How can I call Tanya Stephens a hip-hop heroine, you ask? I bet Lil Kim can answer that question!

Over the summer, Tanya had to get all kinds of litigious on the nip/tucked rapstress because Kim blatantly ripped off one of Tanya’s hottest dancehall anthems, “Mi and Mi God.” (Honestly, if Damian Marley wanted to sue Kim for ripping off “Welcome to Jamrock” with the blatant sound-alike “Lighters Up,” I would have understood where he was coming from too).

To all of the Lil Kim fans who blindly stick up for their diminutive rapper of choice, listen to Tanya discuss the issue on the Wendy Williams Show right here, courtesy of Hip and Pop. Then try to defend the Notorious KIM after listening to the comparison. Okay, then.

I will admit that I’m heavily biased here, because I have been a Tanya Stephens fan for years – waaaay longer than I’ve been listening to Lil Kim. Tanya was rocking the dancehall in Trinidad back in the days that I used to go to school bazaar discos.

Having grown up on Tanya’s music, I can totally understand why she would sue – whereas Kim’s lyrical content seems to have stalled at “I’m sexy, check out my body, you can’t pleasure me enough, I’m a nympho and I’m all about making that paper,” Tanya Stephens has evolved as an artist.

Her musical maturation has been inspiring to watch. She’s moved on from racy sex anthems like “Big Ninja Bike” and “Goggle” and her lyrics are really and truly heartfelt.

I know, because Tanya was one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. Unlike many artists, she really takes her time to think of what comes next, what messages she’s sending, and how best to give back to her fans.

In my interview with her, she was very honest and forthright with her opinions on the record industry. “I wonder if people can see the inevitable progression. It’s so obvious. You come out and you have all of the honesty about the sufferation that motivated you to be as passionate as you are, and then suddenly you become this larger-than-life person. You start dissing all of the people who you need to help you stay where you are. It happens every time.”

Tanya strives to be the opposite of that. Her music comes from a deep need for self-expression. Although Tanya knows what her fans want to hear, and she’s delivered with classic tracks like “Forever” (look how cute her dreads are in that video!), she has bravely stepped outside her genre and busted out alternative rockers like “Back To Haunt Me“. Despite her musical experimentation, she will always satisfy reggae-heads with hits like To The Rescue, as you’ll hear on her MySpace page.

Her latest album, Rebeloution, is a landmark in Jamaican music. The songs are diverse and exquisitely crafted. Check out this incredible live version of her thug love anthem “These Streets“, then bruk out to “Who Is Tanya,” a declaration of identity.

To me, the most stunning track is “Do You Still Care,” the only reggae song I can think of that condemns homophobia, and compares the ignorance that Tanya’s homeland is famous for to the racism that still pervades the American south. We discussed that particular song in the interview as well: “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.

Tanya’s Rebeloution seeks to change the world’s perception of reggae and dancehall music, one listener at a time. “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’s making a big noise, alright.

It’s almost impossible for me to choose a favorite Tanya video to share with you today, but I settled on “Warn Dem.” The lyrics are just so powerful. Especially these days, when I’ve been sadly thinking about another holiday season when American soldiers are at war and the world seems adrift; Tanya reaches in and touches my heart by condemning politricks and lamenting poverty.

She’s spitting in Jamaican patois, but if you listen hard to her words the message is crystal clear.

She’s a hip hop and reggae heroine to me. I can’t blame Kim for jacking her swagger. I just wish that female rappers would crib from Tanya’s range and find inspiration in her intelligence, rather than just blatantly repeating her lyrics.

Happy Friday, bellas and fellas! Expect to find some new posts over the weekend, I have many products to review before I leave for Christmas in Trinidad!

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rastagalnj says:
December 15, 2006, 12:36 pm
Afrobella, thank you for spotlighting Tanya Stephens, she is wonderful and one of my favorite performers.
Nikki says:
December 15, 2006, 12:46 pm
I've been Tanya Stephen's fan ever since I heard "Handle de Ride" back in '96. She is a wonderful, intelligent artist. Thanks for giving her her due!
lauren says:
December 15, 2006, 3:00 pm
Thanks Afrobella. Tanya is one of the few musicians I am truly a fan of.
Dahls says:
December 15, 2006, 3:40 pm
Thank you for the insight you have given on Ms. Stephens. I think one of the things that defines a good artist is how they progress over time. Tanya has done a good job. It’s a shame though that what she says about all dancehall music being stereotyped as homophobic is in fact true. Over the last two years I have seen the popularity of dancehall and reggae music grow, and I have felt proud. However it has been tainted by those who strictly criticize it for some of the homophobic lyrics that some use. There is so much that can be said on this topic. I think the reference Tanya made between the struggle in Rastafarianism to that of homosexuality is definitely an interesting point of view but it goes so much more deeper than a shared brotherhood of struggle.
lou says:
December 15, 2006, 4:23 pm
do you still care is a great song, I have never heard it before...only knew tanjas sexual tunes! thank you so much for this!
Isis says:
December 15, 2006, 7:09 pm
I was so excited when i saw this post...because several years ago I met Tanya Stephens while I was in Jamaica recording..she was humble and hugged me like a sister...that is the way it is with women in the reggae world..I recorded on a complilation cd with Sister Carol...she too..was kind as well as full of much needed advice...most people in the states don't know these names...but these women help keep a spot open in a industry that in dominated by men..Big Up to Tanya...and Big Up to you for showing her Respect Be Blessed fyi..if you are curious the group is Motherland Soul on the Tribute to Studio One cd
Island Princess says:
December 16, 2006, 11:31 pm
I am very impressed that you have chosen to spotlight Tanya Stephens. I must be honest that prior to this year I was not that familiar with her music. I mean I heard a couple of her songs before, but as noted that were very sexually driven, an as a result, I took very little interest. However, when I first heard these streets over the summer, I was fixed! I began doing some research and took a keen interest in her work. What I particularly like about her is that she addresses what I have always thought of as being hypocritical; the issue of rampant homophobia in reggae music. I am a Rastafarian, but I do not adhere to the more fundamentalist principles of the religion. Now, granted, when I speak to some people, they say that I am not a “true” Rastafarian because, if I were, I will understand that ‘The Book’ says that a man cannot be with a man because two men cannot procreate. To that, I say, to each his own. I try to explain that racist and fundamentalist alike have long used the Bible as justification for oppression and slavery. However, they come up with a whole bunch of excuses, as to why the comparison is not the same. I love the principles of Rastafarianism of love and blessings. Rastafarianism, for me, represents Black pride and love for humanity. It rejects and tries to correct many things about the dominating and oppressive system. My only antagonism with the religion is the fact that I don’t understand how it can preach so much love and liberation, while at the same time have advocates of so much hate. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Rastafarianism preaches hate. However, its principles have been interpreted and distributed by many, in a negative way. My stance is that, if you do not believe in gay relationships, that is fine! However, you should not take it upon yourself to spread hateful messages such as “shoot the batty man dem”. To me, such blatant statements are uncalled for! That is why Tanya Stephens’ song “Do you still care” is so relevant and necessary.
gr8face says:
December 17, 2006, 2:18 am
Wonderful. Another arrow in my quiver of reasons to dislike L'il Kim.
pretty40 says:
December 17, 2006, 2:52 am
We all know Tanya is talented. I was just listening to her cd while working. A friend of mine gave me her latest cd when I was in Negril in October. You're gonna make me listen to it again! Thanks
julia_claudine_deveraux says:
December 17, 2006, 10:38 am
I have became aware of Tanya Stephens thanks to BET J. I like her style and she's a very pretty lady. I need to download a few of her tunes.
Jason says:
December 18, 2006, 11:19 am
I had never heard Tanya Stephens before. (I live in a bubble what can I say?) and I absolutely LOVE her acoustic tracks..