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Reggae Legends

Lady Saw

Lady Saw

By Pilar Alvarez
Published September 9, 2005

Lady Saw is one of the most successful female dancehall DJs of all time. Lewd, lascivious and often shockingly hilarious, her x-rated rhymes paved the way for many of the dancehall queens who would follow.

Known variously as the First Lady of the Dancehall or the Queen of the Dancehall, Marion Hall, a.k.a. Lady Saw, has been one of the most successful female dancehall DJs of all time. Lewd, lascivious and often shockingly hilarious, her x-rated rhymes paved the way for many of the dancehall queens who would follow in her footsteps, provided a template for raunchy female hip-hoppers like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, and even won her a Grammy—the first ever for a female DJ—in 2003.

          Born in Galina, in rural St. Mary’s parish, Saw sometimes comes off like the quintessential country gal corrupted by Kingston’s wicked ways. She first came to Kingston as a teenager in the late ’80s, sewing clothes at a factory in the Free Zone when she was just 15. But music was her obsession and she soon quit to pursue it full time, first as a singer (notably mimicking the style of crooner Tenor Saw, from whom she copped her stage name), and eventually as a DJ.

          Her first big successes came at the dawn of the ’90s, when gun talk ruled the dancehalls of West Kingston. Recording for the local Diamond label, she re-injected a heavy dose of sexually explicit “slackness” lyrics into the music, but from a woman’s perspective. The result was early hits like “If Him Lef” and “Stab Out De Meat,” which scandalized and enthralled audiences and won her a deal with powerhouse distributor VP Records.

          Her 1994 debut for the label, Lover Girl, was an instant classic, and soon she was holding her own in duets with the likes of Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man and Shaggy, and cranking out hits like “Want It Tonight,” “Healing” and “Sycamore Tree.” In the ’90s she released a string of albums, Give Me The Reason, Passion and 99 Ways. These helped spread her fame Stateside, where she became much in-demand, working with everyone from Missy Elliot and Funkmaster Flex to Pharell Williams of the Neptunes, even appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno!

          But Saw’s greatest honor so far was when she won the Grammy for her 2003 collaboration with Gwen Stefani for “Underneath It All,” a slow burning ballad that used her unique style to great effect.

 

Recommended Recordings

 

Lover Girl (V.P.)

Raw: The Best Of Lady Saw (V.P.)

Striptease (V.P.)