Muma Saw Talks Nicki, RiRi, Foxy… And Doing Things “Her Way”

Born in the powerful parish of St. Mary, Marion Hall burst on the Jamaican sound system scene in the early 90s, changing the dancehall game forever with her blend of razor-sharp skills and shameless bedroom bravado. Long before Nicki and RiRi first stepped on a stage, Muma Saw was putting it down raw and uncut. Of course many female hall of famers blazed a trail before her with Certified Boomshots like Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam“, Lady Anne’s “Informer” and Shelly Thunder ‘s “Kuff.” But as tough as these wrathful madonnas may have been, none of them has had the lasting impact of Lady Saw. Just consider her fearlessness, her furious flows and her staggering range—from the pop perfection of No Doubt’s sultry “Underneath It All” to hardcore moments like “If Him Lef” to Oprah-worthy confessionals like “No Less Than A Woman (Infertility)“—and you’ll overstand why Lady Saw is more than just Dancehall Queen For Life. She’s forever in a class by herself.

Lady Saw & Carleene Doing The Damn Thing At Reggae Sunsplash 1995

In today’s post-Saw era, wave after wave of female microphone controllers has stepped to forefront. Whether dancehall vixens like Spice and Ce’Cile, or hip-pop monsters like Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, most of these bad gyals seem to have studied Saw’s blueprint well. And when it comes to rawest lyricist honors, even Queen Bee and Foxy Brown must bow down to the lady who made “Stab Up The Meat.”

With the release of her latest CD My Way—the first on her own label, Divas Records—Lady Saw delivers a timely reminder in case anybody forgot how the ting set. In all fairness, Missy has reached out to collaborate with Saw in the past, and earlier this year she teamed up with Trina and Nicki Minaj on “Dang-A-Lang.” Still, one gets the sense that Saw has yet to get back much of the love and hard work that she’s put into the game. Maybe that’s why she’s doing it “her way” this time around.

In classic Saw fashion, the new album caps off fourteen tracks of straight hardcore—tunes like “Tighta” and “Muscle Control”—with a big, overwrought ballad, “I’m a woman with hopes and dreams.” And she appears to be wasting no time fulfilling those hopes and dreams on her own terms. Her alter-ego Marion Hall performed a first-class set at this year’s Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival in Montego Bay and she’s said to be working on a full album of material exploring her R&B, pop and country influences. But fret not, Saw will always keep it raw. During a whirlwind promotional tour, we tracked her down in a quiet SoHo cafe to raise a glass of red wine and talk about all the young ladies she’s inspired.

WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND AT THE POP MUSIC SCENE RIGHT NOW, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE INFLUENCED THESE GIRLS? LIKE A NICKI MINAJ…

Mm-hmm… Everybody say that every day.

REALLY?

Yeah, people talk about it, like from Kim, Foxy dem… People been talking Like, Yo. If you listen sometimes they take a little patois from us, or a little line from us and throw it in there. You know? And when I came out, I came out saying all sort of things that a lot of females weren’t saying. Then they start saying the same sex talk. So that’s why people always say…

OR LOOK AT A CIARA RECORD LIKE “RIDE”—WOULD THAT EVEN EXIST WITHOUT YOU? OR RIHANNA SINGING “COME ON RUDE BOY, BOY IS YOU BIG ENOUGH”?

You know what? I love them. I love Nicki. And you know Foxy was my girl for a long time but then we had some disagreement. You know, cause I don’t believe in people being rude. Like, you’re gonna rude to me because you think your money’s bigger than mine or you think you’re in a bigger position. No. We’re all on the same position no matter what cause it’s blood that flows through our veins. So don’t be talkin’ to me as if I’m your maid or something. So that’s why we have a problem. Eve is my girl. All the time.

EVE’S ON THE NEW RECORD, RIGHT?

Yes Eve is on “He’s at My House.” It’s like “I’ve Got Your Man.” That’s gonna cause a little controversy. I know girls are gonna put it on their ringtone so when a girl call for the man you hear “He’s at my house. This girl be calling me texting me telling me to send him back home…” Maad!

YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO GET INSIDE PEOPLE’S BRAINS AND SHOW ALL THE NITTY GRITTY OF RELATIONSHIPS AND INFIDELITY.

You have to. I give you a taste of everything. Like “Your Chick,” we have a raw version called “Your Bitch.” And it’s about a man who say, “this girl here is my friend” but you as a woman know she’s more than a friend. Cause a friend don’t be acting like that. So I be telling him [Saw sings:] “She’s your bitch! I see the way she looks at you.” I know the gay guys are gonna love that one.

THEY’VE BEEN LOVING YOU FOR YEARS.

They love me. Yes, I know. [Orders red wine]

I NOTICE YOU FINALLY CAME WITH THE FEMALE COUNTERACTION TO “HOLD YUH” BY GYPTIAN.

[Saw claps her hands] All right!

THAT SONG CAUSED A LITTLE CONTROVERSY, CAUSE EVERYBODY WAS ASKING “DOES HE SAY ‘THE TIGHTEST H-O-L-D’ OR…”

Yes, and I think it is. But he was smooth about it… But I wasn’t smooth about it. [laughs] What happen is, James [Goring, Saw’s manager] told me to do it but I’m like, I don’t like biting off people’s style or their lyrics or whatever. And people on the street were saying, Aren’t you gonna do a female version? And I said uh-uh, let him eat his food. Then [Sirius/XM Radio Producer] Pat McKay called me and said “when are you gonna do a female version of ‘Hold Yuh’?” And so many people are asking me for it, I had to do it. [Saw sings:] “Bwoy me glad say me hold yuh, use me muscle control you.” Maad! And them loving it. People loving the raw one. I have to put some of that in there, so it turns out good and i’m loving it!

SO WHAT ABOUT THAT RIHANNA RECORD? HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT “RUDE BOY” RECORD?

I didn’t get to go on that one. I hear it though. But the thing is—maybe if we lucky, i hear they reached out to my people and they want me to do a collab with her for her next album.

IT’S ONLY RIGHT.

Thank you so much. I would mash that up.

SO, RIRI, HOLLA AT YOUR GIRL!

Holla back. Cause i hear that they did reach out.

HER PEOPLE ARE TALKING TO YOUR PEOPLE?

And I would kill it. Like—to be on a Rihanna joint right now, It would be my best work. I would do ten lyrics on it, ten rhymes, and then check which one I like. Or send all ten, and say check which one you like—and they’re all good.

WELL YOU RIPPED THAT NO DOUBT RECORD, THE BIG GRAMMY TUNE.

Mm-hm. Yeah. And i’ve grown now and you learn more every day. You know what people don’t understand is sometimes you see “The Best of Lady Saw”—uh-uh. You’ll never get the best o f me because every day i learn something new. Every day I’m writing better than before. Like, I have some wicked songs that i did after the album. I’m like Damn! And Puffy—Puffy you need to give me a little ting to promote…

PICK UP THE PHONE, PUFF!

Hear wah? I have a song called More Liquor. [Saw breaks into a verse:] “My Ciroc it give me the vibe.” You could put your boy on it. Rick Ross. Throw him up in there.

Download Lady Saw’s New Album My Way from iTunes

OK, SO THAT’S HIP HOP. LET’S TALK ABOUT THE DANCEHALL SCENE. I CAN REMEMBER SOME YEARS WHEN THERE WAS JUST YOU AS THE ONE FEMALE ARTIST ON THE BIG SHOWS. NOW THERE’S A LOT OF YOUNG LADIES COMING ON STRONG IN THE DANCEHALL.

I know. Isn’t that something? There’s a lot of young Lady Saws coming up. I remember sometimes we’d go on the road with a few of them, and I had to be thinking ahead of them, because the things I would do onstage—like the backshot and all of that—they would do it before me. Like how i call up the men and dance and wine up on them, and sing to them and rub the face and all these things, it would be done before—and i’m closing the show. So i had to do other things. If i wear a wig i take my wig off, you would see somebody doing the same thing.

I remember i was at one show, and whatever i was gonna do was already played out onstage. So I saw a table onstage and I put a man to lay on the table, and run from a good distance and slam dung pon him and mash up the place. And sometimes i switch up my performance too and throw more of Marian Hall in there and just change it.

YOU ALWAYS TAKE YOUR AUDIENCE ON A TRIP. AND YOU’VE BEEN DOING THESE THINGS LONG BEFORE THESE GUYS STARTED TALKING ABOUT “DAGGERING” AND JUMPING OFF LADDERS AND STUFF.

Yes, yes. I was doing things that would get me in problems. People would write about me, “She was rude, she was raunchy, she was doing things to the camera man.” But a lot of cmaeraman become famous from what i did to them onstage. They loved it.

I’M SURE THEY FIGHT FOR THAT ASSIGNMENT.

I don’t do it like that now. if my man is at the show i kinda tone it down. But then i thought about it and what am i toning down? That’s me… So sometimes I get crazy and call up a fellow and he uses his teeth to pull down my zipper and I’m like, “Hold on baby!” I’m bad! But bad in a good way.

YOU’VE BEEN A LIGHTNING ROD FOR CRITICISM IN THE PAST. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE CONTROVERSY OVER X-RATED SONGS PLAYING ON THE RADIO? I ALWAYS THOUGHT DANCEHALL WAS SUPPOSED TO BE UNCENSORED.

Dancehall is the streets. That’s where I belong. That’s what makes me… the streets. I remember when i first came up and i was doing songs like “Mama Don’t Worry” and “Am I Losing You Darling” and nobody paid any mind. But when I started banging them with the “Stab Up The Meat,” I got the attnetion I needed. Plus it get them so interested that they started playing the clean ones.

But dancehall to me is the streets. If you have the streets locked, you good. Radio stations—i love to get airplay for people to know I’m around. But right now, i haven’t had a hit in Jamaica for how long because the charts are being paid for. And it’s really sad that a lot of young artists coming up can’t be heard.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO HAVE YOUR OWN COMPANY NOW?

The Reggae Industry—well that has been a problem for years. But I’m not gonna beat down on my company i was with before, they helped. They allowed me to cross over. Maybe they didn’t do much but they did their part. Maybe they didn’t spend the money to take me to the next level, but they did play a big part in my career.

SO WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR THE DIVAS LABEL?

This right here is my baby. i’ve already found a few female artists, and that was the reason i came up with Divas Records. i write for them, record them, and put them out. Not just females because i want young men too. And I’ve got my adopted son building beats for me.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHILE YOU’RE IN NEW YORK?

Well we’ve got the release party and I gotta call my girl Eve. Cause I b.b.m. her and tell her I’m in New York and we got to hang out. I live and breathe dancehall. When Missy comes to Jamaica she wants to go to every hole in the wall, real down-to-earth ghetto dancehall. I’m like “Missy I go every day. I see it every day.” So when I come to America. I’m up in the hip hop club. I feel good. I love partying up in the club. I breathe dancehall and love it but I love hip hop and I love R&B too.

I mean look at me, I’m a grown woman and I’m loving Chris Brown. And when I saw Chris Brown come back and do that tribute to Michael Jackson I cried. I cried with him. And when I hear people saying he was just pretending and putting on a show, I was like Damn, don’t these people have any feelings? He was crying. It wasn’t even about Michael Jackson. It was about him being able to come back onstage. And i’m happy that they gave him a chance. What he did was so wrong but all of us sometimes we lose our way and sometimes we snap. i’m not saying what he did was right, and I love Rihanna my Caribbean girl. Mm-hmm. Love her. Proud of her and where she is. Big her up. I love everybody. Love hip hop. Love R&B. Love Jamaican music. I can’t explain it. Me love everyting.

PART 2

PART 3