She was an icon for her raw reggae lyrics and vulgar stage performances to match.
The Queen of Dancehall reggae and “slackness” (raunch), she wrote trademark sexually explicit lyrics in a male-dominated arena that could make even churchgoing girls misbehave on the dance floor as she boasted about female sexual prowess.
Now Lady Saw — who over the span of two decades built a catalog of international hits from “Hardcore” to “Give Me the Reason” to the 2002 Grammy-winning “Underneath It All” collaboration with punk group No Doubt — has called it a wrap.
She has found God and left the dancehall for the church.
“Being Lady Saw was always a struggle,” the artist, who now goes by Minister Marion Hall, told the Miami Herald. “Whenever I would perform I would go home and pray. At the hotels, I would always be on my knees … humming gospel melodies, asking God for forgiveness.”
Hall, who lives in South Florida and is attending night school to get her GED, said she was tormented as the popular female DJ. She was also embarrassed, she said, by stage antics that included touching her private parts or wrapping her legs around a man’s shoulders as she sang about “Healing” (with Beenie Man) and what she did under the “Sycamore Tree,” among other hits.
“I was so ashamed of myself, but I held it inside,” she said. “Nobody knew. I remember one time I was trying to do gospel and the fans started cursing. They didn’t want that.”
She momentarily breaks down.
“I don’t regret Lady Saw, but I regret some things that she did because I was bad,” she said, with a chuckle. “But what I realized … if you’ve never been through some things you can’t have a testimony. God wants warriors, people who have been in pain. Broken people who can have a testimony.”
Much of that testimony can be heard on her debut gospel album, “When God Speaks.” Though the album wasn’t nominated for a Grammy, it was considered, said Hall, the only female dancehall artist to win a Grammy and triple-platinum status thanks to the No Doubt hit.
“This album is a gift from God,” Hall, 44, said of the gospel CD, which she introduced to South Florida fans this month during an appearance at VP Records in Miramar.
Fourteen tracks, the album chronicles Hall’s journey from lewd to pious. Every song is a powerful testimony that speaks everything from her baptism (“Lead Me to the Water”) to being a victim of rape (“I Had Jesus”).
“When I was writing it, the voice of the Lord said don’t write it just about you because there are other people out there just like me,” said Hall, who sang the song at the White House in June during the Caribbean and African Faith-Based Leadership Conference. “So many powerful women were coming up to me and giving me their testimony about being a victim.”
Hall’s conversion to Christianity did not come overnight. Nor did it happen without a fight — and flight.
A Seventh Day Adventist as a child, she veered away from the church into the hedonistic world of dancehall reggae, she said, “out of poverty and hardship.”
“Watching your mom everyday washing clothes for people. She would come home and say, ‘Boy I was so hungry today and these people give me nothing to eat but two barrels of dirty clothes.’ So to hear your mom talk like that and watching her struggle, you want to do anything to get her out of that. And not just her, but everybody else,” she said.
Hall said there had been several encounters with the Lord over the years, including one when she was 19. But every time God spoke, she “went running.”
He finally caught up with her in December 2015. Hall was in Kingston attending the funeral of X-rated dancehall diva and friend J Capri, who died two weeks after a tragic car crash at age 23.
God started speaking to her, Hall says, and she ran out of the church.
“But he followed me home,” she said, “and that is when everything came together.”
God wanted her to get baptized. But it was a Monday, and most churches were not in service. Then her sister suddenly appeared at her door. Soon, Hall was being pushed into the water in a private service at the Emmanuel Apostolic Church in Kingston.
“She’s completely gone,” Hall said of Lady Saw. “People have asked me ‘Would I pull back one of [my] old songs and use that?’
“I would never … go back and say ‘I’ve Got Your Man,’” she said. “I’ve got Jesus, I don’t have to use that song. He’s pulled me out of that.”