspaper in 2004. Her forthcoming album, Guilty, is due out later this year.

With one hit album in Sweden, Sintoxicated, and a string of classics such as Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet, Big Ninja Bike and Goggle to her credit, Tanya Stephens is widely admired as one of dancehall’s greatest female acts.

Her self-produced fifth LP, Gangsta Blues, is a unique collection of 17 raps, poems and traditional dancehall tracks featuring contributions from Wyclef Jean, Dave Kelly and Spragga Benz.

The opening lines from the lead single, It’s a Pity, offer valuable insight into the mood of the new LP: “It’s a pity you already have a wife. And me done have a man inna mi life. Rude boy it is a pity”.

‘It happens all the time,’ Stephens explains. ‘People make a commitment and then meet somebody who they are more compatible with. You can be thinking “My God, what have I done to myself? I could have been happier. But you are still obligated to fulfill your commitment.

‘Hopefully that song lets you guys know that us women also have feelings too. You are not the only ones who look at other people and lust’.

Stephens delivers her often x-rated lyrics with an elegance rivals (of both sexes) must envy. And she knows good music too: the rhythm behind the song is an impressive remix of Gregory Isaacs’ 1981 hit Night Nurse, which is a reworking of Sugar Minott’s 1979 production Hard Time Pressure.

Gangsta Blues finds Stephens adopting a new approach to her music; one that’s sure to increase her international fanbase. ‘I still do hardcore stuff because I enjoy it,’ she says. ‘But I’ve also grown and broadened my lyrical content to include more serious topics.

‘I’m not that interested in the male anatomy to keep singing about it for the next 10 years, honestly. I love you guys, but it’s really not that interesting a topic to keep talking about the size of the body parts.

‘What has matured most of all is my approach to music; I’ve learned to treat it as a business. If this is what feeds me, then I have an obligation to put something back into it and not just expect people to spend their money on an album full of crap.’

Notably, unlike some of her contemporaries, Stephens is bored with dancehall’s preoccupancy with oral sex and sodomy.

‘I think we really need to get off the whole bow cat and chi-chi man thing, it’s tired. Whether you want to practice fellatio or not isn’t really such an entertaining topic. We could do a lot more to earn a forward (applause) than to hit on people for their sexual preferences. I don’t think it’s any of our damn business anyway.’

Elsewhere on the album, stand-out cuts include What’s Your Story, a question for Tanya’s boyfriend who keeps going AWOL in the middle of the night, and What A Day, a moving anti-war track.

When Radio 1’s Chris Goldfinger first played the song during the beginning of the war in Iraq last year, it suggested Tanya had turned political.

‘I’m somebody who gets affected by everything around me; even things that don’t touch my life directly,’ she says. ‘I’m not going to pretend I’m the typical artist who does this for love; I do this for money. I get paid somewhat and I can afford to live comfortably, turn a blind eye and just watch MTV and BET, and not to notice there is a war going on.

‘But that’s kinda impossible because I like to keep abreast of what’s going on; even things that are happening in the most remote parts of the world affect us because we all share this planet.’

As she prepares for US and European tours to promote the new album, Stephens says her motto for 2004 is: ‘Be prepared for anything; the sky is the limit. We’re not sure what’s gonna happen, but we’re damn sure it can and as long as we make moves to make it happen, it will.’

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