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Tommy Lee, affectionately known as Uncle Demon, is easily the most talked about dancehall artist on the streets in Jamaica today.
Born Leroy Russell and hailing from the Sparta side of the notoriously rough community Flankers, the 24-year-old Lee was already a hometown hero with a loyal fan base by the time Vybz Kartel a.k.a. World Boss brought him into the Gaza crew in 2010. Releasing a steady stream of hits since, Lee’s career has taken off. Kartel, meanwhile, is stuck in prison with two murder charges hanging over his head. A known studio rat, Kartel has a back catalogue of songs unlikely to be exhausted, regardless of the length of his incarceration. But the power vacuum that his absence has created has led to occasional flashes of internecine warfare within the crew. Still, things today are looking good for Gaza. Portmore Empire, which Kartel disbanded earlier this year, has been reborn as PG13, and Lee seems poised to carry the torch into the foreseeable future.
Having just finished shooting infamous Sting promoter Isaiah Laing at Supreme Promotions in Kingston, we got a call saying Lee was on his way and that we should stay put because he was down to meet with us. Almost immediately his white Camry pulled into the parking lot. The heavy tint concealed the identity of the occupants, but the infectious chant of Lee’s 2010 street anthem, Warn Dem, which was rattling out of the trunk, left little doubt as to who was in the car.
The rising property values that accompanied Montego Bay’s emerging status as a premier vacation destination (in the mid to late eighties) had the original owners of the land seeing a field of green. By the early nineties a shifting political climate provided them with the legal cover needed to pursue the policy of forceful eviction they had long been dreaming of. In the early morning hours of March 11, 1994, police inspector Steadman Roach led a team of bulldozers and a phalanx of officers into a section of Flankers known as Providence Heights. They began demolition, and the community erupted. The city was shut down with roadblocks; the airport was partially closed; the office of the landowner’s company was burned to the ground; and the Jamaica Defence Force had to be called in to back up local police, who had been quickly and easily overwhelmed. Lee was five years old at the time.
The 1994 riots ushered in an era of pitched battles over land-use rights, often punctuated by violent clashes — with Flankers as ground zero. Despite a compromise that was struck to provide a legal path to ownership of property, the situation remains virtually unchanged. Because employment opportunities within the legal economy are scarce, and the maze-like layout and lack of formal infrastructure in much of the community continues to provide convenient cover for criminal activity, an outlaw culture persists. Though the numbers fluctuate from year to year, Flankers consistently dominates crime statistics in Montego Bay.
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