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Viva la Rebelution!

Tanya Stephens separates the ladies from the girls

"I find it to be — I know this will not be received with any warm embrace — but I find it to be a little bit double standard and hypocritical, especially when I hear Rastafarians professing or helping to spread unacceptance of any group of people. I am very disappointed. I remember as a young child, Bob Marley songs couldn't be played in my house, because he was a dutty Rasta. Rastafarians used to be shunned for their beliefs. It is very upsetting to me to see that these same people have gained acceptance and are among the most popular, and they are now rejecting somebody else. It is just so amusing. I have a very sick sense of humor, and it carries me through stuff like this, and I laugh at all of it. It's ridiculous the things we do to each other," she thunders.

Stephens is confident that the views expressed by her dancehall peers will eventually date their genre. "Change is inevitable. Whether you want to go along with it or not, if you want to contribute positively to it, or just sit down and let change roll over you, there's nothing that can stop it," she warns. She deigns to name names, but she speaks her views loud and clear for the Kingston music-industry fat cats and the listening public to hear. "It's unfair that a few people with really big mouths went out and represented dancehall. Well, I should say they misrepresented dancehall, because they don't speak for everybody. There are many people in dancehall who have never, ever said anything in opposition to anybody's beliefs, not only the gay issue! It is unfair that they should have to wear the same stigma as somebody who says something ridiculous. It's past shocking. I think it's embarrassing to all of us. We who don't care about these stupid issues have to make a bigger noise," she argues.

In the evolution of Tanya Stephens's career, she has learned how to use her voice effectively. Her distinctive chant and powerful messages are now tempered by surprisingly melodic singing. Most recently the dancehall diva came to realize the scope of her influence when recently incarcerated rapper Lil' Kim straight-up jacked her 1997 hit "Mi and My God," only to remake it as yet another crass ass-shaker, "Dirty." This interview took place before the legal accusations began flitting about in the media, but Stephens's most apt response already came included in Rebelution's intro: "Came to pass in the days of glorifying everything wrong/That the standard for girls became a bra and a thong/And wholesome values like curling up with a good book and a bong/Went out the window along with making a good song." If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, let's hope Lil' Kim adopts more than Tanya Stephens's distinctive delivery, and eschews the disposable noise so many musicians of her ilk are recording these days. "You know, some artists spend the least amount of time making the product and then spend the majority of their time and effort on forcing people to like it," Stephens chortles. "For me this is not just music. It's a way to start discussion. It can make my life better, and by extension the lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Just to fix the world that we live in. I'm not even pretending that I am anything great and special to humanity, but I am a human. So this is my responsibility also — to try and make a change," she adds in a fervent tone.

Tanya's Rebelution is militant but not righteous
Courtesy of VP Records
Tanya's Rebelution is militant but not righteous
An army of babes will fight the good fight
An army of babes will fight the good fight

Her humble, down-to-earth nature stands her in good stead. Stephens has yet to win a Grammy, and she couldn't be less concerned. Her rewards come from the fans, and she revels in feedback from unlikely sources. "When I run into a lady who says, 'I don't listen to dancehall at all, but I have your album because I love what you're saying,' that to me is bigger than any award, because I reached somebody who was previously not reached by my peers. We're making people know that there is a difference out there, there's a variety of people in the dancehall," she explains.

Rebelution sweetens its potent messages and clever storytelling via irresistible beats. Stephens describes it as a movement of truth that shuns rejection and regret. "Many of my views aren't very popular, especially among my genre. But if you want to hear something different, if you're interested in discussion and you want to discuss issues for change and for better, then you'll want to pick up Rebelution. Not to chase anybody away who wants to party — I haven't become this preachy-teachy kind of person, because I hate those people!" Stephens says with a laugh.

With this fifth album, Stephens has created a rare thing, a dancehall album that defies the overwhelming doctrine of the genre and still offers a great listen. That was its creator's intention. "Especially in these times when economies are getting so much worse, people work too hard for their money for you to just pick up any old garbage and take for granted that their fans will buy it. I have to sell you something that's worth the price. I'm not going to hype up an album and sell you something because Tanya Stephens needs a new car. I really am selling you something that I intend for you to keep forever. It's a keepsake I'm making."

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