There are so many names for Lady Saw: The Queen of Dancehall, The First Lady of Dancehall, or the latest one: Mama Saw. The latest name, however, is quite befitting at this point in her career because she is The Matriarch for all female dancehall deejays, and arguably some female rappers. She is the first female deejay to win a Grammy (which she did with No Doubt for “Underneath it All” –Best Performance by a Duo or Group with a Vocal), to go triple platinum (with said single), to go gold (with Vitamin C for “Smile”), and to headline shows outside of her native Jamaica . Even before Gwen Stefani and her cronies tapped Saw for their multi-successful, mainstream single together, Missy Elliott and Foxy Brown had long contacted the singer/ deejay/ producer/ songwriter to weigh in on their hip-hop/reggae flirtations. Truly, this Mama has made an impact, not only in the smoky corners of the dancehall where her sensuous lyrics cause couples to bubble and wine, but internationally. Her style, a blend of rude gyal, pump-your-fist-ladies anthems and raunchy, risqué rants about real and surreal sexcapades, is in demand now more than ever.
And there’s nothing matronly about this Mama. Strip Tease, her latest album and sixth with VP Records, the label that sired all of her albums (Lover Girl 1994, Give Me the Reason 1996, Passion 1997, The Best of Lady Saw 1998, 99 Ways 1998), is a concoction that’s been blending for a while. The 20 track CD features production by Troyton of “Gimme The Light” fame, Tony Matterhorn, Don “Vendetta” Bennett, Delano Thomas for Renaissance Crew Productions, and Lady Saw herself. She’s Hot Mama on “Man is the Least” and on the title track “Strip Tease,” on which she chants to the men: “Let me strip, so I can tease, so I can bring you to your knees…. She’s Sexy Mama on “I’ve Been Dreaming of You” and the Baddest Mama on “I’m Coming Over.” She rounds out her naughty self, though, when she becomes a Mama’s Girl on “Mama I Love You,” a dedication to her mother who died in 2002. “When I perform this song, people in the audience cry”, she says. “Even some of my fellow entertainers, too.” Lady Saw has also joined dancehall music’s latest obsession with dance-themed songs. Hers is called “Move Your Body” featuring Voice Mail. If a video ever airs she says it will feature her contorting her body into the main move, a full split. (“I’ve been practicing,” she says.)
Strip Tease is the most balanced album of Saw’s yet. The topics range from cheating spouses (“It’s Been So Long”) to taking another girl’s man (“I’ve Got Your Man”), from a girl who just wants to have fun in bed (“None Stopper”) to being in love (“Still Convinced”). The song “Pretty Pussy” however, is the best example on this album of how controversial she can be. Saw, best known for her performances which usually entail simulated sex acts with men she handpicks from the crowd, and for lyrics which have been called slack, might be labeled “post-feminist” or “empowering” by a better judge. “Pretty Pussy” is one such track. On it she names all the glories men find in this part of the female anatomy while telling women to feel proud about their organ. “Women love this song every time I perform it”, she says. “They want to hear it.”
The Lady Saw we hear today, though, was once a singer making hits with covers of Chaka Khan (“Sweet Thing”) and emulating her namesake, the late Tenor Saw, with songs like “Am I Losing You” and “Glory Be to God.” Much of her older catalog became hits in the U.K. and Jamaica. But Lady Saw was always a top deejay in waiting. The night she tested some of her hardcore, deejay-style lyrics at a sound system dance is the night she was granted entry into the male-dominated field of deejaying. It’s what convinced her to leave her home in the countryside of Galina, St. Mary for the studios in Kingston.
It was the late ‘80s when Lady Saw (born Marion Hall on July 12 in the 1970s), just 15 at the time, left behind her little tomboy self who used to sell fruits and race wooden karts for the young woman who made it out of the Kingston ghetto to become a first-rate recording artist. She became a regular in the studio after quitting her sewing job at The Free Zone on the outskirts of Kingston . “That job wasn’t for me”, she says. “I would deejay at work during the day.” During a stint with the Diamond Label she released most of her dancehall hits from the early nineties (“If Him Lef,” “Find a Good Man,” and “Stab Out Di Meat,”). VP Records became interested in Saw when they realized how captivating she was. She’s been signed to the label for almost ten years. Since then, her more commercial hits include, “Healing” with Beenie Man, “No Long Talking,” and “Sycamore Tree.”
Today, Lady Saw has her own production company, Hall Productions. She’s produced two riddims: Blindfold and Lock Jaw. She’s produced major dancehall artists Capleton, Spragga Benz, Sizzla, Bounty Killer, and Beenie Man. She’s a mentor to up-and-coming artists on her imprint as well as to Ce’Cile, her artistic progeny. She’s recorded for Shaggy, legendary producers Sly & Robbie, Funkmaster Flex, and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes . She’s appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” And she’s the only dancehall artist to have had her song, “Give Me the Reason,” covered by a country singer.
Lady Saw aspires to speak for all women. For one, she can relate. She is a Mama to three adopted children: one girl and two boys. She’s almost married, has been through her share of heartbreak and infidelity. And being one of the few females in a male-dominated industry, she’s definitely experienced sexism. While some prudish people find her expressions, both the lyrical and the physical, to be offensive (she was once banned from some important stage shows), she continues to address, with each stroke of her pen, what she considers to be the real issues women face: Being daughters, wives, girlfriends, sisters, and mothers in this modern world while still being strip teasingly sexy.